This blog clearly echos my feelings. This is class warfare at its finest. The elite always claim that liberals want to redistribute their wealth. Well, this powerful elite is absolutely redistributing what little wealth I have. We must stop them and, I hate to say this, if normal democratic channels will not work for us, civil disobedience may be the only way. These people are just refusing to listen to us and we may have to take back our profession in a manner that will be more forceful.

Crazy Crawfish

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by all the rapid changes happening in the education sphere. I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling this way – based on the feedback, articles and correspondence I’ve been receiving from local and national groups and individuals. As I struggled to zero in on a topic where I could help or enlighten the most, something else even more screwed up would be sent to me. I’ve started and stopped work on several pieces, which may make their appearances later, but I feel the need to get my bearings again. All this crazy “stuff” (not my first word choice) needs to be sorted out and organized before I can make any more forward progress. I think the mistake I was making, and many others are probably making, is not connecting all the dots and figuring out what kind of picture they…

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Education Reform as Class Warfare

Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others had a very simple view of public education.  To these men, public education in America would be the great equalizer.  It would create a common American culture and an educated citizenry that would make decisions that would benefit the whole nation.  An educated citizenry that could think for itself would preserve democratic institutions and create a nation that would give opportunity to all.

However, in the warped view of Gates, Zuckerberg, Duncan, Broad, Bloomberg, Rhee, et al., public education has been nothing but a failure.  To them, traditional public education has prevented the achievement of high need students, and is the main, if not the “only” cause, of poverty in America.  There is only one solution. A standardized national curriculum will enable every child to become college ready.  All you need is a super bright Ivy League college student who can efficiently teach this curriculum to 40 to 60 kids at a time (according to Emperor Bloomberg) or a computer program that has enough artificial intelligence to differentiate instruction.  Their magical curriculum is teacher proof and student proof.  The only thing standing in our way are these reactionary unprofessional unionized public school teachers who only teach kids to line their pockets with public money and who work less than six months out of the year.  In the view of these billionaires, only the private sector can implement the magic curriculum in such an efficient manner that it will save the public money while, at the same time, create the most literate nation in the world.  Only market forces can create the type of efficiency that will enable everyone to master a common national curriculum that will put a college degree within grasp of every child–no matter their socio-economic status or disability.  According to these “experts in education,” all this can be efficiently measured by testing and more testing to see if teachers are successfully implementing this magic curriculum, which will get every student a college degree in America.

One would think that these great benefactors want to create a Utopian society in which there would be no poverty and in which everyone would be college educated. Unfortunately, the reality is much darker.  Just like the robber barons of the 19th century who built libraries, museums, and concert halls, which hid their barbaric labor practices within a nation of unbridled wealth, our modern robber barons, want to take themselves off the hook by blaming the economic inequality and pockets of extreme poverty in our urban areas squarely on the door classroom teachers. They are like the con artist that distracts you while he picks your pocket.  They point to and blame hard working teaches while they redistribute public money to line the palms of hedge fund operators and venture capitalists that see education as a way to make themselves ever richer.

When one looks objectively at the history of American public education, one sees success against many odds.  I would recommend Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency.  I read this book when I was taking graduate courses in Educational Administration.  This 1962 books reveals that all this happened before.  Callahan describes that at the turn of the 20th century, the economic elite of this country attempted its first top-down reform of education.  They decided to turn schools into little factories, which used Frederick Taylor’s methodology of “scientific management” to create an efficient educational system that would educate vast numbers of students in the shortest time to be “educated” workers manning America’s great industrial engine.  The result of this reform was that by 1920, the number of high school graduates in America rose from 7% in 1900 to 19%–an insignificant number.   Unfortunately, we are still left with much of this legacy.  Our eight-forty to three school day, classroom structure, school calendar, as well as a sad history of labor strife between teachers and administrators are all remnants of this so-called reform.

However, with the advent of the use of social science research practices to measure different educational models along with large increases in state and Federal funding for public education after 1940, the high school graduation rate went from about 23% in 1939 to 78% in 2010.   And as for American schools not graduating college ready students, in 1899-1900 only 30,000 college degrees were awarded as compared to over 3 million college degrees awarded in 2009-2010.

Rhee and company are right about one thing.  We have not been as successful in educating high need urban minority, disabled and foreign born students.  Unfortunately, all their solutions are not backed up by legitimate educational research.  If anything, their magic curriculum violates every law of child development.   The deformers, as I call them, refuse to admit that education is a complicated process and research has shown that one important variable in creating academic achievement is ones address.  Obviously, if one lives in a resource rich suburban school district, one has the time, energy and extra resources to help a child and support the education provided by a school.  Unfortunately, parents who have to worry about their basic needs cannot do so.  Begin to end poverty and you will be well on your way to improve educational outcomes.

Additionally, our modern educational deformers refuse to admit that one cannot measure achievement when the measures themselves are unreliable and invalid.  Countless research has shown that their value added measures of teacher performance are less than useless.  The new State tests that are being retooled for their magic Common Core curriculum will also be useless.  The powers that be admit that many students will fail this test this year.  One cannot create a curriculum that does not account for child development in which probably only 15% of the school population may pass (students with above average and superior verbal and intellectual ability).  If you use scientific research methodology to measure the efficacy of an educational assessment, there is only one premise.  If most people fail a test, the fault is not really with the student, but with the test itself and what it is supposed to measure.

The next question one should ask is if there is so much research that shows that these people are wrong, why is all this happening?   Why won’t someone like Bloomberg acknowledge research that shows smaller, not large class size creates greater academic achievement?  Why won’t  Broad admit that the Common Core standards violate Piaget?  The reason is because they have a political agenda.  It is a political agenda that is completely undemocratic so that this elite can be free to do what it wants with public money.  They also want to further erode the power of American labor.  They want a Charter School system that will be free of the AFT and NEA.  They want to destroy the political power of these organizations.  Diane Ravitch recently described a proposed teacher contract by the head of the Philadelphia school system.  It is a proposal that only Andrew Carnegie could love.  It is a contract to demoralize and enslave the public school teachers of Philadelphia.  The contract cuts wages by 12%, allows principals to fire teachers at whim, and has no class size limits.

As for ending poverty, their proposals will probably result in a segregated education system in this nation.  Defunded public schools will only provide a limited education to those in poverty, the disabled and second language students based upon teaching to a test that measures literacy through multiple-choice answers and short written responses to short passages.  On the other hand, some students who are in private or charter schools will have an expanded curriculum (because their schools are exempt from being measured by state tests) as well as small class size.  As for a common American culture, these exempt charter and private schools will be free to teach such wonders as creationism and the benefits of carbon pollution.  As for the disabled, I guess those who remain in traditional public schools will have to make due with few services and programs.  Rhee and company talk about school choice, but what they really wish to create is a dual educational system in America that will be separate, unequal and and benefit economically as well as politically America’s 1%.

Common Core and the Suspension of Child Development

It was 1977 and I was taking a child development course for my Master’s level program to become a special education teacher. The assignment was simple. Take two children of different ages and conduct some learning experiments on them. The objective was to see if Piaget’s theories were true. I needed two children, so I asked my cousin if I could borrow her two kids—David and Rachel (who still remember as adults the fun we had doing all this). David was eight-years-old at the time while Rachel just turned five. Of course, I did that famous conservation experiment of pouring water into a tall thin glass and the same amount of water into a wide narrow glass. Obviously, both thought that the tall narrow glass held more water even after both watched me pour the same amount of water into both glasses. What is the importance of this experiment? Well, young kids think very concretely and not abstractly. And how do you develop abstract thinking skills? Give them many of concrete experiences over a long period until their brains become mature enough to understand the abstract concept that no matter what the shape a container may be, if you pour the same amount of liquid into that container, it is still the same amount

This experience I had with my cousins came hauntingly back to me about a month ago when I tried to teach a bunch of fifth graders to estimate fractional sums using benchmarks. The concept appears simple. Take a number line, start at zero, make several benchmark points, such as ½ and 1, and then estimate whether a given fraction is close to these benchmarks. For example, if we add 7/8 and 3/8, we should estimate that our answer will be about 1 and ½. Obviously, 7/8 is close to one and 3/8 is close to ½. With our adult minds, this is a no brainer, but not to the fifth grade mind—especially a mind that may have a learning disability. My kids just did not get it. I used every special education, multisensory method on the books. I color coded, used fraction bars, as well as visual illustrations, etc., etc. Most just wanted to add the like denominators and did not want to estimate first using this method. I then decided to question them intently to understand why they were having such difficulty estimating. To my amazement I discovered the reason. All my concrete manipulatives and illustrations confused them even more. Each manipulative and drawing was a different size and they did not understand that no matter the size or type of fractional illustration presented that the fraction was really the same size. It was hard for these fifth graders to understand that if I cut a pizza in or a jelly bean in half, it was still a half. Therefore, I made a fatal teaching error that many new teachers make. I assumed knowledge or understanding that my students really did not have. To prove their lack of understanding, I took two jars of different sizes and poured a glass of water in each. I asked them to write on their personal white boards which cup had more water and most chose the tall, thin cup again. Piaget came hauntingly back and now I understood why these LD kids were having such difficulty with this common core concept. I realized that it was not that many wouldn’t learn it, but that many couldn’t learn it. They were just not ready.

Furthermore, I tutor several middle school students in math. I work with one learning disabled 8th grader who is, with a lot of extra help, passing within an integrated setting. Fortunately, his parents have the resources to purchase my services for three hours a week. In addition, not only does the student have a highly experienced special education co-teacher in his math class, but he also gets additional special education teacher support services three times a week within a very wealthy suburban school district on Long Island. To his benefit, the student although learning disabled has strong intellectual potential that enables him to easily learn the various strategies I and his teachers have developed to help him do the math. Yet, when tested on these concepts, he mostly gets grades in the low seventies on tests in which problems contain three or more steps and which requires him to describe using mathematical terms various math processes. One problem he got wrong had to do with the Pythagorean Theorem. Mathematically, he knows the formula and can apply it to solve problems presented algebraically. He understands that if we want to find the unknown length of one side of a right triangle, he can do so as long as he knows the length of a hypotenuse and an adjacent side. However, on a test in which a problem derived from a sample CCLS standard, he got completely lost. The problem had a right triangle containing adjacent squares for each side. The question asked what assumption the student can make about the area of the largest square. Furthermore, he was expected to explain his assumption in mathematical terms.

After looking at the problem, it appeared familiar to me. I then remembered where I saw a similar problem. I decided to take a trip to my attic and opened up an old box. Within the box, I found my high school review books. After a little skimming, I found a very similar model problem—within my 10th grade Amsco geometry review text. Then I remembered the difficulty I had with my first term of geometry in high school and all the extra help I needed to master and understand those theorems at the time. Now we expect a student to master concepts that used to be taught to 15-16 year old students thirty of so years ago. A 16 year old student is well into what Piaget calls the formal operational stage of development. Those are fancy words that mean that a student of that age can more easily understand very abstract concepts. Now we are supposed to expect a 13 year-old student to have the same capacity as a student that is very close to college age. Obviously, some 13 year-old students can understand such concepts, but most will have difficulty, again, because they may not be developmentally ready—especially if a disability is present. When I recently stated this at a meeting, I was told that I have low expectations for students. I replied that I do not have low expectations, but realistic expectations. And that these expectations are based on a good deal of scientific research.

The Common Core curriculum appears to be one that was developed by anecdote and not by research. I remember when my youngest son graduated from high school, the Valedictorian was an Asian young man who came to the United States two years previously without knowing a word of English. I recall the Principal saying to the audience that it was possible to accomplish so much when one perseveres and works hard. What he didn’t mention was that this student probably had an IQ that was through the roof! It would be unreasonable to expect other immigrant children to accomplish what this student did when research has shown it takes an older student five to seven years to learn enough academic vocabulary to perform well in an English language school. One should not build a curriculum that could only be easily mastered by above average and superior students that make up only 15% of the total population.

Interestingly, just yesterday I received an email from my school district which contained a list of math vocabulary terms students are expected to master at each grade level. When I looked at the kindergarten math vocabulary, there was the term “decompose” which means to break down complex numbers to get a better understanding of place value. To expect a kindergarten student to understand and use this concept is beyond ridiculous. When I was in Kindergarten, I am pretty sure I had no idea what this term meant and I am also sure my kindergarten teacher had no interest in teaching me its meaning when her greater concern was that I know how to write my name, address and phone number in case I got lost. I really don’t think there is any necessity for a five-year-old to use college level vocabulary to explain complex math terms when many still need to develop one-to-one correspondence. Of course, someone who supports common core would say that all they are doing is raising the bar. However, this is a bar that is twenty feet up and for a five year old impossible to master. By the way, yesterday I asked three kindergarten students to decompose the number 12 and they replied with blank stares. I have been involved with educational testing for nearly thirty years. A good part of my career involved administering diagnostic tests to determine if students had learning disabilities. I clearly remember when I was taking courses in diagnostic assessment, a professor saying to us that when most students fail a test, the problem is not with the student, but with the test. Therefore, if most students at a certain age will not be able to master these so-called common core standards, the problem is not with the kids, but with the standards. Standards that unfortunately violates every rule of child development.