Ah, balance!

Balance is the Fabreze of education policy. It is a chemical spray designed to mask the stench of a two year-old tuna sandwich found in the minvan with the artificial bouquet of an April rain dancing on a lily pad.

  • Balanced literacy got us systemic phonics.
  • Balanced math begot Singapore Math worksheets.
  • Balanced standards produced The Common Core.
  • Balanced policy debates produced No Child Left Behind and Race-to-the-Top
  • A balanced approach to educational technology made computer science extinct in schools and has now taught two generations of children to find the space bar in a computer lab-based keyboarding class.

I could go on.

Balance is elusive. It is fake and lazy and cowardly and sad. Balance is embraced by those who don’t know or can’t/won’t articulate what they truly believe. Balance fills the void left by the absence of alternative models and excellence. It is anonymous.

Educators are told that passion should be tempered. Every pedagogical idea is just fine as long as it is “for the children.” We should just do our jobs and not complain about outrageous attacks on our dignity, paycheck, curriculum, working conditions, or the living conditions of the students we serve.

Balance fills the school day with mandates and directives and lots of interruptions that while offering an illusion of options make it impossible for a learner to focus on anything long enough to become good at it.

Balance teaches children that teachers are helpless pawns in a system they don’t control or cannot understand.

Balance is the absentee parent of incrementalism. As educators take “baby steps” towards what they know is right or righteous they lead a long and meandering hike after which the followers cannot remember the original destination.

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963)

Educators are to remain neutral and seek consensus at all-costs. Balance programs us to find the silver lining in tornados. There MUST be SOMETHING good in what Bill Gates or Sal Khan or any number of a million corporations with ED or MENTUM or ACHIEVE or VATION in their names happen to be peddling. That simply is not so.

The laws of the political universe, and education is inherently political, greet each embrace of “balance” as ten steps in a more conservative direction. There is no balance – just weakness.

When schools seek balance, the weeds always kill the flowers!

I urge you to read one of my favorite passages ever written about “balance” in education. It is from a lesser-known classic, On Being a Teacher,”  by the great American educator, Jonathan Kozol. Please take a few minutes to read, “Extreme Ideas.”

balance

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Don’t give up on schools, there is still much to be done

By Gary Stager

District Administration, Aug 2006

Dear Mr. Gates:

I write with great admiration and appreciation of your remarkable philanthropic efforts on behalf of health, poverty and education. Changing the world is a spectacular goal. Congratulations on your plans to dedicate more of your time to charity and on Warren Buffett’s enormous contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts.

I know nothing about infectious diseases, vaccines or sustainable agriculture. I defer to you and other experts on those topics. A recent Business Week cover story, Bill Gates Gets Schooled, was eye opening. That article reports the mixed success of your foundation’s efforts in public school reform and your candid admission of disappointing results. It must be depressing to spend a billion dollars on school reform and all you got was a lousy t-shirt. I humbly share the following recommendations to help guide your future initiatives.

Decide what you believe

You and all your advisors should read Seymour Sarason’s book, What Do YOU Mean by Learning? Sarason makes what should be an obvious observation that discussions of learning, teaching and school reform often fail to discuss what the stakeholders mean by learning. Without such a serious ongoing discussion, failure is predictable.

With all due respect, the Gates Foundation needs to decide what it means by learning and stop funding competing organizations. Investing in the Met Schools (see “Radical Reformer,” November 2005, page 46) and Achieve, Inc., simultaneously is like funding both sides of a war.

Apparently it is rocket science

The Business Week article tells the story of a Denver High School that received Gates Foundation funds. The school was broken up into four smaller schools in an attempt to make schooling more personal and have fewer students fall through the cracks. However, the school’s award-winning choir, a perennial source of pride and excellence, crumbled when students were dispersed to four different schools within the building. Surely, some smart adult could have figured out a plan to move children from one corner of a school to another for choir practice?

It must be depressing to spend a billion dollars on school reform and all you got was a lousy t-shirt.

Schools are complex organisms full of unintended consequences

A recent Los Angeles Times article chronicled how the noble goal of breaking large high schools into small, more personal, learning communities does foster school pride. However, it also may cause those communities to become tribes hostile to one another and result in limited elective options for students.

The impossible is easy, the easy is often impossible

This is my axiom to explain the chaotic nature of schools. It may indeed be easier to build a residential campus in Paris for New York City ninth graders than to hire a French teacher for their neighborhood school.

When seeking clarity, ask yourself a simple question: “Would I proudly send my child to this school?”

Drop the business metaphors

Stop talking about schools as businesses and using terms like efficiency, productivity, supply chain and measurable outcomes. Such metaphors are weak and create needless tension among your “partners” in education.

Drop the school metaphors

The clich?s used by educators to describe their practices and objectives can prove just as stifling and counterproductive as business metaphors. Reflexive mantras like “Sage on the stage” and “You must invest in professional development” fail to acknowledge the complexities of education and provide alibis for failure.

Stop talking about results

Such short-term language may be appropriate for quarterly profit statements, but not education. Learning is messy, individual and natural. Schools do not manufacture widgets, but create an environment in which children and teachers may grow.

If you do wish to focus on results, be honest about what works. Education is notorious for having ideology trump evidence. Your talk of “more rigorous curriculum” and scores directly contradicts research funded by your foundation. The Met/Big Picture schools are wildly successful despite the complete absence of any traditional notion of curriculum. If you want results, build a lot more schools like the Met and let go of the fantasy of one-size-fits-all magical curricula.

You need to meddle

If you pay the bills, then you have a right and responsibility to run the school. A hands-off approach to schools you fund creates confusion among the stakeholders. Your support, insight, expertise and clear expectations must be apparent and consistent.

Work with the living and do no harm

You have acknowledged that it is easier and more effective to build new schools than fix some existing ones. Keep creating great schools where children can flourish and building models others can follow.

Solve the college readiness problem

If you find that preparing poor, urban, rural and minority students for college is too difficult, then build some colleges with open enrollment in those communities to offer opportunities students would otherwise be deprived of.

Admit that math education is a disaster

Almost nothing done in the past 50 years has helped students be more numerate. Work with Seymour Papert to invent a mathematics curricula that students could love, rather than coming up with tricks to help a few more memorize algorithms irrelevant to their lives and the complex world in which they learn. Computers have a clear role to play in learning about such sciences of complexity.

Show some courage

You are the richest man in the world. That’s like having tenure. You may work without fear! You and Oprah spent two hours on television alerting the public that too many schools are failing too many children. However, you seem reluctant to discuss the underlying causes of poverty, inequitable funding formulas and the resegregation of our nation’s public schools. The Gates-funded Manual Arts High School in Denver that has now closed was destroyed by the resegregation of the school. Civil rights are critical for students and you need to lend your voice to that struggle.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings likes to say, “Schools are the same as they were 25 years ago.” That is demonstrably false. I graduated high school 25 years ago and enjoyed a full-range of electives, three music classes per day, great bands, fabulous plays, no AP courses, little tracking and teachers did not soil themselves over the need to raise scores on deeply flawed standardized tests. The climate of fear, name-calling and punishment paralyzing schools today is a recent phenomena produced by those professing to help.

We will have achieved success when all schools are demonstrably great places where children prefer to be and authentic learning exceeds our expectations. I wish you well in your quest to create such a reality.

A Not-So-Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

© 2004 Gary S. Stager

Published by the NECC Daily Leader conference newspaper on June 22, 2004

The computer is not just an advanced calculator or camera or paintbrush; rather, it is a device that accelerates and extends our processes of thought. It is an imagination machine, which starts with the ideas we put into it and takes them farther than we ever could have taken them on our own.”  (Daniel Hillis, 1998)

This is an incredibly dark period for education. Perennial challenges are now accompanied by name-calling and public policy based on “getting tough” with third graders. Perhaps decision-makers just don’t know what learning in the digital age could look like. They need to see how kids not only learn old things in new ways, but construct personal understanding of powerful ideas in a rigorous computationally-rich fashion. Computers are today’s dominant intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression.

Computers offer kids the means of production for learning via previously off-limit domains, including: music composition, filmmaking, robotics, computer science, journalism and engineering.

If only there were a place where compelling models of new educational practice could be shared… Welcome to NECC!

A few years ago, educators ceased talking about computing and started talking about technology. Suddenly computing, this remarkable invention of 20th century ingenuity, capable of transforming every intellectual domain, was dead without so much as an obituary. Conference speakers soon spoke of computers being just technology – like a zipper or Pez dispenser. This rhetorical shift liberated educators from learning to use computers, rethink the nature of curriculum or change practice to embrace the expansive opportunities afforded by computing. Information became the focus, not what kids do with computers.

In the mid-1970s my junior high required every 7th grader to learn to program a computer in nine weeks. The feelings of intellectual elation I experienced programming are indescribable. I didn’t know what was impossible so everything was possible. The computer amplified my thinking and the habits of mind I developed in Mr. Jones’ class serve me every day.

Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak enjoyed similar experiences. Imagine how the world would be different if some smart adults had not procured a mainframe and some terminals and said to Gates and Wozniak, “See what you can figure out. Have fun. Lock up when you’re done.”

How do your children’s school computing experiences compare? Do all students have access to creative tools anytime anyplace? Does the school culture inspire a thirst for knowledge and support authentic project-based work?

We’ve lowered standards when twelve year-olds in my junior high are NOW being taught to find the return key in a mandatory keyboarding class. Someday they may be “taught” to surf a filtered locked-down crippled Web incapable of downloading, rich media or collaboration all in the name of preparing them for the future. Some future.

Adults talk of how kids know so much about computers, how they are so competent, confident and fluent. Then those kids come to school and are treated like imbeciles or felons. Kid power is a gift to educators. We need to build upon those gifts and channel their students in directions they might not know exist. If kids came to school readers, we wouldn’t grunt phonemes at them. We would read better literature.

When many of us first attended NECC, we viewed the personal computer as not only a window on the future, but a microscope on the past. We knew how all sorts of learners exceed our wildest expectations when equipped with computers and constructionist software. Personal experience illuminated how the existing pencil-based curriculum was failing kids. Optimism filled the air.

Look around and you might conclude that the state-of-the-art includes: classrooms as game shows; data mining to justify standardized testing; reading as a winner-take-all race; and hysterical network security. “Technology” is being touted as a way to centralize control and breathe life into the least effective teaching practices of yore.

Widespread consensus is hard to achieve, especially on complex matters like education. Nonetheless, the educational computing community seems to have decided that our children should look forward to a future filled with testing and Microsoft Office instruction. Tests about Microsoft Office could achieve two national goals.

NECC attendees are pioneers entrusted with helping schools realize the potential of the imagination machine and as Gladwell suggests serve as the 10th Fleet in revolutionizing the context for learning. Go home and share the fabulous ideas you collect here in the Big Easy, but remember that the kids you serve expect big things from you and it won’t be easy.

From Whitehouse.gov

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:

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.

  1. Tell the corporate executives to pay their damned taxes
  2. Ask executives to stop demanding tax abatements in communities where they place corporate facilities
  3. 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
  4. Require corporations to pay a living wage to the parents of American school children
  5. Support universal health care for America’s children
  6. Stop laying-off Americans while making record profits
  7. Stop corporations from forcing college graduates to work as unpaid interns
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

My latest article is in The Huffington Post. It’s called, “Who Elected Bill Gates?

The article is dense, but that was required to support my my indictment of his dangerous  influence and educational cockamamie schemes. I was thrilled when my article appeared originally  below one by Bill Gates and above an entry by his former deputy, Tom VanderArk, on the Education page of The Huffington Post.

It’s sad to watch a once smart and talented man go mad right before our eyes. There needs to be an intervention for Bill Gates. I fear that he has taken leave of his senses and finally jumped the shark…

…You would think that nothing else could surprise me, but now, Bill Gates has descended into the delusional world of Charlie Sheen.

Read the rest of the article here. PLEASE comment and share the article. It’s important that The Huffington Post know that like-minded folks are out there reading!

As some of you know, I have been writing about school improvement and the political, corporate and ideological forces that have been attempting to claim “school reform” as their own invention for more than a decade for my blog, District Administration Magazine, The Huffington Post and GOOD Magazine (perhaps my most cogent discussion of the “School Wars” and the desire to surrender the public treasure of public education to private hands.)

You may also beware of my serious misgivings about what I view as NBC News’ unprecedented attack on public education in the guise of Education Nation. I so annoyed NBC News earlier this week that they had me blocked from posting on Facebook for a time. Since my social media sentence was commuted, I continue to try and correct the record on Education Nation‘s Facebook page and via Twitter.

My greatest concern about Education Nation is the one-sided depiction of both the “crisis” in public education and the “solution” to said crisis. Despite NBC News’ cries that 300 people are participating in their televised panels and therefore diversity is automatically achieved, citizens would be well-advised to heed the advice of Watergate’s “Deep Throat,” and follow the money.

Merely adding Al Sharpton or NBC and Oprah’s resident education expert, R&B singer John Legend, to a discussion does not ensure that multiple perspectives will be heard or that expertise is bestowed upon unqualified folks with access to the media. Colin Powell might be an expert on creating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” or on starting a war in Iraq, but does not qualify him as a leading voice on school reform.

Simply stated, Education Nation does not represent the well-informed, research-based expertise of many successful urban school reformers and education experts including obvious choices, MacArthur Genius Deborah Meier; best-selling author, Alfie Kohn; outspoken critic of the corporate takeover of public education, Susan Ohanian; tireless advocate for poor children, Jonathan Kozol or serial urban school reformer, Dennis Littky.

Many brave and vocal educators, such as Carolyn Foote, have held NBC News’ feet to the fire and demanded to know why teacher voices were not being adequately represented in the Education Nation programming. Carolyn and others have rightfully pointed out that the participating teachers are unlikely to receive proper billing or sufficient air-time. NBC News responded by indicating that “some of Education Nation’s best friends are teachers.”

However, we make a huge mistake if we accept NBC’s claims of teacher involvement by counting heads or are persuaded by the impressive biographies of the teachers chosen to participate without exploring why such invitations were extended to those particular teachers. In this case, a few clicks of the mouse allows one to follow the money and follow the ideological blindness.

I do not in any way mean to denigrate the teachers being showcased by NBC News. I have no reason to believe that they are anything but hard-working, dedicated and excellent educators. I merely wish to make the case that they were chosen by NBC to advance a particular narrative.

That narrative is based on the following myths:

  1. Public education is destroying America
  2. There is a sudden emergency of bad teachers sweeping the land
  3. Schools should be run more like businesses (Education Nation’s patron Eli Broad believes this, but should we listen to a man who served on the board of AIG?)
  4. Charter schools, merit pay, standardized testing and mayoral control are the magic beans that will save children from wretched teachers
  5. When we fire all of the zillions of bad teachers a whole new crop of fantastic ones will grow in a Washington D.C. cornfield
  6. The best and brightest will eagerly become teachers when we remove all teacher autonomy and reduce teaching to test prep and script reading
  7. Unqualified is the new qualified as exemplified by Teach for America’s zeal to create unqualified missionaries to replace teachers
  8. Getting tougher is the same as reform
  9. Michelle Rhee was victimized by enemies of school reform (teachers) when voters rejected her tactics and bankrupt educational vision (thanks Nora O’Donnell)
  10. Billionaires are smart!
  11. Racism and intergenerational poverty have nothing to do with academic achievement
  12. The purpose of education is job readiness
  13. Teacher layoffs, budget cuts and union busting are just three ways of saying “We should pay teachers more, but them accountable.”
  14. Poor children need educational experiences much different from those afforded the children of the powerful
  15. We should all run out to the cineplex and see Waiting for Superman!

Here are the teachers NBC touts as being representative of educators’ interests.

Kaycee Eckhardt had been teaching for four years in Japan when Hurricane Katrina hit her native Louisiana on her 25th birthday. Inspired to return home and teach in New Orleans, she took a job as a 9th grade reading teacher at New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy. Her school serves some of the areas hit worst by Hurricane Katrina and often struggles to provide hot food, running water, and electricity. Despite that, in the past two years, Kaycee’s students have averaged a phenomenal three years of growth each year. In addition, Kaycee’s students have the highest math and science scores of any school in New Orleans. In 2009, she was awarded the Louisiana Charter School Association Teacher of the Year award.

Charter school teacher who may not hold a teaching credential and who is participating in TeachNola, a spinoff of Teach-for-America and the New Teacher Project that “streamlines” the process of learning to become a qualified educator. This is the same path Michelle Rhee took in her meteoric rise and fall as D.C. Schools Chancellor.

Sarah Zuckerman teaches art in Indianapolis, Indiana. As an art teacher she is deeply committed to making sure students develop core literacy skills and integrates literacy into all her art lessons. As a result her students have shown consistent academic growth in all their tested subjects. Sarah has taught abroad in China and Mexico and is a practicing artist who has shown her work nationally and internationally. Sarah received the Sontag Prize for Urban Education in 2010 and was a 2009 Teach Plus Fellow.

Wealthier children enjoy art education for aesthetic, cultural and creative reasons, not to raise test scores. The Sontag Prize is funded by Boston Public Schools and the Lynch Foundation, an advocate of Catholic Schools. It is unclear whether Ms. Zuckerman is a “trained” educator.

Shakera Walker is an award winning kindergarten teacher and a passionate advocate for the education reform movement and early childhood education. With over 8 years of teaching experience, Shakera continues to have a dramatic impact on student achievement. As a result of her incredible leadership, Shakera was awarded The Sontag Prize in Urban Education (2010).

The Sontag Prize is funded by Boston Public Schools and the Lynch Foundation, an advocate of Catholic Schools.

Joseph Almeida teaches 6th grade math at KIPP Infinity in New York City. He has created a YouTube channel with tailored lessons recorded for his students so that they can learn both inside and outside of the classroom. Joseph was awarded the Sue Lehman Award for Teaching excellence by Teach for America and was featured in the recently released book “Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide in Closing the Achievement Gap,” a book that has been hailed for both its policy and pedagogical influence.

KIPP and Teach for America affiliations. Works in a charter school. Not sure if he is a credentialed teacher.

David Wu, who spent part of his life in Taiwan, is a high school Chemistry teacher at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. Originally headed to medical school, he decided to join Teach for America for two years and has now stayed four. His students, who often start far below the district and statewide averages for Chemistry, have beaten both the district average and state average the last two years on the California Standards Test. He is also the first teacher at Dorsey High School to see one of his students score a perfect score on the CST–and he’s had two students do it in the last two years.

Yet another Teach for America teacher. Works in a charter school. Not sure if he is a credentialed teacher. More emphasis on meaningless standardized test scores.

Kelly Burnette is a high school Biology and Physical Science teacher from Nassau, Florida. Her school district, which has quickly transformed from a rural community to a bustling suburb, has one brand-new state-of-the-art high school and another one built in 1912. Kelly just recently transferred from the new school in the suburbs to the older school in an under served area in an attempt to help that school turn around. At her previous school, Kelly helped lead teachers at a school that had been given a “D” grade in 2007-2008 to an  ”A” rating in 2008-2009. For her work, she was chosen as a finalist for Florida’s Teacher of the Year award.

Ms. Burnette might be an actual public school educator! Hooray! (I will assume that all of the school grade nonsense is beyond her control.)

Abigail Garland teaches 12th grade history at IDEA College Prep, a charter school in Donna, Texas, at which 80% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch. She previously taught at Jaurez-Lincoln High School in La Joya, Texas. For the past three years, not a single student of Abigail’s has failed his or her state assessment, and 80% scored a 90% or higher on the 11th grade Social Studies exam. In 2008-2009 she was awarded the Humanities Texas award as an outstanding teacher. Since becoming Department Head the school’s state assessment passing rate has not fallen below 99% and commended scores (scores of 90% or higher) have risen from 50% to 73%. Abigail is passionate about higher education, and her classroom goals are derived from her hope that every student will have the ability to succeed in college.

Charter school teacher. More obsession with test scores.

Doris Milano is an elementary school teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida. During her 16-year tenure as an educator in her community, Doris has inspired and challenged her students to soar beyond mediocrity. For three consecutive years, Doris students have made more than a year and a half of growth in a year’s time in all subject areas. Doris has won numerous awards for her teaching practice, including the EXCEL Award from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The implication that other teachers strive for mediocrity is offensive. The award she has received is from Jeb Bush’s non-profit dedicated to the failed or unconstitutional strategies of private school vouchers, charter schools, merit pay and standardized testing.

Fatima Rich teaches 4th and 5th grade at Greenbrier Elementary in Indianapolis, IN. Although 77% of the students at Greenbrier qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch, she has seen phenomenal growth in her student’s test scores, with more than 30% increase in the number of students who scored proficient or advanced in one year and her students are now beating the state average on the 5th grade math assessment.

Another example of reducing education to test preparation and standardized test scores.

Erin Dukeshire has taught middle school science in Miami and Boston and currently took a job as the science teacher at a turnaround school called Orchard Gardens because she wanted to transform a Boston school where only 3% of the students are proficient in math and none were proficient in science. At her previous school Erin lifted her students’ science scores from 15% below the state average to well above the average.

Might be a great teacher, but “turnaround schools” are under-performing schools that can circumvent teacher union contracts.

Pamela Heuer is a 7th and 8th Grade Reading teacher in Indianapolis Public Schools. An alumna of Teach For America, Heuer’s students averaged 1.9 years of growth in one semester during the 2008-2009 school year, and her students were recognized as the fastest growing students in the entire Indianapolis school district. For spearheading a peer reading program with a neighboring elementary school, Heuer received the Eli Lilly New Teacher Challenge Award.

Teach for America affiliation and advocate.

Claudia Aguirre is the principal at MS 247 Dual Language Middle School in Manhattan.  That school, which teaches about half of its classes in each language, has quickly moved up the ranks of New York City’s middle schools because of Claudia’s efforts to impose strict program of classes and work, add academic help sessions and social activities after regular school hours. MS 247 now tests on par with the average middle school in the state across the board, a marked improvement from the scores before Claudia took over.

An actual school principal. Nothing particular jumps out from her bio except for the emphasis on “strict” and after school hours which indicate that this might be a school unlike those parents of means might embrace for their children.

Michelle Henry teachers 3rd-5th Grade Mathematics at Witter Elementary in Florida. Although a full 93 percent of Witter’s students qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch, the school had an 82 percent AYP rating in 2009. In addition, the Foundation for Excellence in Education recently presented Henry an award for having some of the greatest math gains of any teacher in the state of Florida. Henry is the recipient of the Mary Fraiser National Scholar of Gifted Education Award is rated an “Outstanding Teacher” under MAP and the Teacher Incentive Fund.

Another recipient of an award from Jeb Bush’s foundation and citation of the No Child Left Behind Annual Yearly Progress rating

Pam Williams, the current Georgia Teacher of the Year, is a high school social studies and economics teacher from rural Appling County in southern Georgia.  A strong advocate for the Common Core State Standards, Pam is spending part of this year touring the state to talk to teachers and advocate for them at the state level.  She has previously taught in a self-contained 6th grade classroom, middle school Spanish, music, language arts, and social studies before moving to the high school level. In the last two years, she has taken over the economics program at Appling County High School and saw a 33% increase in the number of students passing the statewide End of Year Test after she redesigned the curriculum.”

Another emphasis on test-prep and an embrace of “Common Core Standards,” a fancy euphemism for “standardized national curriculum.”

In closing, it’s worth exploring the sponsors of Education Nation. The following foundations and corporations have their fingerprints on many of the most regressive educational practices in the United States today.

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are major sponsors of Waiting for Superman directly and through their spin-off organization, Get Schooled. They are also a sponsor of Education Nation. Gates also appears on Oprah and Education Nation as an education expert. The Gates Foundation’s influence on public education is enormous from its advocacy of KIPP Schools for other people’s children to its staffing of the US Department of Education.
  • The Broad Foundation is a sponsor of Waiting for Superman and of Education Nation, plus a host of the other organizations being represented during Education Nation.
  • The Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart) is a sponsor of Waiting for Superman and advocate for school vouchers (privatization).
  • The University of Phoenix is a sponsor of Education Nation despite admitting to fraud in its educational recruiting practices and its self-service advocacy of for-profit education.
  • Microsoft is another sponsor of Education Nation. I believe that they might have a connection to The Gates Foundation. Some readers might find Microsoft’s record on labor practices disturbing and be unsurprised by its longstanding antipathy towards labor unions. Oh yeah, don’t forget to check out how Microsoft created an educational disaster in the Philadelphia public schools.

Further reading:

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Note: This was originally submitted for publication in The Huffington Post. I sincerely hope it gets an airing there ASAP at which time I may remove the cross-posting here. I just wanted this to be read before Education Nation begins.


Just in case you didn’t think teachers have enough to contend with after massive budget cuts, layoffs, standardized testing and scores published by teacher in the Los Angeles Times. The President of the United States applauded a school that fired all of its teachers. NBC news is dedicating an unprecedented number of hours to one-sided discussions about education. A film blaming everything but global warming on the sudden catclysmic epidemic of bad teachers and money-hungry unions is coming to a cineplex near you.

Yesterday, Her Royal Highness, Oprah Winfrey piled on by doing an entire show on bad teachers. Her guests were two of the 3 or 4 Americans allowed to discuss education on television, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee.

I have written quite a bit about Bill Gates’ hostile takeover of public education in GOOD Magazine, The Huffington Post and my own blog.

Oprah Winfrey, for all of the good she has done falls for the same handful of magic education beans over and over again. Bill Gates has been a guest before to provide Oprah with a reason to tell poor children that poverty and race no longer matter if you just do enough homework and learn to take standardized tests.

I wrote about Oprah’s troublesome views on education for District Administration Magazine back in 2007 when she was about to open her private school in South Africa.

Here is an excerpt from Oprah’s Edifice Complex. (June 2007)

Even a casual Oprah watcher can name Ms. Winfrey’s best friend, favorite actors, party planner, beloved authors, mentors, medical expert, personal trainer, hair stylist, home decorator, chef, financial advisor and spiritual guru. Oprah shares her favorite experts, friends and ideas with her audience. That’s her brand. If Oprah thinks it, you might too. If Oprah loves a product, you need to run out and buy one.

I have read and watched everything I could to learn more about Oprah’s school, and yet nagging questions remain. What is the educational philosophy of the school?

What do you think? Please comment below.

Kevin Carey, of the “independent” and “innovative” Education Sector, didn’t have the decency to defame me by name when he attacked the cover story, School Wars, I wrote for the current issue of Good Magazine.

It’s ironic to be accused of “policy juvenalia” in a blog oh so cleverly entitled “Bad Magazine.”

In a time when smart people of good faith occupy both sides of many heated and complex education debates, it makes sense occasionally to pause, take a deep breath, and denounce things like the incoherent mishmash of policy juvenalia, useless sentiment, and blatant lies found in this article, published by GOOD Magazine, in which we are told that NCLB “requires all of the nation’s schoolchildren to be above the mean on standardized tests,” Bill Gates and Eli Broad are spearheading the corporate conspiracy to privatize K-12 education, and standardized tests come with instructions about what to do if students throw up on them. It’s sort of a perfect distillation of woolly-minded HuffPost-type conventional education wisdom, and in that sense is oddly valuable, because you can read it and know everything that a not-inconsequential percentage of people know (or rather, don’t know) about education.

It’s not “useless sentiment” to care about children.

Ever since President Bush told me to “use the Google,” I have found it to be an indispensable tool for learning all sorts of interesting things. One thing I learned when I clicked on the “Who We Are” link on the Education Sector web site was that the “independent” and “innovative” Education Sector is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as Eli Broad.

It is awfully refreshing to see such “independent” and “innovative” analysts strenuously defending their sugar daddies. It’s kind of sweet.

For the record, my article was carefully fact-checked by Good Magazine. In fact, a good deal of my juiciest stuff about Eli Broad was left on the cutting-room floor. Stay tuned, keep reading and don’t forget to follow the money!

Note: You may read the Quick and the Ed attack on my article here.

On a newsstand near you!

Note: I wrote the article below two years ago. In light of Eli Broad’s takeover of the United States government and Kanye West’s latest outrage, I thought it was worth another look. It’s just too bad that Barack Obama is willing to take policy advice from the friend of a jackass.





Bill Gates and Eli Broad can’t revolutionize public education alone. They need a posse. Realizing that they needed to appeal to more than billionaires and ex-Governors Ed in ’08 teamed up with another education policy expert, rapper Kanye West.

You may have heard by now that bad boy billionaires, Bill Gates and Eli Broad, are kicking it together. They invested $60 million (lunch money) in the Strong American Schools Project, also known as ED in ’08. They hope that this charitable non-profit organization “will catapult the need for improved public education to the top of the 2008 presidential candidates’ agendas.”(Heszenhorn, 2007) One can hardly criticize an effort to get presidential candidates discussing critical education issues, but it is unclear if Gates and Broad should be steering the agenda.

It is disingenuous that Gates and Broad are investing $60 million just to inspire spirited debate.

“One complication, however, is that ED in 08, isn’t just pushing candidates to have some real education agenda; it also wants them to support a specific trio of policies: more learning time for students, common academic standards across states, and tying teacher pay to things like subject specialty, performance, and working in high-poverty schools.” (Education_Sector, 2007)

Gates and Broad have very specific educational beliefs and track records in American schools. Gates pushes small schools while Broad is much more pernicious in the way he spends money to influence urban education policy.

“He says urban public schools are failing and must adopt methods from business to succeed, such as competition, accountability based on “measurables,” and unhampered management authority—all focusing on the bottom line of student achievement, as measured by standardized tests.

Broad wants to create competition by starting publicly funded, privately run charter schools, to enforce accountability by linking teacher pay to student test scores, and to limit teachers’ say in curriculum and transfer decisions.”(Mcintosh, 2007)

These efforts can have a negative impact on the quality of education they hope to improve. In the new book, Letters to a Young Teacher, Jonathan Kozol points out how the small school movement is exacerbating school segregation and suggests that Gates spend his money offering incentives for suburban districts to welcome urban students, complete with transportation.(Kozol, 2007) Classroom teachers and school administrators know well how the calls for business models, accountability and standardized testing has turned schools too many schools into joyless sweatshops.

Broad runs academies in which he “trains” school principals and superintendents, presumably like you would train seals if you wanted them to use Excel and focus on “measurables.”

Does Mr. Broad really want schools run with the virtues found in real estate development, the field where he made his money? How much low-income housing has Broad built? Real estate quality has as much to do with school quality as any other factor. Have Broad’s companies received tax abatements as incentives for development? If so, that money comes directly out of the tax base funding public schools.

Politicians are already programmed to say, “We need to pay teachers more, but hold them accountable.” They say that in their sleep. Gates and Broad are already victorious, except for privatizing public schools.

Gather the Peeps

Gates and Broad can’t revolutionize public education alone. They need a posse. Who better to hire to direct their efforts than Governor Roy Romer? Romer was so effective as the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District that upon his retirement the district replaced him with someone possessing no qualifications whatsoever.

Realizing that they needed to appeal to more than billionaires and ex-Governors Ed in ’08 teamed up with another education policy expert, rapper Kanye West. In between drinking Cristal, feuding with 50 Cent and busting mad rhymes, West has had time to formulate a profound educational insight. Kids should go to school. Frankly, he may have spent more time creating his post-Katrina statement, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”

Here’s some more wisdom from Mr. West…

We breakin’ up again,

We makin’ up again,

but we dont love no more,

I guess we f**kin’ then.

Have you ever felt you ever want to kill her,

and you mix them emotions with tequilla.

And you mix that wit’ a little bad advice,

on one of them bad nights.

Yall have a bad fight,

and you talkin’ bout her family her aunts and sh#t.

And she say, “Muhf**ka yo mama’s a b^tch!”

You know, domestic drama and sh@t.

All the attitude.

I’ll never hit a girl, but I’ll shake the sh&t outta’ you.

But imma’ be the bigger man.

Big pimpin like jigga man. (Lyrics from Bittersweet by Kanye West)

We Need More Leaders like Kanye West

I just received an email from Ed in ’08 Executive Director Mark Lamkin with the subject “Kanye West Gets It.”

“Sunday night I watched Kanye West’s killer performance on the MTV video music awards, and now I’m watching the number of views climb for his new public service announcement for us here at the ED in 08 campaign.

Kanye West has made it. He has achieved the kind of success in his chosen field that we all wish we could achieve, and with a new album dropping today, he isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.” (Press release email from Ed in ’08 – September 13, 2007)


In a 2007 tirade riddled with expletives, Kanye said he should have won the prize for his video “Touch The Sky,” because it “cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons. If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility,” Kanye said. (AP)

That Kanye West is quite the role model.

Wow! We educators sure are lucky to have an infantile, petulant and misogynistic rapper on our team. I guess that’s how Gates and Broad roll.

I guess the best we can hope for is that Gates, Broad and West will pop a cap in TAKS scores.

Put your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care!


Sidebar: Read what Diane Ravitch, member of the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institute and former Reagan Asst. Secretary of Education has to say about The Broad Prize.


References:

Education_Sector. (2007). Schwarzenegger speaks. Schwarzenegger speaks. Retrieved May 4, 2007, from http://www.quickanded.com/2007/05/schwarzenneger-speaks.html.

Heszenhorn, D. M. (2007, 4/25/07). Billionaires start $60 million schools effort. New York Times, p. 21.

Kozol, J. (2007). Letters to a young teacher. NY: Crown.

Mcintosh, D. (2007). Schools “Broad” Agenda. Schools “Broad” Agenda. Retrieved 32.26, from http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3226/7507/.

Originally published Thursday, September 13, 2007 in The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate
By Gary S. Stager, Ph.D