Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Take All The Credit? You'll Get All The Blame

Occasionally, authors receive feedback from a reader that says in effect, "I believe what you wrote; you're on course." And so were we gratified recently when Julie Rummel, a veteran teacher from Findlay, Ohio, told us that she had read something in 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America's Public Schools" (Berliner, Glass & Associates, 2014) that resonated with her experience.

In case you have not commanded to memory every word of 50 Myths, Myth #9 reads as follows: "Teachers are the most important influence in a child’s education." The discussion in the book goes on: "Teachers are important. They provide instruction to students, give them valuable emotional and social support, and are often generous with their time and energy .... They also labor in the shadow of this myth — a myth that seems to celebrate teachers, but which in reality hangs an unrealistic responsibility around their necks. The importance of teachers has been mythologized to the point that it burdens teachers, restricts their ability to serve students in ways they deem appropriate, and may be driving some of the best teachers out of the classroom."

Teachers can only do so much to correct the damage inflicted on children by poverty, ill health, broken homes, or homes run by broken individuals. Some persons flatter with heroic stories and lay unrealistic expectations on them ... and then they blame them when their best efforts inevitably fail. These same persons push policies with names like "value added" and "teacher quality." Teachers naive enough to believe fairy tales will feel the pain when harsh reality shows up. Take undeserved credit, and you will reap undeserved blame. Such is the recent experience of Teacher Julie Rummel when she encountered the new age of education policy with its high-stakes testing, value added evaluation, and other union busting tactics. But, we should let Julie speak for herself.

I read Myth #9 “Teachers are the most important influence,” and here I am now writing to you.

This is my 15th year of teaching. Fourteen of those years have been in inner city, 100% free and reduced lunch schools. My last district had cuts, and, since I had only been there 3 years, I got my pink slip. I was shocked and devastated. But to be brutally honest, I was also relieved. Fourteen years of children screaming at me, parents cussing me out, paying for my own copy paper, watching poverty suck the life out of the lids before they are 9 years old — I was burned-out. I was crying after staff meetings because I knew that what I was expected to have them do was simply beyond me and beyond them. I was feeling like a complete failure, even as they hugged me and told me I was the “best teacher in the world.” I was ready to quit.

My colleagues were all on antidepressants; one committed suicide. The anger and the stress in those environments are hard to explain. Our ceiling dripped into trashcans set on the heater. The kids were angry. They have more emotional problems than one well-intentioned woman can deal with. I am sure you know all of this, at least in theory. My kids were growing, but they were not passing state tests. I could not be deemed a "good teacher" with miserable test scores, could I? So my evaluations were mediocre. "Demoralized" is truly the only word that can come close.

So, back to the pink slip .... I lost my job in May and by August, I was hired in a happy, small-city school with 40% free and reduced lunch. It is now March and not one child has thrown their desk over in anger, frustration, or sheer desperation. Not one desk has been thrown. I cannot emphasize this enough. NO ONE HAS STOOD UP, SCREAMED, AND THROWN THEIR DESK OVER.

Suddenly, 18 of 20 kids are passing their state tests!! Suddenly, I am a great teacher! (ME!) I am getting emails from parents telling me how much their kids love 3rd grade. We can make COLOR COPIES! We have show and tell and nothing gets stolen! Kids bring back their homework! Our walls are painted happy colors! The kids don’t cry. The teachers don’t cry. The kids don’t scream at their teachers, and the teachers don’t scream at the kids. I am competent! I am getting good reviews! I am a good teacher!!!!

This brings us back to Myth #9. It is not me. I am the same teacher, same sense of humor, same ability to connect with kids, same tendency to put off grading and to spend 5 extra minutes at recess. I have not implemented some new strategy. I did not suddenly grow as an educator. (Sorry, Marzano.) In truth, I am only slightly above average. The only thing that HAS changed is that I am now working with middle class families who are raising their children to be middle class citizens. It is a miracle and a gift. And slowly, I am feeling the joy creep back into my classroom and into my life. It is a joy to see those kids every Monday and ask," How was your weekend?" Knowing no one has been evicted. They are ready to learn and THAT is what makes me able to teach.

Thank you for recognizing that.

I am not superman. Nor am I the incompetent, lazy, union-member devil they seem to think I am.

I am so grateful to find someone who sees things the way they are … so that I and my fellow teachers can quit blaming ourselves.

Thank you, Julie Rummel

No, we thank you, Julie.
Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University
David C. Berliner
Arizona State University
~            
San José State University

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whom Do Charter Schools Serve?

The great irony is that the charter school movement was launched decades ago as a solution to the "problem" that special needs students were not being adequately served by the traditional public schools. Charter schools would specialize in serving the needs of that neglected population — or so the story went. How ironic, then, that the modern charter school movement creams the top performing, largely white middle class, sector of the public school population and leaves the poor, the needy, and the minorities back in the traditional public schools. If you don't believe it, read here, and here.

An anonymous correspondent, responding to an earlier posting to this blog, relayed the following experiences:

When I worked at a charter school, the demographics and census of that charter school did not even line up with those of the surrounding Deer Valley Unified School District [a north Phoenix suburban school district].

Arizona State law requires schools, district and charter, to provide transportation services. Many charter schools do not and will not provide this service. Let us see how long a charter school would survive if they were to accept all disabled students, low income students, all ELL students, and students that would require transportation to the school.

One other thing that bothers me about charter schools is their procurement process does not have to follow the laws that district schools must follow.

There does need to be more accountability of charter schools to level the playing field. If the census of the charter school is skewed from that of the surrounding district schools, then something is definitely amiss.

And now, irony climbs atop irony. Charter schools that have creamed high scoring students from the public schools are labeling high percentages of the students "autistic" or other special needs to increase their state allotment from under $10,000 per regular student to about $20,000 per "special needs" student. And then they report no expenditures for special programs.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

They Recruit, They Skim, They Flunk Out The Weak ... They are Arizona's Top Charter Schools

Arizona is a leader in the charter school movement. They lead in % of students in charter schools, and they lead the world in "Lack of Accountability." And no one in a position of influence really cares. The Governor loves charter schools and even wrote to the Scottsdale City Council urging them to approve even another BASIS charter school in their city. But of course, the reality is that Arizona's charter schools are ripping off the public purse and contributing greatly to the resegregation of public education.

The Blog known as Arizonans for School Accountability is the single best investigator of the charter school scene — maybe the single best investigator of charter fraud anywhere. It's originator and sole proprietor may be losing hope, because expose after expose is met with a shrug from anybody in position to stop the abuse. He posted the following entry on a "survey" performed by the Phoenix Business Journal to find the 20 best charter schools in Arizona.

The 20 "best" charters in Phoenix serve White and Asian children...almost exclusively. The Phoenix Business Journal just released the top 20 charter schools in Phoenix based on AzMerits fifth grade scores.

The "best" charter schools in Phoenix are:

  • BASIS Phoenix
  • BASIS Scottsdale
  • Bright Beginnings
  • BASIS Ahwatukee
  • BASIS Peoria
  • Challenger Basic
  • Archway North (GH -Great Hearts)
  • Adams Traditional
  • Self-Development Charter
  • AZ School for the Arts
  • Archway Veritas GH
  • BASIS Central Primary
  • Candeo Peoria
  • Archway Chandler GH
  • Paragon Science Academy
  • Archway Glendale GH
  • BASIS Mesa
  • Archway Cicero GH
  • Benchmark
13,452 students go to these charter schools:
    Asian 17%
  • Black 2%
  • Hispanic 11%
  • White 66%
Free Lunch - only Paragon has free lunch students. ELL - None. Special Education 4%

86% are either White or Asian. BASIS Ahwatukee has 330 Asian students and 283 White students. There is not a single public district with demographics like these and almost no districts outside of Reservation schools that have 11% or less Hispanic students. There are thousands of minority students who could do well in these college prep schools - if their parents had the skills to wade through the enrollment process - if they had transportation - if these schools really wanted to recruit them. They don't. A great school helps assure each child is successful. These school assure that they only serve successful students. There is a big difference.

Eleven of these 20 schools are run by corporations: BASIS and Great Hearts.

One truly weeps.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What It's Like to Attend the Nation's Finest High School

I have kept no secret at this Blog that I consider the BASIS charter school chain to be a disaster. If you wonder why, read here, and here, here, and here. In spite of its obvious shortcomings, US News & World Report was blind to the facts when it ranked a couple of its schools (BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson) among the Top Ten high schools in the United States! BASIS contend that they are not "selective" and that they are open to all comers. This is another cunning and deceptive part of their sales pitch. Listen to one of their "parent information sessions" and imagine what kind of parent would send their child into that school.

One parent in Mesa, Arizona, did send her child into a BASIS charter. She has chosen to remain anonymous — I suspect that her child has to survive the last few months of the school year. Read this family's experience, and you will know why a BASIS charter starts out with a few hundred children in the elementary grades but ends up with a few dozen by graduation time — a few dozen, I may add, who are no more accomplished than many times that number of high school seniors in neighboring traditional public schools.

BASIS Mesa opened for the 2013-2014 school year. My son started there as a 5th grader. He is a straight A student at BASIS and has been since he started. Why are we thinking of moving him to the Chandler School District when he is obviously doing so well? We believe that there is more to school than teaching for AP exams. Our son has many outside interest that he no longer has time for. It’s a rush every night to get home, eat quickly and start working. All those after school clubs…well it’s great if you can afford them. Also, so many times, he has so much work, that staying until 4:45 when the club ends means he’ll be up late finishing homework and studying.

His classes consist of taking notes and then spitting them out on exams. There is no time in any of his core classes for any meaningful discussions about the subject matter. It’s a race to copy the notes and then study the notes to then take the weekly exams given in all core subjects. Two February’s have passed and not one teacher has made mention of Black History Month. Recently we had our very own Arizona astronaut launch into space; again no mention of this. His Language Arts class consists of weekly packets that are not gone over in class yet the kids are expected to complete them on their own at home and then take the unit exam at the end of the week.

What we have found at BASIS is that only the strongest survive. The kids who leave behind all their extra curricular activities and focus solely on their academics. Very smart kids are leaving the school so that they may have a better balance of school and life outside of school. We also have found that the BASIS kids have no idea of current affairs, what’s going on in the world now. They also do little to no community service.

Why are we thinking of taking our son out even though he is a top performer? Because life is short and there is more to life than studying 24/7. We want him to be well rounded. To understand about the world he is growing up in and to care enough about it to grow into a person who wants to make it a better place. It was great for him to go there for 5th and 6th grade because his other charter school could’t keep up with his level of advancement from year to year. He needed the advanced math and sciences. Now that he is going into the 7th grade the Chandler School District can accommodate his educational needs. He’ll be able to be in advanced, honors and AP classes. Even better, he will have a choice of what subjects he will take his AP’s in instead of being forced to take AP exams that are mandated by BASIS. If he stays on the path is on he will still graduate with as many AP classes as the students at BASIS but it will be in subjects he is interested in and at a pace that will allow him to also grow into a responsible person who understands that life is more about what you scored on a exam.

BASIS schools are a good idea in theory but I think they are leaving out the human touch. They have many dedicated teachers and administrators who truly care about the students, but whose hands are tied by the sheer volume of information they need to cover in a particular year. It’s the inch deep, mile wide approach to education that may look great on a transcript but may leave your child with great deficits in other aspects of their lives. Also, since many of the teachers have no actual teaching experience or background they lack what it takes to engage and motivate students and are not the best choice for teaching such advanced material.

How long will the State of Arizona continue to pour millions of dollars annually into this "business" known as BASIS charter schools? How many times will US News & World Report blindly publicize this pathetic imitation of a school?

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Would Horace MannTweet?

On February 4, 2016, I was honored to have the opportunity to address the Ohio Deans Compact in Dublin, Ohio. The title of my talk was suggested by Aimee Howley and Deb Telfer, the organizers of the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Compact: Advancing Democratic Education

I can not be certain that the talk went in exactly the direction they expected. Surely its subtitle must have raised some eyebrows: Would Horace Mann Tweet? Whether my talk satisfied their expectations, perhaps I'll never know. But I can report that the audience was kind, attentive, and shared in the conversation that followed.

To read one person's thoughts on the fate of democratic control of America's public schools, and to learn if Horace Mann would Tweet were he alive today, please click on the following link:

Advancing Democratic Education: Would Horace Mann Tweet?

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Abysmal State of Management in a Charter School

Earlier, I reported the experiences of a teacher in a charter school who was fired by the school's managers/owners. Two things make the incident noteworthy. The treatment of the teacher was abominable. And, the school is run by a young woman with an MBA and her two parents. The three family members pay themselves an incredibly high salary to manage a charter school of 600 students. And – only in Arizona – the director of the charter school also happens to be the chairman of the state board of education.

That earlier posting has now brought forth the following communique from another former employee of the same charter school. It is not without reason that the writer of the following message wishes to remain anonymous.

I, too, worked at this school as one of the many office staff that they have been through in the past several years. Their H.R. Management is completely lacking. Once, when I was in a building workroom working on a computer, Mr. Miller came into a classroom of which a parent of one of the students was observing, and, went off, yelling at the teacher in front of all the students and the parent. Most of the children were in tears as Mr. Miller escorted the teacher out of the classroom. When I was back in the office, the parent that was observing the class withdrew her child from the school. The teacher was fired that day. I still don't know what it was about, but Mr. Miller was questioning her ability to teach.
Incidents like these speak to so many things that are wrong with the charter school system.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Public Education 2015: The Year in Review

The year 2015 was one of exciting developments in the area of K-12 public education in America. Unfortunately, most of the excitement was of the type felt while witnessing a multi-car pile-up on the freeway. Several of the worst crashes are detailed below.

January
Record-breaking snow fall in New England prompt school officials to order snow shoes for all elementary school pupils so as not to miss a single day of learning, which would render the children unready for career and college.

February
Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen, CEO of the largest charter school chain in America, contributes $5 million to Ohio congressional candidates, who pledge to support bills to translate the PARCC and Smarter Balance assessment instruments into Farsi so that Gülen charter school teachers can teach to the test.

March
Basis charter school CEO Michael Block receives a special allocation of $2 million from the Arizona Senate Education Committee to underwrite his lawsuit against the Michael Block management company for having supplied Basis schools with inferior teaching staffs. Block’s legal team, headed by Peter Block, retract their pro bono offer and agree to pursue the case.

April
Temp agency Teach For America CEO Wendy Kopp answers charges that TFA “teachers” use their 2-year tenure as a “resume builder” by releasing the names of three TFA grads who took positions in charter schools in 2014.

May
Nationwide Opt Out movement leaves thousands of classrooms empty as students, parents, and teachers take to the streets to protest over-testing. Pearson PLC statisticians promise to “impute scores of missing high school students by applying logistic regression model predictions to the missing students Kindergarten attendance records.”

June
Billionaire Bill Gates summons 100 big city school superintendents to Redmond, Washington to gauge response to his new small schools project. After declaring the first small schools project an abysmal failure, Gates plans to redouble his commitment to the idea and confer generous grants on those districts who limit high school sizes to 5 students. One hundred superintendents rise as one in grateful praise for Gates’s newest insight.

July
Scientists at the American Institutes for Research release study that shows that the first two hours of the school day – from 5:30 am to 7:30 am – account for less than 1% of the day’s learning due to students’ somnambulant state. Study recommendations include delaying the start of school until 5:45 am, so as to ensure that high school grads will be college and career ready.

The American Association of University Professors releases the results of a 14-day study that pronounces 99% of America’s high school graduates “not ready for college.” AAUP petitions the federal government to create a special loan program to support all Freshmen while they complete two semesters of remedial courses.

The National Association of Manufacturers issues a statement in response to Common Core supporters that they have “not the faintest idea what skills will be needed by persons entering the workforce of 2025.”

August
Nothing happened in public education in the month of August as tens of thousands of teachers treated their union thug representatives to cruises on their yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.

September
All branches of the US military are joined by the NCAA, the American Association of Community Colleges, and the McDonalds Corporation in an announcement that they will no longer accept diplomas granted by K12 Inc and Pearson-owned Connections online academies as evidence of successful completion of high school requirements.

October
Billionaire Bill Gates summons 100 big city school superintendents to Redmond, Washington to announce his latest reform for the U.S. education system. Value-Added-Measurement (VAM) of administrators will tie superintendents’ salaries to districts’ pretest-posttest standardized test score gains. One hundred superintendents remain silently seated as one.

November
A special committee of the American Educational Research Association on Value-Added-Measurement (VAM) of teachers issues a report of its two-years’ deliberation that recommends that all tests used to fire teachers be “valid and reliable.” When quizzed by reporters on just how valid and reliable such tests must be, the committee chairperson reports that the members could not agree. Pearson PLC and the American Institutes for Research praise the hard-hitting committee report.

December
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson informs the U.S. public school system of their responsibilities: “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer. What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation…Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?” Tillerson pledges $3 billion to the Better Business Bureau to conduct a nationwide evaluation of the entire K-12 education system. Charter schools will be exempted since they have proven their worth by having survived in a free market.

President Barak Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law with its retraction of No Child Left Behind excessive testing requirements. Chastened by the hugely successful Opt Out movement, outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan informs state authorities that if compliance falls below 95% with the ESSA mandated annual assessment that the government will takeover all public schools in the state and turn them into self-storage lockers.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Human Relations, Charter School Style

My Inbox for October 27, 2015, contained the usual collection of SPAM, ads, and offers to transfer millions of dollars to the U.S. from a prince in Nigeria. But one letter was most unexpected and not in the least routine. A teacher at Challenge Charter School in Glendale, Arizona, wrote, not to ask for help, but to let me know what is going on at one of the area's celebrated educational institutions.

I had written previously about this charter school:

A man named Greg Miller is president of the Arizona State Board of Education. There is also a man named Greg Miller who is CEO of Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. Matching up photos of the Board president and the charter CEO leaves no doubt that these two individuals are one in the same Greg Miller. Mr. Miller, a civil engineer for 25 years, founded Challenge Charter School in the late 1990s and for a while served as principal. His current title is CEO. ... [D]aughter Wendy Miller was appointed Principal of Challenge Charter School the same year in which she earned her MBA.

Greg Miller, the CEO of a school "system" with about 650 students, is being compensated to the tune of $145,000 annually. His wife receives the same salary, though her duties are never enumerated at the website and her position is only described as "Executive Director/Vice-PR" .... Wendy, who has degrees in Public Administration and Business, receives a salary of more than $120,000 for acting as Principal/Secretary. Basically, the Miller family, while working assiduously 60 hours a week each as reported on their IRS form, is taking about $425,000 a year out of the coffers for salary.

End of my blog post from February 2, 2015

A roughly half-million $ annual salary to three family members might be a great investment for educating 650 students in the world's greatest school. But my correspondent's letter of October 27th and other information lead me to believe that perhaps the Millers are not operating one of the world’s greatest educational institutions.

Herewith, my correspondent’s experiences:

‪Hello Dr. Glass,‬

‪I read with interest your article about Greg Miller and Challenge Charter School. I would add more to it if I may. I was employed as a sixth-grade teacher at CCS from July to September 25, 2015. I was originally hired in March because they were going to move a long-time employee to the position of vice principal. The woman's husband was then offered a job out of state and she was moving with him. ‬

‪I began my work with CCS in July and they loved me. The week of September 21, 2015, my job appeared to unravel. The Millers kept a constant eye on me with the video cameras they have in every classroom that are meant for student and teacher protection , not evaluation. On one occasion that week, I was having my students stretch at the end of our class session and Greg Miller came into my classroom yelling at me and the children. He told me to "get back to your job." After school that day, he called me into his office to tell me a parent had called to complain; her child had reported that I "looked scared" when Mr. Miller was yelling at me. He denies that he was yelling at me; he stated he was yelling at the children.‬

‪The Millers called into question my certificate, which I had and gave them a new copy. Systematically the Millers began digging into my personal life. On Friday, September 25th , the morning I received feedback on my first evaluation and after a change to their policy handbook (which I did not get to see) I was called in front of the Millers, all three of them. The assistant to Wendy Miller told me that I had three choices. I could be terminated, resign, or take a three-month leave of absence to keep my medical insurance. They accused me of being drunk on the job and refusing to take a drug test. I have been sober for more than 20 years. They continued saying I was mentally unstable and did not disclose a major medical illness on my application. I was told not to fight them as they had hours of video-tape on me and my inability to teach. They went further saying they had "called around about me" and said I was on heavy-duty medication. I was shocked. I took the leave of absence and was told to leave campus. ‬

‪I am writing to tell you this because people are afraid of Greg Miller. He is a bully, and he and his family have created a hostile work environment, firing teachers at will. The irony is the teacher who has taken my place was the one whom I replaced. She just happened to be on campus September 25th. It was announced in a staff meeting that I was gone "dealing with my problems" and that this teacher was gracious enough to return for the rest of the year.‬

‪My career in teaching is over — 16 years of doing what I truly loved. They have ruined my name. I want people to know what the Millers are, and how horribly they can treat people to get what they want. ‬ ‪

Regards,‬
‪[Name withheld]

I wrote back immediately to this teacher to ask if she was willing to have this episode made public. She said that she was and that it was important to bring to light how this charter school was operating. I suggested that she remain anonymous when I reproduce her letter in this blog. She replied that she had no wish to remain anonymous.
‪I do not wish any level of anonymity. I am to report back to the school on January 4, 2016, to be reassigned or terminated. Needless to say, I am sending my resignation January 3, 2016. ‬ ‪You may use my experience as much as you would like. There is another teacher they have done this to as well, but she walked out. They have served her with a demand letter from their attorneys, stating she needs to pay them the rest of her salary. ‬ ‪

I forgot to add that the Millers make all students wear uniforms from one company. Teachers are to check students’ tags to make sure they are from that company. It is my understanding that they receive a kickback from the company.‬

‪I am sure this is just the beginning of the battle that I am going to engage with them.‬ ‪Thank you for helping me get the word out so other teachers are not taken in and spit out by the Millers.‬

‪Regards,
‬ ‪[Name withheld]

I continue to think that this teacher could be retaliated against, and that her anonymity in this venue is wise. However, if someone has good reason to contact her, I will forward that request to her email address. You may contact me at gvglass@gmail.com

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
~            
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
~            
San José State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

For-Profit Education as Corrupt as the Worst Corporations?

Charlie Munger is the partner of Warren Buffett and the co-creator of the sensational holding company Berkshire Hathaway, which has made multi-millionaires of thousands of patient investors. I have written here about Buffett and Munger and their very productive view of investing and life.

Munger was recently quoted on the occasion of the centre temps of the drug company Valeant. Valeant's stock dropped more than 50% in price between August and November 2015 as its shady dealings in attempts to deceive auditors became known. Among its other alleged misdeeds has been the practice of buying up small pharmaceutical companies to acquire the patents to their drugs, then hugely increasing the price of the drugs. Munger called this practice "deeply immoral" and said that it was "similar to the worst abuses in for-profit education."

It is simply shocking to see a sector of the country's education system being used as a simile for the corrupt practices of private corporations. Shocking, but apt.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Becoming a Teacher in the Age of Reformation

Susan M. Tran is a young, second generation Vietnamese-American woman who completed a Bachelors degree in Spanish at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2010. She will soon complete a masters program and be certified as an elementary school teacher at the University of Northern Colorado. Susan is mature and intelligent; she recognized early in her career that becoming a teacher in the Age of Reformation is forcing idealistic young teachers to resolve contradictions — contradictions between 1) messages from reformers who believe that teaching is a low level trade that has no right to organize on its own behalf and for which six weeks of indoctrination are adequate training, and 2) messages from university-based teacher trainers who believe that good teaching is rooted in children's unique interests and capabilities and treats them as individuals, not as replicates of a governmentally defined template.

Here, Susan speaks for herself:

Throughout my education to be a teacher, one of the biggest questions that has arisen for me is “How do I meet the expectations and standards of the state and district, while also meeting the true needs of my students?” One of my biggest fears coming into the teaching profession is that we have started to confuse the acquisition of knowledge with the process of learning. In an effort to meet numeric goals and score high on standardized tests, we have become obsessed with how to get our students to perform in a way that satisfies a checklist, or a numerical score, or a national standard. I'm fearful that we have forgotten about instilling passion, excitement, and curiosity in our students. It is becoming less important to us to create better people, who care about each other and the world around them and think of ways to deal with the problems that they see in front of them. We discuss world problems only in so far as they fit into our standardized curriculum, but we don’t address the difficult yet inevitable issues that our students will eventually find themselves confronted with in the very near future.

I do understand the need for progression in a student’s knowledge. I see why it's important that our students are exposed to and encouraged to master a large variety of topics. However, I do not understand why we have begun to think that the best way to do this is to have them fill in a bubble sheet, or sit in front of a computer for an hour and take the exact same test. We’ve become immersed in this notion that there is a "standard," which then implies that there is a norm. There's a 'normal' level that a student must attain at a certain time, and that the best way to get them there is to maintain the same timeline across the board.

In spite of the fact that our methods classes certainly cover the topics of differentiation, and "meeting the needs of each student," we see classrooms all around us that teach to the same set-in-stone standards, which translates into more information and less context, relevance, and appeal to students' interests. This may all sound like a long rant criticizing the methods of current teaching, and that is absolutely not the point that I am trying to make. I think that teaching and teachers should be one of the most highly valued professions. I think that many schools do their very best to create well-rounded students who will enter the world as functional citizens who can contribute to society. I am simply trying to express the fact that we are in danger of getting lost along the way. We have focused too much on the numerical scores that we are producing rather than the wonderful, creative, and inspired individuals who we are helping to shape.

I know that I am entering this profession at a time of great change. There are shifts occurring within the standards, the expectations, and the focus of what we are teaching. I constantly wonder how I am going to be the teacher I imagine myself to be during this time of reform. I wonder how I am possibly going to adhere to these state and national standards with each class that I have, since I know that every single student, and thus every classroom, is unique. The state declares that a class must be at a specific point in the curriculum at a specific time, but what if we need more time? What if we need less? How can I possibly fit in all of the projects and support and guidance that my students will need to fully understand why what they’re learning is important and applicable to the real world? How will I foster minds that love learning, instead of ones that dread testing and begin to believe that they are "too stupid" to learn because they're not categorized in the "correct" numerical column? These are all things I've seen already, and it would be a lie to say that I'm not overwhelmed and terrified.

At the end of the day, what I put my hope and belief in is my students. As adults, we tend to follow the rules and the expectations that society has laid out for us. But from what I’ve seen, kids are resilient, and strong, and independent; and they don’t see the obstacles that we've so forcefully erected around them. I hope that although I may have to teach an ordained curriculum to a dictated set of standards,that I can somehow foster growth and creativity in my students that will help them grow into a new generation of learners. I believe it's possible that many of the teachers being trained in this day and age have similar feelings; and maybe if we can genuinely put our hearts and souls into this craft, our students, with their vibrant tenacity, will carry with them a passion for learning long after they’ve left our classroom. I hope that we won’t forever be caught up in a world that "normalizes" and standardizes, but instead in one that celebrates differences and fosters better people, rather than better scores.

~Susan M. Tran

Confronted with these contradictory pressures and expectations, some teachers grow cynical, some conform, and some exit the profession. And a few find safe places to give children what they know is right.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.