May 2016

I spent this morning in the company of extraordinary women. First, I was delighted to attend the National Center for Women in IT keynote address “Intersectionality & Diversity in Computing: Key Dilemmas and What to Do About Them.” by one of my sheroes, Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. Next, I attended a talk by Mimi Ito about how the intersection of youth and digital culture were converging with traditional opportunities to create greater social capital, particularly among underserved populations. At the end of her session, my friend Cynthia Solomon (recipient of the NCWIT Pioneer Award last night), raised an important issue. She expressed concern about how Minecraft charges users and therefore makes it inaccessible to poor children. Dr. Ito agreed about the financial barrier to participation and said that important people, such as herself, were asking Microsoft, the owners of Minecraft, to make the software free. The audience was pleased with that response.

This might surprise you, but I disagree. Schools, teachers, and kids should pay for software.

Software does not grow on trees. It is created by artists, programmers, writers, designers, and engineers who need and deserve to feed their families, just like the humble teacher. The continuous devaluing of software, along with other media, profits no one in the short-term and giant corporations in the long-run. This phenomena not only harms the earning potential of creators, but ensures that educators will be deprived of high quality tools and materials. Sorry, but you get what you pay for.

I know what you’re thinking. We’re just poor teachers. Our budgets are slashed to the bone. We fundraise for crayons. Software is ephemeral. We should not have to pay for it like when we happily purchase “real” things; flash cards, interactive white boards, or that hall pass timer that reminds kids to poop faster.

There have only been a handful of truly innovative software programs ever created for learning (MicroWorlds, The Zoombinis, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Rocky’s Boots, LogoWriter, Inspire Data, My Make Believe Castle, Broderbund’s Science Toolkit) over the past three decades. That development pipeline has rusted over while software becomes “free.”*

Inspired by Dr. Harris-Perry’s address, I suggest that we are looking at the Minecraft cost issue from the wrong perspective. The problem is not that Minecraft (or even better more educative software) isn’t free, but that schools are so poorly funded they cannot afford to pay for what they need.

Fix the funding system! Make Silicon Valley pay their fair share of taxes! Give teachers discretionary funds for classroom activities! Change the tax code to allow teachers to deduct classroom materials from their income tax! Don’t destroy the handful of creative companies who create great materials for children.

Don’t tell me that you’re preparing kids for S.T.E.M. jobs while demanding free software!

The High Cost of Free

Aside from the vulgarity of Donors Choose, the most unattractive example of teacher dependency and low self-esteem is the desire to become corporate certified. What’s next? Should teachers where festive holiday sweaters affixed with corporate sponsor logos like NASCAR drivers or Happy Meals? If not, then why the rush to advertise your corporate affiliation on your blog, Twitter profile, or CV?

Google is not your friend. They are a giant corporation selling users and their data to other corporate customers. That doesn’t bother me 10 percent as much as the spectacle of educators begging for corporate affection.

Go ahead. Name a single educational idea or value Google has added to educational practice. Cheap, free, and easy are not powerful ideas. There is nothing progressive in using cloud-based versions of office software or denatured half computers in the form of Chromebooks. Why should any educator care what Google thinks about teaching or learning?

Google certification is particularly embarrassing. I do not understand why any “professional” educator would parade around in an “I can use The Google and type a memo” sash. Such educators are uncompensated evangelists and walking billboards for Google, perhaps at their own peril.

The price of integrity must be more than “free” photo storage or use of a Web-based word processor.

Don’t believe me? Read Maria Schneider’s Open Letter to YouTube, “Pushers” of Piracy. Really read it. Read it again. Think about it. Share it.

Ms. Schneider is neither a crank or Luddite. She is a spectacularly talented composer who earned the first ever Grammy Award for an Internet crowd-funded project. In her article, she details how Alphabet/Google/YouTube profits from piracy, protects pirates, demonizes artists, and strong-arms creators into entering self-destructive business arrangements. Like other corporate bullies. Alphabet/Google/YouTube hides behind lobbyists while portraying themselves as martyrs.

Teachers need to stand with creators, not Google. If teachers do not view themselves as “content creators,” then they should be reminded that there are powerful corporate interests who would like to replace them with YouTube videos and a Web-based comprehension quiz.

Don’t stand with Google! (or any other company)
Schmoozing with salespeople does not and should not define you as an educator. Stand with and on the shoulders of other great educators. Be content to be a customer, never the product or a prop.


Footnote
* Next time you are told that “The Cloud is free,” ask how much money your school/district is paying to employ IT personnel who guard, monitor, secure, or block it. How much does all that extra bandwidth cost? What can’t children do or learn while waiting for “The cloud” to have the functionality of a 5-10 year-old PC?

First, my good friend Chris Lehmann wrote about in “Why I Am Against For Profit Schools,” how the school privatization movement (and I would add the Obama administration) have embraced the rhetoric of personalization and individualization to replace teachers with less expensive drill and practice systems. These integrated “learning” systems reduce education to an endless  series of multiple-choice quizzes. (read what I wrote about this idea in 1992, Integrated Learning Systems, The New Slavery) They never have worked and never will.

Since the evidence supporting computerized teaching systems has been weak since WWII, the dystopians and their bankers pushing this idea feel compelled to dress it up in fancy names like “Carpe Diem,” “Flipped Classroom,” “School of One,” “Blast,” “Khan Academy,” etc…. Each of these old wines in new marketing slogans have at their core a desire to reduce the cost of education as low as possible and attempt to do so by replacing qualified educators with 200 terminals, Math Blaster and an armed security guard.

Soon after Chris published his article, our mutual friend Will Richardson wrote “The Thin Value Proposition,” in which he too agrees with Chris and argues that the the value in schooling is the establishment of relationships among teachers and students. I often end my speeches by saying that teachers make memories and when students come back to reminisce, they never speak about the time they raised PISA scores or used all of their spelling words in a sentence, they remember meaningful projects teachers created the context for.

I agree with the arguments made by Chris and Will. They perfectly frame the terms of the conundrum many of us who advocate the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression face when more powerful forces wish to use computers as tools of oppression, cost-cutting or antidotes for progressive education. How is it possible to love computers in education and hate the popular implementations of computers in education?

It is questions like this that led me to create The Daily Papert two years ago.

Papert articulated Will’s argument twenty-two years ago.

“It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”– it only hobbles the good ones.”

Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.

Seymour Papert began giving voice to Chris Lehmann’s concerns as far back as 1968!

“The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dumbest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a skinner box.”

Papert S. (1980). Teaching Children Thinking in Taylor, R., Ed., The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 161 -176.

Note: This paper was originally presented in 1970 at the IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education in Amsterdam. The paper was published as an MIT Logo Memo No. 2. Nicholas Negroponte reports that Papert first presented this work in 1968.

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.

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:

Please subscribe to my free newsletter


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.