Stop Scapegoating Teachers and Public Schools

I attended a talk last night by Mary Dalton, the author of ‘From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television’. I learned some things.

Understanding the subtexts of programs we watch on television, helps to explain how the attack on public education gained credibility. Professor Dalton briefly described the shifts in decades from the 50s to the present in the focus of television sitcoms:

1950s…’Our Miss Brooks’ was the beloved, caring, ethical, and yes, white female teacher.
1960s…almost an utopian view of achieving racial and social equality
1970s…a classless society e.g. The Paper Chase
1980s…meritocracy where anyone can succeed
1990s…Teachers are real people with complicated lives of their own e.g. Hangin with Mr. Cooper who was gay.

Then, at the turn of the century, changes in educational policy were reflected in a serious downward spiral in how teachers and schools were depicted. This, Professor Dalton believes was not accidental. Season 4 of ‘The Wire’ was one example. The teacher was a failed policeman who became a good teacher but was underpaid and worked in an overwhelming environment. His experience in the classroom reflected social and political issues in a drug infested culture. ‘Mike and Molly’ was an even more stark and dark characterization of a teacher who exhibited over the top behavior and was fraught with problems.

These media depictions were inculcated in how the general public viewed public education….not their children’s schools but those other schools out there.

Questions from the audience probed how bad vs good teachers are now defined. Dalton responded with examples from the programs ‘Insecure’ and ‘Speechless’. A good teacher is caring and often depicted as a person of color who is an outsider, not an experienced teacher. Principals are depicted as bureaucratic.

In her response to a question about hope for a change in public perception to one that is more balanced and less stereotypical, Professor Dalton suggested that these trends shifted like a pendulum. As the mass of bad characterizations increase, their validity becomes questionable, and the public begins to push back.

I asked if there was any evidence that the return to normalcy was beginning and cited the film ‘Passion to Teach‘ that was recently released. The only cracks in the armor, however, seem to be in the depiction of non-profit charter schools as ‘good charter’ and those other profit seekers as ‘bad’ charters. At least charters are no longer uniformly good and public schools uniformly bad. The needed critical mass of outrageous assertions and depictions has not accumulated, but perhaps there is hope. We need a relentless drum beat.

Kuddos to the two University of Florida graduate students who organized this symposium. You can read their article in today’s Gainesville Sun here.

Florida Supreme Court Declines Palm Beach Case Against CSUSA

OK, it is up to us. The Supreme Court declined to hear a case against an unwanted CSUSA charter school in Palm Beach. The school board’s frustration was not with charters. Rather, it was with CSUSA’s proposals to open unneeded charters to openly compete for students. One proposal was to open a CSUSA charter across the street from Royal Palm Beach high school. Then, CSUSA submitted two more proposals, and the district went to court. The Court decided not to decide in spite of widespread opposition in the community.

Clearly, the Florida legislature and the State Board of Education are deaf to the destruction of our communities and the impact of poor fiscal policies on our educational system. Their choice policy simply ensures that no segment, public…charter…or private will have adequate funding. Thirteen districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Alachua among others have now joined forces to sue the State over the legislature’s seizure of control of local school district authority. More are in the wings. This is not over.

We need a change in approach to choice. We have to examine the policies of who we choose to represent our views in the legislature. If you need more information about CSUSA’s for-profit management style, see the PACT. We have to help others understand that not all choices are good choices.

Bash Schools or Build Democracy

The October Atlantic reports on the war on public schools. We know this war. The strategy is changing, and this is a good thing. The reform mantra that school achievement has declined, teachers are inadequate, unions protect mediocrity and school choice (read privatization) solves all problems has become hackneyed, if not outright false. The Atlantic article raises a much different and more fundamental concern. The attack on public schools reflects the emphasis on individual rights as opposed to the collective good. This is an age-old theme in America. It waxes and wanes, but the stakes are high.

The author cites the political theorist Benjamin Barber’s warning: “America as a commercial society of individual consumers may survive the destruction of public schooling. America as a democratic republic cannot.” Why?

Our schools integrate diverse groups from widely ranging backgrounds into our civil society. They learn to be ‘American’. The public schools give all of our people a stake in the future of our democracy. School choice, however, is further segregating our society and creates more enclaves. The impact on our communities is being felt. We no longer teach civics, and fewer young people participate in voting.

In some countries, the population disengages in their political system. When this occurs, the whole process of negotiation among citizens to resolve problems disintegrates. A good analysis is offered by Harry Boyte, Co-Director of the Center for Democracy. He says “Politics is how diverse groups of people build a future together”. This is the message that will determine our future. We have a choice. We can build or divide our schools and our communities.

Making a Difference

At today’s legislative delegation hearing, all Alachua County government entities…cities and county commission spoke in favor of supporting our public schools.

At tonight’s school board meeting, the members voted to join the lawsuit against HB 7069 that wrests control from local school districts. Members also voted to put a half penny sales tax initiative on the ballot to help our school facilities. The legislature is putting all responsibility on local communities while they want to take all control away from them.

We will fight to take care of our children and our schools. We will support our school board in their efforts to do the same.

Where Choice Leads!

We need a full campaign to raise awareness about the impact of choice. What is happening in our schools and why we can’t repair roofs, expand programs, and even meet basic needs should be at everyone’s fingertips. We are making choices, but some are being made blindly. Shed light on what the consequences of unregulated choice are. Why are lawsuits spreading. Help people get involved. Here’s our approach to raising awareness of the reasons for problems and strategies for overcoming them.

SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH ACTIVITIES In GAINESVILLE. Events are free and open to the public. Parents are urged to attend. You can learn about the challenges and opportunities facing our public schools at:

A Lecture: “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. September 20 at 6pm in Pugh Hall

A Forum: Our Local Schools Now And Going Forward on September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 am. with:
Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Renovating Old Schools”
Sue Legg, Florida League of Women Voters Education Chair: “Impact of Choice Legislation”
Anne Wolfe, Education Specialist and Valerie Freeman, Director of Educational Equity and Outreach: “Culturally Responsive Classrooms”
Moderated by Khanh-Lien Banko, President Alachua County Council PTA

A Film and Discussion: ‘Passion To Teach’ led by the film producer, Bart Nourse. The film shows how courageous, skillful teachers teach from the heart despite a disheartening top-down reform system. A Michigan Superintendent said: The film…”captured my emotions and it gave me chills”.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School and
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

Read a book describing the issues we face with school reform: “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro. Watch the interview.

Find out even more by visiting the September Public Schools Awareness Month website.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

There was a big extravaganza on TV just before Irma hit Florida. Supported by Lorraine Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Project XQ seeks to reinvent American high schools. This is not a ‘school choice’ solution to education reform. Rather, Project XQ explores ways to give students more control over their learning, and it builds on students’ talents and interests rather than sorting them by test scores into winners and losers. I am always excited when examples of what high quality, impactful teaching can be. It’s why I like the film ‘Passion to Teach’.

John Merrow reviewed XQ Super School Live. He is the former long time PBS education correspondent who views the reliance on high stakes testing as the path to increasing mediocre lessons ‘and worse’ for our children. In his book, Addicted to Reform, he argues that test based accountability stifles the creativity economists assert our schools need to promote.

Merrow concludes that Project XQ missed an opportunity to explain how the current reliance on testing and choice policies fail to address the real problems confronting students, teachers and schools. The show simply claimed schools were ‘out of date’.

There is a kernel of understanding that is emerging in the ‘testing or teaching’ debate. Reliance on test scores to drive instruction is not a new problem; it is just the modern day version of a drill and practice methodology that has a place in learning but should not be the most important one. Drill and test using technology do not replace effective teaching; they can, however, be helpful resources. It is time to examine, but not rely on, their appropriate roles.

Efforts like Project XQ are asking the right questions about effective teaching. It is also helpful to see films like ‘Passion to Teach’ that demonstrate teachers in action who develop students’ ability to control and engage in learning meaningful to them.

We are primed to enable our schools to emphasize what works. At least now we have experimented with the testing and grading reforms long enough to recognize they only make bad problems worse. Not only are we sorting kids in schools; we are sorting schools into winners and losers.

At first, we may have to focus on one school and one maverick teacher at a time, but every time we succeed, we should celebrate and replicate the experience. We do not have to accept what is, and we can make a difference by working toward what could be and should be.

Wind and Rain

Gainesville is having some disruption due to Irma’s impact. Lincoln Middle School was flooded. Archer’s power is down. So is mine! Schools here are still closed. The district hopes to open Monday. Transportation around town is still not totally safe.

I know many of you are in the same situation. My thoughts are with you.

Hope to be blogging again soon.

Should We Close Schools?

The latest push to improve test scores is to close low performing schools. This CREDO study from Stanford University was designed to see what happened to the students. They looked at traditional public schools (TPS) and charters whose students scored at or below the 20th percentile on state tests. Some schools in both sectors were closed and others not. Why? What happened to the children?

Some key findings include:

  1. Charters that closed in Florida had significantly lower performing students than students in closed public schools. Why would this be? One possible explanation is that closure corresponded not only to low performance but also to declining enrollment. Parents of charters students tended to leave failing charters before the school actually shut down. As enrollment dropped, charters could not afford to stay open.

  2. Florida closed 24 TPS over 7 years and 34 charters. While the number of closed charters is higher, 85% of the students affected were in TPS. In Florida, 4,337 students in charters were affected vs. 5,410 TPS. Closure disproportionately impacted schools with high rates of minority students over other low performing schools.

  3. Most, 82% of TPS students, stayed in another TPS after closure while only 40% of charter students stayed in charters. In Florida, there were no differences between achievement gains for closed low performing charter students over time and similar students in charters that were not closed. Over time, children from closed charters did much less well than similar children from closed TPS.

  4. Students from closed schools do better if they are transferred to schools with higher performing students. But, there are too many low performing students able to enroll in higher performing schools. Less than half of the students from closed schools landed in a better performing school.

What is the take away from the data? Closing a school hurts kids unless they enroll in a school that has higher performing students. This becomes a socio-economic integration issue. It is a school culture issue. It is an opportunity issue. Suppose there are an insufficient number of schools with higher performing students to place these children? CREDO suggests innovative new schools are needed. If the old charter did not work, what should this new innovative school be? The answer is in the data. Children learn from children who are learning!

Flawed School Bill: What is wrong?

Here’s a good synopsis of the legal flaws in HB 7069. These constitutional issues need to be at our fingertips:

The bill:

  1. Strips the authority of local school boards to review charter school applications and enforce minimum quality standards e.g. earn a school grade of at least a ‘C’ and participate in the Florida Standards Assessment program.

  2. Violates the constitutional authority of school boards to levy property taxes to support schools by requiring revenue to be shared with privately owned charter schools.

  3. Allows some charters to hire uncertified teachers.

The courts may have to decide whether or not to throw out these provisions. Citizens need to decide whether politicians should have made these decisions in the first place. There is more at stake than money, which is a huge issue for the maintenance of public school buildings. The control of local schools by a few politicians who manipulated the legislative process by holding meetings in secret and launching legislation at the last minute is a practice that robs everyone of the right to know what is happening.

Public School Awareness Month

Alachua County Cities and the County Commission to Proclaim:

SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The Alachua County League of Women Voters, Council of PTAs, Education Foundation, and the University of Florida Education College Council have jointly requested that the month of September be proclaimed: Public School Awareness Month. This Proclamation has been submitted to the Alachua County Commission and to all Alachua County City Commissions.
We ask our community to become engaged. Our public schools are threatened. This is a critical time to understand what these threats are and how our district is responding. You can learn ways to make a difference by attending these events:

• “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. UF’s “Schools on Screen” Symposium—September 20 at 6pm in the U.F. Pugh Hall.

• Forum: OUR Local Schools Now and Moving Forward, September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 am. featuring:

Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Renovating Old Schools” and a panel discussion about making our schools responsive to our children’s needs. Sue Legg will speak about how State policies led us to where we are. Valerie Freemen and Anne Wolf will reveal the Culturally Responsive Teaching programs that Alachua County is launching. Come see how well this fits together as we move forward here.

• Florida Premier of ‘Passion To Teach’ and discussion led by the film producer, Bart Nourse.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

See our webpage: http://acpublicschoolsawareness.org/