Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sandy Hook: Celebrating Lives in the Midst of Death

As my husband and I were reading about and processing the news from Newtown, Connecticut my husband pointed me to Dawn Hochsprung’s twitter feed. “People should read that,” he said. I kind of shrugged. I am quite an active user but after reading this 2011 New York Times article I have mixed feelings about social media and what happens with it when we die. Even though twitter feeds are (mostly) public, I feel as if I am vaguely invading someone’s privacy when I look at the feeds of the living, let alone the deceased. But still, I looked.

This was the tweet that really got to me:

Just that Thursday night, my sons had performed in their 4th grade winter concert at the public elementary school that serves our community, also a small town in a rural area, also wearing white tops and black pants. The theme was "December Around the World." I was expecting it to be Christmas- and Santa-carol centric, but it wasn't at all. It was actually, well, international, and the Hannukah story wasn't the usual sanitized version.

While his siblings do, one of my sons doesn't like music class that much. He enjoys listening to music and playing instruments but he doesn't like singing, dancing and performing--he's much more of a visual artist. As he complained more and more about “play practice,” my husband and I empathized with him, but kept telling him what a great experience it was to practice a group of songs and put together a show and to perform it. We reminded him that being exposed to many subjects and experiences was part of elementary school and part of being a well-educated individual. These are the moments when my husband and I tell our children that it's important to do things they don't enjoy all that much, that they serve a greater educational purpose (versus doing test prep worksheets). As he got older, we explained he could dedicate more time to his specific interests, but that all of these broader, more various earlier exposures would help him to figure out what those interests might be. As I watched him the night of the performance, I knew he wasn’t enjoying himself, but I was so proud of him singing and dancing and doing his best all the same.

My husband, like me an education blogger and critic of Obama and Bush administration education policies, felt that people should look at these pictures, at her tweets, to see what Dawn Hochsprung actually did besides giving her life in attempts to stop Adam Lanza, and what it is to be an educator in an elementary school. Her life and the lives of the educators who died alongside her may have been epitomized by their last minutes, but that’s not all they comprised. So I felt like, yes, he's right, it does (unfortunately via a terrible tragedy) shine a light on what schools are to communities and on what many educators do every single day.

And just as the all of the educators who died that day behaved heroically, many of the "small" things that educators do are heroic, too. There is heroism in staying late in the evening to put on the 4th grade winter concert, so that a group of kids, some belting it out happy as can be and some more reluctant can feel what it is to rehearse and perform a body of songs. There is heroism in getting a reluctant and stage frightened kid to sing and dance for an audience as if he weren't. There is heroism in sharing the joy of music as your parents and community watch and maybe sing along together at the end. 

The Sandy Hook  teachers may be heroes to the nation in their deaths, but they were also heroes in their community in life.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sex, Shit 'n Standardized Testing!

First, there was this:
"You get this rage up that we're wasting time testing, and you're making testing shorter and shittier," Coleman said at a Brookings panel Thursday.

That's David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core English & Language Arts Standards, and president of the College Board. This isn't the first time Coleman has cursed when speaking publicly about education. Several months ago, he reportedly said in another public speaking engagement, “as you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

But people do give a shit about what language you use. As I always tell my students, cursing is not wrong, but there's a time and a place for it and an art to it, and school and academic work (making exceptions for creative writing, but you still have to have a justification for it there) are not some of them. Furthermore, I tell them, when you curse instead of using other words, people think you're not smart, that you're not articulate. And, it lets me, as a teacher, know that you need more vocabulary enrichment.

How are we take one of the lead advocates of the more "rigorous" and intellectual ELA Common Core Standards seriously when he doesn't see fit to use appropriate, professional, and specific language when advocating for the standards and for their accompanying tests. Coleman may be thinking I'm brash, but all I can think is, No, you're full of disdain. Disdain for teachers, disdain for students, and disdain for engaging in any process of education reform.

It also epitomizes a chasm in status and experience between reformers like Coleman and the students they are trying to help. What would happen if a student were to use the word "shit" or "shittier" in a Common Core aligned essay exam? How about on the writing section of the SAT? How about on the College Board's AP English exam? What happens when students curse in school, especially at a "no excuses" school with a rigid, zero-tolerance code of conduct? A white elite like Coleman can curse without consequence in public academic or professional settings, while a poor black kid using the same profanity publicly in a KIPP-esque school would likely face severe consequences.

In the same article, there's this other pro-longer and -better testing statement quoted:
Such changes can bring anxiety for the test takers. Gerard Robinson, the former education chief of Florida and Virginia, put it this way: "I won't pretend that tests don't matter and there's no anxiety -- but I also tell people there's anxiety with sex. There's anxiety with sex, but there isn't any talk about getting rid of that."
Standardized testing is just like sex? What? This, from a former state education chief? Are you kidding me?!?! This guy is in charge of people who educate children? First of all, unlike Coleman's statement, this statement is not in any way logical. Second of all, and more gravely, it's indecent. 

Is that what I am supposed to say to my test-stressed children--that their anxiety surrounding high-stakes testing is just like anxiety surrounding sex? Is that supposed to help? What if a K-12 student asked critical questions about standardized testing and their teacher responded in the same fashion that Robinson answered? How would that go over? Wouldn't Campbell Brown come after him with a pitchfork? Finally, this statement indicates that Robinson, too, is disdainful of criticisms of high-stakes testing and that he refuses to engage with the substance of those criticisms. For teachers, for parents, and for students, this anxiety, this stress, is not a joke, and it's not like sex.

If people like Coleman and Robinson expect parents and teachers like me to take seriously what they say, they need show these topics some respect. Save that other kind of talk for the StudentsFirst locker room.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A project-based loving billionaire with no education expertise is still a billionaire with no education expertise.

Another billionaire is out to reform education. George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion in cash and stock and plans to spend most of his fortune on education. Lucas is already involved in education with an educational foundation that includes the website Edutopia.

Lucas's announcement has led to calls for him to take a different, more enlightened and humane road than the standardized test-based approach to education championed by Bill Gates, the Waltons, and Eli Broad. And rightly so. It has also led to some public hand-wringing from edu-thinkers who feel that Edutopia's approach to education is too nebulous and sparky but bland and will accomplish a bunch of "visionary" nothing.

Look, when people like George Lucas say things like:
"It's scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal."
I brace myself for the descent into pseudo-scientific, new-age hokiness. The school-as-factory metaphor doesn't work for me. I don't know what it means. I may have various negative reactions to some of the things that are done in public schools today, but I never think of them as factory-like, partly because I haven't spent much time in factories, and I bet George Lucas hasn't, either.

I also feel the same way about terms like "21st Century learning." Did people's brains work so differently in past centuries than they do today? I don't think so. When you comb through information on the internet, you are relying on the same skills and knowledge-base that you did when you were searching reference books in the library. It's just the tools (books vs. computers) that have changed.

On the other hand, I am just as averse to the term "progressive education," not to mention "ultra-progressive education." Again, I don't know what those terms mean. While policies and the content of some curricula certainly can be so, education and teaching methods are not progressive or conservative any more than a computer or computer software is progressive or conservative. They are tools and ways of doing things.

Edutopia is not some project-based boogeyman that is coming after my children. It's not some cult that has brainwashed teachers. While I may have reservations about some of the ideas they promote, I and most people recognize that Edutopia is a clearing house, a resource. That's all. Also, at this point I'd be happy to see my children spend a little more time on projects and much less on awful high-stakes testing.

I, for one, am glad that George Lucas seems to be staying out of policy, but mostly I think that George Lucas's foray into education is a symptom of a bigger problem. The money in our country is concentrated too much at the top: a few uber-wealthy individuals have out-sized power and influence and the rest of us have too little. There is no more expertise, just wealth and celebrity. This is not the way a democratic, educated society functions.

Whether or not I am sympathetic to George Lucas's ideas, his money will ultimately disrupt and corrupt public education the same way Gates, Broad, and the Walton's money has. The best he could do would be to just give grants for underfunded and unglamorous staples. Your school has no library? Here's a grant to make a library. Your school has no nurse? Here's a grant to hire a registered nurse. The kids at your school have no supervision after school? Here's a grant for sports and extracurricular activities.

A plutocrat is a plutocrat is a plutocrat. And I've had quite enough of the lot of them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dear Reformies: Please stop speaking for my children.

(Updated with quotes: 11/4/2012)
“I love teachers – effective teachers," she told a smaller group of lawmakers and educators that day. "No one has a harder job than an inner-city teacher. There is nothing more noble than working as a teacher.
But if you raise some of these issues you are labeled 'anti-teacher' or a 'union-buster.' I'm not a union buster. But teachers have a very effective organization lobbying on their behalf. I want to be effective representing the other side, our children.”
-Michelle Rhee 

"In the 21st century, public schools need the kind of innovation that private firms like Google, Twitter, and Apple exemplify (just as there's room for innovation from non-profits like CK12 or Khan Academy). For the sake of our children, it's time to open our minds, move past ideology, roll up our sleeves together, and get to work."
-Joel Klein 

To all of the Chris Arnolds, Michelle Rhees, and Joel Kleins  out there:

How many kids do you have? How many are in the public schools? How many kids have you taught? I ask because I am a teacher and am a parent with actual children in public schools and I haven't seen any evidence that the policies you endorse are helping students or helping my children. In fact, I see that the policies you support are harmful: harmful to public schools, harmful to quality education, harmful to students, harmful to my children.

I understand that you don't agree. That you probably believe in the mission of the industry you work for (though not, apparently, enough to tell anyone that you work in said industry). That's fine (though I'd love to know how many kids you have actually, verifiably, and concretely helped by touting the the policies you do). I think your beliefs are misinformed, but everyone has beliefs and, for better or worse, many of them aren't the same as mine.

I understand that you and your superiors and fellow education reform industry leaders  have a living to make. Peddle your gadgets and your software. Be an education consultant or a professional development vendor. Run your "education reform" organization. Add to the ranks of the over-sized lobbying industry. Be a PR flack. Continue the proliferation of "failing" schools, but make a tidy profit at it, too. Raise your money. Make your living. Help politicians to make a living. I could never look at myself in the mirror doing what you do, but that's just me. Everyone needs to make a living, especially writers. After all, who gives "crap" about creativity when the kiddies can't read, right?

But there is a role you seem confused about. See, you represent an ideology. You work for a company or an organization or contributors. You represent them. You don't represent kids and you certainly don't represent my kids. So stop acting as if you speak for my children. Stop ruining their education in their name. You don't know my children. You don't live in my community. You don't work or volunteer in the schools my children go to. You're not helping my children, their peers, or their teachers (not even the excellent ones). You don't know what's best for them and their education. I represent my children. I speak for them. My children speak for themselves. I know them and their teachers know them. And from what I can tell and what they experience, your ideology is all wrong for them and their education. If you have them, you can speak for your own children. If you don't, well, promote your ideology and your business in your name.

Don't you dare promote it in the name of my children or in the name of their education.

Yours truly,

Rachel Levy

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Virginia, the Bigotry of Crude Expectations

Recently (or not so recently by the time I'm posting this), the state of Virginia was granted a waiver from NCLB requirements. This has been a relief for many, but it's also caused further stress, in that it exchanges one yoke for another. Fairfax County, for example, had no plans to evaluate their teachers according to the standardized test scores of their students, but now is being required to due to conditions of the waiver.

However, because the goals in the waiver application for some children are lower than for others, there have also been cries of low expectations and racismVirginia has since re-written their goals. Certainly, we should not have one set of expectations for one set of children and a lower one for another set simply based on their socio-economic status or race--the outcry is understandable. 

But, to me, those folks have got their eyes on the wrong prize. If boosting scores on low-quality multiple choice tests is their greatest educational goal for Virginia's children, then they've got very low and crude expectations in the first place, and our schools and our children will only rise so high as the low and crude expectation that have been set.

This past summer, I finally read Linda Darling-Hammond's great work, The Flat World and Education. From that, it's clear that Virginia schools also need "adequate funding and equitable opportunities to learn" and "intelligent, reciprocal accountability:"
In the current prevailing paradigm in the United States, accountability has been defined primarily as the administration of tests and the attachment of sanctions to low scores. Yet, from the perspective of children and parents, this approach does not ensure high-quality teaching each year, nor does it ensure that students have the courses, books, materials, supports services, and other resources they need to learn. In this paradigm, two-way accountability does not exist: Although the child and the school are accountable to the state for test performance, the state is not accountable to the child or school for providing adequate educational resources.
Furthermore, test-based accountability schemes have sometimes undermined education for the most vulnerable students, by narrowing curriculum and by creating incentives to exclude low-achieving students in order to boost test scores. Indeed, although tests can provide some of the information needed for an accountability system, they are not the system itself. Genuine accountability should heighten the probability of good practices occurring for all students, reduce the probability of harmful practice, and ensure that there are self-corrective mechanisms in the system--feedback, assessments, , and incentives--that support continual improvement. 
If education is to actually improve and the system is to be accountable  to students, accountability should be focused on ensuring the competence of teachers and leaders, the quality of instruction, and the adequacy of resources, as well as the capacity of the system to trigger improvements. In addition to standards of learning for students, which focus on the system's efforts on meaningful goals, this will require standards of practice that can guide professional training, development, teaching, and management at the classroom, school, and system levels, and opportunity to learn standards that ensure appropriate re sources to achieve desired outcomes. (p. 301)

In Virginia, many make the mistake of using "achievement" and "test scores" interchangeably, as if that's all achievement is. What about research papers, essays, and creative and analytic writing? What about works of art and musical performances? What about science projects, spelling bees, reading olympics, robotics contests, debate clubs, student government, conflict resolution, and mini-UN? What about vocational education? What about teacher-generated assessments and tests? What about looking at the education of ALL of Virginia's children like this Virginia superintendent does? Oh right, subjects beyond reading and math are not important, especially not for low-income children and children of color who need to get their math and reading test scores up before they can engage in rich and meaningful learning. For sub group students, it's "test scores" as "achievement" first and only. 

As long as policy makers and pundits continue to conflate "achievement" with "test scores," and as long as the public accepts that, the achievement gap will remain. As long as opportunity and equity gaps remain, so will the achievement gap. Excluding students who struggle to score high enough on low-quality standardized tests from participating in rich and meaningful learning and making test scores the currency of our public education system is the lowest expectation of all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's with many Democratic Party leaders supporting people who support people who support destroying the Democratic Party?

I'm going to steal a page out of Diane Ravitch's blogging book (stylistically).

I'm still having a hard time understanding education reform politics.

I do not understand how Democrats and progressives put up with self-proclaimed liberals and liberal groups such as Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, StudentsFirst, Stand for Children, and Democrats for Education Reform.

I wrote about this before, although not as directly as I am going to here.

All of the afore-mentioned groups and individuals either give money to or make money for or support Republican politicians and organizations. See here, here, here, here,  here, here, and here.

These candidates are anti-women's rights, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant.

So Campbell Brown wants to help protect students from teachers who are sexual predators and who are protected by unions (just for the record, I believe that is anti-union propaganda). Okay. But what if a teacher has sexual intercourse with a student (which I agree is a fireable if not criminal offense) or if a student is raped by a teacher and then gets pregnant? Campbell Brown's husband (Romney adviser Dan Senor) and Michelle Rhee (who Scott supports) give money to or want to elect some people who belong to the party that would force the targeted/raped student who got pregnant to have the teacher offender's baby.

Also, they are working to elect people who don't accept homosexuality and don't want to protect homosexual students from bullying.

And, they are endorsing anti-immigrant candidates.

And what about the threats that GOP-endorsed legislation poses to voting rights?

On what planet does it make sense for the DNC and high-profile Democrats, such as Barack Obama, to support these groups and people? How is it that they get to call themselves Democratic allies and liberals when they are actively supporting people who want to destroy the Democratic Party and dis-empower their supporters?

UPDATE (2:30 pm): Also, don't Democratic donors to and supporters of SFC, SF, and DFER realize that when they support and give money to these organizations, they are helping GOP candidates who are part of an anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, anti-reproductive rights platform. Why would they want to work to elect people with those views?

I am not asking these questions facetiously; I really don't get it. What is it that I am missing? Someone please explain it to me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When the Common Core ELA Standards = Teaching Reading Strategies 2.0

This week, I have another post on the Core Knowledge Blog, this one about the Common Core,  complex text, and teaching reading strategies. It seems that some Common Core advocates are operating on the assumption that complex text is something you can explicitly teach kids to read. I see this as the same old reading strategies approach to literacy that hasn't been fruitful with the current reading standards. Until we change how we approach developing literacy (beyond decoding) differently, struggling readers will continue to struggle, no matter the standards:

Although I’ve been critical of the Common Core Standards, that they focus on reading strategies was not one of my criticisms; to the contrary, that they emphasized content knowledge, a greater study of literature, and more and more complex writing were selling points. But this account makes the Common Core ELA Standards sound as if they areskill-heavy, or at least that teachers are being guided to implement them as if they were. The problem is you can’t really teach something like “text complexity” any more than you can teach something like the “main idea.” Just because the texts are more “complex” doesn’t make using them in the place of simpler texts a superior approach or any different from the reading strategies approach. Apart from the acknowledgement that all teachers have to teach vocabulary (agreed), there’s no nod to background knowledge or context in Headden’s post. And even teaching vocabulary doesn’t do much good if it’s taught in isolation, though certainly explicitly teaching the meaning of morphemes can help students to build and make meaning of vocabulary.

Read all of it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

So You Think You Can Be an Entrepreneur?

A couple of months ago, there was a twitter exchange between Diane Ravitch and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's press secretary Justin Hamilton about entrepreneurship. Ravitch blogged about it here and there was an especially good summary of it on an Ed Week blog here.

My own tweet was:

Certainly some teachers are entrepreneurial and we should encourage and even teach students to think entrepreneurially (see this amazing project Chad Sansing did with his students). Entrepreneurship plays a unique and needed role in our country, though we should be certain to teach students to be ethical at the same time--to avoid being greedy, avoid treating workers badly, and to not dodge paying taxes

But really, teachers are not entrepreneurs and Diane Ravitch most certainly isn't one (no offense, Diane!). On the contrary, teachers should be intellectuals and thinkers. Indeed a piece in The New Republic, embracing the bill that would eliminate continuing contracts (aka"tenure") in Virginia, putting teachers on one-year contracts, was disturbing as Ravitch said because it's based on the premise that teachers don't have ideas that need protection, that they aren't intellectuals as higher education academics are. Since the majority of K-12 teachers are women, this assertion has a sexist ring to it. However, I mostly find these assumptions and conversations disturbing because they are anti-intellectual. They totally disregard the idea of education as an intellectual endeavor and of teaching as intellectual work.

These ideas also seem rather anti-entrepreneurial. It's a one-size-fits-all concept, that we can fix education by every teacher and educator becoming an entrepreneur. Being a successful entrepreneur--one with a truly original and workable idea--is rare. And now all of these reformy education types are calling themselves entrepreneurs. Are you kidding me?! On what planet does making your greatest goals that all kids will score the same way on the same unreliable tests make you an entrepreneur? That aspiration and the rigidity that accompanies it is not "innovative" or "revolutionary;" it's dreary, dull, and uninspired. So much of current education reform takes the creative, ingenious, critical, and curious elements of the human spirit and just crushes them. Now, I don't believe this is the intent, it's a side effect, but it's a huge, deal-breaking side effect. Furthermore, those who brush aside or ignore such consequences show they fundamentally misunderstand how education and learning works in the first place and hence show they don't belong in the classroom or in any sort educational leadership role.

Then there are the cases where the goals of entrepreneurship conflict with what should be the goals of education, and are achieved successfully at the expense of a rich and meaningful education. For example, the Rocketship schools model is a very entrepreneurial idea: achieve greater efficiency by using more computers to teach kids the content of standardized tests. The adults that run and work for Rocketship make more money; the software, computer, and testing companies profit more than they would; and the government and taxpayers save money. Now I don't think it's a bad idea to have kids practice basic math facts or basic geography facts (see Stack the Countries, for example) on computers; on the contrary, teachers should have access to such tools and if they can cut costs and make better use of their time and expertise using them, so much the better. But with their narrow focus on math and reading and even narrower focus on boosting math and reading test scores (otherwise, they go out of business), I doubt that Rocketship's students are getting a very good education, and while the software they use may be so, Rocketship's instructional practices aren't particularly new or innovative.

So not only are we forgetting about the necessity of intellectuals and actual educators to a well-educated society, we are losing sight of what entrepreneurship means. Just because you call yourself an "entrepreneur" or "innovative" doesn't make it so. Giving central office bureaucrats ridiculous titles like "Chief Talent Officer" and "Success Initiative Portfolio Manager" and "Teacher Effectiveness Systems Support Analyst" and "Director of Special Education Product Solutions" and "Knowledge Management Liaison" won't transform them (or the people who work under them) into entrepreneurs. You're just exchanging one type of evasive, empty jargon for another. They're still bureaucrats, only many of them don't seem to even be good at managing a bureaucracy. Furthermore, just because entrepreneurs are successful at raising test scores or saving money doesn't mean the quality of education they are offering is any good or that their idea is good for students. 

If you want to try to be an entrepreneur, then go into business and product development! If that fails, go run a rental car franchise! Don't stick around education, making it dreadful and being an entrepreneur-wanna-be. It's pathetic. Too bad the amount of harm being done isn't.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's With the Lack of Blogging

I have been a lame blogger the past couple of months. By way of explanation:

1) I've been applying for jobs. By "jobs" I mean work that I care about and like and that is paying. When I decided to take a break from the classroom to write, I gave myself a few years to study and be an apprentice of sorts. That time is up and, shockingly, I have received no offers to come be a master writer. I will certainly remain a writer and that will mean being a perpetual student of writing, but the apprenticeship is done. Unless I am doing it for my own edification or for someone or a publication that also does not make any money, I will not work for free or near-free. It just doesn't feel good and won't help sustain the profession for anyone.

Anyhoo, this all means I've been tweaking resumes, getting people who barely remember or know me to write me recommendations (sounds like a winning strategy, no?), struggling to write professional but not boring cover letters, and filling out the same information over and over again. This all takes time, especially when the process is punctured by rejections. Then I have to get through those and resolve to just work harder and to shut down the discouraged voice in my head. 

2) For both my husband, and our families, education is akin to religion. This past school year, we navigated as parents for the first time high-stakes testing. I hope to write more eloquently and in more detail about this at a later time but for now I'll say we felt powerless, helpless, and angry as we watched our children feel angry, anxious, and wiped out from the testing experience (despite everything their school and teachers did to make it as humane and positive an experience as possible), for the first time counting the days until the end of school. It's worse than what I remember experiencing as a teacher, though this may be because I have taught mostly high school and high school students are more equipped to deal with the long, boring, stressful tests than are eight-year-olds. Needless to say, I am more convinced than ever that high-stakes testing must go. I'm done with being nuanced here. High stakes testing is awful and it stinks and it's making my kids hate school. It's awful for the teachers, it's awful for the students, and it's awful for students' parents. The only people it's not awful for are those in the testing industry, those in the testing-as-education-reform industry, and those politicians who rely upon one or both of those industries . My husband and I both see great value in assessment and testing and tell our children that part of life is being bored and anxious sometimes and doing things you'd rather not. We believe that for the right reasons, that anxiety and stress can be productive. But McTests are not one of those reasons. Our children are smarter than those tests, are more curious than those tests, love knowledge more than those tests, and they deserve better than those tests, and so does every other child who is having their education ruined because of them. 

3) People close to you die, they get hurt, they end relationships, they move, they have celebrations. In light of those, your little old education blog and happenings that seem unrelated to your life become much less important.

4) Victoria Young once made the comment on a post of mine that: 

To have a conversation about how to "fix" what is broken with the education system, we actually have to put ourselves in position to have real dialogue. That doesn't happen when it takes place online only.....
I don't think she meant for me to, but I really took that personally, and it helped give me a good kick in the direction of re-prioritizing.

I took me a few months but I realize that I have grown tired of hearing myself talk and talk about the same things over and over again. I feel like I need to read more and to listen more and absorb more and think more and to do more. At a certain point all of this talk about education and education reform gets too meta, like I'm just talking above all of what's actually happening while it's happening without really knowing what's actually happening. Deep thoughts, I know. I love to think, talk, write education, but I'm not sure what or how much I'm helping any more. I'm trying to do a lot more reading and reflecting.

This is not to say I will not be blogging any longer. I have at least few more things to say, which I am working on, but I want to spend more time being useful, doing education rather than just talking education, and also perhaps find some time to focus on a bit more again on some of this writing and some of that writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

In Defense of Non-fiction

The overarching Common Core vs. No Common Core and Core Knowledge vs. Balanced Literacy debates (see this New York Times article and this Learning Matters segment) have spawned another debate: fiction vs. non-fiction. I think this misses the point and causes their critics to unfairly tarnish “non-fiction” as a genre. My apprehensions about the Common Core Standards aside, just as I defended the lecture several posts ago, I feel compelled to defend non-fiction.

In the creative writing communities I’ve been a part of, there is debate over how much attention to pay to labels such as fiction and non-fiction or poetry and prose. Many advocate for sticking to the designations but others find it needlessly restrictive. Writers will critique the work of other writers not on what it does or what they learn from reading it but on whether it has the proper label affixed to it. This is a good piece of work, but is this really poetry? To which I want to respond: Does it matter? Is that the most worthwhile thing to talk about here? Why get hung up on labels? Literature is literature. Because of the This American Life-Mike Daisey scandal, a similar questioning of David Sedaris’ work is being mounted, but Sedaris is not a scientist or journalist. Does it change his contribution to the understanding of humanity that he’s embellished or made some stuff up, that his work might include fictional accounts? Not in my mind, it doesn’t.

There is a fantastic interview in The Paris Review with John McPhee about his formative experiences as a high school English student, the writing life, being a non-fiction writer, and teaching writing. Here is an excerpt that reflects some of the debates that occur around discussions of labels and fiction vs. non-fiction:

Interviewer: Was there any significant change in terms of interest, or in the way that people viewed nonfiction writing? 
McPhee: The only significant change is that, in a general way, nonfiction writing began to be regarded as more than something for wrapping fish. It acquired various forms of respectability. When I was in college, no teacher taught anything that was like the stuff that I write. The subject was beneath the consideration of the academic apparatus.
Sometime during the eighties I was invited to do a reading at the University of Utah, and I accepted. And several weeks later, the person who approached me got back in touch and said he was really embarrassed and sorry. While he had wanted me to come to Utah and do a reading and talk to students, his colleagues did not. They didn’t approve of the genre I write in. I wrote back to him and said that I really appreciated his wanting me to be there. And certainly I didn’t feel anything toward him but gratitude, but as for his colleagues—when they come into the twentieth century I’ll be standing under a lamp looking at my watch. 
Interviewer: What do you call the type of writing you do? Your course at Princeton has sometimes been called The Literature of Fact and sometimes Creative Nonfiction. 
McPhee: I prefer to call it factual writing. Those other titles all have flaws. But so does fiction. Fiction is a weird name to use. It doesn’t mean anything—it just means “made” or “to make.” Facere is the root. There’s no real way to lay brackets around something and say, This is what it is. The novelists that write terrible, trashy, horrible stuff; the people that write things that change the world by their loftiness: fiction. Well, it’s a name, and it means “to make.” Since you can’t define it in a single word, why not use a word that’s as simple as that?
Whereas nonfiction—what the hell, that just says, this is nongrapefruit we’re having this morning. It doesn’t mean anything. You had nongrapefruit for breakfast; think how much you know about that breakfast. I don’t object to any of these things because it’s so hard to pick—it’s like naming your kid. You know, the child carries that label all through life. 
Sound familiar? Non-fiction was, as science fiction is now (though in light of the recent New Yorker  "Science Fiction Issue," perhaps this is changing), a literary stepchild and remnants of that past disdain, of non-fiction as not being “serious” enough, remain. There are works of non-fiction that are great works and there are works of fiction that are junk. As a writer and voracious consumer of non-fiction, I bristle when critics of the Common Core disparage non-fiction as merely “instructional manuals” or “informational materials” (though, yes, kids need to learn how to read those, too. I, for one, would like for my kid to know how to read a bus schedule and dishwasher detergent directions). Non-fiction informs but it also contributes to our understanding of the human condition as much a fiction does.

As I said in my last post, it doesn’t help when CCS architect David Coleman diminishes fiction and student writing about “feelings," and requiring a fixed ratio of fiction to non-fiction is just as pointless as debating the worth of Sedaris' work based on the ratio of non-fictional to fictional accounts therein. So, yes, let’s beware of the Common Core, but let’s not dismiss non-fiction along the way. Two thoughtless assertions don’t make a thoughtful one.

Some Thoughts on the (ELA) Common Core Standards

The idea of having a basic, broad set of knowledge, concepts, and skills that all Americans should learn about, while leaving plenty of room for teacher discretion and creativity and plenty of time for going deeper, resonates with me. I also would like to see American schools stop teaching reading as a subject and, beyond teaching decoding and a limited teaching of reading strategies, stop teaching it as a transferable skill. Reading strategies are not something to be studied in depth, and teaching reading as a discrete subject is tedious for students and has crowded out the teaching of many other meaty subjects such as science, social studies, the arts, foreign language, literature, and English. When I look at the ELA Common Core Standards and compare them with the ELA/Reading SOLs (Virginia Standards of Learning) for elementary students, I want to cry. I desperately want my children to do more stuff that looks like the ELA CCS, i.e., more studying content, more reading literature, and more complex writing, and a lot less of reading strategies. In substance, the CCS (at least the ELA ones--I can't speak for the math ones) look like the closest thing to good that we're going to get in standards. hat all being said, the CCS make me very nervous. 

First of all, I don’t like the idea of privatizing, centralizing and mandating standards, curricula, assessments for public schools—I think they should be created and maintained under the auspices of public democratic institutions. 

Second, I don’t like that the CCS are being forced on states or on teachers—many teachers feel this is being done to them and not with them. This is a recipe for resentment and poor implementation. How have NCLB and RTTT worked out? That’s right, not well. I'm not confident about doing such things on a grand scale, especially when they are being handed down in such detailed, prescribed, and rigidity-inducing manner. If we could have the CCS without pairing it with the current accountability structure I'd feel much differently about it. The current accountability structure corrupts almost everything that gets filtered through it. Also, yes, the logistics of financing and selling all of the materials and assessments and sorting out matters of intellectual property, all of that gives me pause given the way our economy and financial system is structured right now. I am suspicious of much that gets filtered through that, too. 

And it doesn’t help when CCS architect David Coleman’s talking points includes dismissing student writing about “feelings.” And like so many percentages in education policy (e.g., the “lowest 5% of schools” must get turned around or the “lowest 5% of teachers” must be fired because as long we’re employing certain statistical models there will ALWAYS be a lowest 5%, no matter how satisfactorily anyone is performing and there will always be students not progressing within that same continuum if they’re already performing at 90 – 100%), I find it ridiculously arbitrary that teachers will now be mandated to teach a certain ratio of texts to other texts.

Kathleen Porter-Magee talks about allowing and learning from the Common Core’s failures, about seeing what works and what doesn’t. Yes! Great idea! Let's pilot them! Ooops. The CCS are already terribly far away from any tweaking stage--they're going straight to the big time. I believe teachers when they say the CCS are being rammed down their throats and that in many cases the standards and expectations are developmentally appropriate for our younger students (again, how well has NCLB heeded developmentally appropriate practices, especially for ELLs, given what language acquisition research has shown us). The current accountability structure does not allow for failure, even healthy failure. It's premised on the idea that failure is entirely intolerable, that it is the problem.

Finally, even if we accept that the ELA CCS are superior to most states' current ELA standards, that they're more intellectual and more conducive to critical thinking (and I don't know enough to claim that they do or are), it's going to be very hard to implement them in an intellectual spirit if they're being interpreted and handed down in a decidedly rigid, anti-intellectual manner. Furthermore, if systems that are adopting them are purging the more intellectual, knowledgeable, and critically thinking teachers such as the one I discussed in this post, there won't be anyone left who has the subject knowledge and experience enough to implement them as their architects say they are to be implemented. Autocracy does not beget democracy and no matter how fit and hard working they are, good athletes won't make good soccer coaches if they know next to nothing about the game and about good coaching.

I have no horse in this race, no reason to hope the the CCS will fail, but I think my skepticism is well founded. If I'm wrong about this, I shall only be glad.

UPDATE: My next post is a follow-up to this one.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ssshhhh! Testing in Progress

This is a guest post by a DCPS teacher who wishes to remain anonymous due to fears of reprisal by administrators.

"Ssshhhh! Testing in Progress" 

These signs hang on every classroom door and throughout the hallways of the elementary school where I teach. Bulletin boards throughout the building are plastered with test-taking tips, countdown to testing days, and even testing-themed poetry. Teachers are feverishly reviewing the pages and pages of rules, regulations, and routines that will serve as a survival guide for the next two weeks. Administrators walk around inquiring about the happenings in each classroom, wanting to know how each lesson will contribute to the students' achievement on the upcoming standardized tests. Flyers are sent home describing the stress that will ensue in the following weeks and how we will cover up this anguish with a makeshift “spirit week.” Pajama day, crazy sock day, class color day. I momentarily found myself reminiscing about the days of high school homecoming, but this is no homecoming. Our school has become a den of bubble-sheet masters, nervous teachers, and strangers with clipboards, taking notes on every move made and the potential breaches of test security. 

I’m not sure what's worse, the testing itself or the preparation and anxiety built up beforehand. As I sat through a DC-CAS pep rally, the magnitude of this testing madness hit me like a freight train. This is what children are getting pumped up for? This is what teachers have been “working towards all year”? This is the “pinnacle” of our teaching? I felt like I was in some creepy twilight zone as I watched other teachers and administrators chant and watched the confused students cheer. To see the students get excited about their potential success on the test was not the point of contention for me. The fact that the students are subject to poorly-conceived, low-quality tests and used as pawns to determine educational funding, as well as the fate of their teachers, is not something worth cheering about. 

Other than the pep rally, teachers spent the week prior to the testing in meetings being lectured on the importance of test security, the protocols that would be our bible for the next two weeks, and on just exactly what would happen to us if these rules were not followed. The plans outlined what would happen from the moment the students entered the classroom until the last test was signed back into our testing coordinator. We were instructed to go over the plans, ask any questions we had and be prepared in the weeks to come. Due to the fact that our school was under scrutiny for previous allegations of cheating, we were warned that any negligence in conforming our classrooms and ourselves to these guidelines would result in an investigation and strict consequences.

I planned lessons throughout the meetings and graded papers in the background, only contributing my thoughts in areas which I found to be egregiously unreasonable or unjust. For example, lined paper for scrap paper, smiling at students (this is what they say is “coaching”), and allowing students to stand and stretch during testing would absolutely not be tolerated. As I listened to these rules, I pictured my bubbly bunch of eight year olds' faces. Then, the real bomb was dropped: Absolutely no bathroom breaks during testing unless the child was showing physical signs of distress. In addition, we also needed to prevent multiple bathroom trips by determining how badly each child had to use the restroom. Well, any teacher knows that once one student has “an emergency,” they all have emergencies. How am I to be the judge of the content of each child's bladder? To this I was told it would be easier to deal with angry parents of a child who had wet themselves, than to have to explain the situation to the monitors from central offices. 

I decided that I'd be escorted out by authorities before I let nervous eight year old test-takers wet themselves on my watch. Are we that afraid of losing our jobs that we relinquish our humanity? Are we that desperate to prove that we are not cheating on these  McTests that we deny children their basic needs? This is the “pinnacle” of insanity. This is the “pinnacle” of what an era of high-stakes testing is doing to our children and to our educators. 

As testing was underway I became more and more irritated with not only the rules, but the fact that teachers’ discretion was being undermined by outsiders claiming to be experts on data, but not on children. Who are these people moving chairs from place to place around my room to see my test administration from multiple angles? Why are these strangers writing pages of notes on the condition of my classroom and my position in the room? The thought crossed my mind of just throwing the pile of test booklets in the air and screaming of its insanity, but what good would that do? I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the year with my students who had to put their science projects on the back burner for the two-week testing period. I would never get to see how they turned out if I was punished for breaching test security. I had already been scolded for allowing children to read books after they finished the test, as well as for allowing them to go to the bathroom. I decided to not push any further.   

After being stalked throughout the building for two weeks in order to ensure that I would not change any test answers and spied on from just beyond my classroom door, my anxiety and disgust became overwhelming. After being witness to little children crying with anxiety and acting out in resistance and being forced to sit for hours completing endless assessments that they would most likely never see the results of, my faith in public education was diminishing. Why are teachers subject to this level of disrespect and distrust? Why are students subject to this much of a loss of real learning  time?

Every day, more and more evidence comes out that challenges the reliability and validity of test results and demonstrates the unfairness of using these results to evaluate teachers. But I will comply with the rules and regulations--if for nothing else than to see my students' science projects and to see how much more they will accomplish this year; I am committed to my students and their learning even as I am opposed to the insane high-stakes testing regime that has been imposed on them. I will not, however, allow my students or myself to be de-humanized in the process.

How much longer can we allow our schools to feed the high-stakes testing machine rather than feed students’ imperative to learn? How much longer can we let testing replace teaching and learning? And how much longer can we remain silent throughout it all? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Housing Policy & Educational Opportunity: Some Notes

Today I had the pleasure of being a panelist in Richmond at HOME's (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) Blogger Luncheon on Housing & Opportunity. Besides being treated to a tasty lunch (& free parking!) I got to listen to and partake in interesting conversations about Richmond Metro Area housing, public and mass transportation, families, parenting, entrepreneurship, politics, democratic process and institutions, social media, real estate, communities, and, of course, education. Here I'm going to summarize what I shared there, including links.

Three ways I could think of that housing influences educational opportunities and outcomes are:

1) Housing conditions, meaning the conditions and environment that students and their families live in. Such conditions can affect a child's readiness to learn.

  • Is the dwelling and surrounding neighborhood safe?
  • Is the housing well-maintained?
  • Is there running, potable water? 
  • Is there adequate heating/cooling? Is the heating and cooling affordable? 
  • Is there a lot of noise? Is there a quiet place to study or read?  
  • Is the housing in an area of concentrated poverty? Is the child in an environment causing toxic stress for them and/or for a disproportionate number of their neighbors?
  • What is the air quality in the neighborhood?
  • Is there access to supermarkets and healthy food?
  • Are there adequate public transportation options?
  • Is there access to adequate health care?

2) The strength and existence, even, of a neighborhood school. Studies show that most parents prefer to send their children to schools in their neighborhood. It's more convenient but also serves as a positive community and support systems builder. Of course, this practice can conflict with making schools diverse and providing equality of access, which bring me to point 3.

3) Housing and zoning policies. Economic integration of housing and neighborhoods is an over-looked yet proven tool for school reform (N.B.: I am by no means saying it's the only one).

  • According to the (must-read!) book The Color of Their Skin about the Richmond Public Schools desegregation process (the book also covers other districts in Virginia), school desegregation only occurred in any substance for a few years before the schools in Richmond proper and the surrounding areas re-segregated. Busing was a temporary and heavily protested solution. Housing policies needed to change but did not. In fact, zoning policies became more discriminatory, serving as de facto segregation laws.
  • According to a study reported in 2010 by The Century Foundation, low-income students in Montgomery County, Maryland, who go to high-performing public schools in more affluent districts do better academically than their peers who live in lower-income districts attending schools with majority low-income populations, even if those schools are given more resources.
  • Furthermore, a study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program released last week showed that metropolitan areas' housing policies keep low-income students from attending high-performing schools. Restrictive or exclusionary policies that prohibit the development of apartment buildings and smaller houses on smaller parcels cause economic segregation. 
  • In high-performing, mixed-SES schools, all kids benefit from: lower rates of teacher and principal turnover; parents with more time and resources to give to the school; parents who feel more empowered to advocate for rich, meaningful, and vital educational opportunities; fewer families who are under significant stress; and being part of a diverse, pluralistic learning community.
  • Additional links:

  1. Study of Montgomery County schools shows benefits of economic integration
  3. Interactive: Housing Costs, Zoning and School Access:
  4. The New Brookings Report on Economic Segregation

  6. Could new zoning laws help educate poor kids?
  7. Study Links Zoning to Education Disparities
  8. Education For Poor Students Threatened By Exclusionary Housing Policies, Report Says

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parent Jiggernaut Follow-Up: Opting out vs. Opting In

This is a follow-up to my post from earlier today:

Some people have asked me why we don't opt our kids out of testing such as this movement encourages people to do. That is definitely under consideration. My reluctance with that is two-fold:

1) I see value in the disruptive route--there are many ways to effect change. I am grateful to have been made aware of my rights as a parent and I see value in publicizing those rights. All power to unitedoptout. But I am not a disruptor. I'm a persuader (though apparently not a very successful one if measured by actions taken after reading this blog). I'd much rather try to reason with people first, citing evidence, and then try to work something out collaboratively without being disruptive, especially if children are involved.

2) Even if I did opt my kids out of the official standardized tests (in my state of Virginia they are the SOLs), that would not change everything that leads up to the tests or everything that the tests drive. In fact, if there really were only four testing days (in 3rd grade there are four SOL tests) with four tests at the end of the school year, I would not care so much. I might not care at all. It's everything else that bothers me. I don't want to opt out of the tests themselves as much as I want to opt my children out of excessive test prep, practice and benchmark tests (which mirror the official tests), as well as out of a test-narrowed curriculum. I want to opt in to rich and meaningful curriculum, to more hands-on learning, to more inter-disciplinary studies, to field trips, to more recess, to more art, to more music, to more theater, to more PE, to more history, to more civics, to more science, to more "life" skills, to a better education.

If I am going to my children's school or even school district office to tell them as a parent that I want a richer and more meaningful curriculum, a more joyful and interesting school experience for my children, one that capitalizes on children's curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and their response is We agree but we have no control over that then that's a problem. That's a big problem. And I don't see this being solved at the root by parent trigger-type laws or by the current federal and state education policies that dictate the very practices I find wanting. If the school or districts are structured such that power is not theirs to relinquish in the first place, with no flexibility to grant educators, then how can I as a parent, without there being any real change in policy or power hierarchies, locate any real power to make or advocate for change in how and what my children are learning?

Parent Jiggernaut

As a parent who used to be in the classroom, I sometimes struggle with which perspective to think from: from that of a parent or from that of a teacher. Becoming a parent made me a much better and more understanding teacher. Conversely, strategies I used in teaching and things I learned there about human nature and interacting with children have proven invaluable to me as a parent. Interacting with other people's children, of course, is not the same thing as interacting with my own. My own children can tick me off in ways my students never could; I can have a hard time getting to that calm, clinical space with my own kids, even as I know I'd make fewer mistakes if I could get there.

So sometimes I feel conflicted when it comes to advocacy and opinions. Watching my own children develop has taught me a lot about how people learn and has challenged some of my old (teacher's) thinking. On the one hand, I have much less tolerance, for example, for constructivist approaches and for the teaching of reading strategies and skills. On the other hand, I appreciate that constructivists envision schools as meaningful, joyful, and relevant places. It breaks my heart whenever my children are driven to tears, overwhelmed by the tedium and stress they sometimes feel at school, which is in contrast to the how they joyfully think and engage in learning outside of school. I understand that reading strategies are emphasized out of a desire to equip students with the tools to be successful learners. My children enjoy their reading block even if it's unclear how much they are actually learning from it when there is not much curricular coherence to it.

So, to get to the point of this post, especially as the topic has been popular in edu-news lately, I have been thinking a lot about parent trigger laws and actions. Also, my own daughter will be starting kindergarten next year and the topic of school quality and parent activism has come up on the playground at her preschool, especially since many of her classmates also will be starting kindergarten, though unlike her, many don't have older siblings who have already been through it.

The situation in Desert Trails in Southern California, especially struck me. Some parents organized to pull a parent trigger on their neighborhood school because they felt their kids weren't learning what they were supposed to, though it sounds as if the parents were really trying to work with the district. I'm not going to get into the process there or discuss the ins and outs of what may or may not have happened there. What really struck me was what the parents wanted, why they were organizing a a parent trigger: They want smaller classes, more art, music, and other subjects beyond reading and math. The parents refer to these as "reforms" but most educators would call them essentials; most public schools and educators want these things as well.  It seems, to me at least, that it is the state that isn't providing what they want. Surely, there are other problems and I don't blame these parents for being upset. I'd be upset. But it sounds like they want the school to provide what the state doesn't have the will or means to provide.

So, if we grant parents more choice or power to turn their schools into charters, for example, is the charter going to provide what they want? Will parents be more engaged or involved? My sense is that perhaps in the short run they will be, but I'm not sure about the long run. I tend to agree with Diane Ravitch and other detractors that public schools or public spaces do not belong only to the group of people currently using them; they belong to the community, including future community members. Furthermore, once the school is turned over to private or unaccountable hands and is detached from any democratic process, the parents will have even less say. Parents Across America explained this in their statement in opposition to parent trigger-type solutions, saying that they won't ultimately result in meaningful parent engagement or voice (also relevant is their position on real parent empowerment). It does seem like parents get hooked in and then used to make a change that ultimately leaves them with little role in the new or parent-trigger-changed school. But that's ultimately what parents should be after: more of a role and more of a voice.

In my own (older) children's school, we are navigating excessive and unhealthy high-stakes testing. I am not opposed to testing but to developmentally inappropriate and high-stakes testing. It is corrupting what and how my children learn and what and how they are taught. I want my children to learn more science, social studies, the arts, PE, foreign languages, and practical skills. If I organize a group of parents to take over the school, will this change? I don't see how, not as long as the current policies stay in place. This is where we as parents need to go to central administrations, school boards, elected officials, legislators, and other decision makers. It is their policies and legislation that are eroding the quality of education my children receive; it is not the teachers or their principals. So, here I am in a tricky position. I support the school and teachers (my children have yet to have a "bad" teacher) in my community but I feel I must contest the bad practices they are forced to implement.

In my own conversations with other parents, I often hear them talk about school ratings. At the same time, they bemoan the state of the curriculum--the lack of art, music, science, social studies, unstructured play. I try, diplomatically, to remind them that school ratings (such as those in Great Schools) tend to be based on test scores. If we as parents use or value those ratings to judge schools, then that is what our schools are going to aspire to. If we rate or value a school based on the curriculum they offer (such as more art and music) and their pedagogy or instructional practices, then that is what they will aspire to (and that's what I'd argue we want them to aspire to). It's not that I don't look at the test scores because I do, but it's a matter of the context I consider them in and the judgments I make based on them.

It seems like what we need is more democracy, not less; to build sustainable, long-term parent engagement. Even though I am a relatively well-informed parent, sometimes even I don't know what parent engagement looks like or should look like. I started parenting simply thinking of all the things my struggling students were missing and built from there. Everything I knew would have helped my students do better academically and learn more, I made sure to do as a parent. That often seems to me like the greatest gift I can give my children, their teachers, and their peers. But then being involved in their schooling is another step, but how much involvement is appropriate? When help or feedback is requested from school, I do my best to answer the call. I express my displeasure at all of the high-stakes testing, I state clearly that I won't be doing any test prep at home and then I support as much as I can in a positive way what I'd like to see more of in schools. I am trying to help the art teacher get an award in the form of a big grant so that she'll bring back resources to classroom teachers. I participate and volunteer in book swaps. My husband taught an after school chess club. When surveys are sent out, I complete them. I offer to serve on long-term planning committees. I volunteer in classrooms. Are we doing too much? Too little?

While I recognize the expertise of my children's teachers and having been a teacher and given the current climate, I acknowledge the limitations and stresses they are under, I try to subvert the high-stakes testing, test prep, and narrowing of the curriculum in a positive way. But there's only so far this goes because for now none of that changes the continued unhealthy emphasis on standardized testing. It doesn't change the amount of data collection that takes place via developmentally inappropriate and misery-inducing standardized tests. It doesn't change the current realities that my children are learning in and that their teachers are teaching in. That's why I have real sympathy for people like me who choose to home school (and there are a lot where I live). I cheered Dana Goldstein's defense of public schooling versus home schooling, but I also know that it's an easy thing to defend when you don't have a child who melts down at home in tears and anger and questions of Why?!?! every time there's a benchmark, practice, or high-stakes test. (And my children do quite well on them!) Sometimes I want to give them what I see my homeschooling neighbors giving their children. What's so frustrating is that there's no good reason why public schools can't offer many of those same things.

So far, my children are high achievers and performers. Besides contributing positively, perhaps I can lead by example. If my own kids, who are are among the youngest in their class, come to school ready to learn, excel academically, and rarely miss questions on these tests; if I'm not doing test prep and I am making sure my kids have a knowledge-rich home life and I'm opposed to high stakes testing, maybe I'm on to something. If policy makers, legislators, and education reformers really wanted to empower parents, at the very least they'd they'd stop simply trying make it easier to hand over to schools to outside parties who can only pretend they know better. At the very most, they'd start listening to and acting upon what it is exactly that parents and communities envision for their children's education.

We parents must resolve to make them.

To read my follow-up post to this one, see here.