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.
To read more, click on the following link:

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.

To read more, click on the following link:

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.

To read more click on the following link:

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why I Stopped Writing Recommendation Letters for Teach for America By Catherine Michna

For the past nine years, I've been an instructor, a Ph.D. student, adjunct professor, and post-doctoral fellow in humanities departments at several different universities. During this time, many students have asked me to write recommendations for Teach for America. My students generally have little to no experience or training as teachers, but they are lured by TFA's promises that they can help close the education gap for children in low-income communities. For humanities majors, TFA is a clear path to a job that both pays a living wage and provides a stepping stone to leadership positions in a cause of national importance.
I understand why my students find so much hope in TFA. I empathize with them. In fact, I’m a former Teach for America corps member myself. But unless they are education majors—and most of them aren’t—I no longer write Teach for America letters of recommendation for my students. I urge my higher-ed colleagues to do the same.  
There is a movement rising in every city of this country that seeks true education reform—not the kind funded by billionaires, corporations, and hedge funds, and organized around their values. This movement consists of public school parents and students, veteran teachers, and ex-TFA corps members. It also consists of a national network of college students, such as those in Students United for Public Education, who talk about the damage TFA is inflicting on communities and public schools. These groups and others also acknowledge the relationship between the corporatization of higher education and the vast impact of corporate reform on our youngest and most needy children. It is these children who are harmed by the never-ending cycle of under-trained, uncertified, first- and second-year teachers that now populates disadvantaged schools, and by the data-obsessed approach to education that is enabled by these inexperienced teachers.
Every year, TFA installs thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds, the majority of whom are from economically and culturally privileged backgrounds, into disadvantaged public schools. They are given a class of their own after only five to six weeks of training and a scant number of hours co-teaching summer school (in a different city, frequently in a different subject, and with students in a different age group than the one they end up teaching in the fall). College and university faculty allow these well-meaning young people to become pawns in a massive game to deprofessionalize teaching. TFA may look good on their resumés and allow them to attain social capital for their bright futures in consulting firms, law schools, and graduate schools. But in exchange for this social capital, our students have to take part in essentially privatizing public schools.
The simple fact is that students who apply to TFA are not trained to be teachers. So by refusing to write TFA letters of recommendation, we’re merely telling our students that we can’t recommend them for a job they’re not qualified for. An increasing amount of research shows that TFA recruits perform at best no better, and often worse, than their trained and certified counterparts. What’s more, they tend to leave after just a few years in the classroom. Would a biology professor write a recommendation to medical school for an English major who’s never taken any core science courses? That would be strange. It would be even stranger if the professor knew the English major was just going into medicine for a few years, as a way to boost his resume, before ultimately going on to a career in public relations.
So competence is one core issue here. Another one is race. Rooted in the corporate discourse around reform, charter schools, and “urban revitalization” is the hope that the (mostly white) elite class and free-market ideologies will combine to solve every social ill. Meanwhile, whole communities of African-American and Latino men and women are being warehoused in prisons, the racial income gap is widening, and urban communities of color are being gentrified out of their neighborhoods. TFA—and the charter schools that function as TFA’s biggest partners—perform a similar kind of gentrification by ridding cities of veteran teachers of color. Despite what you might hear, there is no teaching shortage. Schools and districts fire their unionized, more expensive professional staff in order to make slots for the cheaper, eternally revolving wheel of TFA and other nontraditionally certified recruits, who quickly burn out.
When I joined TFA in 1998, I was placed into a public high school in Oakland, Calif., with three other TFA teachers and dozens of veteran teachers. I quickly realized that I wasn’t even remotely prepared for my job. Luckily, the unionized “lifers” at my school swooped in to help me, and over the course of four years, they trained me to be a decent teacher. I also enrolled in education classes at a California state university where I got the guidance and mentorship that TFA didn’t provide.

The Promise of the Common Core by Leo Casey

An op-ed in the New York Times’ Week in Review is emblematic of the best of this disapproving sentiment. Yet even it mixes together fundamental misconceptions about the entire Common Core project with legitimate issues of inadequate preparation for teachers and students and poor implementation by state education departments and districts. The Common Core is described as a “radical curriculum” that was introduced with “hardly any public discussion.” We are told that it is a “one size fits all” approach, built upon a standardized script that teachers must use for instruction. Finally, it is suggested that the Common Core is a “game that has been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail.”
This is the Common Core seen through the prism of a fun house mirror. In truth, the Common Core is neither “radical” nor a “curriculum,” but a set of grade level performance standards for student achievement in the core academic disciplines of English Language Arts and Mathematics.* Indeed, one of the more telling criticisms of the implementation of the Common Core is that in all too many states, districts and schools, these standards have notbeen developed into curricula which teachers could readily use in their classrooms.
The Common Core has been the product of a lengthy and multi-stage process. The English Language Arts and Mathematics standards were themselves first developed, using procedures that included major, substantive feedbackfrom teams of teacher practitioners from across the country.** The two sponsoring organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), published the draft standards for comment, and adopted them only after the incorporating changes that they received during that process. Finally, the standards were adopted by forty-five separate states and the District of Columbia, each with their own statewide educational decision-making body and process. At each step of the way, there has been vigorous and open debate. It is hard to conceive how that process could have been any more public or transparent.
Far from a “one size fits all” approach, the Common Core was designed to establish broad performance standards that could be easily adapted to quite different curricula and pedagogical approaches. The notion that it constitutes an exacting script that every teacher would need to follow precisely is so far from the actual reality that it leaves one wondering if some of the critics have actually read the Common Core standards they so fiercely denounce.
Finally, the all-too-real ‘game’ that establishes winners and losers for life is the current state of American education, with its unforgiving inequality in the quality of education provided to the wealthy and to the poor, to white students and to students of color. Almost sixty years after our nation made a promise in Brown v. Education to end separate and unequal education, our schools continue to embody and perpetuate the radical economic inequalities that have grown so dramatically in American society over the past three decades. If anything, the Common Core gives us a new means to address this ongoing stain on our national education.
Another Passing Reform, Or An Opportunity To Refocus American Education?
American educators have grown accustomed to a steady stream of passing educational fashions, a continual barrage of reforms du jour that have come and gone. In understandable acts of self-defense, we invest the minimum of our time and effort in each new volley of the latest educational ‘silver bullet.’ The day is too short and the things that need to be done for one’s students too many to be spending one’s time on a program that will soon be gone and forgotten. The temptation is to decide that the Common Core fits this pattern, and that it, too, will soon pass. The recent drumbeat of criticism of the Common Core, however wrongheaded, reinforces the notion that, sooner or later, these standards will go the way of the first standards movement of the 1990s.
There is truth in the common sense of the teacher: the Common Core standards are in peril.
But the loss of the Common Core standards would be a real tragedy, taking away from us for a generation the capacity to make necessary, progressive educational change. The Common Core standards are well worth saving.
Here’s why:
  • The Common Core focuses on what is important in educationIn an era when our national obsession with standardized testing has diverted attention from the vital purposes of public education, turning all too many American schools into ‘test prep’ factories, the Common Core refocuses us on the skills which are essential for the education of citizens in a democracy – critical and analytical thinking, the comprehension and use of complex texts, problem solving and purposeful written and oral communication. While much discussion of the instructional shift required by the Common Core has focused on the difficulty of the standards, it has largely ignored the powerful rationale for their more challenging nature. Too often the ‘raising of standards’ in American education is little more than speeding up an assembly line mode of education, demanding that students learn in the eighth grade what they used to learn in the ninth grade by cramming more detail into a course of study that is already a mile wide and an inch deep. What distinguishes the Common Core from such ‘factory model’ reform efforts is its fundamental rethinking of what students should know and be able to do, with a focus on knowing well and in depth what is truly important.***
  • The Common Core sheds much needed light on persistent inequality in American education, and creates a basis for educational equity across the nationBy instituting a universal set of performance standards, the same across all forty-five states (and several territories) that have adopted them, the Common Core creates a bright spotlight of comparability that can be turned on the radical disparities that continue to define American schooling nearly sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education. Until this moment in the history of American education, we have had a patchwork of different state and local standards, applied haphazardly, that have often served to disguise the inequalities of class and race in American education. With the Common Core, the nature and consequences of decisions in state capitols to starve schools of needed resources and to perpetuate extreme educational inequalities will become more difficult to camouflage. Just as importantly, Common Core brings with it the promise of providing every American student, from Beverly Hills to Bed-Stuy, the same high quality education, pitched to the same performance standards.
  • The Common Core brings coherence to K-12 American education.The Common Core standards are sequential, with performance benchmarks building upon earlier learning to create a coherent educational experience for students, K through 12. When the standards are fully implemented, students should have access to a comprehensive quality education in the core academic subjects. While this logical organization and development of education is important for all students, it is particularly important for students living in poverty: the transience that accompanies poverty creates many disruptions in the education of these students, making it all that more difficult for them to be successful in their education. To the extent that all schools use sequentially organized, comprehensive performance standards, these disruptions in the education of students living in poverty will be minimized.
  • The Common Core has the potential to empower teachers, giving us new opportunities to improve our craft and the teaching professionThe Common Core sets out performance standards for what students should know and be able to do in a subject: it does not prescribe either what teachers should teach or how they should teach and work with their students to attain these standards. Moreover, by requiring that students develop deeper and richer understandings of the subjects they are studying, the Common Core implicitly breaks with the ‘factory model’ of schooling and the ‘test prep’ deformation of education. The instructional shift demanded by the Common Core poses both a challenge and an opportunity for teachers to work together in their schools in the development of lessons, units and teaching materials that would support them in teaching to the new standards. Teacher creativity and teacher collaboration are thus essential to doing the Common Core right, and are at the center of the work in schools and districts that have prepared well for the Common Core.
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Top Ten Reasons Not to Contract With Teach For America by John Wilson

Lately, I have been reading numbers of articles about Teach For America (TFA) written by former participants in the program as well as by researchers and investigative reporters. It appears that there is general consensus that TFA is not the answer to teacher shortages, closing achievement gaps, or eliminating poverty in this country. Most of the writers agree that the program is using public schools and poor children to develop a network of new leaders who will advance a corporate reform agenda. Great harm has been done in school districts and states where these new TFA leaders have emerged. Who bears the greatest portion of responsibility for what is happening?

The biggest enabler of this perversion of the teaching profession rests at the feet of local school districts that enter into contracts heavily favoring the TFA agenda. I have examined as many of these contracts as I can locate on the internet. Of course, they are all public information easily found by good investigative reporters, but most reporters have focused on only the contracts developed by school districts of their subscribers.

A review of these contracts reveals that school districts have not done their due diligence, have not advocated for a better deal, and have been oblivious to the duplicative support that state and federal governments have given to TFA. Based on my research, I am sharing my top ten reasons local school districts should examine their contractual obligations more closely.

Before I do this, let me make it clear that my disagreement is with the business model of TFA. I honor the few young men and women who enter this program to create a career in teaching, and I acknowledge that they make great teachers when they complete the academic preparation that other teachers must complete. I respect also the majority of TFA participants who see their two-year stints as public service before they move on to other career choices, but I know that having these young people, however dedicated they may be, as "teacher of record" is not best for our most challenging students. Finally, I worry about those who are using this program as a steppingstone to non-teaching jobs in education because they take with them to those jobs superficial knowledge and limited experience for making important decisions about the future of public schools. Now, here are my top ten reasons not to contract with Teach For America.

Reason Ten:  Paying a fee for a TFA recruit is a misuse of taxpayer funds when state and federal governments have given millions to this organization. The higher the fee the more a district is exploited.

Reason Nine:  Allowing placement in elementary school positions where there is no shortage of skilled teachers is a ploy to assure that you will have no choice but to honor the agreed upon number of TFA recruits.

Reason Eight:  Locking yourself into a contract with no escape clause assures that your potential career teachers who are more qualified cannot receive preference in hiring.

Reason Seven:  Contracting for out-of-state TFA recruits undermines opportunities for local graduates of teacher education programs and diminishes loyalty in the community.

Reason Six:  Once you commit to a number of TFA positions, TFA owns those positions for the duration of the contract. You lose the power to hire the best applicants for your district.

Reason Five: Follow the money trail. While TFA is a non-profit, they operate like a for-profit with a large network of staff to market the program. TFA staff are expected to raise funds at the local and state level. In addition, the organization has a huge financial commitment to branding and political/legislative operations.

Reason Four:  The TFA business model thrives on turnover, a dynamic that spells instability for a school district. Good teachers hit their stride after 4-5 years, but less that 20% of TFA recruits stay that long.

Reason Three:  TFA is a short-term response to long-term needs. Unwittingly, they undermine the political will to invest in teachers and the profession. Districts entering into contracts with TFA become co-conspirators.

Reason Two:  The limited preparation that Teach For America provides to recruits does not adequately prepare them for classroom management, understanding of curriculum, lesson plan alignment, special education needs, parental involvement, teamwork, and collaboration. Content knowledge without appropriate pedagogy will never equal accomplished teaching.

Number One Reason:  Poor and minority children need and deserve the most prepared and most experienced teachers. To give them less is malpractice.

I hope this blog has made you more aware of the power that local school districts have in determining the kind of teachers that our students will have and the impact that their decisions make on the teaching profession. I urge all my readers to scrutinize local contracts and challenge them when they are not in the best interests of the children to be served. Shine that bright light so change will occur.