Things I Know 116 of 365: Something’s rotten at the Core

Pearson already dominates, and this could take it to the extreme.

- Susan Newman, University of Michigan Professor

You may have heard Mr. Gates and Pearson are working together to make teachers obsolete improve online learning. A less humble person would say he called it.

I’ve actually been working with Pearson since last summer as well. The university I’m studying with right now buys their curriculum from Pearson.

I wish they didn’t.

Last night, I finished the final assignment of this module-instructional-block-class. It was a course reflection. I dig reflection. I think the past 115 entries are a testament to that fact. But reflection should be about inquiring into your own learning. Some prompts should be provided, but not mandated.

A few times, I’ve called out my instructors as being ineffective or not modeling the very practices being pushed in the program. While I stand by those claims, this module-instructional-block-class’s instructor has been more present than the previous three. He consistently spells my name correctly, provides personal feedback other than copying and pasting the text of the rubric and sets a tone that implies a higher standard.

With improved instruction, I’ve had time to more clearly see the holes in the materials.

As I was completing the course reflection last night, I found myself hitting my head against the Core Propositions of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

5: Teachers are members of learning communities.

The propositions have been causing an itch in my brain since I first met them when completing the School District of Philadelphia’s induction program. Then, as in my program, the propositions were taken as dogmatically true. What’s more, the implication that these five statements make a quality teacher worries me.

At the end of each module-instructional-block-class, I’ve had to explain how the content of the prior 8 weeks has pushed me to grow as a teacher insomuch as each of the propositions is concerned.

In the previous three m-i-b-c I’ve not so much lied as stretched the truth, grasping at any possible evidence, not matter how circumstantial, to prove I’ve grown. I’ve been the good little student, “Look at me teacher. I’ve done what you ask – even though I don’t care.”

Last night, I decided to tell the truth. My grade hasn’t been posted yet, so I don’t know what the possible repercussions of said honesty might be, but I felt good clicking the submit button.

I’m posting my responses below.

Before I get to that, though, I want to make clear that I have nothing but the highest respect for any teacher who has completed the National Board certification process – successfully or not. It is arduous and life-interrupting. Only those who have fallen in love with teaching could find their way through it. Those friends I’ve watched complete the process are some of the strongest teachers I’ve ever met.

I tip my hat to them.

My beef is with the lack of inquiry and humanity I see in the propositions.

Prop.  1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

I cannot say that my commitment to my students and their learning has improved in this instructional block. As with each instructional block reflection, I remain uncertain as to how one is expected to quantify or qualify his or her level of commitment to students and learning. The simplest and truest answer is that I looked beyond the course materials when completing the coursework. If the goal was to improve student participation, I visited peers’ classrooms during my prep periods to observe their methods of eliciting learner responses. I informally polled learners between classes to find out what was working, what was not working and what they wanted to happen in class. My commitment grew because I realized more than what was required of me would be necessary to improve learning in my classroom.

Prop.  2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

I completed each assignment alongside my learners. If they were coming up with exemplars and non-exemplars, so was I. In class discussion, I asked questions and offered answers. I told learners when I agreed and when I disagreed. If they disagreed with me, I found out why. I admitted I was wrong when I was wrong. I grew in my ability to teach my subject because I focused on teaching my learners, not subjects. The best evidence of this was my asking questions of myself and my learners every class period of every day.

Prop.  3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

I grew with regard to this proposition because I ignored it. Proposition 3 winnows leaners out of the equation of learning management. If a classroom is to be fully learner-centered, then the responsibility to monitoring and managing learning must be shared. In having my learners build an online artifact that was centered around their learning as they saw it, I was respecting their growth and giving them room to experiment and fail in their learning.

Prop.  4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

The implementation plan drew from multiple models and integrated each one seamlessly with the next. It also used each artifact as learners created it and asked the learners to build something new. That was by design. A note on my answer to Prop. 3 compared to what I’ve just written. I did not know what the something new they would be creating would look like. I just asked the question.

Prop.  5: Teachers are members of learning communities

I learned alongside my learners. I asked colleagues to come view the class and I volunteered my free time to watch those colleagues teach so I could learn from them. I was asking questions all along the way and learning from what I saw and the answers to every question.

Things I Know 87 of 365: Pres. Obama, Rhee, Gates and Sec. Duncan should support the NWP

So our goal as an administration, my goal as President, has been to build on these successes across America…

…We need to put outstanding teachers in every classroom, and give those teachers the pay and the support that they deserve…

…A budget that sacrifices our commitment to education would be a budget that’s sacrificing our country’s future.  That would be a budget that sacrifices our children’s future.  And I will not let it happen…

…Let me make it plain:  We cannot cut education.  (Applause.)  We can’t cut the things that will make America more competitive…

- Pres. Obama 3/14/11 Kenmore Middle School, Arlington, VA

We’ll fight against ineffective instructional programs and bureaucracy so that public dollars go where they make the biggest difference: to effective instructional programs.

- Michelle Rhee 12/6/10 Newsweek

Great teachers are a precious natural resource. But we have to figure out how to make them a renewable, expandable resource. We have to figure out what makes the great teachers great and how we transfer those skills to others. These are vital questions for American education.

- Bill Gates 11/19/10 Council of Chief State School Officers

The plain fact is that — to lead in the new century — we have no choice in the matter but to invest in education. No other issue is more critical to our economy, to our future and our way of life.

- Sec. Arne Duncan 3/9/11 Senate Testimony

For 20 years, the National Writing Project has received federal funding to help teachers across the nation improve their practice and improve the learning of their students. The research bears this out.

The NWP is in danger. Twenty years of success and grass-roots professional development are in danger. Contact your congressperson – daily. After that, contact the offices of each of the people quoted above. If they truly believe what they say above, they will have no problem speaking out in support of the NWP.

Things I Know 53 of 365: The hypotheticals aren’t looking so good

Sixty kids in a class strikes me as a lot.

On average, I teach about 30 kids at a time. In moments when the controlled chaos gets to be a little out of control, 30 feels like it could be 60.

If 60 ever got out of control (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) I suppose that would start to feel like 120.

Last night, I was asked, “What do you think the GOP is thinking by decimating school budgets? I mean, do they really think that 60 kids in a class in Detroit will be anything other than civil war?”

I took the hypothetical bait and started playing out how I would teach in an chronically economically depressed inner-city school where the average class size was 60 students.

It didn’t take long.

In my hypotheticals (and I’m guessing in GOP lawmakers hypotheticals) I’m not in that classroom.

Education is the largest chunk of combined state and local budgets, and teachers are the largest chunk of that chunk.

If you want to save money, eliminate the teachers.

And if you want to back up your argument, trot out selected passages from Christensen, Johnson and Horn’s Disrupting Class. Not the whole book. Present only the pieces of their argument that sound like they back up your plan.

Cite budget deficits and slowly lay off the most junior of your teaching force. This will leave your most senior teachers with little patience and overflowing classrooms.

Some will stick it out, but many will decide things have gone too far and take an early retirement.

You won’t have to worry about much standing in the way of finding reasons to fire the hangers on as you already broke collective bargaining when you destroyed the last vestiges of a collective.

You’d think you’ve saddled yourself with an ugly mess at this point, but this is where the truly beautiful part comes in.

Again, you’ll have the benefit of bastardizing Christensen, Johnson and Horn.

For a fraction of a cost, say $25K each, you hire aides – half hall monitors, half data entry specialist – to oversee the computer labs with which you’ve outfitted your school buildings. Sixty kids to a room starts to sound like a low-ball estimate, so you start to schedule kids in shifts, using the computer rooms around the clock – constantly overseen by what we’ll label education accountants.

It looks like there’s a hole in the plan. All the capital outlay for those computers is going to set you back.

Don’t worry.

Some multi-billionaire benefactor will step in and his foundation will donate the proprietary technology to stock your learning centers.

It will be a happy coincidence the students in your learning centers develop an unquestioning brand loyalty to the corporation founded by your multi-billionaire benefactor in his previous life.

It will be another happy coincidence that the proprietary brand loyalty will quietly suffocate the open source movement that threatened the corporate donors who filled your re-election coffers.

So, you’ll have your closed system. You’ll eliminate your greatest cost, you’ll increase learning production, you’ll increase consumer production (the production of consumers), and you’ll find a place for most of the young people from your electorate.

Most of the young people.

See, what you will be creating is the “public option.”

You won’t be eliminating all teaching positions or schools. The private options will still exist.

You’ll send your kids there.

Your donors will send their kids there.

The best teachers from the old model (many of them likely the most seasoned) will fight tooth and nail to cling to the profession they love. They might disagree heartily with the new way of doing things. You don’t have to worry about that. They’re not a collective anymore, so their voices will be mere whispers on the wind.

So, your children and your donors’ children will be educated. The public option will fit the needs of your electorate. You’ll eliminate the majority of your budget deficit. And, all will be right with the world.

In the early days, you’ll hear grumblings from the disenfranchised about the morlocks and the eloi, but such hesitancy is to be expected in times of great innovation.