Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teacher Autonomy

From Education Week:

Teacher Quality, Status Entwined Among Top-Performing Nations
By Stephen Sawchuk

"'Teaching is a similar career to a lawyer or a medical doctor. It's an academic profession, an independent profession,' says Jari Lavonen, the director of teacher education at the University of Helsinki, in Finland. 'There is lots of decision making at the local level, and teachers enjoy freedom and trust. They work as real experts.'"

Thus, the sham that is accountability and VAM:

Accountability without Autonomy Is Tyranny

The real international comparison:

Finland's Success Is No Miracle

"By rejecting standardized testing and concomitant school and teacher accountability measures, Finland has instead charted its own path by focusing on equity, professionalism, and collaboration [emphasis added]. Much as Finland has learned from the United States, Canada, Germany, England, Sweden, and other nations about pedagogy and curricula, Finland may now be looked to for lessons about educational policy. American educators should look at Finland not to import elements of its school system, but as a place where great American educational theories and inventions are practiced system-wide every day."

Three related pieces: Accountability and U.S. Public Education

Thomas, P. L. (2012, January 17). Universal public education is dead: The rise of state schools. Daily Kos.

-----. (2012, January 15). Accountability without autonomy is tyranny. Daily Kos.

-----. (2012, January 14). Organizations, no, community, yes: MLK Jr. Day 2012. Daily Kos.

Daily Kos: Universal Public Education Is Dead: The Rise of State Schools

Daily Kos: Universal Public Education Is Dead: The Rise of State Schools

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Corrosive Power of Stereotypes in Politics and Education | Dailycensored.com

The Corrosive Power of Stereotypes in Politics and Education | Dailycensored.com

Daily Kos: The Corrosive Power of Stereotypes in Politics and Education

Daily Kos: The Corrosive Power of Stereotypes in Politics and Education

Borderland » A Decent Education

Borderland » A Decent Education

See my piece cited here.

Greenville News 8 January 2012: Don't jump from NCLB frying pan to the fire

[expanded and cited version at The Daily Kos: "Government "Options": A Contradiction in Terms*"]

[original submission]

The largest federal education initiative, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has proven in a decade to be the worst federal education initiative as well. Under the Barack Obama administration we are experiencing Orwellian double-speak in more federal programs—Race to the Top (RttT) and opting out of NCLB—that claim to be addressing NCLB flaws but are in fact guaranteed to make bad even worse.

South Carolina created controversy during the RttT application process, and our state is poised for even more controversy as Superintendent Zais plans to pursue opting out of NCLB. The problem with opting out of NCLB is that the Obama administration is using the language of offering states relief from federal education intrusion to insure even greater and more damaging federal education intrusion.

A notable danger in opting out of NCLB is that many states are moving teacher accountability and evaluation toward a test-based system, often referred to as value-added modeling (VAM) and merit pay. SC should find every alternative to the damage being done by NCLB, but we must not fall prey to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire by embracing the exact elements of NCLB—standards, testing, and accountability—that have caused the legislation to fail students and public education.

Over the past thirty years, we must acknowledge, all fifty states have implemented large-scale experiments in standards, testing, and accountability, resulting in all fifty states claiming today that public schools are failing. The reason for this outcome—one we should have anticipated—is that educational quality is not linked primarily to standards, testing, and accountability, but to the larger social and community characteristics of every child in the U.S. and SC.

The accountability era, then, has failed to improve the education of children across the U.S. and in SC; thus, it makes little sense that the same process will improve teacher quality directly and student outcomes indirectly, simply because we mandate that accountability. But, beyond the shear failure of logic of this next step, teacher accountability and evaluation should not be linked to student test scores for many reasons:

• Standardized testing remains strongly correlated with gender, socio-economic, and racial biases—making them inappropriate for evaluating students and their teachers.

• Every test is designed for a specific reason, and no test should be used for accountability or evaluation of a different population than the one for which the test was designed. A classic example of this mistake is the SAT—a test designed only to predict freshman college success, but mistakenly used each year to rank and evaluate schools and entire state’s education quality. Tests designed to measure student learning are not necessarily valid for evaluating teacher quality.

• Merit pay, even in the free market, has been shown repeatedly through research to be ineffective for increasing quality of worker outcomes; in fact, merit pay proves to be counter-productive—especially when applied to education, where teachers are more interested in the conditions of their teaching assignment than with increased pay.

• Merit pay and linking teacher accountability and evaluation to test scores increase the competitive nature of education, a process deterred by competition and enhanced by collaboration and cooperation.

• The current research on VAM has proven to be highly volatile, meaning that the status of a teacher one year varies significantly over the following years. In other words, the labeling and ranking of teachers—as with the labeling and ranking of students—have more to do with characteristics unrelated to teaching and learning such as the home characteristics of the students.

• Linking teacher accountability and evaluation with student test scores will discourage teachers from working with the most challenging student populations—high-poverty students, special needs students, and English language learners—that need high quality teachers the most.

• Focusing on revamping teacher accountability and evaluation shifts time, resources, and energy on a bureaucratic process that allows our state to ignore the primary source of educational failure—social inequity, poverty. The conditions of a child’s life associated with her/his home—access to health care, food security, eye care, personal safety—remain conditions neither students nor their teachers have any control over but those conditions are the strongest correlation with the tests used to label and judge students and teachers.

A central flaw of NCLB has been a misguided approach to solutions, one that ignores identifying the problems before mandating those solutions. NCLB and now both RttT and opting out of NCLB are all making yet another flaw: Seeking to mandate outcomes by holding students and teachers accountable for situations over which they have little or no control. High-stakes testing, despite our best efforts, remain a reflection of conditions that are not academic.

SC is now best served by opting out of opting out, if the only options we have are to implement more harmful federal mandates cloaked as relief from federal mandates.

Friday, January 6, 2012

English Journal (2012, January)

P. L. Thomas
English Journal, 101(3)
January 2012

Abstract: A teacher and member of the NCTE Task Force on Council History and 2011 uses discussion of New Criticism in EJ to examine how literary criticism has been implemented in classrooms and how it might be developed in the 21st century.

Connecting the Dots: The Picture Is Ugly | Dailycensored.com

Connecting the Dots: The Picture Is Ugly | Dailycensored.com

Susan Ohanian's Testing Outrages (Susan Ohanian Speaks Out)

Susan Ohanian's Testing Outrages (Susan Ohanian Speaks Out)

What Disparities in Wealth Say About Society - Bridging Differences - Education Week

What Disparities in Wealth Say About Society - Bridging Differences - Education Week

See my piece from Schools Matter linked by Deborah.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Room for Debate (NYT): A Misguided Use of Money

A Misguided Use of Money

Paul Thomas
Paul Thomas, a public high school English teacher for 18 years, is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. You can follow his work at Radical Scholarship and on Twitter at @plthomasEdD.
January 3, 2012

[unedited submission]

Reforming education in the U.S. often includes seeking new technology in order to improve teaching and learning. Instead of buying the latest gadgets, however, our schools should provide students with critical technological awareness, achievable at little cost and without the newest hardware.

We rarely consider the negative implications for acquiring the newest “smart” board or providing tablets for every student—chasing the next new technology without evaluating learning needs or how gadgets uniquely address those needs. Ironically, we buy into the consumerism inherent in technology (Gadget 2.0 pales against Gadget 3.0) without taking full account of the tremendous financial investments diverted to technology.

Technology is a tool to assist learning. School closets and storage facilities across the U.S., though, are filled with cables, monitors, and hardware costing millions of dollars, now useless, replaced by the newest gadget. Notably, consider one artifact now covered in dust, the Laserdisc video player (soon to be joined by interactive “smart” boards).

Chalk board, marker board, “smart” board—this sequence has not improved teaching or learning, but has created increased costs for schools and profits for manufacturers. Little research exists showing positive outcomes from technology—although we do have this caution: One “study found that most of the schools that have integrated laptops and other digital tools into learning are not maximizing the use of those devices in ways that best make use of their potential.”

Access to technology reflects and contributes to the growing income inequity plaguing society and schools. As technology blossoms, access to it expands the gap between the affluent and impoverished. Even when we introduce technology into schools, affluent students’ having more experience with it in their full lives leaves impoverished students always behind.

Viewing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on a Kindle, on an iPad, or as a paperback proves irrelevant if children do not want to read, struggle to comprehend text, or lack the critical literacy to interact with text in complex and meaningful ways that are personal and communal.

Schools should not invest in the newest technology, or the inflated cost of cutting-edge gadgets. Students deserve, though, technological awareness and critical understanding of the role of technology in their lives and society. Empowered teachers and students will choose to use technology, or not, instead of being blinded by the newness of the next gadget release.

Today, we’d do well to heed Henry David Thoreau: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

Daily Kos: Government "Options": A Contradiction in Terms*

Daily Kos: Government "Options": A Contradiction in Terms*

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 @ The Daily Censored: P. L. Thomas

-----. (2011, January 10). Supermen or kryptonite?—Legend of the fall, pt. V. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/01/10/superman-or-kryptonite%E2%80%94legend-of-the-fall-pt-v/

-----. (2011, January12). 21st century segregation: Inverting King's dream. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/01/12/21st-century-segregation-inverting-kings-dream/ also @ truthout 21st Century Segregation: Inverting King's Dream

-----. (2011, January 23). "Top level kids" and accountability—A radical response.  The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/01/23/top-level-kids-and-accountability%E2%80%94a-radical-response/

-----. (2011, February 16). The great accountability and "world-class workforce" scam. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/02/16/the-great-accountability-and-world-class-workforce-scam/

-----. (2011, February 8). Lessons in education from South Carolina? The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/02/08/lessons-in-education-from-south-carolina/ 

-----. (2011, February 27). Celebrity "common sense" reform for education--Legend of the fall pt. VI. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/02/27/celebrity-common-sense-reform-for-education-legend-of-the-fall-pt-vi/  

-----. (2011, March 7). My challenge to the false prophets of education reform. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/03/07/my-challenge-to-the-false-prophets-of-education-reform/

-----. (2011, March 18). Test scores fail students, teachers, but remain a political prop. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/03/18/test-scores-fail-students-teachers-but-remain-a-political-prop/
Reposted at The Answer Sheet/Washington Post: How test scores are used as a political prop

-----. (2011, April 6). Meritocracy myth v. the advantages of privilege (A tale of hubris). The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/04/06/meritocracy-myth-v-the-advantages-of-privilege-a-tale-of-hubris/ 

-----. (2011, April 19). Standardized students, silenced teachers: The Un-American education agenda. The Daily Censored. http://dailycensored.com/2011/04/19/standardized-students-silenced-teachers-the-un-american-education-agenda/

-----. (2011, August 8). Poverty and testing in education: “The present scientifico-legal complex" pts. 1 and 2. The Daily Censored.

-----. (2011, August 31). Michael Vick's America: Redemption of the pawns. The Daily Censored.

-----. (2011, September 26). "We hold these truths to be self-evident. . ."? Daily Kos. Reposted at The Daily Censored.

-----. (2011, October 5). Top student crisis!: A call for trickle-down education reform. Daily Kos. Reposted at Schools Matter. Reposted at The Daily Censored.

-----. (2011, October 30). Le Guin's "The ones who walk away from Omelas”: Allegory of privilege. Daily Kos. Reposted at The Daily Censored (2011, November 3).

-----. (2011, November 15). Diversity and the rise of majority-minority schools. Daily Kos. Reposted at Schools Matter and The Daily Censored. Reposted at truthout.

-----. (2011, December 22). Poverty matters!: Part 1 and Part 2. The Daily Censored. Reposted at truthout.

2011 @ Room for Debate/NYT: P. L. Thomas

-----.  (2011, May 30). Avoiding the poverty issue. Room for Debate. The New York Times. 

-----.  (2011, July 10). Breaking with tradition. Room for Debate. The New York Times. 

2011 @ The Answe Sheet/WaPo: P. L. Thomas

-----. (2011, March 2). The Bill Gates problem in school reform. The Answer Sheet/Washington Post.

-----. (2011, March 21). Reposted at The Answer Sheet/Washington Post: How test scores are used as a political prop

-----. (2011, April 5). A case against standards. The Answer Sheet/Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/2011/04/04/AFgXSFgC_blog.html

-----. (2011, May 14). Bill Maher’s “Real Time” education debate failure.

-----. (2011, June 4). Reposted at The Answer Sheet: NBA finals and ‘no excuses’ charter schools

-----. (2011, September 13). A primer on navigating education claims. Reposted at The Answer Sheet.

-----. (2011, October 6). Idealism that blinds: Facing social and educational inequity. Daily Kos. Reposted at The Answer Sheet as Are top students being shortchanged? (2011, October 21).

-----. (2011, December 21). Christmas miracle 2011: Poverty matters! Daily Kos. Reposted (December 23, 2011) at The Answer Sheet.

2011 @ truthout: P. L. Thomas

-----. (2011, January 26). Belief culture: "We don't need no education." truthouthttp://www.truth-out.org/belief-culture-we-dont-need-no-education67154

-----. (2011, April 22). Why advocacy and market forces fail education reform. truthout.

-----. (2011, July 13). High-stakes testing: Lessons ignored. truthout.

-----. (2011, October 18). Click, Clack, Moo: Why the 1% always wins. Daily Kos. Reposted at truthout (2011, November 3).

-----. (2011, November 15). Diversity and the rise of majority-minority schools. Daily Kos. Reposted at Schools Matter and The Daily Censored. Reposted at truthout.

-----. (2011, November 21). "[N]ot the time...to follow the line of least resistance." Daily Kos. Reposted at Schools Matter and truthout.

-----. (2011, December 22). Poverty matters!: Part 1 and Part 2. The Daily Censored. Reposted at truthout.