from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

NBPTS certification - a teacher's perspective 

This is a personal reflection on undergoing the process for certification under the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. if you have little interest in tales about teaching, or things like educational policy, you would be well advised to ignore this diary and move on. But if you want a further understanding about some of what is involved in improving teaching, at least as seen from the perspective of teachers, then you might find this diary of value.

I will explain a little bit about what NBPTS is, and in general how the certification process works. I will then offer my perspective on submitting oneself to the process, for which I completed the last of my tasks this morning. Not knowing whether I will pass, or have to redo some part of the process, I will offer some comments on what it all means.

I invite you to experience my perspective by reading further.


NBPTS is an attempt within the profession to have some kind of uniform and nationally accepted standards to for indicating quality teaching. Traditionally each state has had its own standards for the certification of teachers, and often what was acceptable in what state was rejected in another. Further, research consistently seems to indicate that students who have quality teachers learn more and have more positive classroom experiences. For much of the past several decades America has been on a mission to improve the quality of teaching in our public schools. I will not recapitulate all of the efforts to this point. Let it suffice to note that one of the requirements imposed by the new Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), popularly known as No Child Left behind (NCLB), is the requirement that all teachers be “highly qualified.” While there is some flexibility in how states determine who is “highly Qualified” (and I already am, having achieved in Maryland my Advance Professional Certificate II), the NBPTS approach offers in theory an independent evaluation of teachers and teaching, in support of better teaching.

To be eligible, I believe one must have taught at least 3 years, and be fully (not provisionally) certified, and have the support of one’s administrators (principals).

Many states and local educational authorities believe that having NBPTS certified teachers is both prestigious and can lead to better quality teaching. Thus they may all or part of the fees for applicants, and offer additional stipends to successful candidates, sometimes such additional stipends being conditional on agreeing to work in schools most in need of improvement. In my case, the $2,300 fees were paid by the State of Maryland and by Prince George’s County Public Schools, and if I am successful (which eventually WILL be the case) I will receive between the two levels of government an additional $5,000 /year, and I am not required to change schools even though I teach in a high performer.

I will offer several quotations from the NBPTS website to demonstrate what the approach is. Thus I begin with a description offered on their website, that

NBPTS is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization governed by a board of directors, the majority of whom are classroom teachers. Other members include school administrators, school board leaders, governors and state legislators, higher education officials, teacher union leaders and business and community leaders.

This is a model of the kind of cooperation from all segments of society in attempting to improve our schools. This is notwithstanding attacks from the educational and political right on the NBPTS process.

Let me offer a few more quotes from the website to give a sense of the orientation:

The future of our communities, our states — indeed, of the nation — turns on education.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards® is rooted in the belief that the single most important action this country can take to improve schools and student learning is to strengthen teaching.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is leading the way in making teaching a profession dedicated to student learning and to upholding high standards for professional performance. We have raised the standards for teachers, strengthened their educational preparation through the standards, and created performance-based assessments that demonstrate accomplished application of the standards. 

The mission is to advance the quality of teaching and learning by:
• maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do,
• providing a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards, and
• advocating related education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers.

The success of the National Board came from the power of a good idea: Quality teachers are necessary for student learning. 

Each area of certification has slightly different requirements. My area is Social Studies and History for adolescents and young adults, 14-18. For this I had to submit a portfolio with four parts

1) illustration of using writing to teach the content and thinking, with three prompts from related instructional material, in each case with exemplars from the same two students. In this section I had to submit supporting instructional material, an explanation of why I picked these two students and the instructional challenges they represented, and analysis of their work, and a reflection on whether my goals for the prompts had been met, what I had learned about teaching these students, and similar issues. In this section, as in all others, there are very strict limits on format and length, and specific questions that must be addressed Applicants are provided guidance on how to plan for the task and select exemplars, and guidance is given on how the submitted material will be scored.

2) 15 minutes of video tape (must be VHS, unedited, with no breaks) demonstrating a whole class exercise working on addressing an issue of civic competence. There is a lot of written material, including the instructional context in which the lesson occurred, the planning and instructional goals for the lesson, an analysis of the tape with questions on specific things for which one was supposed to provide evidence as seen on the tape, and a reflection on what the teacher learned about the students that affected how one taught those students in the future. Clearly one was supposed to indicate what worked, what didn’’t, and why.

3) Another 15 minute video, this time in groups, demonstrating both Civic Competence and Social Interaction, with respect for others and a lot of the kinds of issues that drive some on the Right nuts. The general reflective process was the same as in the first video.

On all reflections in the first three parts, one question was always what one might do different if doing the lesson again. Also true for the first 3 parts was that the material must be from within the past Calendar year

4) Documentation of professional achievement within the last 5 years. Within the limit of 8 illustrations totaling no more than I think it was 12 pages of documentation, illustrate achievements in working with parents and communities, role as a leader locally, statewide or nationally in a role as teacher working cooperatively with others, and demonstrating accomplishments in the role of teacher as learner. In all three domains one is supposed to explain, in a total of no more than 10 pages double spaced, how these accomplishments related to improving student learning.

In fact, that is the key for all elements of the portfolio -- how is what one does a positive influence on improving student learning? How do you demonstrate it?

In my case I have some advantages over other many other applicants. First, I have always been reflective about my teaching, often writing about it, as those who have read my blog post are all too aware. Second, a major part of my practice has been have heavy contacts with parents, recognizing that their children's success requires a partnership. We also have a tv production class at our high school, so I was able to get skilled camera operators for my tapings, able to have the camera follow me around the room, and focus in on individual students. Many applicants have a fixed wide lens camera that does not provide as much detail, or else are having to overcome the jumpiness of someone inexperienced holding a camera by hand.

I also provide a great deal of feedback on the writing of my students, so having exemplars to met the requirements of the first item were not as overwhelming as it might be for some other applicants.

All of those items are packaged according to precise instructions and shipped to New Jersey in a special box, and must arrive no later than March 31. In my case I had a bit of a panic -- I shipped mine next day postal service, dropping it off at the Post Office at 11 AM on Tuesday the 29th. B ut when I got my information bak from tacking the package, it was delivered at 10:41 the next day not to Ewing NJ, but to Trenton NJ to a different zip. I took until midday today to get assurance from the NBPTS people that the name of the person who signed for the package was listed as one of their employees, and yes, he worked at a different address.

Then the final part, the assessment center exercises. For this one has to go to a computerized center, exactly the same place you would go to take the GMAT for example. In my case I had 6 30 minute exercises, to be answered on the computer. I cannot talk about the specifics of the questions I was asked because of nondisclosure. I can say that I was required to demonstrate a depth and breadth of knowledge in social studies far beyond that to which I was submitted in sitting for Praxis exams when i first became a teacher a decade ago. I am fortunate that I read quickly, that I type quickly (albeit with far too many typos, as readers of my blogging well know - and the program did NOT have a spelling checker!!). One other advantage comes precisely from my blogging -- the prompts I was given were in several cases less challenging than the questions and statements to which I have found myself responding on line. I never ran out of time, although on one prompt I was somewhat unbalanced in my time and in the amount of writing i did on the third part of that prompt as compared to the other two. The one question about which I probably had the least background knowledge just happened to overlap with something I saw on an educational cable channel within the past week, so that also helped.

All of the work I submitted will be scored by other classroom teachers, people who do work at least somewhat similar to what I do. That is, they will teach high school social studies, so that they will be experienced peers. They may or may not themselves be NBPTS certified. They cannot themselves be current candidates. And if it happens that they recognize me or my school in the video, or me from my submitted professional accomplishments (which is the only place my name appears in the material being evaluated), they are required to recuse themselves and be replaced by another evaluator.

All items are reviewed by two evaluators, although no one sees more than one part of the overall process (the four parts of the portfolio, or I believe ONE assessment center exercise). In the event of a discrepancy between the two evaluators, a third senior evaluator examines the material in question. The sc ores are aggregated, and on a rubric score of 4 down to 1, the applicant has to average a bit below a 3 in order to be certified. It is possible therefore to bomb in one dimension but do well enough in the others to achieve certification.

Further, if one does not achieve a passing score, one does not have to redo the entire process. One can “bank” the good scores and redo those parts on which one needs improvement. Only about 1/3 of applicants fully achieve certification on the first attempt.

If you have read to this point, and are not bored out of your mind, let me now reward you with my personal reactions. I found the process at times more than a little anal retentive - I found tat at some points I was being asked to do things that are not how I teach. But it did force me to ask myself why I didn't do those things. In at least one case I came to the conclusion that changing somewhat in the direction they were demanding might be of benefit to my students, so I did.

Watching myself on videotape is always challenging. I have taped my classes in the past, so the experience was not totally overwhelming. Still in the second taping I realized that I had missed something very important about one young man in my class that has led me to make a significant change in how I set up groups. I also realized that I needed to do a better job getting to all groups near the beginning of a group exercise so that no one was floundering. Thus going through this process improved the educational experience I am able to give my students, both in general and for the one young man in particular.

That said, I’m glad it’s over -- for now. Most of my fellow applicants will not sit for the assessment center until after school is out for the year. They want time to study up on the content for which they will be responsible. I took a chance that it would not be a problem, and i was correct.

it will be a while until I know how I did. I can make guesses at my scores, but based on the experiences of the those in my building who already have NBPTS certification, one can never know how the evaluators will rate any part of what one has submitted.

I feel most comfortable about the assessment center and my professional accomplishments, fully expecting fairly high ratings on both. I am somewhat uncomfortable with what I submitted for the first first part of the portfolio, the writing, and feel that it is possible on both tapes that those assessing will have to decide how strictly I meet the requirements of the rubrics. Other teachers who have viewed the tapes say they are very good examples of teaching, but strictly speaking they may not meet all of the requirements -- remember what I wrote above about being asked to do things not exactly how I normally teach.

I am most grateful that I was able to do almost all of what I had to when classes were not in session -- during an enforced snow break, during the long weekends around Thanksgiving and Presidents’ Day, and over Winter and Spring Breaks. And I still have several days left of the later during which I can relax. I was able to get through the process without it taking too much time and energy from my primary task of teaching my students.

I know that at least one reader of my blogposts has also been undergoing the same certification process as have I. I hope that person has been successful. If you are a teacher, it is certainly something worth considering, although had my fees not been paid for me, I doubt very much that I would have attempted it, even for the potential pay back of twice the fees in each year’s additional compensation -- most of us who teach do not have that kind of additional money.

So now dear readers, other than my normal responsibilities - of teaching, coaching, marriage, and citizenship, I am free to resume my blogging.

Watch out world: teacherken is on the loose again.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I am in the march 30 Washington Post 

quoted by Jay Mathews in his piece "S & P Opens a Rating Service on Schools" . The entire article will be available HERE for the next two weeks.

I have enclosed below the relevant portion, which is relatively brief. I guess I am quotable??

The site calls this the Instructional Spending Allocation Index, which measures the proportion of increased spending over time allocated for instruction and provides a way to track money raised with the intent of improving student performance. The portion of new dollars for instruction in Washington area school districts in 2002 ranged from 104.8 percent in the District, which Web site officials said spent all of its new money and then some extra from other sources on school performance, to 52.6 percent in Prince William County.

That index and other data developed by Standard & Poor's should be handled with care, the Web site says. It includes a warning from former North Carolina governor James B. Hunt, one of the leaders of the national school improvement movement and a member of a Standard & Poor's advisory board, that "these ratios should not be used alone to draw conclusions about education performance."

Kenneth Bernstein, a teacher at Prince George's County's Eleanor Roosevelt High School, said he thought that statement odd. "For all the warnings by Hunt and others not to use the data for comparisons, what do they expect, when the only really new thing they offer is precisely that data?" he asked.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
If you post a comment, tell me how you found my site!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Love in Action : Thoughts on Spirituality and Politics 

Unfortunately, love and compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for too long.  Usually confined to family and home, their practice in public life is considered impractical, even naive.  This is tragic.
     --  The Dalai Lama

In the July 2004 issue of Shambhala Sun, which is a Buddhist magazine, there is a page full of quotes entitled Love in Action: Thoughts on Spirituality and Politics   You have already read the first, above.  

Because this page is NOT available on line, I am enclosing all of the other items below the fold, as an annotated list.  They come from a variety of traditions, and all are worth pondering.  I hope that for each reader you will find something that will connect with you.  For me, I am moved by all.

--- THE FOLD ----

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.  I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.  I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final say in treaty.  This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. . . .Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.  If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.
    --  Martin Luther King, Jr.

King's vision was all-encompassing.  Well before his death he had publicly moved his action beyond the somewhat narrow frame of civil rights of African-Americans.  He saw that our involvement in the War in Vietnam as a violation of the Christian message.  He was criticized by many for addressing issues beyond Civil Rights.  He saw peace as in clouding economic peace and justice, which is why he was in Memphis at the time of his death.


Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe.  But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help in the greatest of all actions  -- goodwill among men and peace.
 -- Albert Einstein

Einstein used his world wide fame from his science to be a consistent witness for peace.

When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not care of him or her.  It happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.  
   --  Mother Theresa

This message is a direct reference, in plain language, the passage which the Orthodox read as the Gospel of the Last Judgment, from Matthew 25: 31-46.


If the concepts of the Buddhist scriptures can be used to guide humankind's life, and its methods of meditation can be applied to help people become aware of their weaknesses, then humankind can hop to achieve everlasting peace.
  -- Master Shen Yen

Born in 1931, this Chinese Zen master achieved enlightenment in 1948, while serving as an Army Officer in the Nationalist Army.  He first taught in the West in 1976.


Human beings are just good enough to make democracy possible. . . just bad enough to make it necessary.
  -- Reinhold Niebuhr

Niebuhr is considered one of  the most influential Christian thinkers in 20th Century America.


From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father's side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory that one of selfless service to your country -- or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions.  From scholars and clergymen on my mother's side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equal as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.

   * * * *

We are on dangerous ground if we believe that any nation, or any ideology has a monopoly on rightness, liberty and human dignity.
  -- Dag Hammarskjold

I believe this is from a book by the former UN Secretary-General entitled Markings, which is one of the most profoundly moving books I have ever read.  I first read it while spending the summer in an Episcopalian Benedictine Monastery, St. Gregory's Abbey, in Three Rivers Michigan.   The passage quote may help explain why he was so respected round the world.  Not all of us may feel called to the totality of service he describes, but all of us should be challenged by his words to an examination of dedicated we truly are to that in which we claim to believe.  And remember that the second part comes from a man who was devoutly Christian, but included in his belief a strong sense of the humility of the Christian message.


Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.  It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
  -- Thomas Merton

Born in France and educated at Columbia (where he wrote for the humor magazine), Merton converted to Catholicism and spent the rest of his adult life in a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, where he served for a while as master of novices, but also spent much of his time living by himself in a cabin.  His spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain had a huge influence on the post World War II generation.  And yet he moved very far beyond the man so strongly Catholic in that work to a broadly universal acceptance of much from many spiritual traditions, while still remaining a loyal Catholic.  His correspondence was immense, and his thirst for true knowledge unquenchable.  He opposed Vietnam, supported Civil Rights, corresponded with people like King and like the great teacher of Buddhism D. T. Suzuki.  He translated Chinese poetry, wrote his own,  and explored spiritual wisdom from other traditions.  As I write this, I can look through the various pieces of electronic equipment to a bookshelf that hs over 30 of his works.


When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.

. . . .

In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to the heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression.

  --  Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

We have just had the 25th Anniversary of his assassination, by gunman from the right wing military units unfortunately strongly supported by some American political leaders because they were anti-Communist.  This message, too, can be seen as rooted in Matthew 25.  It is as clear an expression of the ideals of Liberation Theology as I have read.


When Jesus is reported to have said, go preach this to all the world, your zealous empire builders took this as an opportunity to create dominion over people.  It's similar to other crusades like capitalism, democracy or communism.  A spiritual person could never think that way.
  --  Matthew Fox

Some have considered Fox more than a bit of a flake.  And yet in this brief passage one can see a deep insight, strongly rooted in the Gospel.  I would note that the Catholic Church has been highly critical of unfettered capitalism, and that the responsibility of those in power to those less fortunate has been a strong part of the message of many Popes, clearly appearing in the words of Leo at the end of the 19th Century.  I believe that those that read Genesis as granting to man dominion in the sense of unfettered control badly misread  -- rather it is a responsibility of stewardships, of care, as serving as a viceroy for the true king, the God who created it all.  In that sense any interpretation of dominion as justifying power is a contradiction both to the original Jewish understanding as well as to the interpretation offered by Jesus in the Gospel.  It is a dominion of service.  One hear might remember that perhaps the most important of the many titles claimed by Popes has been the Servant of the Servants of Christ.


Teach this triple truth to all:  A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.
   --- The Buddha

This final passage echoes several of the messages above.  But is was written 5+ centuries before the Christian / Common era began.  Even if you do not normally consider the Buddhist approach meaningful, practical, or applicable in the modern West, take the time to reflect on this passage.  What in your life is of service to others?  Because, dear reader, if you did not care about the world beyond yourself, you would not be here reading this extended post in the first place.

I hope that this diary is of some use to someone.  I also hope that I have corrected all of my typos.  And I thank whoever at Shambhala Sun was responsible for the page from which i copied these quotes for taking the time to assemble a collection of words that I found inspiring and challenging.  Praise goes to that person, and most of all, to the wonderful persons whose words these were.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Contact National Press Club -- Please 

UPDATE 03/29/05 as of 4:30 PM CNN was reporting that the National Press Club has invited Matt Yglesias, so there is now a blogger from the liberal side, and hence no need to class NPC.

I am one of a number of bloggers who have signed a letter to the National Press Club. They are planning to have a session on blogging, but the three member panel is quite unbalanced, containing as it does Jame Guckert / Jeff Gannon without including any of the bloggers (Sauan, Brian, John, etc) who helped expose his background.

We are asking that all who read this call the National Press Club on Wednesday March 30. Rather than merely provide a link, I have posted below the material from Agonist which explains all this, and includes those bloggers who had signed as of Noon on Tuesday, March 29.

If you wish to be added the list,
please email Sean-Paul at


An Open Letter To The National Press Club
Sean-Paul Kelley | San Antonio | March 28

Members of The National Press Club,

We, the undersigned bloggers, are very concerned about how liberal political bloggers are being systematically under-represented and belittled in the mainstream media, academic settings and media forums. By being intentionally excluded away from these venues, we are effectively pushed out of the discourse of opinion-leaders. The result is that the conventional wisdom about blogging, politics and journalism, as it concerns liberal blogs, becomes a feedback loop framed by the Conservatives and their media allies.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, The Brookings Institution hosted a panel that originally included no liberal political bloggers and yet while including numerous conservative political operatives in the event. We registered our protest and the Brookings Institution's response was simply to invite a few liberal political bloggers to attend, yet not sit on the panel, as we had originally insisted upon.

Gannon/Guckert told E&P [that] he "thinks it is a good opportunity
for [him] to speak to issues related to bloggers." He also added
that he was, "trying to stay out there where people can see me."

~ Editor and Publisher

Today, however, we are faced with an entirely new situation that is more insult than misrepresentation. The discredited conservative media operative Jeff Gannon, neé Guckert, has been invited to sit on a panel at the prestigious National Press Club to talk about the scandal surrounding his access to the White House and more generally, the similarities and differences between bloggers and journalists. Guckert's token liberal counterpart will be a gossip blogger and sex comedy blogger. While we have nothing but the greatest respect for Mr. Graff and Ms. Cox we believe that neither represents bloggers who write about hard-nosed politics. And as for Mr. Guckert, he isn't a blogger, he's barely a journalist, and not a single political blogger involved with the Gannon/Guckert scandal, or otherwise, has been invited to sit on the panel to counter Mr. Guckert's arguments.

You can't make this stuff up: The National Press Club's panel on
blogs and journalism includes Gannon/Guckert and Wonkette,
but no liberal bloggers.

~ Lindsay Beyerstein

Therefore, we the undersigned bloggers, respectfully but firmly insist that a serious political blogger such as John Aravosis, of Americablog.org be included on the panel to fairly and accurately represent our industry and us. Mr. Aravosis has agreed to our request that he serve on the panel as our representative and is available should such an invite be forthcoming.

This situation is simply unacceptable. We will push back against the growing bias and sloppiness we see in the mainstream media as it concerns serious political blogging. If we do not we will never achieve any semblance of balance in the media. If we do not, we abdicate our ability to tell our own side of the story. If we do not we leave it to others to define us and defame us.

Please call Julie Shue or Rick Dunham at the The National Press Club and politely insist that they include John Aravosis of Americablog.org at their event. Here are there numbers: 202-662-7500 or 202-662-7501 or email at tglad@press.org and info@npcpress.org.


Sean-Paul Kelley, http://www.agonist.org
DCMediagirl, http://www.dcmediagirl.com
Ezra Klein, http://ezraklein.typepad.com
Echidne of the snakes, http://www.echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com
Amanda Marcotte,  http://www.pandagon.net
Mark Karlin, Editor and Publisher, http://www.BuzzFlash.com
Matt Stoller, http://bopnews.com
Democratic Underground http://www.democraticunderground.com/
Lindsay Beyerstein http://majikthise.typepad.com
Shakespeare's Sister, http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com and http://www.bigbrassblog.com
Bob Brigham, www.SwingStateProject.com
Dave Johnson, http://www.Seeingtheforest.com
Matt Singer, http://www.leftinthewest.com
Kos, http://www.dailykos.com
Kari Chisholm, http://www.blueoregon.com
Steve Gilliard, http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com/
Crooks and Liars, http://www.crooksandliars.com/
Brian Balta, http://balta.blogspot.com
That Colored Fella, http://www.ThatColoredFellasweblog.bloghorn.com
Anna Brosovic http://annatopia.com/blog.html
skippy the bush kangaroo http://www.xnerg.blogspot.com
David Neiwert Orcinus http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com
Julien 's List http://www.educatedeclectic.blogspot.com
General J.C. Christian, http://patriotboy.blogspot.com/
Laura Rozen, http://www.warandpiece.com/
Liza Sabater, http://www.culturekitchen.com
Chris Patil, http://www.marchingorders.org
Billmon, http://www.billmon.org
Ralph Dratman, http://newsfare.com
David (Austin Tx), http://supremeirony.blogspot.com
Hellen Dana Nagler, http://bopnews.com
Sean Carroll, http://preposterousuniverse.blogspot.com
media girl, www.mediagirl.org
Joe Giblin
Stephen Anderson, http://steveaudio.blogspot.com
-Kevin Hayden, American Street
Elaine Supkis Culture of Life News II
Melanie Mattson Just a Bump in the Beltway
Kenneth Bernstein http://teacherken.blogspot.com
ZenYenta http://zenyenta.blogspot.com
James E. Shirk www.degenerateart.blogspot.com
Hugo http://hugozoom.blogspot.com/
Dennis Perrin -- Red State Son
Margaret Imber http://pudentilla.blogspot.com
Read The Otter Side http://otterside.blogspot.com
Kerry Lutz http://www.100monkeystyping.com
Kelly B http://spacetimecurves.blogspot.com/
Carla, http://preemptivekarma.com/
Wes Flinn, Walk In Brain
Greg Turner, http://www.independentreport.org
Jeremy, http://upyernoz.blogspot.com
Dean Lawrence Velvel, www.velvelonnationalaffairs.blogspot.com
The Purple Coalition http://purplecoalition.blogspot.com/
Erik Wilson, The Generik Brand
Clif Burns www.OutsideTheTent.com
Sandra Wooten, Dallas, Texas

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


this was also posted as a diary at dailykos

are beings who are fully enlightened, but do not accept the full benefit of their enlightenment but remain in the world on behalf of other sentient creatures to help them reach enlightenment.

Okay, I am simplifying a bit. And perhaps this lesson from Buddhism is too far removed from your experience. So given that today is Easter of Western Christians (Eastern Christians insist that Easter cannot occur until after Passover has begun, so for those several hundred million Pascha is still a few weeks off) let me offer some thoughts from Christian perspectives.

There are two pairs of ideas we need to consider.  The first, which is addressed today, is Crucifixion / Death  and Resurrection.   The second, which is actually in some ways more important, is Incarnation and Ascension.

Crucifixion / Death  functions on several levels.  If one argues that death is an inevitable consequence of sin, but that death was not the original intent of the creation of man, then the Participation of Jesus in this event makes him fully human, so that when he conquers death by Resurrection, he opens to all men the possibility of conquering death.  This act in fact reopens to man the Garden, his state of being without the pain of sin, of being in a place where God walked in the cool of the evening.

But by itself this was not enough.  By becoming incarnate Jesus took upon himself all of the created universe, not just man   -- as the Theotokian in the Liturgy of Saint Basil in the Orthodox Church notes, "all of Creation rejoices in you, O full of Grace" saying to Mary that she is owed praise because she has allowed herself to be the instrument by which the created universe can again become holy, or as it is says in Genesis, God looked at all he had created and behod it was very good.

That was Incarnation.   And the completion is seen in Ascension.  The created universe, in the person of Jesus (even though he as, as the Nicene Creed says, begotten not made, still we are talking about his human flesh) is raised to be face to face with God, in God's presence at all times.  To revert to Buddhist terminology, all of creation is fully enlightened.

I often note that IANAL.   I also should note IANAT  (I am not a theologian -- in any religious tradition) except in the sense from the Eastern Church, the old expression that a theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.   I don't even pray all that much in a conventional sense, although I will sit for an hour in silence in Meeting for Worship with my fellow Quakers, and I will pause at a bird, a flower, a cat, a child, a sunset, an itneresting rock  -- at all of creation.

There are those who are prepared to give up.  There are those who have already moved to other places, or are actively considering it.  I understand those concerns.  I also disagree with them.  I believe that we have a responsibility to continue to witness to what we believe is true, to be, as the title of this peace says, Boddhisattvas.  

I am not so arrogant to think that I am fully enlightened. Nor, to use Christian terminology, do I believe that I am fully saved.  I cannot be irredeemably saved because I have free will, and that free will consists precisely in the ability to deny God, to reject the love and forgiveness offered by God.  I believe that my 'salvation' or "enlightenment" cannot be solitary, affecting only myself.  I knowq that birth and death of all, has effect on me.  In fact, the famous lines from John Donne deal with this precisely from a Christian perspective.  The famous passage which begins "No man is an island" and which includes the famous line "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" is part of a much larger work, Meditation XVII from "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions".

Those who read the New Testament are admonished to love the sinner even as we hate the sin.  We are told that even 7 times is not sufficient to forgive our brothers, but rather a number beyond measure we must forgive, represented by 70 times 7. We are reminded by Jesus that we cannot love God whom we cannot see if we hate our brother whom we can see.

The Buddha died because he was given bad pork, which he knew was bad, but which he ate so as not to shame the person who had given it to him.  Jesus in the Garden admonished Peter to put up his sword, that he could if needed command legions of angels to protect him, but that such was not his path.   Socrates drank the cup of hemlock, having completed his task of teachintg.  None of these clung to life, but rather lived -- and died -- in truth.

I cannot and do not presume to teach others how to live.  I do presume to raise questions, as i do in my classroom.  I suggest thoughts worth considering, and am willing to listen to those offered to me, and to accept the challenges with which they present me.

I am not a Boddhisattva.  Whatever wisdom or insight or "enlightenment" I may have gained is certainly not intended solely for my benefit and aggrandisement.  I CANNOT impose it upon others, but surely I must remain, witness to it with my life and my words.

In Quaker Meeting for worship one often hears  -- or even rises to give -- a "message" that one does not understand.  That may be because the message is not intended for oneself, but is needed by someone else.  As a classroom teacher I can never know with certainty when my words will have impact upon the life of some young person.  I am often surprised by the things that make a difference.  Similarly, as a participant in American society, I cannot know which of my words or actions will make a difference.  All I know is that I have the responsibility to the truth as I know it to live it in my own life, to be the living image of that I most value, and then to trust that I thereby, in the words of George Fox, answer "that of God" in others, even if they deny such presence in themselves.

I do not know for whom the message I have just written is intended.  I only know that, like when my knees knock in Meeting for worship, I was required to post this message, both as a comment to a diary, and as a diary in itself.

And so I release it to the blogosphere.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


is the response Edwin Starr makes to his musical question,
War. What is it good for?

But this is not a diary about war.
Nor is it a diary about Schiavo, Gannon/Guckert, or  -- important in my case -- even about education.

It is NOT, however, a diary about nothing. It is a diary about EVERYTHING and it is provoked by a series of conversations -- with my life, with fellow teacher, with a person at the next table at Starbucks on Sunday. And that is why my title ends with questionmarks.

This diary is my response to a question I hear far too often:
What can we do when this group of Republicans controls the entire government?? Absolutely nothing??

This diary is a response to the anger I hear, such as my wife's comments to the Congress on AWR, on Schiavo, on so many issues. I see her otherwise beautiul face contort in rage, I hear stress in the sound that emits, and I hear words that are so intemperate that I almost don't recognize the person before me.

When we react that way, THEY have done more damage than that to which we react, whether it is the torture they justify, the raping of our wilderness on false pretenses about oil, or the hypocrisy of a President who signed an odious end of life bill in Texas attempting to portray his signing of the Schiavo bill as acting on the basis of morality.

I refuse to resort to a rage that distorts. I will not allow myself to be so contorted and frustrated that I do nothing.

So let me offer one person's tentative response, or rather, series of responses, to the questions, both in the title, and at the top of the extended text. What can we do?

I blog. I put out my opinions and beliefs and what I hope are insights of value to others. Perhaps that way I can spark connections.

I read. I see what others have written, or the recordation of what they have said. If worhtwhile, I pass it on to others.

I teach (yeah, I know I said this was not about education -- but my life is about education). I continue my commitment to challenging my official students to think, to examine things from more than one point of view. But since I define myself as as a teacher, I attempt to do that in every encounter where appropriate, including with people at the next table at Starbucks.

I maintain hope. I remember an exchange in the tales of the earliest Christian monks, the Desert Fathers. This will not be word for word, but you will get the gist:
The novice asked, "Abba (which means father or master), what do we do here in the Desert?"

And the Abba answered him "We fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up again."

There is an ancient Jewish tale about a old man who gave loving care to a new olive tree, and was asked why he worked so hard when he would not live to see the tree bear fruit. His response was that the tree would be their for his children, his children's children, and their children. I take this to heart, even though I have no children of my own. I keep going "for the children." Your children if you have them, those of your nieghbors, those in Iraq and Afghanistan and China and Congo and Darfur.

We cannot allow ourselves despair. We cannot let even justifiable rage paralyze us. We must go on. We must pick ourselves up, tend olive trees whose fruit we may never see. Yes, we must have faith that the actions we do that we think have no effect may influence beyond our greatest hopes.

Thee are two days left before Spring break. Some of my students are already mentally gone. could give up there, but I won't. Who knows in what mind I can kindle a spark and fan it into a flame hungtry for the fuel of knowledge?

After all, think of our inspiring examples -- one year ago would you have predicted Democrats would take over Montana? One month ago would you have believed that Democrats would get enough Republicans to block Bush on his attempt to further change medical programs? Two months ago would you have predicted that Bush's plan (whatever it is) to drastically change social security would be in such trouble? After the defeat of Daschle, did you believe that the new leader would do just a good job of getting the Democrats to hang together on at least some key issues?

I do not pretend that this diary will make a major difference in how you feel today. But perhaps for two or three readers, they will be able to take some small measure of comfort, pick themselves up again, and go on doing what they know to be right.

At the CIA, engraved in the wall is the biblical message "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (I hope I quoted that correctly). If we despair, we abandon truth. If we give in to rage, we abandon faith that things can get better. If we despair, we abandon hope, the hope that our actions will make a difference. Paul in Corinthians reminds us about Faith, Hope and Caritas, to use the Latin form of the word for love from which comes our term Charity. But he reminds us at the end of Chapter 13 that the greatest of these is that love, that charity, that caring for others. If we rage and despair, we have abandoned that caring for others that should mark us as different for those who rationalize and justify their self-aggrandisement at the expense of others, perhaps calling it tough love, or something even more obscene, a sign of God's favor to them.

I do not know the mind of God. I do not claim to always know what is right or wrong. I do know that if I do not act as if each person I encounter has that of God in them, then I abandon any divine spark in myself. When I rage or despair, I become blind to the divine -- in the world, and in the person I encounter. Then I become incapable of that love which is the gretest gift of all.

I do not consider myself a Christian per se. But I remember what I consider important lessons from the Bible. Jesus tells us that we should love one another even as he has loved us. I cannot love if I am paralyzed, whether by rage or by despair. And if I do not love, if love is not the driving force in what I do, if my actions are motivated by anything that blinds me to that divine spark in others so that it becomes impossible for me to approach them in love, then that about which I rage and despair has already won, and I am lost. I will not need a feeding tube removed, I will be dead!

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

I am fond of Eliot -- the lines above and below are from "Little Gidding."

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Absolutely Nothing??? No, Absolutely everything. And absolutely unlimited faith, hope and love. Returning to Little Gidding, including the quote Eliot makes from Julian of Norwich:

Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Have a really nice day.

 Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What does it mean to be a teacher? 

(also posted as a diary on dailykos)

What does it mean to be a teacher? I am often asked why i became a teacher, which question is far easier to answer. I can give the history, which I will not here recapitulate. I can, as I often do, say that I wanted my life to make a difference, which I think it has. But that does not answer the far more difficult question with which i began this essay: what does it mean to be a teacher?

This will not be an intellectual exploration. I could offer that, but there are others far more capable and far more experienced than am I. It will instead be a personal reflection, drawn from my experience in this time and place, inspired in part by the self-examination I am undergoing as part of preparing to submit my portfolio for certification by the National Board for Professional teaching Standards. It will also be influenced by the active role I have taken in writing about educational issues here at dailykos.

Consider yourself forewarned. Should you choose to continue reading, below the break, you now have some idea what you will encounter.


It is now a Sunday afternoon. Soon I will have to do lesson plans for this upcoming week in detail. This will be a short week, as the students enter Spring break at the close of school Wednesday. I have been thinking since Friday afternoon, off and on, how I can keep them involved with what is happening in the class, move forward through the material, while they are counting the hours -- and soon the minutes -- until they have 11 days off.

Even were it a normal weekend, my mind would rarely be far from similar tasks. What is there in the paper, or on television, which can serve as a means to connect their interest to what we are actually studying? For Social Issues, where we currently explore the death penalty, this is not hard to do, although there I must find a way to push them beyond their immediate gut reactions, to explore the complexities and subtleties of various positions. My 9th graders in US History are finishing their study of the Vietnam period. There are points of connection, but there are also serious differences, with what they can perceive about our involvement in Iraq. This week they will encounter aspects of shame -- My Lai, our hurried departure, the fall of Saigon and the triumph of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. While these events are crystal clear in my memory, I have students with parents who were at best infants when this happened. Others are recent immigrants to this nation, so this has not been the fabric of their families.

Why am I explaining all of this? Perhaps because for me the task of being a teacher is certainly not one of peeling back their scalps and pouring in the knowledge. It is rather an ongoing struggle to help them make sense of material. It requires me to approach it from many different ways, to try to find ways in which it will connect with their lives. And this is a process that never stops. if i read something of interest in the paper or on-line, the first thought that runs through my mind is “how can I use this for my students?” When I encounter someone well known or of distinction, I become brash, approach them, try to say something nice, then ask if they would be willing to come and talk to students. The answer is almost always yes. That enables me to extend the world of my classroom to a larger world, one that I can bring into the building. It has at times led to internships and other relationships for some students, and for all it has meant a learning experience beyond what I can personally provide them.

During the school year I rarely have “down time.” No matter how well planned a lesson may be, I have to be prepared to abandon it instantaneously if it is not working. As a wise central administrator I know once told a group of us,

if the horse you are riding is dead, beating it won’t make it go any faster.

it could be that there is something else of importance on the minds of the students, about which they need to talk. If that is not addressed, they will still not learn the material I planned for them. Or perhaps partway through the lesson it touches on something that raises issues for which i had not planned, but which are relevant to this particular group of students. Or maybe it is just one student, but s/he is someone who can if personal needs are not addressed totally disrupt the class. I could exert the force of my will to suppress such disruptive behavior but that could lead to resentment and sullenness on the part of other students.

Teaching is exhausting. If there ae 30 students in the room at that moment, the number of interactions going on are in the hundreds. There are separate interactions between me and each of the students, there are interactions between each of their minds and different pieces of the material, and there are so many interactions among the students. All of this is part of the foundation upon which I am trying to build a meaningful educational experience. No, I do not claim that I can even notice more than a fraction of these interactions. I have to select to which I will pay due attention, and that becomes a real high wire act with true potential for disaster!

Then there are all the things about individual students. One has to be aware of any changes in patterns. A normally solid student suddenly does not come prepared. Why? Should I pull that student aside and ask immediately, because there may be a real family crisis about which appropriate people should be informed? Or is this a student who needs a little room to self-correct, and if I ask directly I may cause that student to erect a barrier between us. What if in asking that student shares information with me that I am legally required to report, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse (and this has happened more often than you might imagine). How can I persuade that student that I am not violating her confidence by reporting it to the guidance department, where since each counselor has over 400 students and right now the counselors are in the midst of doing registration for next year they have little time to breathe.

I can hear the thoughts in some of your minds. What does this have to do with teaching? My answer is that it may be more important than anything else I do. I am able to push my students outside their comfort zones, to have them challenge themselves, only insofar as they are willing to trust me. It does not matter than an older sibling or a friend has raved about me. Each student presents me with a de novo situation. I must prove to each one that I am worthy of their trust. I may get some benefit of the doubt from what they have heard, but that will not sustain me beyond the first week. Students do not always have to understand why I do what I do, but if I make some attempt to explain they are for more willing to take steps down a road that might be very unknown to them.

Each student who comes into my room is entitled to be known as the individual he is, absolutely unique, and entitled to respect for that uniqueness. I consider this fairness, but it is a different kind of behavior than some have come to expect. I do NOT treat all students exactly the same, because their needs are different. Sometimes I therefore make mistakes in what I do, because i cannot hide behind the excuse that I am simply enforcing the rules. I will apologize, to students, to a class, to parents, when appropriate. I must model for my students what i expect of them, which is taking responsibility for one’s actions, even if the hurt we cause is unintentional, even if our purpose in such actions was meant to be a positive.

But that is an impossible task. I cannot really know all 170 students currently in my care. i try to see them in their various activities at least once, so that they will know that I value their lives outside my classroom. But that too is impossible -- too many activities overlap, and even though I am a Gemini I cannot physically split myself that way.

So part of every school day has to include the time to reflect -- where did I make mistakes, what did I miss, with whom did the lesson, or I, not connect? What can I do to fix these problems, while still trying to move each class forward? How can I keep each class lively enough that I don’t cause kids to zone out? And how can I do this while maintaining some space for myself, my family? Again it is a high wire balancing act. If I try to do too much, then I exhaust myself and am not sharp enough to notice problems in the classroom.

And when I am teaching I must be constantly monitoring far too many things. Which students are getting it? Which are not? Did I cover what they need to know? if some are not getting and others are, do I move on, do i stop for those not getting it? I may have a half second to make up my mind and make adjustments. Oh, there’s a fire drill, so I’ve lost 5 or more minutes of instructional time, in this class, plus the additional time to settle them down after they come back. How do I adjust for this class without slowing down the lesson for other classes for which there is no such disruption.

And while I am teaching probably 3 different levels of American History (because one talented and gifted class is far less able than the other two) as well as Social Issues, I have to be thinking about next year, when I will be teaching Government, including for the first time AP Government, and also Comparative Religion.

Because I teach high school, I am also involved with writing recommendations (fortunately complete for the current cycle), and helping students explore postgraduate opportunities, which for most but not all will mean college at some level. At which colleges should they look? Why? If I have built relationships with my students such that they will exert themselves for me in my work, then they are likely to turn to me for counsel on issues like this, and it would be unfair of me not to respond.

I have not talked about all the e-mails with parents and students, about phone calls, about parent conferences. I have not talked about non-classroom responsibilities such as faculty and departmental meetings, ordering books, helping schedule guest speakers and field trips for other teachers, mentoring student teachers and new teachers, attempting to do joint planning with others in the department.

Nor have I mentioned the biggest current burden, the preparation of my portfolio for NBPTS, due in Ewing NJ by march 31, and i will be pushing the deadline. I have given more than enough detail about my responsibilities without attempting to list all of them. My school day -- including commuting time when i am thinking actively ab out my teaching and the work I do at home -- usually runs about 12 hours a day, not including time spent in coaching or in attending events in which my students participate. And yet I have not really addressed my original question. Since I have forced you to read this much, perhaps I should now focus more closely on the main topic -- you have enough foundation.

What does it mean to be a teacher? The answer I will assay at this point is mine alone, but one I expect would find strong agreement from many other teachers. To be a teacher means to be consumed -- with the care of one’s students, with a passion for one’s subject, with not wanting to ever miss a chance to make a difference. It is to go out on a wire without a net, because one never knows what actions one takes or words one says will make a difference, and whether that difference will be positive or negative. Sometimes it can mean pouring oneself out without being as fortunate as I have often been to get feedback from parents and students that encourages me to go on, even when exhausted, and worrying about my failure in reaching some students. It means that one’s family will have to accept the limitations -- in time and money -- the choice of being a teacher will impose on them. It means recognizing that one’s own learning -- of students, of material, of how to help the students connect with the material -- is a never-ending process. It means one has to constantly operate on several levels simultaneously, observing things -- about oneself, about the students and the class -- about which one can do nothing at the moment but which will have to be processed and addressed at some point.

For me being a teacher also means having to take stands for what I believe is correct. It requires me to challenge those who would impose on our schools, teachers, and students requirements that would be counterproductive to the real learning to which all of our students should be entitled. it means I have to find ways to enable my students to succeed on examination imposed from the outside which I find either meaningless or destructive or real learning, while at the same time trying to maintain and live by my best lights of what I think SHOULD be occurring in my classroom, with these particular students, at this time and in this place. It means that I cannot ‘teach” as if their lives outside my classroom did not exist, but must find ways to include their lives as a coequal part of the learning I wish them to experience in my classroom.

And it means using whatever gifts I may have on behalf of my students. I had ceased being very active politically, until I realized that my political activity is also part of what makes me the teacher I am, for good or not others will decide. Financial irresponsibility on the part of government restricts the ability of our schools to serve our students. Those who would impose one way of thinking on issues deprives our students of the chance to explore and come to their own conclusions. Misperceptions about what test scores mean and what they measure can lead to further distortions of the educational experience available to our students. Lack of understanding of the real educational issues can allow ideologues to impose on our schools things that are destructive of real learning, of the excitement with which most students originally enter school. Thus even my blogging and my writing on listservs and even the occasional op-ed pieces and Letters to the editor are part of what it means for me to be a teacher.

For anyone who has read this far, I have now burdened you enough. Through my earphones as I write I listen to Bach’s Art of the Fugue, played by a string quartet. The music is appropriate to this topic -- it is complex, but its complexity is built from many detaisl themselves of relatively simplicity. And I am I am reminded of the words at the end of T S Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding”, that I think accurately portray what it means, to me, to be a teacher:
Quick now, here, now, always --
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


(this diary is cross-posted at dailykos

A new report issued this week, entitled The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High-Stakes Testing provides clear evidence that the added emphasis on high stakes testing in the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is causing major distortions in the data being recorded because of the pressures on success ons cores imposed by the law.

Commissioned by the Great Lakes Center, and produced by Sharon Nichols of University of Texas at Arlington and David Berliner of Arizona State, the report begins with a reference to a well-known axiom of social science research, Campbell's law, which states
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

After the citation above, the authors note
Applying this principle, this study finds that the over-reliance on high-stakes testing has serious negative repercussions that are present at every level of the public school system.

I have pasted below the entire executive summary, which, along with the report in its entirely may be downloaded in pdf form  from the Great Lakes Center .  

Before you get to the Executive Summary, let me note that most of the problems identified with the imposition of high stakes testing have been well known for year.  There is an extensive body of research that demonstrates if sufficient weight is put on the results of certain measurements, those being measured will adjust their behavior in such a way as to give distorted results.  That is, the measurement becomes one of he response to being measured, not the underlying attribute you really want to measure.

We can see this in things like Florida now quietly negotiating to lower its standards of what would be non-compliance with NCLB, as just one example.

I offer the complete executive summary because of the importance of this subject.   I hope that at least a few peopl will take the time to read the complete report, as have I.  Here I can assure readers that -- unlike the case in much educational research  -- the executive summary IS supported by the underlying data (not like many of the reports released in press conferences by some on the right of the educational spectrum).

WARNING -  Berliner is known to be skeptical of much of the testing mania and of the assumptions underlying it.  He is a co-author of a book, along with Bruce J. Biddle, entitled The Manufactured Crisis, which attacked the the assumptions of the report issued by Reagan's Education Department, A Nation At Risk, which began the entire push to "save our schools" some two decades ago. I happen to think he is write, but it is possible that some will, because of his previous work, ignore or attack anything he has to say.

The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High-Stakes Testing

Sharon Nichols, University of Texas at San Antonio
and  David C. Berliner, Arizona State University

Executive Summary

     This research provides lengthy proof of a principle of social science known as Campbell's law:  "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." (1)  Applying this principle, this study finds that the over-reliance on high-stakes testing has serious negative repercussions that are present at every level of the public school system.  
     Standardized-test scores and the variables that lead to a mean score for school districts have become corruptible indicators because of the high stakes attached to them: employment status and bonus pay of teachers and administrators, promotion of a student to a higher grade, achievement of a high school degree, reconstitution or classification of a school, and federal and state funding that a school or school district receives.  
     Evidence of Campbell's law at work was found in hundreds of news stories across America, and almost all were written in the last few years.  The stories were gathered using LexisNexis, Inbox Robot, Google News Alerts, The New York Times, and Ed Week Online.  In addition to news stories, traditional research, studies, and stories told by educators about the effects of high-stakes testing are also part of the data.  The data fell into 10 categories.  Taken together these data unveil a striking picture of the corrupting effects of high-stakes testing:

1.    Administrator and Teacher Cheating:  In Texas, an administrator gave students who performed poorly on past standardized tests incorrect ID numbers to ensure their scores would not count toward the district average.

2.    Student Cheating:  Nearly half of 2,000 students in an online Gallop poll admitted they have cheated at least once on an exam or test.  Some students said they were surprised that the percentage was not higher.

3.    Exclusion of Low-Performance Students From Testing: In Tampa, a student who had a low GPA and failed portions of the state's standardized exam received a letter from the school encouraging him to drop out even though he was eligible to stay, take more courses to bring up his GPA, and retake the standardized exam.

4.    Misrepresentation of Student Dropouts:  In New York, thousands of students were counseled to leave high school and to try their hand at high school equivalency programs.  Students who enrolled in equivalency programs did not count as dropouts and did not have to pass the Regents' exams necessary for a high-school diploma.

5.    Teaching to the Test:  Teachers are forced to cut creative elements of their curriculum like art, creative writing, and hands-on activities to prepare students for the standardized tests.  In some cases, when standardized tests focus on math and reading skills, teachers abandon traditional subjects like social studies and science to drill students on test-taking skills.

6.    Narrowing the Curriculum:  In Florida, a fourth-grade teacher showed her students how to navigate through a 45-minute essay portion of the state's standardized exam.  The lesson was helpful for the test, but detrimental to emerging writers because it diluted their creativity and forced them to write in a rigid format.

7.    Conflicting Accountability Ratings:  In North Carolina, 32 schools rated excellent by the state failed to make federally mandated progress.

8.    Questions about the Meaning of Proficiency:  After raising achievement benchmarks, Maine considered lowering them over concerns that higher standards will hurt the state when it comes to No Child Left Behind.

9.    Declining Teacher Morale: A South Carolina sixth-grade teacher felt the pressure of standardized tests because she said her career was in the hands of 12-year-old students.
10.    Score Reporting Errors:  Harcourt Educational Measurement was hit with a $1.1 million fine for incorrectly grading 440,000 tests in California, accounting for more than 10 percent of the tests taken in the state that year.

High-stakes tests cannot be trusted - they are corrupted and distorted.  To avoid exhaustive investigations into these tests that turn educators into police, this research supports building a new indicator system that is not subject to the distortions of high-stakes testing.

(1)  Campbell, D. T. (1975). Assessing the impact of planned social change. In G. Lyons (Ed.), Social research and public policies: The Dartmouth/OECD Conference. (Chapter 1, pp 3-45). Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College, The Public Affairs Center. (p. 35)

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Those who can, DO.
Those who can do more, TEACH!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Conservative Op-ed writer against torture 

(this is cross-posted from dailykos)

Jeff Jacoby is the resident conservative among the op-ed writers at the Boston Globe (which includes such notable liberals as Ellen Goodman, Tom Oliphant and the superbe Derrick Jackson).  Today he offered the first of what will be at least two, and perhaps more, op ed pieces reviewing our handling of detainees, and making it clear he opposes what has been done.

The article is entitled  Where's the Outrage on Torture and is well worth the read.

To abide by copyright I have enclosed a couple of snippets to whet your appetite.  And btw, the teaser at the end of todays piece was

NEXT: Why not torture terrorists?

from partway through, after the introductory material:
The latest Pentagon report on the abuse of captives, delivered to Congress last week by Vice Admiral Albert Church III, doesn't point a finger of blame at Miller or any other high-ranking official. It concludes that while detainees in Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere were brutalized by military or CIA interrogators, there was no formal policy authorizing such abuse. (On occasion it was even condemned -- in December 2002, for example, some Navy officials denounced the Guantanamo techniques as ''unlawful and unworthy of the military services.")

But surely, Church was asked at a congressional hearing, someone should be held accountable for the scores of abuses that even the government admits to? ''Not in my charter," the admiral replied.

So the buck stops nowhere. And fresh revelations of horror keep seeping out.

Two examples, which in the original online piece provide hyperlinks
Afghanistan, 2002: A detainee in the ''Salt Pit" -- a secret, CIA-funded prison north of Kabul -- is stripped naked, dragged across a concrete floor, then chained in a cell and left overnight. By morning, he has frozen to death. According to The Washington Post, which sourced the story to four US government officials, the dead man was buried in an unmarked grave, and his family was never notified. What had the Afghan done to merit such lethal handling? ''He was probably associated with people who were associated with Al Qaeda," a US official told the Post.

Iraq, 2003: Manadel al-Jamadi, arrested after a terrorist bombing in Baghdad, is brought in handcuffs to a shower room in Abu Ghraib. Shackles are connected from his cuffs to a barred window, hoisting his arms painfully behind his back -- a position so unnatural, Sergeant Jeffrey Frost later tells investigators, that he is surprised the man's arms ''didn't pop out of their sockets." Frost and other guards are summoned when an interrogator complains that al-Jamadi isn't cooperating. They find him slumped forward, motionless. When they remove the chains and attempt to stand him on his feet, blood gushes from his mouth. His ribs are broken. He is dead.

and the concluding two paragraphs:
Of course the United States must hunt down terrorists and find out what they know. Better intelligence means more lives saved, more atrocities prevented, and a more likely victory in the war against radical Islamist fascism. Those are crucial ends, and they justify tough means. But they don't justify means that betray core American values. Interrogation techniques that flirt with torture -- to say nothing of those that end in death -- cross the moral line that separates us from the enemy we are trying to defeat.

The Bush administration and the military insist that any abuse of detainees is a violation of policy and that abusers are being punished. If so, why does it refuse to allow a genuinely independent commission to investigate without fear or favor? Why do Republican leaders on Capitol Hill refuse to launch a proper congressional investigation? And why do my fellow conservatives -- those who support the war for all the right reasons -- continue to keep silent about a scandal that should have them up in arms?

Go read the entire piece --  it is quite important.  And you should forward the link to everyone you know.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Thoughts on College Fairs 

Today I am not at school. Our district is having a College fair, held at our local community college, and my alma mater asked me to serve as its representative. We had a morning session, 9:30-12:30, for those who are juniors in our public high schools. We have a second session running 4-6 PM that is open to the general community. Since I ahve free acess to wi-fi here, I decided to post these random thoughts.

I have often represented old alma mater at college fairs, and I have very mixed feelings about their existance. There is often little chance for really communicating with the students who might truly be interested. Representing a highly selective instiution that is not as well known, I have no choice but to do a little screening. It is not that I mind giving away literature or the mini CDs we use to promote the college. It is that there are many students just grabbing all the literature and material they can, and I really would not want them wasting time, energy or other on a college that would be inappropriate for them to consider.

On the other hand, one can never know when this setting will provide for that chance encounter with the high school student who might never otherwise consider the college, and for whom we would be a good fit. Thus I try to chat a bit to see if there is any possibility. Is there something I can discern about that student standing in front of me that set off the instinct that I need to maintain contact, try to interest the student? Or is there something that makes it clear that this would not work. I have about 30-60 seconds to make that determination. If there is any possibility, then I have to "hook" them long enough to get contact information, and to provide them with the factoid that gets them to look further.

Although I graduated years ago, I have stayed in contact with and current on the College and what it now offers. I know it had a transforming effect on my life.

NO, I have not yet mentioned the institution in question, but there is no reason I should not. I attended Haverford College,the oldest (around since 1833) post-secondary institution founded by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). And if you are a high school student, or the parent of a child looking for a terrific small liberal arts college, take a visit at http://www.haverford.edu .... it will be well worth your while.

As for College Fairs -- they are hard, and somewhat exhausting -- but I continue to do them because it is one way I, on my teacher's salary, can give back to the institution that so shaped me, something of value.

And hey, any place that can in the same year (forthcoming) give honorary degrees to both Mollie Ivins and Dave Matthews can't be half bad.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Three-Fourths Done -- the good, bad and the ugly 

(with apologies to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood for the end of the title).

Today, Wednesday March 15, was the final day of our third quarter. Tomorrow we roll seamlessy into the fourth and final quarter.

The one clearly GOOD thing is that after today I am done with hall duty for the year. Hall duty -- having to spend the first 10 minutes of my lunch reminding kids to put on their id badges, take off their hats, get to where they belong (lunch or class), check for passes -- in short, interrelating with students in ways that are strictly disciplinary and work at cross purposes with trying to encourage them as a classroom teacher. Still, in a building with over 2,800 students, far too many of whom lack self-discipline, it is a task necessary to the maintenance of order. I'm just glad that my responsibilities in this arena are now complete.

What is bad is how little time is left to try to reach some of my students. And how many interruptions there will be for the rest of the year. For example, on Thursday my five 9th grade classes go up to Guidance to register for next year. Then Friday is half a day. Thus we begin the final quarter with one real day of instruction. Then next week students are off for Spring break as of c-o-b on Wednesday the 23rd. The teachers have a work day on the 24th, and then we are off for ten days. In other words, we will begin the final quarter with one full day of instruction (for everyone else it is two days), followed by a half day, follwed by a weekend, followed by a 3-day week, followed by 11 days off for the students. During the break the seniors who ahve not yet heard will get all their admission and rejection letters from colleges. And even when they come back we will be headed for state exams, AP exams, all sorts of other interruptions, including trips to look at colleges to decide whether to attend. The seniors are gone with about a week to go in May. In short, the 4th quarter will be anything but normal.

And the UGLY. Under the rules for our school system, anyone who fails 3 of the four quarters fails for the year. In my home room of 28 I will have 8 students who will in theory have alrady blown the course. I will ahve three or four more in my second (I am waiting to see on one if an absence the past two days was excused or was a cut -- it makes a big difference). I know some teachers who automatically give those who would be in that situation a D for 3rd quarter just so the kids, knowing they have failed, are not disruptive. I will not do that. I tell them that if they got at least a 50% 3rd quarter, if they get a 70% fourth I will go back and change their 3rd quarter grade so they can pass. That gives most of them some motivation. But of the students I mentioned, I have 5 in the first period and two in the second for whom even that won't make a difference. That is more than enough to totally destroy a class if one is not careful. For them I will point out that the mroe they learn now the easier it will be -- in summer school or next year -- to obtain the passing grade they will need.

Actually, the ones who are hardest to motivate are those who have alrady passed twice, but marginally. I have to remind themm if they have two Ds and two Es but the 4th quarter is an E, under systemwide rules they still fail. That keeps them motivated. But the really difficultons -- they have two pasisng grades with at least one C, or they've passed the 1st 3 quarters barely, and they know they are going to get credit. They don't care. They know as long as they don't cut they will get credit, and they have no interest in doing work. Between those two classes I HAVE HALF A DOZEN -- and that's where it can get really UGLY. I am a pretty good classroom manager and an even better motivator. But it will take all my skill to get those kids to stay even close to being on task. If I do not keep them focused, those first two classes will be destroyed -- I will be spending far too much time exercising control and doing discispline, and not enough doing teaching.

Of course, all of my kids are now absolutely sure that I am bonkers, nuts, crazy, a lunatic. That helps. Since they are not quite sure what to make of me, that gives me a bit more leverage.

And some of you thought teaching was content knowledge and good lesson plans. Hey, they are important but insufficient. A teacher has to be something of a performer, and definitely a bit of a manipulator -- not in a bad way, but in a way that can use the natural tendency of the kids in the room and turn it from soemthing that could be destructive into something with at least the potential to be positive.

You ahve to know your kids, and use different methods on different kids as appropriate, and perhpas act slightly differntly for different class dynamics.

And most important - you really have to love the kids to go through all of this. It is what makes it all worth the effort. They could break your heart. But if you stay at it, they will give you smiles that you could never believe.

Hey, those that can, do. Those who can do more, teach. I can do more. I have to do more. I am a teacher.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Real Battleground - a Teacher's View 

(note -- this will also appear on dailykos)

Perhaps the thoughts not a high school teacher do not matter all that much, particularly one feeling overwhelmed by all that is on his plate right now:
- the normal planning for the week
- having a lesson that will work when I am out one day next week
- having to complete my portfolio for National Board Certification by March 31
- doing an evaluation of a proposed article for a new educational journal
- doing my taxes
- cleaning the house

Okay, the last two are not directly related to being a teacher -- all the others are.

So why I am I blogging, and what on earth do I have to offer anyone else by my words?

Let me provide a context. The high school in which I teach is quite diverse -- while about 1/3 of our students are admitted by competitive exam, most from outside out attendance area, and we get others for things like our sign language, foreign language, and string music programs, we are also a geographic. We are in the poorest performing of the suburban counties around Washington DC, although our school does quite well. Our 2,800+ students are majority Black (that group truly including students who are African as well as Caribbean, beyond those normally described as African-American), but also includes many students of South and East Asian background, others from the Middle East, and every imaginable background of European orientation. We are located in a political jurisdiction that is fairly liberal, although we have our share of those who are more conservative. And we have every religion imaginable -- we are not far from the International Headquarters of the 7th Day Adventists, we have Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Santeria, more than a few of the Unification Church [Rev. Moon), Mormons, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, one Jain, E. Orthodox, and every imaginable branch of Protestant Christianity, as well as the self-described Wiccans and Pagans. [Trust me -- all of this will be relevant].

Now I will explain how this belongs on a blog devoted to political topics. Let’s begin with Social Security. This is an age group which polling data says is strongly in favor of Bush’s (not yet defined plan). My Social Issues Class just explored the subject. I will tell you that the students, juniors and seniors, are more conservative than the school as a whole -- in that sense they are probably a fairly accurate sample of their age cohort nationally, with the exception for those communities totally dominated by one religiously conservative church. And this is where it is interesting -- the more they learned the less they accepted the basic premises of Bush’s plan.

I gave them around 20 pieces from newspapers. These range politically from Ivins and Krugman on the “left” to Walter Williams, Jeff Jacoby and the editorial pages of the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal on the right. The more they learned, the more hostile they became to Bush’s approach. When given an opportunity to design something to address the problem on their own, they came up with three proposals -

1) leave Social Security alone, because there is no problem.

2) Raise the ceiling from 90,000 to 125,00, but increase slightly the benefits for those who pay in the 90,000 to 125,000 range [not as much as their additional contributions, but something to get them to buy in to the additional burden on them).

3) Make benefits strictly needs-based -- everyone pays in as they do now, but then people when they apply submit a financial statement showing all assets, with the more they have, the less they get. As one student put it, “why should Bill Gates be receiving ANY Social Security?

Again, let’s note the following -- the more they learned, the less they were inclined to support the outlines of the Bush proposal. And it is not as if I was presenting them with a one-sided point of view on the subject. They read, they argued among themselves, and then they went in a different direction.

I would guess that the vast majority of those polled have received little detailed information about the issue than have my students. I would also guess that those people who take the trouble to explore the issue the way these teenagers did would in general come down very much in agreement -- that the crisis is overblown, and that the proposals being floated by the President and other Republicans do not make sense. The only student who strongly disagreed is philosophically opposed to government involvement in Social Welfare programs of any kinds, although even she admits that for those people who have no family to support them in their old age the government bears some responsibility, although she would make it far more limited than current programs.

This is an example of an issue where in many cases students in our school are better able to discuss many of the issues than are adults, including far too often adults in positions of determining policy. But then, these students are regularly challenged to think, to organize arguments, to try to persuade others. This occurs not just in my classes, not just in Social Studies, but across the curriculum -- one English class just had a very heated discussion about the death penalty after the recent decision barring the execution of those who commit crimes below the age of 18.

These students are becoming prepared to be citizens, to participate in the political processes. They understand that such participation requires an investment of one’s time and energy if one is going to be able to participate with personal knowledge, and not merely depend on what others present in slick ads, and sound bites extracted by the media, in the artificial environment where for the sake of political advantage truth and evidence become fungible -- again, those who who are in our science and tech magnet are quite used to dealing with evidence with brutal honesty, recognizing that one’s assumptions are often not borne out by the data, which does not give one the right to use dat selectively, ignoring that which undercuts one’s prior beliefs or theses.

If our public schools are to truly fulfill their most important role, that of preparing our students to be fully participative citizens, far more of our education needs to allow this kind of exploration. All of life cannot be reduced to selecting the ‘best” answer out of four or five preselected[by others] choices. And while our students need to be able to support themselves, the agenda of many corporations that they want schools to produced a trained and compliant workforce [one that does not question authority, for example] does not necessarily match this important social need of our society.

We hear people say that we are ‘falling behind” our competitors. Far from it. Still far more scientific and technological advances are made here than in any other nation. There are many independent measures of this -- Nobel Prizes in the Sciences, patents issued, and so on. Our universities have long been the preferred location for students from other nations to gain scientific and technological training.

But if the desire for maximum profits even in the short term is allowed to outweigh every other consideration, and if we continue to shape our schooling based on the false paradigm that hs been pushed for several decades by the corporate sector, and by those who really oppose the idea of public schools, then in the long term several things will happen. One is that we will lose our advantage in very science and technology that our corporate leaders claim is in jeopardy. The second is that we will produce students less able to do the independent thinking -- divergent instead of convergent -- that is so essential in a truly free market environment and is absolutely the sine qua non for scientific advancement.

Further, because businesses so often refuse to devote the resources necessary to making our schools fully productive -- they want rebates on the taxes they should pay for the services they require -- they will feel less vested in the workers and communities around them. And since the profit motive rules all, even those workers who have been trained will find that their jobs disappear overseas to lower wage markets.

We are in a race to the bottom, not educationally as some would have us believe, at least not yet. The vast majority of schools still contain teachers and administrators struggling to give their students the best education they can, often with too many in a class, a lack of up to date scientific equipment or even current texts and library books. We are in a race to the bottom economically -- more and more their is downward pressure on wages, which places greater pressure on workers to make every cent go further, which increases the desirability of shopping at the Walmarts whose low prices are sustained by low pay and benefits for their workers and the heavy use of low wage suppliers overseas.

What many in our business world fail to recognize is the one great insight Henry Ford had, that he had to pay his workers enough that they could afford to by the product he made. Far too many of our companies and their leaders do not act as if they any connection between the roles their employees play as consumers to those they play as components of creating the profits for that corporate entity.

My students are diverse. As of yet most have not given up on schooling. This is important -- far too many of our students in this nation arrive at school in Kindergarten and First Grade excited about school, wanting to learn. By high school many have given up on that excitement -- they go through the motions, they may be motivated to get a grade [which often leads to the distortion of first focusing only on that which might be tested, and then seems to justifying doing ‘whatever it takes” including plagiarism and other forms of cheating to obtain that grade]. Since my primary course is Government, the fact that MOST [we are not perfect] of our students are still excited about learning means that we faculty still have an opportunity to help them develop as active and participatory citizens, people capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and knowledge, capable of resisting the propaganda that far too many use to sway people to political positions not necessarily in their own best interests.

The current pressures on our schools make the kind of teaching that I, and the other faculty at our school, offer our students less and less frequent. This is the real ground zero in the battle for the future of this nation. If we cannot provide a free quality public education we will lose the ability to maintain a democratic political system. If the information our students are allowed to explore, and the means by which they explore it, are limited to meeting the demands of narrow corporate and political interests, then all else we do as political activists will be of little import.

I have not blogged -- either on dailykos or on teacherken.blogspot.com -- as much recently because I remain fully engaged in this most important battle. In my role as teacher I am fighting a warfare of insurgency -- I have my small area in which I can engage in what is effectively guerilla warfare against the weight of the economic and political elites. My warfare is not to indoctrinate, but to teach my students how to think on their own, to be able to resist indoctrination. That is a far greater threat to the entrenched interests - who depend on a situation of indoctrination where no alternative view or paradigm is allowed -- than would be counter indoctrination.

This is my rant for the week. Unlike a certain lady on dailykos, I have not resorted to expletives. I offer this rambling piece as an explanation for my absence from posting, but also as a challenge.

TEACHERKEN ‘S CHALLENGE -- what are YOU doing to preserve our public schools as a place of learning and exploration for the best benefit of our children? Are you lobbying your legislators, Federal and state, to get away from the destructive and narrowing aspects of excessive testing, the punitive measures of No Child Left Behind, the restrictions of honest academic exploration? Do you respond to inaccurate stories about educational issues the way you do about Social Security and Medicare? Do you challenge the misinterpretation of comparative test scores the way you challenged the misuse of intelligence about Al Qaeda connections to Iraq? When teachers are unfairly attacked and have their words and actions misrepresented, do you protest as loudly as you did when Dean’s words and actions were distorted and misrepresented by the press? Are you willing to do as thorough an exploration of the background, funding, interconnections and motivations of those attacking and distorting public education as you did with Gannon/Guckert?

If not, then you don’t accept the premise of this post -- that schools are the ground zero for all of our battles. If we lose this campaign, we cannot in the long term win the larger war.

I await responses.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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