What Would Gandhi Do?

04/17/2012
Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), polit...

Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), politischer und spiritueller Führer von Indien. Ort unbekannt English: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. Français : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Guide politique et spirituel de l'Inde. Lieu inconnu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In its infinite wisdom, the New York State Education Department has increased the length of the state ELA and math tests by 50% this year. Now three days each instead of two.

They say that the increase is due to a need to field test questions for future exams based on the Common Core standards.

In other words, they are using our students, our children, as guinea pigs.

Any other field of science requires informed consent before experimenting on human subjects. I’ve never been asked if I consent to the state experimenting on my son. The state is either arrogantly flouting standard scientific procedure or they’re saying my son, and all the other students attending public schools in the state are not human.

Either way, they’re wrong.

I suspect that if asked, they’ll say that sending our children to public schools implies consent.

That’s nonsense.

It is the same as saying that by taking our children to doctors we’re implying consent for them to be used in chemotherapy studies.

I’ve spent part of the past week, and part of a week in February, working in the library of the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan as part of the state-required internship for the MLS degree I am almost done with.

The students at the Ethical Culture School don’t take state tests. Their parents spend $38,000 a year to buy out of them. Yes, somehow, their children get educated and everyone connected with their education knows precisely what each child is learning.

Not many of us can afford to spend $38,000 a year per child for an education that exempts them from state testing that has nothing to do with improving student learning and that also conducts experiments on those students. We have to find a different way to get our sons and daughters out of the grip of the edu-business of standardized exams.

I propose education civil disobedience. We should just keep our children home on testing days. Or if we must send them to school so we can work, teach them to refuse to take the exams.

Yes, it can have a disastrous effect on a school’s AYP if not enough students take the exam. If it happens in one school no one will notice.

If it happens in all the schools in a district people will begin to notice.

And if it happens in a lot of districts our educational leaders will have a decision to make.

They can try to enforce the laws and punish parents, students and schools for the boycott.

Or they can take their ball of data and go away.

At least for a while.


Through the NYCDOE Looking Glass

04/03/2012
A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop

A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the NYCDOE says it is going to close 33 schools because they are low performing.

But, for no apparent reason, it changes its mind about closing seven of them, but not the other 26, even though some of those 26 perform better than the seven on a variety of measures.

Then the NYCDOE says it is going to ban about 50 words from standardized exams because those words might upset students. After all, students who daily face dangers in their neighborhoods that most of us cannot imagine might get distressed if the word ‘dinosaur’ appears on an exam.

Once again, it changes its mind – this time after a public outcry – and says it is okay to use those words after all.

So either it is all right to damage students or the words were banned  for no reason. Take your pick.

Tonight the NYCDOE is conducting a public hearing to discuss whether to shoehorn a new K-5 elementary school into the building that currently houses the middle school where I work, as well as the pre-K and kindergarten classes there’s no room for in the elementary school across the street.

Most of my colleagues think that no matter how many parents come and say it is a bad idea because almost all of the classes in the school already have more than 30 students and putting the new school in will mean the middle school will have about 50% fewer classes, the NYCDOE has made up its mind and the new elementary school will take precedence. I suspect that is the case.

If the girdling occurs, it will have some major, perhaps fatal, impact on our library’s existence and my job as librarian, but I am not worried.

The NYCDOE has a very bad record of sticking to its decisions, most likely because the decisions appear to be made on a whim, and whatever they decide is like – pardon the phrase – pissing in the wind. Everyone gets wet, but especially them.

Meanwhile, after making such a big case about the public’s right to know about those teacher ratings, you know, the ones filled with errors and based on spurious information, our mayor is refusing to make public a report critical of the City’s 911 system, particularly the revamp done during his administration because it failed during a snowstorm.

Which is your position, Mr. Mayor? Does the public have a right to know or doesn’t it? Or is this just one more case of a flip-flop, a particularly self-serving one at that?

No, don’t answer. What you say doesn’t mean what it appears to, and it is all rather confusing.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Keep everyone confused and pretty soon they’ll just give up trying to understand.

That’s when it really gets dangerous for us.


Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?


Teacher Ratings: We Blew It!

02/27/2012

We blew it.

By ‘we,’ I mean the entire NYC education community. 

Teachers, administrators, chancellor Walcott, we all blew it.

We were handed a very teachable moment on a silver platter. And we blew it. Big time.

We knew it was coming: we should have been prepared.

We had the opportunity to nail it, but we blew it.

I’m talking about what everyone involved in teaching in NYC is talking about: the release of teacher ratings based on standardized tests given over the past few years. The ratings release my union, the UFT, spent lots of time and money trying to prevent when we should have embraced it, embraced it because it offered the teachable moment to end teachable moments.

Here we were given everyone’s attention, a focused and huge student body, and we didn’t take advantage of it.

We should have done what we claim to do best: teach.

We should have taught the lesson on what statistical validity means, or the lesson on how a large margin of error renders data useless.

We could have taught the lesson about how one test on one day does not necessarily – okay, doesn’t at all – show what any one student or any large group of students know, don’t know and are or are not capable of doing.

Or the one about how the findings of a test designed for one purpose, even if it does that purpose really well, are not capable of determining the causality of those initial results. That’s an easy one: a thermometer can measure how hot it is (what a student knows) but doesn’t tell you anything about the efficiency of the sun (what the teacher does).

We could have done so much to make our community smarter, more capable of determining when something they are being spoon fed is BS, more able to know what is and isn’t true.

But we didn’t.

We blew it.

Maybe we really are bad teachers.

All of us.

Even the chancellor.


Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

02/20/2012
English: teacher

Image via Wikipedia

I love my son.

He is a high school senior about to decide what college to attend. One of his criteria is which school to which he’s been accepted has the best program to prepare him for his chosen professional goal.

I very much want my son to be happy in his work because if he is it will not seem like work.

He wants to be a high school English teacher.

I am trying very hard to talk him out of it.

My son loves to read and read at a high school level in fifth grade.

His current English teacher has him co-teaching a couple of lessons in the class. No other student is doing that.

Another of his HS English teachers told my wife and me “the greatest gift I could give my profession would be for your son to become an English teacher.”

Heady stuff, indeed.

My son could possibly be a very good English teacher. That is why I am trying to talk him out of it.

These days, very good is not good enough.

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that NY Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Indicted murderers are presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury of their peers.
Tenured teachers are presumed ineffective, despite acquittal by their administrators.

How can I let my son become a teacher under a system that is as illogical and as unfair as the one his father will be working under starting next year?

Oh, wait. I’m a librarian. I don’t have students whose test scores can be compared year-to-year. No matter. The school’s total overall test scores will affect my job rating, whether or not most or any of the students come into the library and whether or not I have any influence on their performance on those one day exams.

More logic. Impressive.

Kid, I love you.

Become a mortician, a lawyer, a barber, or an accountant.

Pick rags for a living.

English: Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West,...

Just don’t become a teacher.

It just isn’t a good job anymore.


Oh boy! Now You Can Take the Tests.

12/14/2011
Standardized Test

Earlier this week I wrote a post called Standardized Tests, good for the geese, good for the ganders in which I challenged everyone who has anything to do with the setting of education policy to follow the lead of one stalwart school board member and take the tests they make students take.

Thanks to the Washington Post’sAnswer Sheet column I took an abbreviated version of the Florida 10th grade math and English tests. I did it at 11:30 at night after being up since 5:00AM, working a full day and taking five hours of grad school classes. You’re allowed to use a calculator and look up general equations like Pythagorean or the volume of a cylinder.

I don’t mean to brag, but I did it all in my head without a calculator and without looking anything up. I got perfect scores in both sections of seven questions each, all in about five minutes.

You can take the same mini-test I did or a sample of the Texas, California, New York, Virginia, Washington DC. or Maryland tests. Let me know which ones you took and how you did. And challenge your governor, your school board members, your state department of education administrators, and your president to relive their adolescence by taking the tests and making public the results.

This should be fun. It was for me, but I’m strange that way.

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Standardized tests: good for the geese, good for the ganders.

12/11/2011
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

Image via Wikipedia

Something remarkable happened the other day.

A school board member in one of the nation’s largest school districts had the temerity to take the 10th grade standardized tests that he and his cohorts require students to take.

I think this is an excellent idea.

After all, if the tests are appropriate to see what students know then they are also necessary to see what school board members know. School board members should be required to take the same tests students are required to take. To be fair, I’d only require them to take the 10th grade tests. I wouldn’t want to challenge them too much.

Standardized tests are necessary to see what members of state boards of education know. If the state requires an exit exam so students can graduate from high school, then that is the exam the state board members should take. If they can’t pass them they should be removed from their positions and required to repeat high school.

Standardized tests are also necessary to see what the mayors who control school systems and the chancellors they appoint know. After all, if the tests are adequate to judge teacher ability they must certainly be able to judge the ability of the people who hire the teachers, set curriculum and allocate assets to schools.

President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Arne Duncan should take standardized tests. So should President Obama.

And the results of those exams should be made public.

In fact, standardized testing is a great way to see which of the presidential candidates is most up to the demands of the job, which one can understand the math of the budget or the tax system. I’m sure Newt, Mitt, John, Rick, Ron and even Michelle could pass those tests with flying colors.

I’m starting a movement to have everyone who sets educational policy take the standardized tests, the same ones students do.

Join me. Send a tweet, a text, an email or phone to your school board members, your state legislators, your Congress people, Senators and presidential candidate of choice. Tell them that it is time for them to sit down with a couple of #2 pencils and show us what they know.

After all, it is only fair.

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We Need to Teach So that Kids Will Care

11/13/2011

Someone I respect says we shouldn’t teach kids stuff they don’t care about.

It sounds appealing. On some level this seems to make sense.

It is also patently absurd.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about for all kinds of reasons.

The first reason is because we don’t have to teach them the things they do care about. They learn those things with or without us.

Dinosaur Exhibition Beijing

You know this if you have spent any time at all with boys between the ages of three and six and wondered how they know all they know about dinosaurs. You know this if you have ever talked to a teenager about their music.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about so that they will care about things they don’t know about yet. Like genocides, or famines, or global warming.

Or how to use a chain saw.

Man using a chainsaw with all recommended safe...

I wish someone had taught me how to use a chainsaw. I didn’t care about it when I lived in Manhattan, it wasn’t important then. I could really use that knowledge now that I have a backyard with trees down in it.

As I see it, the question is not whether we should or should not teach kids things they don’t care about. The question is what it is that they don’t care about that we do need to teach them about.

This is not really something anyone I know can determine. I know I can’t.

I have problems just dividing knowledge into those things we academics call subjects. I have a very hard time figuring out where math ends and science begins, how people can think that what we call social studies doesn’t overlap them both and that it is all blanketed by English.

Kowledge is holisitc. It is all one giant fuzzy rapidly expanding blob with no beginning, no end, no edges at all. It cannot be created and cannot be destroyed; it can only be uncovered or revealed. And it is our job to reveal it, as much of it as we can.

I don’t think it matters much what order we teach things. Jerome Bruner says anything can be taught to anyone at any time. The only thing that changes is the level of complexity. He contends that anything can be, should be, retaught repeatedly at increasing levels of complexity.

I just know that it is absolutely essential that we teach kids one very, very important thing, something we all know but don’t focus on. We need them to know it and to focus on it, to make it the driving force in their life.

The other side of the globe.

We have to teach kids that the world has not always been the way it is now and it will not always be the way it is.

We have to teach them that they have the power to change the ways things are.

And we have to remember that so do we.

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The Dull Edge of Education

11/03/2011
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 5:  A screen shot ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

New York City bans all student electronics from its schools.

No cell phones, no iPods, no Blackberries, no iPads.

Yes, the city that cannot provide enough working technology in classrooms to allow more than two students use computers at a time in most classrooms has decided to maintain its stand against students bringing their own technology to school.

According to our chancellor and his boss, the billionaire mayor, who really runs the schools, education is teacher-delivered and nothing should distract from that one-way flow of knowledge.

Isn’t odd that this city that likes to think of itself as being on the cutting edge of finance and fashion is so far behind the times when it comes to education? Isn’t it odd that the man who fancies himself the savior of education has such an old-fashioned view about how it happens?

Last night reporters for Schoolbook, the new collaboration between WNYC radio and the New York Times, confronted chancellor Walcott and asked him if he would consider changing the rule regarding student-owned technology. He said no.

When the reporters commented that some believe cell phones could be useful in education he reportedly replied, “And cellphones can also be not useful in class as well.”

And another door slams in the face of our students.

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$4704

10/15/2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghani...

Image via Wikipedia

$4704

…pays for about 1/10th of one second of advertising in the Super Bowl this year.

$4704

…pays for 1.5 seconds of the US’s involvement in Afghanistan.

$4704

That’s my budget for library media for this entire school year.

$4704

That includes all audio-visual materials, books, magazines/ periodicals/newspapers, maps/globes, tapes, microfilms, and computer software for use in the library.

$4704

That’s $6.25 per student enrolled in the school last October.

$4704

That $6.25 per student rate was set by the NY State legislature in 1999.

$4704

US total inflation from June 2000, to June 2011 is 30.93% according to inflationdata.com

$4704

Inflation in the rate budgeted per student 0%

$470

“Most school libraries managed to escape the economic trials of 2010 largely unscathed––with the exception of those in high-poverty areas, which saw significant declines in spending on information resources and in collection size.”
American Library Association report on the State of American Libraries.

$4704

My school is in the poorest Congressional district in the nation.

$4704

Perhaps I should be grateful that my budget has not gone down.

$4704

I’m not.

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