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.

Monday, October 24, 2005

So you want to know about education? 

Here I go again. Here’s another annotated list of all my education diaries to date at dailykos. If you are interested in the topic this provides you a way, if you want or need it, to see what I have posted about education. Of greater importance, take the time to read the comments, especially in the more active threads. There is great insight offered in response to what I post in an attempt to increase our discussion on this critical issue.


What makes a GOOD High School? Posted on Sunday Oct 23, 2005, this diary reached #2 on the recommended list, although it only stayed on the list for a few hours. It inspired a fairly spirited discussion with 62 comments. It provides a link for an article on the topic that appeared in the Washington Post in April of 2005 and which focused on the school at which I teach. That led to an invitation to present at the recent Maryland State Teachers Association annual meeting. I posted this the day after I had led the presentation, and included some general analysis as well as the final page of our handouts. Some commentors felt that the school at which I teach cannot serve as an example because some of our students are admitted by competitive examination, and/or because of some of our socioeconomics and/or our relationship with the University of Maryland. I make no claims that we are ideal, but that there things from our experience from which others can learn.

Challenging Bad Educational Policy was a not very successful attempt to make people aware of a useful educational website. This disappeared with only 3 comments.

A Reading Bill of Rights for Young Adolescents offers something I encountered in my browsing, from a website in Indiana, and which I posted on Oct 9. 2005.

A response to Tom Vilsack was posted on October 8, 2005. It represents a continuation of the dialog begun with my participation in the blogger phone call. This was on the recommended list for quite some time.

Do you know a good school? was an effort to let people know about the National School of Character Award and how to apply. It was posted on Oct 5, 2005.

High stakes testing - what is it, and does it work? This entry on Sept 25, 2005, provides the reader with some understanding of the terminology they often see in general news pieces and offers some analysis by yours truly. I am not, as one might guess, a big fan.

A teacher’s life - four weeks Posted Sept. 24, 2005, a continuation of the series begun back on August 14. This covered the beginning of classes and related subjects.

A conversation on education A Sept 21, 2005 posting. This was my summary and analysis of a phone call with Tom Vilsack in which I participated as an invited education blogger. I cross-posted at a variety of places, including at Vilsack’s HeartlandPac website. The response to this eventually led to Vilsack posting a response both there and here at dailykos.

In education as in FEMA? The pattern continues Posted Sept 18, 2005, this is based on an article in the Seattle Times which describes how the pattern of unqualified people at the top of an agency occurred not only in FEMA, but in the US Dept of ED under Rod Paige.

Hiding things that disprove their ideology was posted Sept 17, 2005, and describes how the US Dept of Educ was suppressing research that ran counter to their professed opinions, this time on bilingual education

Falling students, rising profits was posted Sept. 12, 2005. I decided to post this because Jimmy Kilpatrick of educationnews.org, who is quite conservative, considered this piece from The Nation

the single finest article ever published in a print publication that captures the ethical and moral corruption of what began in Texas as the so-called "Texas Educational Miracle."
Given how that “miracle’ was used to shape current national educational policy, I thought more people should be aware of what the article said.

Should teachers (and others) receive merit pay? A Sept 11, 2005 posting inspire by a piece in the Arizona Republic on this controversial issue

America’s educational apartheid is about a piece by Jonathan Kozol which appeared in the September New Yorker. Posted on September 10, 2005, it provides a link, a description and some analysis and background

This administration really blows it was posted on Sept 5 2005. It describes how the Bush administration was using Katrina as a stick to pound people with some of its ideological ideas about education.

Katrina and education - can you help? appeared September 2, 2005. It raised some issues about education arising from the devastation caused by the hurricane. It didn’t get much play, and at this point is quite dated.

A Teacher’s Life - The School Year Begins was posted on August 28th, was on the recommended list for quite a while, and has 72 comments.

What does the public think of public schools? presents the annual Phil Delta Kappan survey on the subject and includes analysis by Monty Neill of Fairtest.org. This appeared August 27th, and got a fair amount of play (it has 52 comments).

A Teacher’s Life - the school year approaches was the first of a series of diaries I did n the the beginning of my school year. This appeared on August 14, the day before I officially reported, even though I had been back at work for a week.


what was your favorite subject in school reached #2 on the recommended list on Saturday July 30.  The primary focus is an article from the St. Petersburg (FL) Times (one of the great papers in the nation) about how electives are being eliminated or cut back in order to provide more time to prepare for mandatory tests in reading.  I offer a fair amount of commentary of my own.  The thread is mixed, with a lot of poster limiting themselves to the question in the title, but many choosing to explore the implications for them had they not had access to electives, and still more talking about the various policy implications caused by the testing requirements of NCLB and the need to ensure that all students can read.  There are 152 comments, many extended and thoughtful.

NCLB problems not solutions was a diary on July 26 that flew by with little comment or notice.  As I wrote at the time

First I will discuss the problem of high qualified teachers, a requirement under the Law.  Next I will refer to a somewhat related column about teacher compensation that appeared on the front page of the metro section of the July 26 Washington Post.  Finally I will discuss the issue of supplementary services (tutoring), focusing in particular on an article in the July 25 Baltimore Sun.  Throughout I will offer my own analysis and commentary.  

Some thoughts on testing and education is a July 21 piece on three different items about the topics in the title of the diary, two from Seattle and one a column by Bob Herbert of the NY Times.  As usual, I provide some selections from each of the pieces (while I encourage you to read the entire piece) and provide some additional commentary of my own.

Slashing Fed Support 4 Gifted Education, posted July 19, works off a story in the Washington Post on the slashing of funding for  the Javits Center for Gifted Education.  It is an example of the shortsightedness of this administration's approach to the funding of education, and something of the hypocrisy of NCLB.

Rothstein (NOT Rove) on Educational Equity was posted July 15, It focuses on a conversation with Richard Rothstein, who was for a number of years the educational columnist for the NY Times.  The conversation appeared in The Evaluation Exchange, a publication of the Harvard Family Research Project.

The Campaign for Educational Equity is a diary about a new approach being taken by Teachers College in NYC, led by its president Arthur Levine.  The diary focuses on a piece first published in Teachers College Record back in May.  The diary was posted on July 14.  I happen to think it was deserving of more attention than the five comments it received.  Take a look, and decide for yourself.

A Political Issue - Teacher Pay was the first of my pieces ever to be front-paged (on July 3 by Armando).  It uses an article that appeared in the Long Beach (CA) Journal (and apparently elsewhere) as the starting point for a discussion of the educational implications of teacher pay and an exploration of the political issues involved.  The diary parked a fascinating discussion of 255 comments.

HOW NCLB ENRICHES BUSH CRONIES AND OTHERS has a self-explanatory title.  It is based on a report written by Gerald bracey and put out by the school of education at Arizona State University.  It gives specifics of individuals and companies that are benefiting rom NCLB while showing their contacts with the Bush family and the President. I provide a link to download (PDF) the entire report.

BILL MOYERS:  "A MORAL TRANSACTION" is about Public television.  This is related since public tv started as educational tv -- our local station in DC is WETA, founded as  (Greater) Washington Educational Television  Association.  Moyers paid himself for a two page spread in the Washington Post to present his defense of the purposes of public education.  He was involved with the founding of public broadcasting, and has been a powerful advocate for its independence.

SOMETHING GOOD & EXCITING IN PHILADELPHIA is about a new charter high school  opening this Fall and dedicated to peace studies and conflict resolution.  It includes the organizers request for mentors for each of the students.  I wanted people aware of what good things could be done under charter school legislation, and to let those people close enough to get involved about the opportunity to participate.

Three Things TO THINK ABOUT put together information from three emails I had received from different lists in which I participate.   The first two items were clearly about education.  The first was about an article entitled "A Teacher Falls In Love, Over and over" and the second was about the "opt out" provision for parents to prevent the military recruiters from having personal information about their children.

AN EDUCATION LEADER ON NCLB will connect you with an interesting piece entitled "Zen and the Art of Bill's Philosophy" from District Administration, a professional journal for superintendents and the like.  It focuses on a many who has been regional superintendent in Vermont for 23 years.

GEORGE LUCAS -EDUCATION NOT STAR WARS introduces readers to Edutopia and the work of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (for which Edutopia is the primary informational outlet).  It  includes an extract from the latest issue to whet your appetites.  If you don't know about GLEF, this is your chance to find out and sign up for free.

What's wrong with Education??? is the text of a post to the Assessment reform network by George Sheridan, who gave me permission to post it on dailykos.   George is a teacher in California, and a union rep, who is quite articulate about the problems teachers and schools really face.

HIGH STANDARDS from Virginia was posted May 4.  It is also the result of a post on the Assessment reform network, this from a woman who is a former Virginia teacher of the year, but is posting in her capacity as parent of a middle school student.  it is well worth the read, even if I say so.

If you truly care about education was my attempt to provide a brief annotated list of some online resources about education.  Anyone with a serious interest in education policy should know these sites.

Responsibility, posted May 11, is my reaction to a posting on an educational listserv about the issue of affixing blame and responsibility.  I explain within the piece, which was my response back on list, why it is relevant to issues of education and of testing.

Testing Insanity gets even worse? is largely the text and background of a press release on a really absurd situation that occurred in Washington State.  Perhaps one can respond with a sardonic laugh or comment, but it is illustrative of what we doing destructively to our schools and our students.

Education -- You won't believe  -- or will you ?? has selections from four articles on education, the first from Texas about Sandy Kress, a major influence on Bush and the creation of No Child Left Behind, the other three being from a variety of Virginia publications.   All four articles are worth the read, and the diary will give you a sense of each.  You may have seen this one, since it made the recommended list.NOTED link has been corrected

being a teacher - some end of year good and bad are my personal reflections as I approached the end of this school year.  You may or may not find it relevant, but it will give you a sense of how I operate, and what matters to me.

And now ... reflections & questions is another personal reflection.  I drafted it as I begin this my 60th year, and posted it in the early hours of May 23, my 59th birthday.   Since my vocation is as a teacher, personal reflections are inevitably connected with my life at school.  THis piece is very personal.

Need a Tutor?  Call India was also posted on May 23.  It is about a phenomenon of outsourcing in education.  The implications are scary, given that one part of NCLB is the transfer of federal education funds to provide tutoring for students in schools that fail to meet Annual Yearly Progress.  This one is not all that long, and it is an issue about which we should be watchful.

PEN Public Education Network provided some selections from the weekly email from the Public Education Network, which is an invaluable source for anyone interested in education, providing not only links for news articles, but also things like sources of funding for teachers and schools, etc.  Take a look, and if you have any interest, I point you at how you too can sign up for this weekly Newsblast.

Finally, Memorable teacher(s) - whom do you remember?.  This was inspired by a visit yesterday to my alma mater, Haverford College, for a glee club reunion, where we were conducted by the long time 928 years) choral director at the College, Bill Reese, now 95 years old.  I give my memories of four teachers, one high school and three at Haverford, who had a huge influence on me, and I encourage others to offer their memories in the comments.   Some of those, such as that by Plutonium Page, are by themselves worth the read.  This was on the recommended list for several hours, and has over 90 comments, most of which I promise are not by me.

If you care about education, posted on April 16, gives an explanation of the Public Education Network, with some samples from that week's electronic newsletter.   This is a good resources for those that want an easy way of following major issues in educational policy.

Some education resources, posted April 18, contains some selections without comment from the newsletter of the Coalition for Essential Schools, and organization based on the work of Ted Sizer.

warning about a new "report" on teachers  was posted on April 19.  This is the diary in this group most likely to have been read, as it was on the recommended list for about 24 hours.  It addressed a report issued by the Progressive Policy Institute with which I found a number of problems, but which since it was getting some publicity was important to discuss.  I will note that for this diary the discussion in the comments is worth taking the time to read perhaps in its entirety.  WARNING  -- there are over 300 comments, and the thread stayed active for several days.

commercializing all of education? explores the decision of the US Department of Education to defund the work of the Eisenhower  National Clearing House for Mathematics and Science Education.  It is based on an email bulletin from Eschool News online  -  another valuable resource on educational issues, and was posted on April 20th.  This is a diary you may well not have seen.

Teachers and the law was also posted on April 20, and similarly scrolled by without much action.  It contains information from the Reach Every Child website of Alan Haskvitz, and contains information that may prove useful to some on this list

Don't let my critics in explores a conflict at George Mason University.  Posted on April 27, it includes selections from the online column the day before by Jay Mathews, principal education writer for the Washington Post.  It shows how even in education people on the right (in this case Checker Finn) are unwilling to have meetings where those who oppose their views (in this case Jerry Bracey) are even allowed to attend.

What does it mean to be a teacher? A reflection on what life as a teacher is like, from my perspective as a high school social studies teacher.  Posted March 20. As I note in the intro,

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.

The least of the problems is a response on the issue of cheating on tests required by the Federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law.  It was an extended version of something I began as a comment on another thread, and includes a quotation from Walt Haney's magnificent analysis of how the so-called Texas Miracle in education was actually the result of cooking the books in other ways.  I believe this diary provides a good summary of some of the issues confronting public education, and I asked people what they were doing to help save public education.

Do you REALLY want to read THIS diary?, posted March 31, was my reflection on the process of National Board certification for teachers, written just after I had completed my last part, the Assessment Center Testing.  Like many of my diaries, it is very much of a personal reflection and analysis, but perhaps may give some insight into the process.

Saving Public Education - Saving Democracy largely consists of a statement posted with permission by five researchers in education, E. Wayne Ross, Kathleen Kesson, David Gabbard, Sandra Mathison, & Kevin D. Vinson.  I felt it was very much on point as to what is really at stake in some of the battles currently going on in the field of public education policy.

Education and "The Mighty Wurlitzer"  is the title I place on a piece by well known education writer Gerald Bracey, who gave me permission to post a piece he had written on how the right manipulates public discourse on education.

F for Assessment - today's education diary was posted on April 3.  It contains selections and analysis by me of an article by Jim Popham, noted expert and former president of AERA, on how our current program of assessment is badly flawed.

Cheapskate Conservatives Cheat Students, posted April 4, takes you through a few selections of an article by that title written by Richard Rothstein, who used to write the education column in the NY Times.

Teacher quality and NBPTS certification posted April 5, takes the reader through an article by Andy Rotherham originally published in Education Week .  As one who had been undergoing the NBPTS process, I thought it worthwhile to consider his points and offer a brief response of my own.

More than an exit exam? offers selections from a report strongly recommending the use of multiple measures to determine high school graduation, with as usual a few personal comments by me.  The piece itself comes from the School Reform network based at Stanford, and the best-known of the authors is Linda Darling-Hammond.

The loss of hope? , written on April 10 as I sat in a Starbucks with my wife, is only partially about education.  It is an explanation of why I keep teaching even as I can hold out little hope that anything I do will make any kind of difference on big picture issues. Perhaps as much as anything, it is a self-exploration shared with the community.

Fed Educ Law Causes Cheating? discusses a new report done by Nichols and Berliner on behalf of the Great Lakes Center.  Includes executive summary of report.

Bush Proposed Education Cuts relying  on an analysis originally prepared by National School Boards Association, the information passed on by Fairtest provides a detailed look at what Bush's budget would do to Federal support of education

Among School Children, Class Size Does Matter an op ed I wrote a number of years ago that appeared in a now-defunct chain of suburban DC papers, in their Montgomery and PG editions.  This piece was also picked up by a number of email services.  it represents my musings on how the issue of class size can be explained.

A Teacher's View - the Real Battleground This includes some musings on my own teaching, which serves as the basis for my concern that the kind of teaching I can do now is under real threat, and ultimately challenges readers  -- what will they do to support public education?  This diary stayed on the recommended list for the better part of 24 hours.

EDUCATION: If you oppose NCLB, read this is based on an item enclosed in a email I received from an educational listserv.  I had the author's permission to post the email, which describes a forum of progressive educators that "agenda of promoting a progressive, democratic vision of public education that supports the good work many schools are doing while pushing the public policy agenda in a direction counter to the current prevailing wisdom."   The organization is funded in part by Soros.  I encourage people to explore it.

So who knows what something means? starts with a tale about how the author of a piece used in a standardized test who discusses real problems with the questions used  and the answers accepted.  I then go into an extended set of remarks of my own about the problems with the kinds of testing we are now doing.

What is a good teacher? offers for your reading the text of a piece of that title by Alan Haskvitz, an award-winning teacher (his cv blew me away) .  I was glad to see that many of the traits he discusses others find in me.

IMPORTANT - 3 Articles on Education  describes 3 important commentary pieces, by Nel Noddings, Ronald S. Byrnes, and John Merrow, that appeared in a single issue of Education Week .  I provide extracts from each article, a wee bit of my own commentary and background on the authors, and encourage others to go read the pieces.

But is it SCIENTIFIC? discusses in detail a symposium on educational research,  that were available on line,  from Teachers College Record .  The symposium was framed around a set of questions, which I provided in a blockquote in the diary, and which I do so here:

What constitutes scientifically based research in education? How should it be defined? Who should definite it? Should it be privileged over other forms of educational research? Should it be defined at all? What role should qualitative or interpretive methods play in educational research? What are the consequences of different answers to these questions?

.  This was actually my second diary on the same subject, because the first one, an important TCR for educational issues, scrolled by so quickly.  

on the finances of public school education was actually originally written as a comment way down on another diary.  I offer some details about systems I know here in Washington, and invited others to participate in a dialog, which ultimately got 23 comments.

How the Right will kill Public Education used a story in the Charlotte Observer about the possibility of granting tuition tax credits for attendance at public schools.   This diary provoked a lengthy discussion, with 233 comments.

Thoughts on a teacher's week was cross-posted from my own blog because I wanted some feedback, and I don't get many comments on my own blog.  It uses some of the events from a week in my classroom to talk about teaching, but also about more.

so how many kossacks are teachers? included a poll, and got a number of us to offer some information about our own roles in the world of education

I hope this diary has been of use to at least some readers.

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, October 23, 2005

What makes a GOOD high school? 

I am fortunate to teach at a high school, Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt MD, that by any independent measure is considered very good. I can offer many statistics that would justify that description, of which my favorite is that my alma mater, Haverford College, last year accepted 3 of the 4 students who applied, and the college only accepted 26% of ts applicants.

Last April the Washington Post Magazine had a piece entitled “High Schools That Work.” Our school was the first featured, and you can read the beginning of the article as well as the portrait of our school here. As a result of that article, I received an invitation to make a presentation on the subject to the annual conference of the Maryland State Teachers Association. That presentation was Friday morning.

Readers may have noticed that I have not been posting much recently. I have been very busy with soccer, with representing Haverford at college fairs, but also busy coordinating the five of us who made the presentation. I will not attempt to present all we offered those who attended our session, from a variety of school systems around the state. Let me offer a few facts, and then the key handout.

We can brag about the many awards we have won, as a school, by our teachers, and by our students. But were the session to be more than a brag session, we had to present in a fashion accessible to others and with ideas that they could take back to their own schools. We have a number of outstanding students because we are a Science and Technology magnet program to which students are admitted by competitive examination. Setting up such a program is not something accessible to most other schools, although less than 1/3 of our students are part of that program. We are in a system that has allowed a fair amount of site based management funds, and while we can describe the creative ways we have applied those funds, that again is something that may not be possible for other schools. Finally, a key to our success is our use of a hybrid schedule. We have some classes which are presented for a year in 45 minute periods, others for a semester in 45 minute periods, and others which have a year’s worth of content presented in a semester in a block of 95 minutes (including the 5 minutes between the two periods). There is no software that supports such a schedule, so our scheduler does it all by hand, which considering the great variety of courses we offer (including 17 different Advanced Placement courses and dozens of other electives including things like Comparative Religions, two forensic science courses, Child Development, American Sign Language and six foreign languages) and the fact that we offer an extra “zero” period before the start of our school day and some students take 8 or 9 (skipping lunch) courses at a time, is quite an achievement, and something that has seemed intimidating to everyone who has come to examine what we do.

We are greatly committed to the development of the whole student. This includes meeting the physical, artistic and social needs of the students,as well as their intellectual and emotional needs. The first of the goals stated in our philosophy and goals statement is to create life long learners. We do this not only through the great variety of courses we offer, but also through our 80+ student activities, many of which have faculty advisors who are not paid for their service.

It was fun to do the presentation. And we offered a great deal of documentation, including lists of all the activities, statistics on the school and teachers, etc. We were asked by all of the attendees if they could also have a copy of the Powerpoint presentation. That I will not inflict on you. But the blockquote contains the final page of the handouts, which is a summary of the points we thought they might be able to apply in their own schools.

I offer this for several reasons. First, clearly I am proud both of our school and of the presentation that we did. Of greater importance, however, is that effective schools and effective teachers are willing to share. We make available our experience and also attempt to learn from the experience of others. Wise teachers and schools recognize that one cannot simply copy exactly the models of others, because school situations and classroom composition can vary widely. having knowledge a greater variety of approaches can, however, often inspire on to come up with something new -- perhaps a combination of preexisting ideas, perhaps something totally de novo, that can make a positive difference in the lives of our young people. Making that difference is a major reason why I became a school teacher in my very late 40’s.

So, here is that promised document. After you read it, your reaction would be more than welcome.


1 - School should have a clear and appropriate philosophy and set of goals. These are required as part of reaccreditation by Middle States, so it becomes a question of content, not a task that would not otherwise be done.

2 - An administration, led by a principal, which is strongly supportive of teachers and the kinds of commitments that the faculty at ERHS makes. Our success as a school would not be possible without the leadership of the principals who have served there. Their willingness to go out on limbs on behalf of the mission of our school has been key to our successes.

3 - A faculty willing to go beyond the requirements of contract, Our hybrid schedule and zero period, which is a key to our academic success, would be impossible without the willing support of our faculty. The wide variety of student activities, a key to the commitment of out students and essential to fulfilling our goal of educating the whole child, is only possible because of the large number of faculty willing to serve as unpaid sponsor for activities that matter to the students. Our Teacher Coordinators (department chairs) play a major role in the hiring of new staff, assisting in a continuing flow of good teachers.

4 - an incredibly supportive PTSA. Our school is deeply rooted in the support of our community, which starts, but does not end, with the parents. Without their commitment and involvement, it would not possible for us to even attempt many of the things that make a difference in the lives of our students.

5 - the support of the larger community. We unabashedly ask for participation of experts and community members whenever we can, so that our students see their education not as a separate thing but as connected to the larger community. This includes internships in business, at museums, at the National Archives, with major musical organizations, with the state legislature, etc. It includes regular visits by experts to speak with and/or mentor students. The judges for our science fair are outside experts, including some parents, but also people from nearby government agencies such as NASA and USDA and professors from the various universities in the region.

6 - serving as a professional development school, in our case with the University of Maryland at College Park. This provides a regular flow of teacher candidates that we get to see at work in the classroom before we hire them. They will already have familiarity with the Roosevelt Way, a key part of our success.

7 - an ongoing New Teacher induction program. ALL teachers new to the building participate. That means even teachers with 20 years experience but who are new to ERHS. These monthly sessions where they come together to share experiences and to receive training specific to the needs of being at ERHS provides a level of support that can be key to adjusting to our way of doing things. This is supported by the great willingness of incumbent faculty to provide support for those new to the building.

8 - a willingness of the school community to examine itself, to invite in outsiders, and to hear what they have to say. The awards we have won as a school, and that many of our teachers have earned, require opening ourselves up to examination by others. But first we must be reflective about our own practice as we put together our applications. That ongoing practice of self-analysis and reflection is key to our continued success as a school community.

These are just a few of things that you should be able to take back to your own school.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A"Message" from Meeting 

In Quaker Meeting for worship, one only rises to speak if one truly believes one has a message of importance to deliver. The standard by which one judges is not intellectual. In fact, the term “Quaker” comes from the very real sense, which I have experienced, that one cannot do ought but rise to speak - one is impelled by something, or someone, call it God if you will.

This morning I rose, about 20 minutes into the hour. There were several themes that had been percolating in my consciousness. One was the inquiry at www.streetprophets.com about how one’s religion informed one’s politics, or the reverse. Also part of my pondering was that this is the time of college exploration - I am representing my alma mater at college fairs, tonight being the 3rd in a series of 5 in 14 days. And I am writing letters of recommendations for students I have taught.

I cannot here recapitulate exactly what I said. When I moved to rise and speak in meeting, while I am the speaker, and it is usually from my experience and insight that the message arises, in a sense the message is not mine. I am surrendered to the message, and thus cannot claim that I can remember all that I said.

I do note that I remarked on StreetProphets that it was a chicken-egg kind of situation, that I could not really separate the two. About the college work, I noted that I was trying very hard to make my alma mater known, and for the students, to present them in the best light possible. And that such is a very human process, for ourselves and those or that about which we care, to present it as positively as possible.

But I also noted that at college fairs I had to listen, to hear what potential applicants had to say about themselves to know HOW to present Haverford. And that in writing letters of recommendation, I was trying to make a connection between what mattered for the post-secondary institution and what was important about the applicant. And that in all of the interchanges what was important was listening.

George Fox told the early Quakers to walk gladly upon the earth answering that of God in each person we encountered. We expect in that which we express to be listened to, that those to whom we present our thoughts and beliefs will receive them with the presumption that we offer them with integrity. Part of the message that I delivered today was that Fox’s message reminds us that we must operate on the same presumption for others. Certainly we may feel passionately about issues, but if we are not willing to listen for that of God in what others, with whom we may disagree strongly, offer us, we thereby lose the opportunity for that most human of connections. Certainly in politics we must acknowledge the necessity of finding common ground, which is impossible unless we first operate on the basis of the presumption that there is that of God in what someone else offers. We can affirm that, we can respond to that without reacting against the tangential material that may rightly be classified as other, not “that of God.”

I am posting this in several places. For those at StreetProphets, my terminology will not be especially upsetting or challenging. At dailykos and myleftwing, the explicit reference to God may bother some. Please do not let your visceral reaction to certain expressions deafen you to a deeper message.

This posting is not especially profound. What I had to say in Meeting for worship was far more precise, effective, and full of meaning. This recapitulation is but a pale shadow of what I said shortly after 10 this morning.

I concluded the message by noting that my expression on StreetProphets was not in fact accurate. If I am following what I believe as a Quaker, there can be no divide between how I operate in the political sphere and the religious sphere. By this I do not claim that my religion requires a particular political expression. Rather, in both places I am required to be absolutely honest, to listen to others with the intent of discerning “that of God” in what they offer me, even if they don’t think or express using such terminology. To be whole, to be integrated, means that there are no separate compartments, that here I can allowed a little shading of the truth because it is only politics.

Quaker believe in speaking truth to power. That particular expression may well be derived from Islam, which many do not realize. Bayard Rustin was the Quaker who popularized the expression in this country. Speaking truth to power of necessity exposes one to retribution from those who do not wish to be confronted by truth. And yet to do less is to ignore that of God in the one whom you address. Each person is entitled to the truth, to the presumption that s/he can hear and understand truth, that s/he may be expressing that of God even when being venal or manipulative.

Lincoln told us that even as he would not be a slave, neither would he be a slaveowner. My form of that is that I wish to hear truth and honesty, then I have no choice but to operate in a similar fashion.

I do not know if this rambling message is of value to anyone who may read it. In Quaker Meeting I know I am supposed to rise and speak because my knees are knocking and I cannot sit still -- when I rise my voice is assured, and when I sit down and feel relieved, as if a huge weight has been lifted from me. That feeling is confirmed by the responses of others. I do not know how to judge whether the impulse to post this message can have a similar standard of evaluation. Nevertheless I feel compelled to offer it. Do with it what you will.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, October 11, 2005

Challenging Bad Educational Policy 

Today’s educational diary can be found in its original at The Forum for Education and Democracy, which describes itself as
devoted to supporting educational policies and practices that prepare the young for a life of active and engaged citizenship
. The home page offers links for Parents and educators, press, and Policymakers. You can also sign up for an email newsletter.

Among the programs listed on the policy page are “High Quality Schools and Teaching, Equity and Equality, Balanced Decision-Making, Accountability, Forum Projects, and High-Stakes Resting. I want to thank professor Angela Valenzuela of educational equity, politics & policy in Texas for making me aware of this site.

The contents of the blockquote are an article released in September about the victory scored by a small groups of schools in the New York School Performance Standards Consortium that uses performance based assessment combined with a rigorous approach to education. Originally granted a waiver from NY’s Regents testing regime by a previous education commissioner, they were face with the mandate of the new commissioner that they had to be in full compliance with the testing regime, which was contradictory to their educational mission. The article describes in detail how they succeeded in continuing to maintain their exemption from the testing regime. It is an important article for those who are concerned about what testing is doing to our schools, both because it describes an alternative approach to assessment, building support for that approach, and winning a victory, one requiring persuading the public and decision makers to support their approach. I think it worthwhile reading for anyone who is concerned about education and our current misguided insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment through testing.

The original source of the article can be found here. Because the article has now been widely distributed, the entire article is in the blockquote below. Pleas take the time to read, offer your comments, and if you can make others aware both of the article and of the website / organization from which it is derived.

Challenging Bad Education Policy
by Ann Cook and Phyllis Tashlik
Tuesday Sep 20, 2005

As everyone in education is aware, testing is the nation's dominant education theme and regularly occupies newspaper headlines. And New York State, once considered a leader in innovation and professionalism in education, has become a poster child for high stakes testing. In its high schools, five exit exams are required for graduation. As a result, coursework has become dominated by test preparation and lost any semblance of intellectual rigor, while the drop-out rate has climbed.

This past June, however, a small group of schools won a significant victory. The New York State Board of Regents extended their waiver from the state's high-stakes Regents tests permitting them to continue using their performance-based assessment system and innovative curriculum in lieu of four of the five Regents exams.

 Their battle, however, actually began a decade ago when they were recognized as exemplars of secondary education by former New York State Commissioner of Education Tom Sobol. Believing that their practices promoted "top-down support for bottom up" reform, Sobol designated them Compact for Learning Schools, granted them a waiver from state exams, and directed the Education Department to conduct annual reviews of the schools' performance. With his departure, however, the Board of Regents renounced his initiatives, embraced his successor's agenda, and adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment.

 In response, in 1998 the schools formed the New York Performance Standards Consortium. They were not just saying No to testing. They were offering a better alternative-a system that includes student performance, professional development, curriculum innovation, rubrics for assessment, a documented success rate for college acceptance and perseverance, and oversight provided by an external board (the Performance Assessment Review Board), a group of twenty-two experts on curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

They set about disseminating information about the system, publishing articles in major and minor publications and repeatedly emailing and faxing public officials, journalists, educators, and parents. It became clear they were building something and would not just disappear.

When the Commissioner determined that all "alternative methods" of assessment required approval from a State-appointed panel, the Consortium convened a group of experts to formally present their performance assessment system. The result was devastating. The panel determined that since the system was not a test, it could not be approved. Similarly, the State Education Department (SED) violated the terms of the waiver and never conducted a five-year study to evaluate the system's effectiveness.

Weil Gotshal and Manges, a New York City law firm, working pro bono, sued the Commissioner and the SED arguing that they had acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner. Although the State Court of Appeals ruled in the State's favor (customary, when the State is the object of a suit), the case yielded volumes of critical documents. For example, from official minutes of the State's own Technical Advisory Group showed that the State's tests lacked the pro forma technical manual and that some of the official studies intended to demonstrate the reliability and validity of the statewide tests were sparse and inconclusive.

Parents of Consortium students organized Time Out From Testing, a state-wide coalition of grassroot organizations and participated in rallies, petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, press conferences, and background briefings with legislators, policymakers, and members of editorial boards. Teachers, parents, students and members of the business community testified at numerous legislative hearings as did members of the academic community who presented research on the consequences of high stakes testing. In Rochester, Consortium schools helped organize the Coalition for Common Sense in Education, a group that linked the academic community with concerned parents and teachers.

As learning standards eroded, the Consortium instituted a series of panels including historians, writers, scientists, literature professors, and mathematicians to review the Regents exams for overall quality, alignment with state standards, accuracy as an indicator of college readiness, and skill level demonstrated by exam anchor papers as compared with Consortium students' papers. Part of each session involved panel members actually taking a portion of the exam. This reality check led them to strongly condemn the use of such instruments to determine either subject competence or high school graduation.

In the report on the science exam, scientists concurred that, "nothing in the test gave students insights into scientific thinking, such as "developing deductive reasoning; stating and testing hypotheses; . . . understanding estimation and the difference between correlation and causation; and recognizing and understanding patterns . . ." Similarly, other panelists said about the American history exam: "It's bad enough that valuable time is spent teaching for the test. . . . But worse is the very real possibility that what will be taught in those sessions is a very simple-minded notion of what history is."

It was this realization that led Eric Foner, former head of the American Historical Association and DeWitt Clinton professor of American History at Columbia, to send a letter of protest signed by more than twenty-five leading historians to the Board of Regents.

Fortunately, the SED often became an unwitting accomplice in the struggle. One parent caused a major embarrassment when her research on bowdlerized literature passages in English Regents exams was exposed on the front page of The New York Times and in The New Yorker magazine. Then some 70 percent of the students taking the math exam failed; unable to renorm the test quickly, school officials replaced scores with students' coursework grade. In physics, too, there were norming problems and errors on chemistry, biology and American history exams.

Demands for accountability escalated. In 2003, the New York State legislature held hearings to examine the Regents exam policy. More than ninety percent of the 2000 parents, teachers, testing experts, union officials, students, and members of the business community who testified were highly critical. Evidence presented by researchers documented that New York State now ranked 45th in the nation in graduation rates; furthermore, Black and Hispanic youngsters had the lowest graduation rate of any state!

As criticism gathered strength, organizations like Fairtest, the Coalition of Essential Schools, and the United Federation of Teachers played critical roles, providing data and the latest research findings, organizing email campaigns across the country, and speaking with key policymakers at critical moments.

The climate for change had been created. In the Republican-led State Senate, a bill extending the Consortium's waiver passed unanimously. Responding to pressure, the Chair of the Assembly Education committee secured a one-year extension of the waiver. Consortium members and supporters continued to meet with individual policy makers, though those meetings often revealed the dilemma commonly faced by advocacy: In private, public officials were sympathetic, even supportive; but in public their posture reversed.

In 2005 the Senate again sponsored legislation. After a heated debate, it passed the Consortium bill 51 to 9. The Speaker of the Assembly again yielded to pressure and brokered a deal, extending the waiver for five more years and proposing a comparative research study that may yet influence system-wide changes.

Of paramount importance in this debate was the recently completed College Performance Study (M. Foote, 2005) documenting the college performance of Consortium graduates. Tracking students into their third semester of college, the three-year study drew on official transcripts for over 750 graduates. The results were impressive: not only were Consortium graduates attending competitive colleges, they also showed higher than average persistence rates and earned above average GPAs; all this, despite the fact that Consortium students represent a more disadvantaged population than students throughout New York City high schools.

The Consortium's performance assessment system offers a powerful alternative to New York's failed policy of high-stakes and excessive testing. Its victory against a rigid and stultifying system will demonstrate, over time, that students can succeed when teaching and curriculum, rather than testing regimens and punishments, define assessment.

The lessons of this hard-won, improbable victory are clear and urgent: Attention must refocus on the classroom. Teachers, other educators, and parents must reassert the centrality of the classroom as the starting point for education policy, not the dead-end for top-down orders. As Doug Christiansen, Nebraska Commissioner of Education has said, educators must assume leadership roles, for unless they do, "change isn't going to happen."

Policymakers need to visit more schools; listen to those who work closest with children; study the abundant research that has been published on good teaching practices; ensure that policies permit flexibility to meet the diverse needs of children and school communities; and promote alternatives that work.

The victory in New York shows us that changing bad policy is something worth fighting for. Despite formidable opposition, change can occur and people just like us--teachers, parents, students, and allies from every corner--can make it happen.

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, October 09, 2005

A Reading Bill of Rights for Young Adolescents 

In many of the posts on education, by others as well as me, one encounters laments about the reading level of students. I know that I often receive students in high school who do not read anywhere near grade level. When I inquire about their reading habits, I often find that they have little access to books. Most of what they read is required by school, and as a teacher I know that many of their textbooks do not really encourage one to read. Reading thus becomes a task rather than a pleasure. And absent a delight with the written word, students rarely have the requisite background for developing writing skills.

I have little time today for blogging, as I will spend about 7 hours representing my alma mater (Haverford College) at a fair for gifted African-American students in the Washington DC area (including several of my own students). But I could not resist offering the piece below. Entitled A Reading Bill of Rights for Indiana’s Young Adolescents, I encountered it in the weekly email from the Public Education Network. It is put out by the Middle Grades Reading Network of the University of Evansville, and I think well worth the time to read, and then to reflect on what it says.

All young adolescents in Indiana need access to the kinds of reading opportunities that will allow them to grow up to be successful members of a literate community. It is the responsibility of the entire community to offer support for providing these opportunities. Our ultimate goal is the creation of Communities of Readers where each young adolescent will be able to fulfill his or her potential as a reader.

     To that end, we believe that Indiana's young adolescents deserve:

* Access to current, appealing, high-interest, and useful books and other reading materials in their classrooms, homes, public and school libraries, and other locations within the community.

* Schools that feature an environment where reading is valued, promoted, and encouraged.

* Dedicated time during the school day to read for a variety of purposes - for pleasure, information, and exploration.

* Teachers and school librarians who continually seek to renew their skills and excitement in sharing reading with young people through participation in diverse professional development activities.

* Public libraries that provide services specifically designed to engage young people's interest in reading.

* Community-based programs that encourage them in all aspects of their reading development.

* Opportunities for reading at home and support from schools, public libraries, and community agencies to families with young adolescents to encourage family reading activities.

* Communities of Readers in which all adults - in school, at home, and across the community - serve as role models and provide guidance to ensure that reading is a priority in young people's lives.

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, October 08, 2005

final policy - no comments 

because I was still being spammed by people with blogger ids. While I could have returned the favor, such is not my style.

Instead I have hidden all comments and turned off the ability to add further comments.

you may read most of what I have to say also at www.myleftwing.com where I am a front apge poster, usually on education, and at www.dailykos.com. If you go to www.dailykos.com/user/teacherken you will see my diary entries. At either of the above locations you will b e able to post comments once you are registered.

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.

A response to Tom Vilsack 

As some may know, I am one of several educational bloggers who has participated in a dialog with Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and others, over at HeartlandPac. Recently the governor posted a message entitled Focusing on a complete education, in which he comments about his concern that test scores in middle school seem to show a decline in achievement as students progress from elementary grades to the middle school years.

What appears below is the comment I posted in response. My comment does not address all of the issues Gov. Vilsack raises, but does draw on my experience in teaching 7th and 8th graders , something I did for 4 of my 10 previous years in public school teaching.

Because I believe education is such an important issue for the future of our nation, and because I have little time recently for doing any other blogging, I am offering this as my educational diary of the day.


You deserve some feedback, and given the importance of the issue of education, I thought I will put my money (okay, my words) where my mouth is.

Let me start by noting that in my 10 previous years of public school teaching 4 were spent in middle school, 3 with 8th grades in a grade 7-8 school that was 93% African-American, and one with 7th graders in a 6-6-8 school that drew mainly (not exclusively) from a fairly wealthy (and white) section of Arlington County VA.

The phenomenon of test scores decreasing as students ascend the grade ladder is one on which a number of astute observers have commented over the years, among which is Gerald Bracey. And yet few people have meaningfully (at least in my opinion) examine why that might be. To understand, one has to think from the perspective of a modern adolescent, with ages ranging from 11-15. For one thing, one is dealing with the onset of puberty, a period of life with all kinds of additional pressures, as I hope many here can recall. There are biological changes in one's body, one's appearance. Hormonal balances are not stable. These are issues that have a profound affect on the worldview and lives of our young people, and far too often our schools do not fully account for this.

It is also a time where students are beginning to try to define themselves independently from their parents. That often creates stress at home, in ways that may not result in a positive environment in which school activities can flourish.

And also, it is a time when the structure and emphases of far too many of our schools robs the students of joys of learning and of exploration.

Remember, the vast majority of students begin schooling with excitement, with a real desire to learn. We have known for years that the further they progress up the K-12 ladder, the less they retain that excitement, that joy of learning for its own sake. Increasingly they absorb from the (no so ) hidden curriculum that what matters is scores on tests and grades. This tends to discourage the kind of intellectual exploration that involves risk of failure. And yet it is precisely such "risky" exploration that tends to result in the greatest amount of real learning, including the ability to self-correct, to monitor one's own learning processes. Instead students begin to narrow the focus of their academic endeavors. It becomes very common in middle school to hear the plaintive inquiry "is this going to e on the test?" In one sense the student is exercising mature economic thinking -- how do I maximize my score on the tests (which adults seem to think are so important) if I spend any time learning something that won't be tested. That puts pressure on teachers not to spend time on things that won't appear on the test, even if those are things that excite the students, or which provide context in which the testable content can be better understood.

Middle School is also a time where some students begin to systematically attempt to discern what it is the teacher wants, rather than what the truth might be. After all, teachers have a great deal of power over their lives -- they give the grades, they can refer a student to the administrative and disciplinary folks, they can give you detention, taking you away from friends and things that are far more enjoyable. And they can make the dreaded call home to the parents, which can result in consequences from no tv to severe beatings, depending upon the health of the family and the dynamics of the family culture. It becomes reasonable for students to devote effort to figuring out what the teacher wants so that their efforts are maximally directed towards those things that will result in positive consequences such as higher grades and the absence of negative consequences such as those just described.

The problems noted begin in high school. They clearly intensify for many students during their high school years. Again, far too much of what students are learning are not the real intellectual or moral lessons they should be learning. If the consequences of test scores are made increasingly severe, then it becomes far easier to justify and rationalize actions such as narrowing one's intellectual endeavors to that which will be tested, and even to cut corners -- or worse -- in the effort to achieve higher scores. We (adults in general) threaten them with consequences, such as being held back, or not graduating, or not getting into a good college, or getting a good job.

I accept that we will continue to test students, although I believe we need far less testing than we already have, and that such measurement should be done with instruments that are far more subtle than the ubiquitous 4 or 5 answer selected response exams upon which we so heavily rely because they are easy to score. We are measuring, but since the answer is binary, with no partial credit for a second best answer, and no opportunity for the students to correct her reasoning, the items are far too blunt to provide MEANINGFUL information to either the student or the teacher about the proper correctives that are needed.

But I do think we need to examine whether or increasing emphasis on "performance" is not in fact contributing ot the decline in the scores on the very tests we are using to measure (and I think not all that accurately) what our children know and can do.

This is not merely a question of educational philosophy. It also requires an understand of adolescent psychology, family dynamics, and social pressures. In the latter category one can not that by middle school years one can already notice the phenomenon where some Africa-American students face the pressure of NOT succeeding because if they succeed they will be accused of "acting white." It is also the time where gangs seriously begin their attempts at recruitment. Drugs, alcohol and sex begin to be parts of the lives of far too many students.

If we want our students to truly thrive, in every sense of the word, we cannot merely look at test scores and decide how we are going to improve them. We need to seriously reexamine the way we structure our schools, the expectations we place on our adolescents both within and without the walls of the schools. We need to accept that the official curriculum is not all that our students learn. And we need to be honest about what we - the adults and the society we run - are doing to our adolescents. Lower test scores are at most a symptom of a far more serious issue.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A new policy on comments 

I have begun to receive a large number of comments that are basically nothing more than spam. As a first step I have changed the comment policy on this blog to restrict those who are not blogspot members - no more anonymous comments as a means of promoting commercial ventures and the like. I may well end the commenting fucntion completely, since most of what I write here is also available either at myleftwing.com or at dailykos, and occcasionally elsewhere. And I may hide all existing comments since some are somewhat inappopriate.

I will watch for a few days before I decide the next action I should take.

For now, I will not on new posts allow comments. If you want, you may email me directly a kber at earthlink dot net (email formatted to avoid mailbots), but there is no guarantee that (a) you will get through my spam filter, (b) that I will read it, or (c) any realistical chance of your receiving a response.

I thank those who who have come here to read MY thoughts, often but not exclusively about education.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?