Friday, November 20, 2015

prayer in school

A case for separation of church and state
Clearly one of the most misunderstood issues is that of the separation of church and state.  We know it is inherent in the constitution, but how it is implemented creates much division that wouldn’t be there if we only understood not only how it protects citizens from those who want to impose their religion on them, but for religion who has concerns about state control.

As a retired teacher, principal and one who has taught education law at the university level, I find this issue quite interesting.  The State may not promote nor hinder religion nor may religion intermingle with the State.  What does that mean?

To go back in history, the first Supreme Court case regarding religion in the public schools was the Gideon Bible case.  The Gideon’s wanted to pass out Bibles in school to those whose parents approved.  The courts said, of course, that it was a violation of separation of church and state.  And the State may not promote the Gideon’s over others.  But who sided for the case and who was against it.  For it, of course, were the Gideon’s.  However, fighting it tooth and nail were the Baptist, the Catholics, the Methodists and many more who didn’t want the Gideon Bible in the public school.

The courts basically said that no religion would be allowed to intermingle in public schools, an arm of the state.  Think for a minute about what would happen if this wasn’t the case.  Which religion would be allowed into public schools?  That decision would be, of course, made by the administration of public school, an arm of the state.  So now we have the state controlling which religion will be allowed in and under what terms.  Do we really want that?  

And what would they do to get their religion into the public schools?  Religion, mingling with the state, was one cause of the problems in Ireland.  The Catholics and Protestants were at war for 500 years over that and other issues.  ISIS is at war over that issue, as is the Taliban and the Nazi’s during the holocaust and we would also eventually be at war over that issue, Christians vs Christians.

But how is religion protected?  Take the case of Kim Davis in Kentucky.  I agree that she, as an individual, has the right to stand by her religious convictions.  However, the State does not.  In her case she not only said that she would not grant same sex marriage, but she would not allow it in her office.  That is where she broke the law.  If only she would have passed it on to another, the problem would have been solved.  

And if she disagreed with the State, she had the opportunity not to work for them.
But some say beware, soon they will make churches perform same sex marriages.  Not a possibility.  Why, because of separation of church and state.  The state has no right to tell churches whom to marry or whom not to marry.  So that will never happen.  The same goes for paying taxes.  Churches do not pay taxes under the protection of the concept of separation of church and state. Do we really want to change that?

And my favorite issue is prayer in public school.  Of course children can pray in public schools.  I did it all the time especially before a big test.  But the state may not control it.  If you want to pray, you must pray in a way that does not impose your religion on the school / State.  Simply, as Jesus says, pray in the closet. 

So if you want to stand by your religious convictions, avoid doing as ISIS does, as the Taliban does as the Nazi’s did or the Christians in Ireland did to force their religion on others.  Do so in the closet when it conflicts with laws that protect your religion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Teach Strong, a positive approach to support educators or the same ole same ole

Yesterday a new initiative was put forward to attempt to bring together many different factions with opposing views about education. It is clear that the civil rights groups want accountability to assure that all children receive a quality education. It is also clear that many educators and parents also want the same thing.  The difference is in the approach that each takes to achieve that end. Of course the solution is to bring those and a wide variety of other groups together to see if it is possible for collaboration to succeed.  

I am not interested in guilt by association, I have friends on many sides of the issue.  Where my interest lies is in the issues.  How can we take a diverse group and clear our heads, stop the finger pointing long enough to focus on the agenda of children.  Many on both sides say that this is an impossible task.  And they may be right.  What's going on at the classroom level is not just unethical, but it is immoral.  But to blame teachers, or principals or the parents or the kids or even the broad umbrella of poverty doesn't solve anything.  We must find solutions.  Let's look at the goals: 

1. Identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce.

It is clear that there needs to be strong diversity of teachers in order to serve all students in a fair and equitable manner.  This is not to say only black or Latino teachers can teach black or Latino kids.  It means that role models are available to all kids on a regular basis allowing them to identify as well as support a quality education for all.  

My experience in a neighborhood school I designed and was put in an all black neighborhood had me receiving permission to have 70% black teachers.  Although there were not enough black teachers to allow this percentage throughout the Milwaukee Public School system, it allowed me to see the value of a diversified staff.  And I believe it was a great asset.  Why shouldn't there be a proper proportion in every school?

2. Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and a professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.

Teacher preparation must be made real.  Currently there is a disconnect between universities and the classroom.  And this is not always a problem with the universities.  When I saw student teachers enter some of the schools I was in, I saw them change dramatically away from what they were taught to an outmoded way of teaching in the way schools are spozed to be.  The knowledge base must include the fundamental ability to teach the whole child, including teaching students who learn in different ways and at different rates.  A special emphasis must be put on the ability to use differentiated instruction in the classroom, using the community as the classroom to make learning real, empowering kids to be leaders, and supporting critical thinking.

As for high standards for teacher candidates?  It depends on what the high standards are.  If they include the previous suggestions, of course.  If it means teachers scoring well on a standardized test or teaching to the test?  NEVER!

3. Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.

My response is the same for this as the previous issue. 

4. Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.

This goes without saying.  The teaching profession is approximately 84% female and average salaries are on the$50,000 range.  Engineers are about 85% male with the same education and their salaries are about $20,000 higher.  You want quality teachers, give them an incentive and treat them like the professionals they are.

5. Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs. 

This is also absolutely essential.  I have been a mentor for first year teachers and the conversations we had were phenomenal.  They need all the support they can get to be successful with a successful transition from university to the classroom.  But this support must not be traditional teach to the test.  This must be support for innovation, finding the way kids learn best, at their best rate. 

6. Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.

Tenure, of course must be meaningful.  As it stands now, it does not assure teachers that they cannot be fired for misconduct or any other violation of rules or laws.  That is a myth.  When teachers are not fired for gross misconduct it is usually because of weak administrators who don't have the courage or energy to follow due process.  But putting a high level on tenure, if it is reasonable and not based on teacher or student testing would be valuable only if that teacher received proper support in the process.  And that support could easily come from quality retired teachers.  In fact all teacher assessments could be by retired teachers.  I did that and my colleagues had no patience for poor teaching but understood the profession without the agendas that go along with administrative assessments.  And they are cheaper.    

7. Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development.

Planning time is essential for innovation.  When you have a wide range of student skills within the classroom, they all must be approached at their level, taking them from where they are.  This requires a great deal of planning and cannot be achieved by following a script.  every child is unique from the most severe cognitive disabled across the spectrum to the gifted, test takers.  That is a wide range of diverse skills.  Planning for each individual is essential as every child is different.  Many will be similar, but all are different.

That also requires a reasonable class size.  Taking 40 kids in a class with one teacher when every child is different is not only unethical, it is immoral.

8. Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.

Feedback throughout the years of teaching is valuable for growth.  Most high quality educators appreciate feedback on a regular basis.  In order to give proper feedback it must include the mentor or assessor to spend significant time with the teacher in the classroom.  Administrators simply don't have the time.  And to hire more administrators at an extremely high cost in unnecessary.  Again the retired teachers would do a great job and have more time to spend in the classroom, uninterrupted.  University personnel would also be valuable in this effort.

9. Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.

This is an area that can be explored.  Input from current teachers would be valuable in this effort.

Allow me to add one more.  As I support the Sanders Collins amendment included in the Every Child Achieves Act, I will add that 

10. we must provide a viable alternative to the current testing fiasco.  Whole child assessment, being the only real way of determining the skills of students, must be the primary means of determining student success.  As assessment drives the curriculum, then that curriculum would be whole child, showing what kids can do, not just how they can answer a question. And recognizing that it's not how kids come into the school, it's the gains they make while the are there that is important.

Included is a child's individual learning plan as all kids have different hopes and dreams 

Without systemic change, none of this will work, and the finger pointing will begin again.

Well, that's my take and my hope for the teach strong movement.  Of course this could all fall apart but this is an opportunity for the kind of change that is needed in education.  In order for this to happen there must be the kind of change that not only supports the skills and abilities of teachers but assures parents that their children will receive the highest quality education taking them on their pathway to success.

Do I support Teach Strong now?  Yes.  Because we must have the conversation.  Pointing fingers and shouting is no longer acceptable for professionals.

The conversation begins:  Cynthia on twitter wants teacher autonomy in the classroom. She adds "knowledge of the kids she teaches drives what she teaches".
I believe local assessment will allow that as well as IEP for all  Empower teachers to teach

Will I support Teach Strong six months from now?  I don't know.  If it falls along the wayside of political agendas, I will be the one screaming and yelling.  Until then it would be advantageous for all professional educators to get behind the effort, for now. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2015



Approximately 6 years ago I said on my web page that if public education supporters did not develop a viable alternative to the testing fiasco, public schools would and should perish.  Alas the reality strikes home.  Since that time many public schools have closed, charters and private schools have opened and yet there is little emphasis on changing public schools to meet the real needs of all children.

On one side there are those, led by Diane Ravitch, who have done a remarkable job of pointing out the flaws in the current testing system of education.  They have also supported the “opt out” concept that has an increasing number of parents refusing to allow their children to take the test.  Those parents recognize the drudgery of the test and its lack of value to their children.

On the other side, the reformers continue to present the same rhetoric that public schools are failing and only if you change the name of the school to a charter or choice, all will be well.  Supported by civil rights groups odd bedfellows are formed with tea party activists siding with left leaning groups for a variety of reasons.

Regardless of the reasons, the battle goes on with name calling, finger pointing, the spewing of data that is twisted and turned to prove each side’s point.  It leads to the Ravitch group using test scores to proclaim victory when they denounce those very test scores on a regular basis.  The reformers have then allowed the manipulation of statistics and the exclusion of students to lead the way in their effort to increase test scores.

The battle rages on minus the one element that I stated on my web page 6 years ago.  Where is the viable alternative to the testing fiasco?  And why isn’t either side interested in developing and promoting that alternative?

There will be much speculation about the answer to that but my belief is that they are both so entrenched in warfare that they have lost sight of the fundamental purpose of education.  The first question that must be asked is “Who matters”.  Is it still the children?  If so that’s where the focus must return.  Not who wins or who is guilty by association, or who scored the most points on the pro con battles that have arisen. 

When we recognize who matters, we then must address the fundamental purpose of education.  Is it to be first or best or have the greatest test scores?  Or is it to prepare children for the future.  Those who choose the latter, will clearly be on a path worth following.  And that path will take us in a different direction than the one we now follow.

The reality is there are many educators chomping at the bit to do right by children if only the politicians would get out of the way.  And yes, those politicians include some from the two groups previously mentioned.

There are so many waiting in the wings to take on the challenge.  Dr. Nikki Woodson, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools told her schools not to wait for the test.  Prepare your plans with your assessments.  This can be done everywhere, now!  Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of North Carolina schools wants an active curriculum in all her schools.  Dr. Angela Dye knows the importance of empowering children to seek their future, their way.  Principal Jamaal Bowman is supporting a holistic approach to his middle school, is taking the challenge to modernize and elevate the teaching profession and the list goes on and on. 

Even companies are preparing for a high quality education.  Achieve3000 emphasizes differentiated learning by providing 12 reading levels from the same periodical so students can read at their level and discuss the subject as a group.  Yes, taking every child from where they are, not from where we wish they were.

Educational innovators are everywhere and they must prevail.  And the reality is, they can prevail now.  Yes, I said now, regardless of the rules brought down from on high.  No longer can we wait for permission to serve children in the way they deserve.  What is being done today with the testing fiasco is not only unethical, it is immoral.  If we as educators follow the current leaders, we too are immoral.  The time for action is now.  

The time has come for innovative educators to take back their profession for the children, because we can’t wait for higher ups to give it to them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

True systemic change; A plan of action for your school that can happen NOW!.

Essential to systemic reform is to recognize that all students are different, learn in different ways and have different interests and passions. No longer may we force kids into a small box full of word games and math riddles and call it education. There are several changes necessary to assure all students receive an education that prepares them for their future.

1. Innovative schools must take students from where they are, forward on their pathway to success. To achieve this, an individual pathway (MY Action Plan, MAP) is developed to guide students through their educational years. This includes revising the outmoded system of failure that is designed to pass kids with a D- and insufficient knowledge, or push them out of school. As we recognize all students are different, those with "special needs" become a part of the spectrum. And gifted students are no longer held back to suffer from boredom. They also move at their pace. 

Student assessment is local and ongoing embedded in the daily curriculum. Information from assessment must be whole child and immediate to drive individual learning. When assessment is whole child, the curriculum follows.

2. Achievement must be redefined to make it a real accounting of necessary learning. 1st class or whole child achievement must become the priority as it is more important for students to be able to apply their learning than simply bubble in the correct answer. 2nd class or testing achievement still plays a role but a much smaller one and is done locally.

3. A student learning plan (My Action Plan, MAP) is prepared with parents, students and educators on the local level and must replace the testing fiasco with assessment that measures first class achievement and uses it for the benefit of the education of the student. 2nd class or testing is compared on a regular basis with curriculum progress to assure the validity of the process. With the ability to broaden assessments (i.e. science fairs etc) we must no longer waste time trying to tweak the "test" with value added nonsense in the failed effort to try to make it meaningful.

4. Essential to the success of a new systemic plan for education is the empowerment of the childs first teacher, their parents. This begins by inclusion in the decision making of the school on all releveant issues. Parental involvement, in this plan, includes all parents receiving small, relevant surveys when an upcoming decision is essential. Never again will a handful of parents speak for all as parents are as diverse as their children.  All must be represented.  In addition all parents will be involved in their childs MAP, guiding their direction to their future.

5. School assessment must be based on many aspects of the whole school environment. Of course the best way for a parent to determine the quality of a school is to visit the school on several occasions and stay for as long as possible. Schools will have problems, but the manner of how those problems are resolved are of utmost importance. As for the academic progress of a school, the important issue is how each individual student progresses.  A false indicator in the past has been the number of students proficient. This is false because it does not indicate the students skill levels when they enter the school. A school that subtly excludes students who need them the most, will seem to be of high quality when their actual success with student achievement might be low. Look for the quality of support systems in the school for parents, students and teachers and you will be able to determine a quality school.

6. To assure quality, a strong well balanced teacher accountability plan must be implemented. This must be without hidden agendas, the kind of accountability that not only supports the skills and abilities of teachers, but assures parents that their children will receive the highest quality education taking them on their pathway to success. Accountability that supports good teaching strategies while assuring all individual students move forward from where they are, to their future success. It is important to recognize that there cannot be quality accountability without a system that reflects all teachers needs. This support includes, but is not limited to:
     A. Small class size sufficient to meet the needs of the wide           diversity of students skill levels.
     B. Sufficient planning time as each individual student will need a plan of action based on needs.
     C. Given that assessment drives the curriculum, schools must be allowed to develop a system and philosophy of education that moves away from the standardized test, to 1st class achievement being the priority and guiding light for all curricular activities.

The time for action is now. It is time to empower students to chase their dreams and follow their pathway to success, for parents to become full partners in the process, and for teachers to take back their profession.

It is time for schools in the mainstream system to innovate by eliminating letter grades, eliminating grade levels for promotion, eliminating the outdated and immoral system of failure, ignore the "test" and bring schools into the 21st century by replacing these with a system that respects the intelligence of every child. 

This can be implemented NOW! I will help anyone do this because I have done it, I know what to replace failure with.

For more info and link to my new book that details systemic change, click

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can civil rights groups and public educators both be right? And what if Dyett became a model?

The battle between those who support common core and those who don't is fundamentally based on the way education has been for the past 200 years.  There are concerns about local control vs federal control of education. 

A case for federal involvement goes back to Brown vs Board of Education as there must be oversight to allow fair treatment of all students especially those who have been denied equal education in the past.

A case for those against common core is that a singular standardized test is not an adequate way to assess kids as it does not indicate real achievement, falsely determining whether teacher are teaching and learners are learning.

Both have valid points and both must be taken seriously.  Let's first explore the impact on students forced to a standardizing mentality.  It is clear that obstacles in the way of learning exist with many of those in poverty and that especially affects their ability to take tests in a group setting, regurgitate answers given to them and see complex issues as having simple answers. 

The reality is that the test, as the outcome demanded, drives the curriculum.  And here is how it does damage: Children in the burbs, who have less obstacles in their way do better on the standardized test, are more at ease taking it in large groups and are more adept at seeing simple answers to complex questions as well as giving answers that satisfy the requirements of the artificial norm.  Thus they are able to spend less time studying for the test and more time with innovative learning. Creative learning such as the arts, and hands on activities as well as broad experiences in the community are more readily available ,

However, in urban areas where success at the test is limited, the scope becomes narrow.  The arts, physical education, hands on activities like shop and home economics as well as innovative activities in the classroom are lessened or even eliminated.  The end result is that those children are forced to learn in the way that they are least capable before they are allowed to learn in the way they are most capable.  This is not only unethical, it is immoral!

Now we explore the concerns on those civil rights organizations that are focused on fairness and equity in education.  It is clear going back to "Brown vs Board of education" that the lack of fairness is an issue and must always be monitored.  To go back to a day when education was thrown out for students to catch in a bushel basket does a dis service to those who need us the most.  Look what it is doing to voters rights.  It is unimaginable to take education back to that era. However, the question becomes, does the test really determine achievement?  Dr. Angela Dye digs deeply into this when she states "traditional school outcomes as level "B" achievement can occur in the absence of learning how to work and learn independently; {A-level learning includes} learning how to synthesize, transfer and apply knowledge to the world beyond the classroom;  learning how to value self as subjects and not as objects; and learning how to engage in and share power in democratic spaces". 

Therein lies the crux of the argument.  And here is how both are right in the best interest of students. Whole child assessment may soon be allowed to drive the curriculum as the rewrite of ESEA includes the Collins - Sanders amendment.  That amendment allows innovative assessment away from the test that gives a more accurate picture of what children are learning and how useful it can be to their future beyond the classroom.  The definitions around this amendment can be read at

This is not a "be all and end all" for education but it is a big step forward.  Although assessment must be local, over sight will be at the state and federal level assuring all students are treated fairly.  Thus satisfying the needs of both communities and more importantly the needs of children.We still have to take an individualized approach to assessment and education.  Children still learn at different rates and their genius will unfold at different times, not on a common core schedule.  But the beginning of an educational revolution is at hand.  A revolution that puts the agenda of children in the forefront. 

And what if Illinois was one of the 5 states that was allowed to implement that model; and what if Dyett School would be the model for that amendment; and what if Duane Turner were to be the principal?  Just sayin'

Empower parents, empower students teachers take back your profession

Or New Orleans?  or Detroit?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Public Education, change or perish!

There are those among us that feel that simply going back to the old days of public education is just fine.  I am not among those.  I have been in education since the late 60's and it is clear that we were not serving all children successfully.  Merely stating, as did Carol Burris,  that public ed existed before NCLB is not sufficient and is detrimental to the kids we serve.

I recall being an assistant principal at an urban high school in 1990.  Their were 400 freshmen in that class.  I went back to their graduation and their were approximately 170 graduates.  Now my math might be a little shaky and there were some variables but that is not a sign of a good school.  Another high school in the same city had approximately 650 freshmen of which 250 were failed second year freshmen.  In a school where the enrollment was listed as 1400, I counted 200 students in the cafeteria during lunch.  This is not ok!

As an administer at one of the high schools, I was struggling to support a student who was having difficulty.  A teacher approached me and stated that he was 16 years old.  I didn't understand the significance of that.  The teacher responded, "don't you understand? , He's 16, he'll drop out soon. We don't have to worry about him.  That was also the prevailing attitude of that day toward this difficult black young man.  I didn't buy that but the teachers wishes came true.  He disappeared.

Not only were expectations low  especially for black males, but their was a minimal effort to teach in the way kids learn the best.  Before NCLB there was a chapter test mentality and, by design, an approach that demonized black youth.  There was an all white honor role and the senior classes were primarily white as most black students left before the end of the year.  Freshmen classes had 35 to 40 students in the class while mostly white senior class had very small class sizes.

No, the good old days were not the good old days with students passing through with a D- just to make the data look good.  The school was said to have 1400 students had a graduation of slightly over 100.  And one of those students had attended my middle school.  She had special needs and attended the high school for three years before dropping out.  I was surprised when I attended that graduation and saw her walk across the stage with a full diploma.

So to say things were ok back then is a blatant lie.

And then came No Child Left Behind and things went from bad to worse.  Those who did well on the test, who had no obstacles in front of them were allowed to have the arts and do innovative classroom activities.  Those who were damaged by obstacles that were devastating often did not do well on the test.  As the test drives the curriculum, and those kids needed to do well on the test, the scope was narrowed.  The arts were eliminated as well as home ec, shop and innovative activities in the classroom and kids were forced to learn to the test, learn in the way they had the most difficulty learning before they were allowed to learn in the way they learn the best, often with hands on activities.  This whole child learning is innovation that has the teacher finding the best way for individual children to learn.

The setup is children are forced to learn in an outdated manner, not in the way they do best.  This is not only unethical, it is immoral.

So, should we accept the NCLB way of learning?  Of course not.  Fight it with every fiber of our being.  Should we accept the public school of old?  Of course not, improve it with the skills and abilities public teachers have.  Public school teachers are the best at innovation, allow us to do that.  The Collins amendment may open the door a crack.Are  public school teachers ready to jump through that door and make it happen?  Or will we sit on our asses and whine about the good old days.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How the test is destroying America

There has been much discussion about the significance of the high stakes standardized test and how it is used in the current system of education.  It is time to take a closer look at the overall effect of the testing mentality and how it drives the very fiber of this country?

Let us compare simplistic, test taking conversations with those that allow for critical thinking.  The most obvious that comes to mind is politics.  As I prepare to cut off my cable until the next election I decided to look for examples of how commercial politics works.

Bubble test thinking:  There is snow in the winter so of course their is no climate change

Critical thinking:  Look deeply into the affects of climate change and you will understand that it affects weather in many different ways.  Global warming is an average of temperatures around the globe.  Does anyone understand what global is.  Not Washington DC warming, not Three Oaks Michigan warming, not warming outside your house, global means the whole world!  Duh

Bubble test thinking:  When the media hypes one dramatic case of an immigrant that commits a horrible crime, then we better be afraid of immigrants.

Critical thinking: Does that mean that one person is representative of the other 10,899,999 undocumented immigrants?

Bubble test thinking: A young black man gets shot and killed by police for committing a minor crime.  He shouldn't have committed a crime.

Critical thinking: Is the punishment for a minor crime death?  What was the approach to the young man in the first place?  Did it humanize or dehumanize?

Bubble test thinking:  When Sen Rubio says that Amazon has no stores it means he is young and understands that this is a problem.

Critical thinking:  Does the Senator try to convey the idea that people my age (72) don't understand this?  That is an insult to older people. Anyone knows about Amazon and others, but maybe we have actual solutions.

Bubble test thinking:  When Donald Trump says he will build a wall along the Mexican border, this will certainly stop immigration.

Critical thinking: The Mexican border is close to 2000 miles long and they know how to dig tunnels. Is this practical?  What is the root of the problem?  And watch out for those Canadians.  Do we need a wall there also?

Bubble test thinking: Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that we have had the slowest recovery in history.

Critical thinking: This bids the question, recovery from what? Was it recovery from the deepest recession in history?  And there are many more questions that aren't addressed.

Bubble test thinking: Scott Walker said if he could stand up to the unions he could stand up to ISIS.

Critical thinking:  Specifically what skills and knowledge base makes those two issues similar.  None!

Bubble test thinking:  An agreement with Iran is based on trusting Iran

Critical thinking:  An agreement with Iran is because we don’t trust Iran. If we trusted them we wouldn’t need an agreement.  The deep thinking questions that should be asked are what are the specific issues in the agreement that  makes it better or worse than what now exists.  If we don't trust Iran, can we trust them with no agreement? Nothing to hold them accountable.

Bubble test thinking:  looking backward, if we punish the people more, they will bring on democracy

Critical thinking:  Looking forward, win the hearts and minds of the people, they will prevail when the Castro's are gone

Of course issues go much deeper than these, but this is the beginning of critical thinking.  My parents told me "Don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see."  And that was before we had a television.  I believe the testing mentality has led the people  away from critical thinking to find a simple yes or no, or multiple choice answer in things that we are told through the media. 

In the words of that famous Irish philosopher George Carlin, “They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking.  That’s against their interest.  They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept it”

The reality is that tabloid news programs  (and that is all of them) would lose their viewers and no one would listen to politicians if we taught critical thinking.  What a novel thought! Our whole political system is built on the hope that “we the people” will not use critical thinking.  And corporations not only own the politicians but they also own the media.  Is it no wonder that those same politician insist on the simplistic thinking of the standardized test. 

This is not only unethical, it is immoral!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Brainstorming Choice

There have been many arguments for and against parental choice. It really comes down to one issue. It is the artificial belief that when your child is in a school where the students have low test scores, your child will make smaller gains in academics.  When your child is in a school with students who have higher test scores, your child will be more likely to make greater gains.

Let us take a deeper look at this issue:

First, test scores are not a sole indicator of academic achievement. They are, at best, 2nd class achievement.  Whole child learning, where a child demonstrates what they are able to do, is 1st class achievement. However, the problem is the mandated test drives the curriculum of the school. And teach to the test becomes the curriculum leaving the perception that kids in higher scoring schools end up being taught to the test better than those with kids in lower scoring schools based on those results. This may or may not be the case but perceptions are real to those who have them. The reality is that the segregation of class and in many cases, race are in full force.

Second, with every child having the same singular standard it seems essential as parents to seek out the school that will enhance your child's education, whether the standards are 1st or 2nd class, there is still a rush to find the school that will support you child the most. There is no notice of what progress a child is really making. It is hidden by the false assumption that everyone should be the same.

Most schools make every effort to see that your child will achieve at the highest level. The reality is the current system of education forces "artificial choice" to become an issue. The current system is based on a poorly designed race that takes kids who are successful in the narrow scope of testing to college and those who aren't to struggle for survival.  And the lack of survival puts kids on the streets.

What if we had an individual pathway to success for every child, an action plan to support learning for all? Then schools could be assessed based on the real success of each individual student, and your child would clearly be seen as being able to advance based on his or her merit.  And the perception that  a student is held back by slower students would disappear. All students would progress at their own best rate. And parents would no longer judge based on average test scores, but based on the quality of education.

No more shifting schools based on an artificial belief that schools that screen for the higher scoring kids, are the best schools. No more shifting schools based on unproven perceptions. Schools would now be on an even playing field and those who serve the kids that need us the most will get their just due.

What if the system and philosophy of a school system was allowed to innovate away from the test if they could develop a plan that is driven by 1st class achievement. That is the only way to put all schools on an even playing field and to allow your child to progress no matter how other kids are doing. And it will allow all kids to progress to their fullest potential without catastrophic failure to the streets.

This is the ONLY way to save public education as well as all education. Of course this would be an extremely difficult plan to implement, but worth it. It would take smaller class size coupled with more planning time, but of more significance, it would take systemic change. What would it accomplish? Children would be empowered to follow their pathway to success; Parents would be empowered to be full partners in the process; and teachers would be empowered to take back their profession.

We have followed the 18th century system of education for hundreds of years and it has failed to serve all kids. Isn't it time to try something new?

For more details go to my website and click the links

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A school without representation? A true story

While mentoring a first year, special education teacher, in Milwaukee’s Guadalupe middle school an incident happened that I will never forget.  The facts caught on video were told to me as follows. 

A teacher is walking down the hall and his leg thrusts backward and hits a female student.  The teacher turns around and laughs a little and moves on.  The video was picture only so they no one could hear what was said.

As told to me by the teacher, the girl complained to her mother that a teacher kicked her.  The mother complained to the principal and the teacher was brought into the office.  As there were no unions allowed in this charter school, he had no representation.  He was confronted with the video and told his side of the story.  He was told he was lying and that he could either resign or be fired.  He chose to resign.

Now his side of the story:  He was walking down the hall when he felt something stick on the bottom of his foot.  He lifted his leg backward to see what it was and inadvertently kicked the girl.  There was nothing in the video to discount what he said but he was asked to resign anyway.

And now the rest of the story:  The young man was Chinese and was born with a withered hand.  As his hand could not hold his foot if he lifted it forward, he lifted it backward instead thus inadvertently kicking the girl.  But why did he laugh?  There was no previous animosity between the teacher and the girl and she was not one of his students.  Well here is a quote from the Handbook of Cultural Psychiatry by Wen-Shing Tseng  2001 Academic Press  San Diego California  
“Nervous laughing…is one kind of coping mechanism commonly used by some Asian people.  When a person is nervous, particularly in an embarrassing situation, instead of manifesting feelings and gestures of nervousness or embarrassment he may laugh nervously.  By bursting into laughter a person could save himself the embarrassment by concealing his feelings of nervousness.  This culturally shaped behavior may look awkward to outsiders, who are not familiar with it, and might interpret it as odd, while actually it is a culturally shaped defense mechanism.”

In conclusion, of course the girl did not lie.  It was her perception that she was kicked intentionally.  But that’s where the adults must look at the total picture.   The bottom line is the teacher had no representation, no one to seek out the whole story.  And he was a quiet, kind person and a perfect gentleman.  He took his medicine and left the school.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

The rhetoric of "poverty isn't destiny" in a test crazed system

The rhetoric of “poverty isn’t destiny” in a test crazed system

Listening to the rhetoric of “poverty isn’t destiny” makes me wonder which “poverty” is being talked about.  Poverty is a big umbrella and it is easy to point out cases of student success as well as cases of failure under that umbrella.

Are we to say that when poverty leads to childhood stress that it does not affect learning?  There is clear evidence, according to Paul Tough, that indicates childhood stress slows the brain.  Can the daily stress of a poverty driven dysfunctional family lead to low test scores and slower achievement?  Of course it can!  In the current, test crazed system of education this clearly leads to students dropping out and poverty becomes destiny.

When poverty leads to chaos in a poor neighborhood, would anyone be able to think straight while living in a war zone?   Consider the lack of proper nutrition on a daily basis and its effect on learning.  Clearly the slowing of learning under the current test crazed system leads to destiny.  And there are those who suggest that the pressure of a standardized test actually leads to ADHD.  Yes, this includes high stakes chapter tests. 

However, “poverty” is a broad umbrella.  Consider the poor family that has a strong role model and a less intrusive level of poverty who can overcome that effect. Of course those students have the ability to achieve at a normal rate and are less affected by poverty.  The question becomes which students are we talking about when we say poverty is or is not destiny?

Those who serve the elite of the poverty students are quick to note that their students all graduated and went to college.  And under the current system, even those students, on the fringe of poverty, will “succeed” if the school prepares them well for the test.  But does this lead to a generalized statement that poverty isn’t destiny?  Of course not!  Does this allow an educator to say my kids are all from single parent families and graduated therefore my school is great.  That is simply the school taking credit for what that strong single parent does.  Does this allow an educator to say my kids are all poor black kids and we made them successful?  The question again becomes which poor black kids are being talked about.  To assume that all poor black kids are troubled and your school saved them is not only wrong, but is playing on the racist belief that all poor black kids are the same.

The secret to success of a school under today’s outdated, test driven system of education is to find as many poor black kids unaffected by poverty and bring them into your school while pushing the others away.  The current system does not reward individual student success in schools who serve those that need us the most.

Of course the solution is to eliminate poverty and every effort should be made to do that.  However, we can’t wait for that to happen.  The time for action is now!  We must recognize the fundamental problem at the bottom is an outdated system of education that was never designed to serve all kids, a system that Thomas Jefferson stated as its purpose “raking a few geniuses from the rubbish”. 

When we recognize that kids are different and progress at different rates and learn in different ways, then and only then will we stop trying to rake those so called geniuses, determined by test scores, and begin to understand that there is real genius in everyone just waiting to come out.  When we stop viewing education as a race where all students must be at the same place at the same time under an outdated, test crazed system, we will begin to succeed with all students.  It is time to realize the fundamental purpose of education is not to win, but to learn.  To assure that poverty is no longer destiny, we must, in the words of Dr. Angela Dye, “re imagine achievement” as real learning, not just testing.