Wednesday, December 31, 2014
In response educators and parents everywhere are posting their own “Whatifs” using the hashtag, #whatif,” and attaching @arneduncan. Judging by the #whatif stream, I suspect many educators are expressing quite a bit of frustration regarding Duncan’s education policies. But I wanted to just take a moment and look at what’s problematic about Duncan’s tweet.
First of all, it clearly indicates that he is still in “silver-bullet” search mode. He thinks that out there somewhere are some magical measures that will magically transform schools from being “unsuccessful” to “successful.” Time and again, his entire career as a secretary of education has been one long search for the magic of school reform. What he has never uunderstood was that reform on a national scale can’t be imposed from his office. He should have taken those lessons from No Child Left Behind; instead, he’s imposed a much more severe “measure and punish” tactics that have elevated testing above everything else that matters in public education. Schools are struggling for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons aren’t due to education policy; they’re due to economic policies that are leaving many in this country behind in income. When Duncan asks the question about identifying what made 5 best schools successful, he automatically assumes that what those schools did to make them successful will automatically apply to all schools. That is at the heart of his “silver-bullet” search, and that’s why there has been nothing out of this Department of Education that will survive once they vacate the premises. Duncan has only searched for quick-fixes without really helping school districts get down to the hard work of improving education.
Secondly, I suspect, Duncan identifies “successful” as those schools with the highest test scores. For the length of Duncan’s tenure, he and his department have repeatedly made it known that high test scores and value-added measures equal success, so why would we believe he would suggest anything different? The problem is that Duncan’s definition of success requires reducing teaching and learning to statistics, when everything we know about learning as educators tells us that tests only measure a miniscule portion of what students learn. Duncan’s Twitter question is actually a statement of his faith. We all know what his “identify” entails. It entails subjecting kids at all levels to tests and then using those tests to judge the quality of everything in a school. Once again, Duncan failed to see the lessons of No Child Left Behind.
Perhaps Duncan was attempting to truly rally educators with his Tweet, but unfortunately, this late in his tenure that’s not going to happen. There are too many educators who have absolutely no confidence in his ability to lead. Judging by all the #whatifs posted since Duncan’s, there are a great deal of educators angry about his education policy. His federal mandates, though he avoids calling them that, have forced states to do more testing than ever. Perhaps Duncan’s tweet should be:
“What if I have been wrong about all this testing? What if my measure and punish education culture I’ve created has actually harmed schools?"
I won’t wait to see this Tweet; however, because it will not happen. Duncan believes in everything he’s done. Why else would someone tour the country and spend so much time promoting what they’ve done? He has repeatedly made the mistake of thinking himself a salesman instead of an education leader.
About five years ago, I started this blog with the intention of sharing my own thoughts, ideas, reading, and opinions regarding the public education issues of the day. I have purposefully tried to share my own ideas about technology, teaching, and education policy, and I think I was successful. Over the years, I also think its clear I have not hidden my views because they might be deemed off limits politically. Many times, I have received messages from people who hold different views than myself who want to remind that I "must be impartial" or somehow fair. Unfortunately, that is not my intention for this blog. I'll leave being fair and balanced to the cable news channels MSNBC and Fox News. Personally, I think educators do too much deferring on political topics for fear that they might upset someone else, or maybe even hinder their chances at getting a job in the future. We must question these ideas and policies, and my job as an educator is not to blindly accept everything that comes down from the US Department of Education, nor the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. If an idea or policy can't stand up to scrutiny or criticism, it should die a quiet death, no matter who supports it.
I have also tried to share my encounters with technology as well. Quick reviews of new software or new tablet apps have been common, as well as the occasional review of new hardware and technological devices. Over the years, I have tried to make sure that I only reviewed technology that I myself have tried, and as far as I know, I mostly did that. I know of less than a handful of situations where I reviewed items that I myself did not specifically try. This was in spite of the countless offers, which I appreciate, from companies wanting me to review their product. It's just difficult for me to honestly write about something I have not tried.
In addition to technology review and tips, I have also tried to share my own reviews of books I have read. I am an avid reader. Though I have been unable to share every item I've read, I have shared reviews of those I felt might offer educator readers something of value. I have also tried to share my own ideas about leadership and sometimes just plain being human in the clothing of an educator.
Though lately, there haven't been as many posts on the The 21st Century Principal Blog, I assure you there will be this year. My own education in a doctoral program has consumed much of the time I used to spend blogging. Once again, thanks to everyone who has read this blog. I look forward to sharing more during the next school year. Happy New Year to everyone!
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Now, Arne Duncan is once again trying to elevate test scores even higher: he wants to use test scores to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher programs too.
Under Arne Duncan's latest effort to hold somebody else accountable for education except himself and politicians, Duncan now wants to create a new, massive bureaucratic procedure to judge the "effectiveness" of teacher preparations programs around the country. This behemoth proposal would bizarrely twist test scores once more in the name of accountability. As I read through this proposed procedure, I simply grow more and more angry at a President and Secretary of Education who simply have no clue as to what their "test-them-if-they-breathe" education agenda has done to schools, students, teachers, classrooms, and the future of the education profession. If you read the fine print of this massive document, you can quickly read between the lines regarding what Arne Duncan is actually proposing.
- Using test scores, most likely value-added measures, to determine the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs that receive federal funding.
- The development of a massive pile of red tape and bureaucratic procedures to make sure teacher preparation programs comply to the dictates of the US Department of Education.
- An enormous overreach of federal power and powergrab by the US Department of Education.
When a school administration company goes bankrupt, what happens to the student records?
- Can you tell me about the baseline technology?
- Do you have any enterprise customers?
- How is our privacy safeguarded?
- What data is encrypted?
- What kind of encryption do you use?
- Can you install a local instance on a school server? What about a district (as it applies)?
- How can our school use your software to communicate with parents and guardians?
- Who owns the data?
- Who is authorized to view or change student data?
- Can you provide us with references?
Monday, December 29, 2014
- Being able to search online databases through the software and its auto-complete reference feature.
- Customizable research file storage that I can make work for me.
- Auto-Bibliography and in-text citation feature that works with my word processing software.
- Ability to share and connect with others conducting similar research.
I have found its ability to work with Microsoft Word with in-text citations and bibliography generation to be mostly flawless. The only drawback, I also like to use Pages on my Mac, but I did not know that Endnote offered a plug-in for that word-processing software. It turns out, there is a plug in, and you can get it here. For more information about Endnote, check out their web site here.
I would like to think that it is not deliberate, and that there are no ideological reasons for this. Perhaps because the pundits and reporters have all supposedly had an education, they see themselves as experts and that there is no need to bring in educators, but this ignoring of those who experience the things they discuss every day is puzzling. It is the teacher or principal who can really describe what current education policy has done to our schools, classrooms, and kids. For example, it’s the educators at the school and classroom level who can attest to what Race to the Top has done to education. Some of the effects of President Obama’s education agenda include the following:
- We test our kids more than we ever have before.
- As a result of these tests, we are transforming our schools into “test-prep” machines.
- We are standardizing learning for all students, when research and our experience screams to us that we should be personalizing, nor standardizing.
- Our schools have become more interested in credentialing students than providing them with worthwhile, life-changing learning experiences. (Which is a direct result on focusing on a statistic, like the graduation rate.)
- We now judge teacher and principal effectiveness by test scores, as if those scores can infallibly tell anything about how each are doing their jobs.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Part of us wants to believe that we can help someone so easily with the click of a button. We may even justify our reposting of things like this because we say, “What can it possibly hurt.” But in some ways we are perpetuating a lie and just maybe giving people a false sense of having done something good for another human being when we’ve really done nothing.
But sometimes the real issue we have with the web is our own personal approach to it. We turn to the web sometimes to only verify the world as we wish it could be or want to it be. For example, we want to believe that there are people like this little child who need a heart transplant, and there are people like us who can help. Better yet, just maybe, these opportunities to repost these requests for help exist to give us an opportunity feel better about all the time we waste thumbing through these social media sites.
Perhaps the truth is simply this: you can’t really believe much of anything that comes through your social media feed, and if you want to really make a difference in someone else’s life, turn off Facebook and help someone face-to-face this holiday season. In the real world, need can be a bit more obvious and you don’t need Snopes to fact check. If you take a hard look at the real world around, I bet there’s someone whose needs are apparent, and we might have to do a bit more than simply repost.
Friday, December 5, 2014
ALEC has a solid presence in the North Carolina Legislature for the past several years, so it isn’t surprising that it passed laws requiring a history curriculum that might be more in line with its conservative views. The fear I have is that with the implementation of this new curriculum, ALEC continues to solidify its hold on North Carolina and will begin to utilize public education as the means to indoctrinate students with its worldview. Rarely do these organizations seek balanced approaches to learning; most often they seek to stifle those who hold dissenting views. Let's just hope that's not the case in the Old North State.
Monday, December 1, 2014
When most of us were high school students, we often encountered the cliques, the pecking orders, and groups we had to navigate around and through during our high school experiences. Many times these experiences left us with unforgettable memories and even scars as we were struggling to fit in. It turns out that we as educators might be able to do something about “teen cliquishness” after all.
Sociology researchers Daniel McFarland, James Moody, David Diehl, Jeffrey Smith, and Reuben Thomas recently published their findings regarding “Network Ecology and Adolescent Social Structure” in the American Sociological Review. Without getting too deep in the details of this study, or getting tangled in their terminology, it turns out that there might be things about our schools that contribute to the development of these cliques. (See Edmund Andrews excellent summary of this study’s findings “Stanford Research Explores Why Cliques Thrive in Some High Schools More Than Others."
First of all, it turns out the organizational setting, or “network ecology” of a school has a great deal to do with how cliquish that school is or becomes. "Schools that offer students more choices——more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in classrooms——are more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated by race, age, gender, and social status.” These “pecking orders, cliques, and self-segration are less prevalent in schools and classrooms that limit social choices and prescribe formats of interaction.”
According to McFarland et al., “Smaller schools inherently offer smaller choice of potential friends, so the ‘cost’ of excluding people from a social group is higher.” In addition, the structured classroom offers more guidance on student interactions with “prescribed routes” and an “encouragement to interact on the basis of schoolwork rather than on the basis of their external social lives."
Some of the other interesting findings of this study include:
- Large schools tend to "accentuate teens finding friends more similar to themselves."
- Larger schools offer a broader range of potential friends, as well as greater exposure to people who are different, but the "freedom and uncertainty spurs students to cluster by race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status."
- A school’s openness to choice spurs cliques and social-status hierarchies.
- "Schools with a strong focus on academics, where teachers have a hand in setting the pace and controlling classroom interactions, teenagers are less likely to form friendships based on social attitudes imported from outside the school. Friendships are more likely to develop out of shared school activities and similar intellectual interests."
McFarland does caution against the idea that students are better off in smaller schools with less choice. There is still more to learn on this issue. Still, as we ponder our school’s climate, we might want to think about the ways our schools are helping facilitate the division and cliquishness often found in high schools. For the first time, we may not be able to do away with cliques, but there might be some ways to foster a more inclusive culture of acceptance in your school.