Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, February 28, 2011

Educational Autocrats in USA

I just had to laugh when I read a recent account In Education Week about the Teach for America 20th Anniversary in Washington.
Speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, were asked to compare the fight for educational equity to the uprising in Egypt that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Both Canada and Klein are similar type autocrats as Mubarak. Canada doesn't see the value of the teacher union as being a check and balance set up to counter poor leadership. Klein has a record for attempts to union bust. In both cases, neither have shown themselves to be educational reformers as the article hinted. Canada runs his Zone with an iron fist and Klein was always a bully. There is no data that shows either men has been successful in their endeavors except from what we hear from them. The same kind of data, each would use to dismiss a teacher when used on them would find both men wanting.
The jury is still out on the effects of TFA, yet Duncan praised it: "U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised TFA for changing the face of public education in this nation." Even Hollywood with its movies can't advance the careers of Canada nor TFA as we see the data shows them producing SOSO results and nothing extraordinary to label them Superman or changers of education. The work of the everyday teachers who collaborate in a community are our super heroes. People like Canada, Klein, and Duncan show themselves as the autocrats they are when it comes to education.

Yes, we need a revolution, but not one led by the likes of Canada, Klein, Duncan, or others of their ilk. They have proven via the data, that they are misinformed and dangerous to the educational landscape. They are our dangerous autocrats.

The revolution we need in education is one that has fueled those in the Mideast, technology. In a changing world, especially one driven by technology, we continue to see leaders discuss education from the way they were taught, evaluate it from that same dismal vantage point, rather than discuss what it could be if we used technology. Autocrats, don't lke democracy, it is messy, and technology certainly makes things more democratic and messy at times. Also autocrats don't have the control they need to survive, because they lack vision. They possess power derived from deception and perpetrated by lies and/or fear.

As I said earlier, at first I laughed, then I stopped because of the irony in asking the wrong people at the wrong celebration, because they are our Mubarak. America is in a battle of its own that is similar to our breathen in the Mideast. Maybe Madison, Wisconsin is our Cairo.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The once dreaded five paragraph essay

There was a time not too long ago when English teachers debated about the use of and devotion to the five paragraph essay as being too structured and too stifling in the creative process of writing. I suspect than many of us who demonized that genre would now see it as the promised land in our English class if we look at current trends. When students are limited to 128 characters on their respective hand held app, asking them to generate a five paragraph essay has become a herculean task. In addition, text spelling is becoming the norm and trying to explain the idea of a more formal spelling eludes our young scholars as they don't comprehend the difference between what they write and what we expect as formal writing in an English class. There was a time when our scholars knew that they had different vocabularies and writing styles. That is not so anymore. Another negative by-product is our scholars inability to spend more than a nano reading. A short story has become a novel. Seeing more than 100 words on a computer screen exhausts our weary scholars who need to scurry away to recharge while BBMing their friends of the torture they are undergoing in English class. Oh and they can't type. They are all thumbs.

Today I read "Effective Use of Digital Tools Seen Lacking in Most Tech-Rich Schools" in Education Week. I have always advocated this notion and it was lovely to see Larry Cuban, now emeritus, quoted. He and I used to have wonderful conversations in the 90's about tech use. We always took opposite sides. He missed the point then and still does. Schools of Education have failed to do their part in preparing future teachers in the art of using technology in their classes. If other industries and businesses can use technology in their daily operation then why has education lagged so far behind the curve? We don't use technology in schools because we filter and ban their use and we don't teach our teachers at any level how to use the technology. NYC doesn't have a Department of Technology any more nor is there any technology leadership in NYC schools. Schools are a No Technology zone.

Another sad trend has been represented well on a recent conversation on a NWP technology list which is gaga over programs like Glogster and other programs that have the students generating posters. Posters in English and writing classes. What are you kidding me? Talk about the "dumbing" down of our education. This is why our students can't read or write more than 128 characters. Teachers are excited about a poster program, not a writing tool, not about writing essays. Blogs have been shelved as being too hard or too much work I hear. Now we should be excited about not just a poste, but a group created poster from our English scholars. This from the National Writing Project, Yikes!

I'm still an advocate for the creation of webpages that provide a proper forum for essay writing, creative writing, and publishing. I still herald the advancement of technology in schools as a tool that replaces the book and paper that we used yesterday and the limited publishing of literary magazines replaced with webpages for every scholar to use to express hir opinions on matters of import, to explain hir knowledge of things, and to create hir own work. All of this is published and is presented and has replaced the atoms publishing medium by the digitally publishing medium. The trend I am seeing is taking this technology and letting it bastardize our work as teachers because teachers fail to get it. In some cases it is their fault because they accept the 128 character limit and they have not been taught in our Schools of Ed how to use this technology. The technology innovators are those who learned on their own and at their own expense and have had to suffer the insults and ignorance of colleagues and supervisors who don't understand technology in the classroom. When it comes to the lack of technology use in schools, teachers may deserve the disparaging words about them. Would we accept a non technology oriented professional in any other industry?

Does this image represent teachers' evolution in a technology age?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Last In, First Out

Let's be clear, LIFO, is not about education, it is about budgets and union busting. As I read and hear arguments to repeal, LIFO policies, budget constraints are the first item listed. We know school leaders will eliminate the higher paid teachers and find reasons for dismissal while coddling the cheaper, less experienced teacher who may not be good for the classroom. Yes, it is about merit and methods of merit are not being discussed as much as eliminating the higher paid teachers just because they are highly paid. I haven't heard any method of evaluating teachers except by the price tag, and that is why we need unions. If the voices of repealing LIFO came up with a worthy method for evaluating teachers beyond price tag, we might be able to participate in the solution. I also know I am a better teacher now than I was after ten years of teaching. When I reflect on my second or third year as a teacher, I get real scared. Consider how we choose a doctor, a lawyer, a building contractor in our lives. We look for experience and word of mouth. Let's use this same rubric in selecting teachers for our children.

I haven't seen any study about the length of service by our younger teachers. During my 35 years, I have found the attrition rate of younger teachers is higher than the older teachers, who make teaching a career. The teachers who leave after a few years of teaching write books about teaching or make movies. The point is they aren't teaching anymore and could have been kept instead of a career teacher who is now unemployed. My experience is that younger teachers don't see it as a career as much as a job before they discover what they want to be when they grow up or in the cases of our female colleagues who become mothers. I have seen that about 50% of women who have babies don't return.

Perhaps a compromise would be accepted if once a teacher reaches ten years, then all teachers with ten or more years in service would be in the same pool. Certainly the number ten is arbitrary and could be lowered to seven. But eliminating a good 25 year teacher to keep two two year teachers is stupid. That 25 year teacher has experience those two two year teachers can't replace for many years, if they stay 25 years. Chances are one of them won't.

The older teacher has made a commitment to the school and the community. That teacher will now be a drain on the very government trying to fix the budget. That older teacher may have a mortgage, kids in college, and is a taxpayer. When this older worker is now out of work, the money saved initially becomes a drain later on. Now that's bad economics. The two two year teachers are not yet established and may not be part of the community or school base in a year. They are more fluid then the established teacher. Younger teachers are more transient. I'd propose a study done by school districts to explore this very idea of who stays and who goes in an school year and over the last ten years to see a pattern to help them make a more informed decision. When we hear leaders speak about attrition, what is the percentage of age group who leave at the end of a school year over the past ten years? I know they will be surprised to find those numbers shocking as it pertains to the younger teachers.

The knee jerk reaction we are now seeing across this country as it pertains to unions and teachers is not far thinking remedies but instead is elevating an immediate pain with a solution that will have dire ramifications in the future especially in our schools if we start seeing the teaching career become a revolving door.

Good thinking is not happening right now in our state capitals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two new baby girls

On February 17, 2011 at 8:18 & 8:19PM in NYC, my daughter Emily had twin girls. Greg, the father, and I are sharing the duties while mom rests.

See more.