I often explain to graduate students that I don’t play devil’s advocate or any other clever games. Just because I may say something unsaid by others, does not mean that I don’t come to that perspective after careful thought and introspection.
Being an educator is a sacred obligation. Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up.
My career allows me to spend time in lots of classrooms around the world and to work with thousands of educators each year. This gives me perspective. I am able to identify patterns, good and bad, often before colleagues become aware of the phenomena. I have been blessed with a some communication skills and avenues for expression. I’ve published hundreds of articles and spoken at even more conferences.
People seem interested in what I have to say and for that I am extremely grateful.
The problem is that I am increasingly called upon to argue against a popular trend. That tends to make me unpopular. In the field of education, where teachers are “nice,” criticism is barely tolerated. Dissent is seen as defect and despite all of my positive contributions to the field, I run the risk of being dismissed as “that negative guy.”
Recently, I have written or been quoted on the following topics:
- Against Khan Academy in Wired magazine
- Against BYOD in Learning and Leading with Technology
- Against interactive whiteboards in Technology and Learning magazine
- Against tablet computers in education (in-press) for Scholastic Administrator magazine
- Against video games in education in Parade magazine
- Against Bill Gates’ influence on school policy in GOOD and The Huffington Post
- Against Daniel Pink’s dubious learning theories on my personal blog
- Against Education Nation in The Huffington Post
I’ve also written against homework, NCLB, RTTT, Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, Joel Klein, standardized testing, Education Nation, Common Core Curriculum Standards, Accelerated Reader, merit pay, Arne Duncan, union-busting, Cory Booker, Teach for America, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, mayoral control, the ISTE NETs, Hooked-on-Phonics, President Obama’s education policies, etc… You get the idea.
These are perilous times for educators. When once bad education policy was an amuse-bouche you could easily ignore, it has become a Carnegie Deli-sized shit sandwich. Educators are literally left to pick their own poison, when choice is permitted at all. If I take a stand against a fad or misguided education policy, my intent is to inform and inspire others to think differently or take action.
So why, pray tell am I boring my dear readers with my personal angst? An old friend and colleague just invited me to write a magazine article about the “Flipped Classroom.” Sure, I think the flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum. But….
The question is, “Do I wish to gore yet another sacred cow?” Is speaking truth to power worth the collateral damage done to my career?
In the 1960s, the great Neil Postman urged educators to hone highly-tuned BS and crap detectors. Those detectors need to be set on overdrive today. I’m concerned that I’m the only one being burned.
What to do? What to do?
I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!
Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!Whatever It Is, I'm Against It by Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar From the Marx Bros. film "Horse Feathers" (1932)
In the words of the great political philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” On the same day that the Obama Administration refused to stand for clean air by not even enforcing the clean air standards of the George W. Bush administration, I received an email from the campaign asking for my money and labor for his re-election.
I am a Liberal considerably far to the left of the President. In 2008, he was my 5th choice during the Democratic Primaries. However, once he defeated Senator Clinton, I became an enthusiastic Obama supporter. I donated money and traveled to Washinton D.C. to attend his Inauguration. Although I believed that he was politically naive with few coattails or allies in Washington, I was optimistic. That hope triumphed over what I knew about his hostility towards teacher unions as expressed in my September 2008 article, “First We Kill the Teacher Unions” and my horror at Arne Duncan’s nomination as Secretary of Education, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.”
Getting the President’s Attention
The President’s base is having a heck of a time having their concerns heard or respected by the Obama White House. The “punch a hippie strategy” might work as a political tactic, but not at the expense of increased asthma suffering by children or the survival of the American middle class.
My possibly inconsequential act of dissent was unsubscribing from the Obama political mailing list. Perhaps, the White House political team will take “the base” more seriously if a large number of political supporters sever their ties to the re-election campaign. So, I just unsubscribed and I urge others to do so as well, even if you plan to vote Obama as I do in November 2012.
I only had a small text field in which to express my reasons for unsubscribing. My comment is as follows:
The President’s weakness in negotiating with the GOP House, attack on public education, refusal to march with Wisconsin workers, capitulation on environmental regulation, continuation of questionable interrogation techniques, escalation in Afghanistan, support for soldiers of forture and refusal to fight for qualified nominees like Elizabeth Warren makes me quite unenthusiastic about either donating to his campaign or volunteering my time.
Please donate to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and/or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee!
Happy Labor Day!
I published this (IMHO) important article, “First We Kill the Teacher Unions” exactly three years ago today in The Huffington Post. I am enormously proud of the article and extremely sorry for being so prescient. After you read the text of that article below, you might take a look at my December 2008 article about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Obama Practices Social Promotion. That’s the story that caused the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics to issue global press releases condemning my comparison between their product, Arne Duncan and Shamwow.
First We Kill The Teacher Unions
September 3, 2008
Slate recently reported on the latest public demonstration of enmity towards public schools and their teacher. Teacher bashing is hardly novel, but what makes this gathering particularly noteworthy is that took place during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
The voucher, excessive testing and privatization fantasies of the GOP are well documented, but Democratic big shots have now joined in the chorus of anti-teacher karaoke.
The complexity of how to “fix” America’s public schools reduced to a single objective. Break the teacher unions. This is particularly ironic given the AFT and NEA’s timeless support for the Democratic Party. Hell, AFT President Randi Weingarten, was seated behind President Clinton during Senator Clinton’s address to the Convention. In almost any jurisdiction, support of teachers can mean the difference between election victory and defeat. Yet, many Democratic officials are eager to bite the hand that feeds them, regardless of the consequences for children in their communities. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek called this week’s betrayal of the DNC’s supporters, “landmark.”
It especially saddens me that Cory Booker of Newark, a man of privilege and extraordinary education at Stanford and Oxford, would attack teachers with the level of contempt reported by Slate. He’s upset that teachers had the audacity to fight him on school choice schemes for Newark. Aside from wondering how magically wonderful schools would spontaneously bloom in Newark it is worth mentioning that Cory Booker didn’t need school choice when he grew up in affluent Bergen County. What sorts of choice does he advocate – taxpayer funded religious schools or the urban obedience schools funded by Eli Broad (another Democrat). Broad loves schools where poor kids spend their days barking answers to scripted curricula – schools Mayor Booker’s parents would never have tolerated for their son.
At the recent Ed Challenge for Change event, Booker denounced the “insane work rules” of teachers. Perhaps he should meet the teachers in his district that I know.
Newark, New Jersey, an economically deprived city, which for decades had neither a supermarket or movie theatre, does have some of the most dedicated capable educators I’ve ever encountered. For a decade, I led professional development in the Newark schools and had countless teachers attend workshops I led elsewhere. Newark was known for its innovative uses of computers in education, despite little local funding and the Newark teachers I worked with demonstrated a level of commitment and skill rivaling the best of their suburban counterparts. Newark is one of the rare school districts where dozens of teachers would voluntarily attend a daylong workshop on a hot humid summer day. The Newark educators I know love the children they serve and do their best to educate some of the poorest children in this country. They deserve our support and respect.
You Can’t be a Democrat who Quashes Democracy!
Fueled by the shaming and humiliation of No Child Left Behind, billionaire “philanthropists” and simplistic management theories recited from business books sold at airport gift shops, many big city mayors have staged bloodless coups of their city’s school districts. (Each of the mayors is a Democrat with the exception of “democratish” Michael Bloomberg of New York) Their theory suggests that the Mayor has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the public schools and is uniquely prepared to triumph where others have failed.
The reality is that publicly elected school boards are disbanded, chaos is introduced into the bureaucracy, the curriculum is homogenized, classrooms become Dickensian test-prep sweatshops, parental involvement is diminished, the arts disappear and with term limits, there is no actual consequence for mayoral failure. All of the benefits of dictatorship accrue to the mayor and innocent children feel all of the consequences.
It is worth noting that cities with mayoral control of schools – Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and the mayoral control wannabe, Los Angeles – employ Superintendents and Chancellors woefully unqualified for the job. This new generation of mayoral dictators first suspends democracy, and then installs obedient ideologues lacking experience or independent thought to carry out their mischief making.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is the latest educational fascist of the month. His self-appointed killbot, Chancellor Michelle Rhee enjoys glowing profiles in Fast Company and gets an hour on the Eli Broad-funded Charlie Rose show (representing perhaps 10% of all television time dedicated to public education annually).
Rhee occasionally makes sense and may even be committed to doing the right thing for D.C. kids, but the majority of her public focus seems to be on busting the teacher unions. Mayor Daley of Chicago and Michael Bloomberg are equally vocal fans of sowing the seeds of teacher discord and powerlessness.
Unions are Democracy!
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees unions. The right to organize is the embodiment of our cherished Freedom of Assembly. Unions built the American middle class while building our roads, bridges, cars, schools, hospitals and other institutions we cannot live without.
American teacher unions are not too powerful and they do not have a stranglehold on our democracy. The fact that teacher unions are so readily used as political piñatas by shameless demagogues is proof of their weakness. The fact that major urban districts are run by unemployed generals, accountants and prosecutors challenges the notion of the union’s unchecked power. The fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district, couldn’t manage to pay some teachers for nearly a full school year, yet the teachers continued to work while losing their homes or cars is evidence that the unions are weak, not powerful. Governor Schwarzenegger uses constitutionally guaranteed school funding as his personal piggybank. The union can’t stop him.
It doesn’t take a very tough politician to beat up on teachers. That’s why teacher unions are such perennial targets. I’d like to see Democratic politicians talk such trash about teamsters, cops or firemen. Schwarzenegger was terminated when he messed with the nurses union a few years back. The nurses weren’t quite as genteel as the teacher unions.
A Few Facts and Even More Questions
America is not the only country with unionized teachers. Many of the countries that beat us on the ridiculous international comparisons politicians quote are more heavily unionized than us. It’s hard to imagine No Child Left Behind leaving the starting blocks in a country like Australia where the teacher unions would have shut the schools down at the first hint of NCLB.
Blaming educational problems on teacher unions is even more absurd when you consider that states like Texas have no teacher unions. Is Texas immune from student achievement challenges? Hardly.
The larger question is a matter of leadership and employee relations. How does reducing teacher creativity, independence and responsibility for decision-making help instill those qualities in the children they teach? How does alienating teachers, placing them in rubber rooms or attacking their motives make them a partner in school reform? How does insulting your base and violating a fundamental American liberty create a wise and more just society?
Do you want your children taught by defensive or depressed teachers who feel assaulted by the community they serve? How does that state of affairs contribute to educational excellence?
If the educational neocons succeed and break the backs of teacher unions, what do they think would happen? What would magically occur the next day? How are schools expected to improve? I demand that these Democratic tough guys and gals tell me what they will do next.
This is video of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s address to the Save Our Schools March, July 30, 2011 in Washington D.C.
Other posts from the SOS March:
Here is my wobbly video of NYU Professor and Obama advisor Pedro Noguera’s steadfast address at the Save Our Schools March on Washington D.C., July 30, 2011.
Other posts from the SOS March:
“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.” (Academy-Award Winner Matt Damon, March to Save Our Schools, July 30, 2011)
Matt Damon is one of the world’s most popular action-heroes, but you educators do realize that is make-believe. Right?
Saturday, July 30th, thousands of educators from across the country spent many hours in sweltering heat as part of the March to Save Our Schools. Leading educators, Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, Pedro Noguera, Diane Ravitch and fed-up courageous Texas school superintendent John Kuhn inspired the crowd.
The demands of the march were unequivocal:
- Equitable funding for all public school communities
- An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
- Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
- Curriculum developed for and by local school communities
I had a front row perch. Matt Damon is a real mensch. He flew all-night from a film shoot in Vancouver to stand with public school educators on behalf of their jobs, dignity and the critical importance of public schools to a democracy.
That is precisely the problem.
Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?
There are well-funded powerful forces out to destroy public education and deprive educators of their livelihoods. Despite this, most educators remain silent and defenseless. The “bold ones” fantasize about Twitter saving the world while their dignity, expertise, paychecks and pensions are being attacked.
Educators, if you will not stand up and take care of yourselves, how can we count on you to care for other people’s children?
If you will not stand between students and the madness of “the system,” who will?
Matt Damon can’t save you. You need to be the action hero for America’s children!
Here is another fabulous video clip of Damon responding forcefully to questions from a Libertarian crackpot at the March.
Check out his comments on charter schools at 1:33
I just posted the following a comment on Will Richardson’s blog post, How Can You Not Be Angry?
I salute you. Stay angry!
You may remember that my New Year’s resolution was to swear more. That resolution was only partially tongue-in-cheek. We need to scream, swear, pull our pants down, wear costumes and whatever else it takes to save our public treasure (schools) from becoming the plaything of Gates, Murdoch and Broad. We are in deep trouble (kids are in worse trouble) if we don’t drop teacher civility and continue to be victimized.
As for swearing, Bill Gates called constructivism – a scientific theory as valid as gravity or evolution – bullshit IN PUBLIC AND IN PRINT. The quote appears within a few sentences of my comments in a recent Wired article. If Bill Gates calls the work of me and my colleagues, mentors and friends bullshit, how should I respond? Set up a VoiceThread? Make an Animoto? Decorate my bulletin boards with orange construction paper?
I always cite Abbie Hoffman as one of my heroes. Satire, mockery, outrageous behavior, civil disobedience and the courage of patriots helped end segregation and the War in Vietnam.
Teachers have changed the world, occasionally even in the United States. In 1964-65, African Americans in Alabama considered voting rights the folly of young people. It wasn’t until the TEACHERS of the Selma area refused to accept second-class status and joined the movement that African American adults across the state not only took the issue seriously, but were mobilized to take action. This led to Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Some people, like Congressman John Lewis, had their skulls bashed in so that the rest of us may live up to the promise of America.
Apartheid began to unravel in South Africa when thousands of students walked out of school because they were being miseducated (taught Afrikans instead of English). Some children were killed but Apartheid ended less than twenty years later. When countless American urban schools are entirely segregated and the students are fed a steady diet of test-prep, it may be time to end Apartheid education in this country as well.
Frankly, I didn’t give much thought to Saturday’s March on Washington because progressive educators can’t normally organize a softball game, but I plan on being there Saturday. I also signed-on as an endorser.
I will travel cross-country because of the unequivocal DEMANDS listed at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/about/guiding-principles/ It is so refreshing to see educators start demanding what is right, not looking for compromises when none are warranted, ala Barack Obama.
If children cannot count on each and every one of their educators to stand between them and the madness, who can they count on?
On July 18th, the President hosted an education roundtable with key leaders in both the private and public sectors to discuss ways we can ensure a competitive American workforce.
After all, education is about creating competitive members of the workforce, say like the President’s children or the private school darlings of the executives throwing table scraps to America’s public school students. President Obama’s administration has done great violence to America’s children and their teachers through Race-to-the-Top, endless union-busting, teacher-bashing, charter school utopianism and non-sensical get-tough rhetoric unimagined by the Bush administration.
So, rather than keep his word to stand with public school children and their teachers, save teacher jobs or advance a progressive education policy, President Obama invited fat-cat oligarchs to the White House to congratulate them for their pathetic self-serving acts of charity.
The President celebrates the largesse of corporate executives sitting on trillions of dollars worth of savings thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts and off-shore money-laundering. Not only do these corporate “leaders” enjoy the gift of the Presidential photo-op and tax-deductibility for their charitable efforts, but the money they pledged is categorical. That means that the corporate executives who have already been setting national policy since A Nation-at-Risk get to determine how the paltry sums will be used.
There is zero-tolerance for pedagogical solutions proposed by qualified educators. The corporate “school as business” fantasies must be followed blindly despite a consistent track record of failure.
Don’t believe me? I suggest you read:
- Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? by Susan Ohanian and Kathy Emery
- The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond
- Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality by Gerald Bracey
Here is a partial list of suggested alternatives for President Obama the next time he wants to host a corporate bake sale for schools at the White House.
- Tell the corporate executives to pay their damned taxes
- Ask executives to stop demanding tax abatements in communities where they place corporate facilities
- Ask corporate bigwigs to ensure that every American children receive a public school education modeled on the educational experience you purchase for your own children
- Require corporations to pay a living wage to the parents of American school children
- Support universal health care for America’s children
- Stop laying-off Americans while making record profits
- Stop corporations from forcing college graduates to work as unpaid interns
- Remind corporate geniuses like Eli Broad that schools have little to learn from the corporate leadership lessons of AIG, the company whose Board of Directors he served on until AIG nearly tanked the US economy.
- Ask Bill Gates to apologize for Zune, Bob, Windows Vista, Microsoft TV, Microsoft’s labor history, the disastrous Philadelphia School of the “Future” and using America’s public school system as his personal model train set.
I’m an optimist by nature. That’s why I awake each day thinking I can make the world a better place for children despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For years I believed that public education would hit bottom like an alcoholic and then rise from the ashes unencumbered by the shackles of past policies and practices. When that Phoenix rose, I would be ready. I had worked in the best and worst public and private schools in the world. I worked with homeschooling communities and even created productive contexts for learning within a prison for teenagers. I would be prepared to help reinvent public education as soon as the conditions were ripe for such transformation.
The problem with the rehab or resurrection myth was that I never anticipated the chance that American public policy regarding public education was that there IS NO BOTTOM to rise up from. It now appears that schooling and the way in which some Americans treat other people’s children has no bottom. Things can and will get worse, perhaps indefinitely. The public is on a collision course to defund education and other services intended for the common good. I have chronicled this trend for a decade, but hoped things would never get this bad.
I clung romantically to fantasies that Americans embraced democratic principles, the common good and loved children. Learning otherwise is a somber realization, especially on Easter Sunday.
It has been suggested that Ronald Reagan made it cool to distrust government and ethical obligations to help your neighbor when in 1988 he said the scariest words you can hear are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” A decade earlier, Proposition 13 in California taught “citizens” that no matter what your neighbor or community needs, you will never be asked to reach into your pocket again and pay for it. Selfishness had become cool. America replaced the ideals of the Founding Fathers with the adolescent fantasies of Ayn Rand.
The singular genius of George W. Bush was recognizing that while people might dislike “school,” they like their children’s teacher. If you wanted to destroy or privatize (a semantic difference without distinction) public education, you needed to find a way to erode public confidence in the each and every public school. But how to do that?
Create an Orwellian law like “No Child Left Behind.” Give corporations billions of dollars for the creation, implementation and frequent mis-scoring of deeply miseducative and misused standardized tests. Require 100% of all students to be above the norm on largely norm-reference tests by 2014 – a statistical impossibility – and when everyone is not “above average” quickly enough, blame teachers, takeover schools, make kids repeat grades and make already troubled schools even more joyless and irrelevant.
Along the way, tell parents constantly and with increasing volume that your child’s teacher is failing your child and the Voila! you will withdraw your support for the system.
Cue the charter schools, get tough reformers like Michelle Rhee and get Oprah to pimp a simplistic propaganda film. Mission accomplished! Heckuva job, Brownie! As the great patriot Glen Beck once sang, “We Shall Overcome!” When the three wisemen – Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich team-up as “school reformers,” one can expect things to get old testament bad for public education. As long as unqualified is the new qualified, things will get worse for our children and even worse for other people’s children.
Please! Please! Please! watch this video clip from the Rachel Maddow show, share it with friends and then try to restrain your violent impulses or find the strength to carry-on for another day. I’m sorry you have to watch a cheesy commercial first and that you may not like the messenger. The message is really important and stunning.
This is the tale of how two generations of severely at-risk young people are having their chances for a productive life and slice of the American dream sacrificed on the alter of capitalist greed, authoritarian impulses and callous disregard for the vulnerable.
Note to self: Next time I decide to arrest teen mothers demanding a quality education, be sure to run the police sirens to drown out their cries and screams.
Here are some additional links regarding this story:
- Mark Maynard’s blog report has a lot of local discussion going.
- The independent Voice of Detroit has terrific reporting from inside the sit-in at Catherine Ferguson, including accounts from people we showed last night.
- The website Defend Public Education has a petition going, as does Change.org.
- You can learn tons more about Catherine Ferguson Academy through the “Grown in Detroit” documentary.
I just read with horror that Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emmanuel has appointed Rochester, NY schools superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard to be the new Cathie Black of the Chicago Public Schools (the nation’s 2nd largest school district). This continues FOO’s (friends of Obama) full-scale assault on public education and teacher unions begun months before President Obama was even elected.
Apparently, large city schools superintendent is the only job for which references are not checked.
Jean-Claude Brizard is an Eli Broad disciple whose singular genius was creating in-school suspensions where kids waste time doing nothing in school, rather than outside of school. (video news report here) That’s some reform!
Since coming to Rochester in January 2008, Brizard has pushed for his own brand of reform: instituting a contentious in-school suspension policy, and moving problematic teachers out of classrooms into what some New York City teachers call “rubber rooms.” (Rochester City Newspaper – March 17, 2010)
In February, more than 95% of Rochester teachers voted no-confidence in Brizard. Now that’s quite a recommendation and cause for a promotion!
Just like Rahm Emmanuel used the “punch a hippie” strategy while in the Obama White House, his appointment of Brizard is a form of “punch a teacher.”
In an April 19, 2011 article Chicago Tribune article “Our Kind of Guy to Lead Chicago Schools,” they write the following about Brizard.
Can Rochester, N.Y., superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard pad a payroll? Skirt the rules? Spend frivolously? Distort statistics to make himself look good? Infuriate his constituents with a high-handed style?Check, check, check, check and check.
Mike Klonsky has done some fine writing on the Brizard appointment and Rochester, NY television station WHAM 13 (ABC affiliate) reporter, Rachel Barnhart, has assembled an indispensable collection of articles about Brizard’s record in Rochester, so you may fact-check his record for yourself. It is too bad that Mayor-elect Emmanuel did not heed the advice of George W. Bush and “use the Google” before subjecting Chicago school children to Jean-Claude Brizard.
I wrote the following about Brizard in 2008 for my Good Magazine cover story, School Wars. Alas, it was cut from the article.
Where do they grow these guys?
The new Superintendent of the Rochester, NY Public Schools, Jean Claude-Brizard, has a dream. He wants to create “Dream Schools” in his urban school district. Here is how the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle News described his dream.
…the plan calls for bundling troubled schools together in a special group to be called “Dream Schools.”
Those schools would be mandated to teach a uniform curriculum, devote longer blocks of time to math and reading, offer after-school tutoring — and face closure if they fail to improve over time. Schools would be selected for the distinction based on state test scores.
“We are going to put them in a box and tell them what they need to do to get better,” Brizard said. “After intense intervention, if there is no improvement, guess what? We’ll shut them down.”
The Democrat and Chronicle news article later reports, with no sense whatsoever of irony of contradiction that new Superintendent Brizard’s plan, “would both strengthen and relax centralized control of schools.”
Right, you have all the freedom you want at the local school-level to treat teachers like robots and teach a standardized curriculum!
A few weeks later, Superintendent Brizard announced his plan to spend $1.2 million to save the Reading First program in Rochester. The announcement was made the very same week that the US Government declared that Reading First didn’t teach children to read.
As I read the news I could not help wondering to myself, “Where do they grow people who think like that?” The answer is simple. You learn that ideology trumps even common sense at the Broad Academy, an intensive program in which future school leaders are trained to think like their mentor Eli Broad.
In September 2008, District Administration Magazine published an article I wrote in which I explored how Jean-Claude Brizard appeared reality-impaired and driven by ideology. The text of that article follows:
Who Ya Gonna Believe? (2008)
The ongoing battle between facts and mythology
It has long been accepted that good teaching requires a mixture of art and science. Outstanding teachers possess a solid knowledge of learning theory, human development. That content knowledge is brought to life by personal gifts, creativity and craft. Sadly, education news stories suffer from a lack of critical analysis or follow-up questions and educators too often justify questionable practices on the basis of personal beliefs, even when such beliefs are contradicted by evidence.
There is perhaps no greater educational battleground in the fight between ideology and fact than reading instruction. In fact, No Child Left Behind went to great lengths to redefine “science” when it insisted that every classroom practice adhere to “scientifically-based research” to the exclusion of evidence that interfered with their belief system. The underlying assumption of NCLB’s Reading First program was that every child learns to read through a program of “highly structured, systematic sequential explicit phonics instruction.” Research and common sense challenges that belief system.
First of all, not everyone learns everything the same way. Second, if the only way to learn to read is this form of alphabet sound connection, how does one explain the billions of people who read languages such as Chinese or Hebrew that don’t have such written language systems? How do deaf people read?
The Department of Education’s May 2008 report on the efficacy of Reading First concluded, “Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension.” Wow! That’s fairly unambiguous. The creators, funders and enforcers of a national reading initiative announced that it did not work. Surely, a reading method that failed to improve comprehension would be tossed on the dustbin of history, right? Not so fast.
Let the spinning begin. “On the plus side, researchers found that Reading First teachers spent more time emphasizing phonics and other aspects of what many experts consider solid instruction — about 10 minutes more a day, or nearly an hour more a week. “Teachers’ behavior was changed,” Institute of Education Sciences Director Whitehurst says.
Fantastic! Teachers are spending more time doing what doesn’t work. Just as the program was declared ineffective and long since its corruption was made public, Rochester, NY Schools Superintendent Jean Claude-Brizard, proposed to spend $1.2 million dollars of local funds to “save” Reading First in his district. Truth makes some educators emotional. The Arizona Republic recently wrote about educators who “mourn” the passing of Reading First. Barbara Wright of the Casa Grande Elementary District told the paper, “This was good, solid, research-based information, and we implemented it in all our schools at the time, even though only two schools were funded.” She said that despite the probable death of the ineffective program that it will “continue to guide the district’s reading program.” I’m sorry, you should not be allowed to claim something is solid or research-based when it has been proven ineffective. Such claims are not scientific. They are religious.
It’s not just reading
In the April 2008 issue of District Administration, Long Beach California Superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, proudly boasts of his use of grade retention. The Broad Foundation even rewarded him for it. Like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Jeb Bush, Steinhauser embraces making students repeat a grade as an effective policy tool in the face of an overwhelming mountain of evidence that it does more harm than good.
Other professions have a term for when you put your personal belief ahead of facts – malpractice.
Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Joe Biden have often said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” This is excellent advice for educators who continue to eliminate recess, impose zero tolerance policies, cut arts programs, maintain agrarian school starting times, “teach algebra” at younger and younger grades and spend months each year testing or preparing students to take high-stakes tests. Conventional wisdom too often goes unchallenged and ineffective practices become myths. These practices are justified by personal beliefs.
The great philosopher Stevie Wonder reminds us, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.” In education, adult superstitions cause children to suffer.
Published originally in the September 2008 issue of District Administration Magazine.
Gary S. Stager is Senior Editor of District Administration and Editor of The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.