Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category
In my last blog, I introduced the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. Now I want to take you inside one of these meetings…
Each time we gather, a presenter courageously opens up his or her professional practice for public discussion sharing a current dilemma she/he is facing in the workplace. We use the Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review (DR) of a Professional Dilemma of Practice, a structured inquiry protocol. The DR process uses thick description of “the particular”—e.g., individuals, relationships, communities, and contexts—as methods for strengthening equity (El Haj, 2003; Himley & Carini, 2000), a stark contrast with approaches that minimize human variation through top-down universalist interventions (Himley, 2000).
The DR process models how leadership can be strengthened through collaborative inquiry as new layers of understanding emerge when groups engage in sustained conversation around a shared topic. Early childhood professionals are able to put the world “out of play” for a moment with time to pause, reflect, reframe and return to their professional world to “act in it in wiser ways” (Himley, 2000, p. 200).
The dilemmas we have explored to date are wide-ranging. Two examples of guiding questions include:
- As a program manager at a family engagement non-profit agency, how can I leverage my position as a trainer/consultant to support the schools, teachers, and families I am working with to strengthen family engagement within the program?
- As a special education preK teacher in an urban school district, how do I remain true to my teaching practices when given inconsistent resources and support?
To provide a window into the types of discourse that emerge, I share brief moments of Natalia’s dilemma [2nd question above] about working in a public preK special education class in a low income urban school district. She explained the daily challenges presented by a lack of resources:
“For example, I don’t have a telephone in my room and I’m way across the field from everyone else and yet I have a child with a seizure disorder and so I have my cell phone with me in case I need to call 911. I’m supposed to have an aide but she went on break one day and never came back. I park in a parking lot that is gated and I need to leave at 3:30pm every day for safety reasons, which leaves me with no time to prep for my teaching. I’m all alone for most of the day as some days the transitions are so hard for the children to get to the playground that we don’t even leave the classroom. The bathrooms in my classroom are filthy, the window is broken and there are very few toys or materials for the children. The physical environment is INCREDIBLY challenging to navigate for children with developmental challenges. I was trained to see quality environments as the right of every child. It has been very hard to have that here.”
Natalia’s colleagues asked 30 minutes of clarifying questions to help everyone understand the dilemma in more depth inspiring her to reflect on her relationships, her purposes, and goals for teaching, and the agency she had to influence positive change. For example:
- How much freedom do you have to create your own curriculum?
- Could you be written up for licensing violations?
- What have been your successes? What are you proud of?
- How did you make the decision to teach at this school?
Next, the group offered Natalia 22 recommendations. She listened but was asked not to respond. This helps the presenter learn to quiet her/his habit of ‘reacting’ to feedback. It also recognizes that the recommendations could be helpful for other participants as the dilemmas are acting as collective texts that everyone can use for strengthening practice. A more experienced colleague working in the same district encouraged Nalalia to go over the IEP rights every time she met with families and encourage them to contact the district office. Others reminded her that relationships, not things, are at the heart of teachers’ work. She was also encouraged to be strategic with her ‘asks,’ to decide on two she really wanted, allowing her under-resourced district a way to meet her needs.
Natalia’s colleagues encouraged her to reframe the situation and see herself as the primary resource for her students, to focus her energy on building strategic relationships with others in her district and to focus on the successes and changes she could make. Natalia reported having new ways of considering and responding to her dilemma and a renewed sense of what she called “unity and support” to inspire her. Other participants reported that the process helped them to learn to listen to others, to value collegial relationships, and to understand the courage that leadership required.
Three years ago, I found myself completing a grant report where I became intrigued with one of the questions I was required to answer: “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?” After thinking for quite some time, I realized that I was unable to answer the question. As I drove home that night, I sat with the tension of the empty answer box on the report, and my knowledge of the importance of providing alumni with sustained opportunities to continue the learning and intellectual growth they started in graduate school.
After thoughtful conversations with Dean Kathy Schultz and with my colleagues, I collaborated with Professor Linda Kroll and Mills alumna Jennifer Kagiwada to launch the “Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project.” Now in its third year, we invite alumni four times each year to the Mills campus to enjoy the opportunity to engage in deep and engaged conversations about the rich and complex work of early childhood professionals over a pizza dinner. At each meeting, a presenter courageously opens up her/his professional practice by sharing a dilemma she/he currently confronts in the workplace.
The professionals who participate in the Inquiry meetings represent a very diverse group: family child care providers; infant/toddler/preschool, elementary, and special education teachers; preschool directors and site supervisors; family engagement coordinators; resource and referral specialists; subsidy administrators; philanthropists; experts in policy and advocacy; early interventionists; college instructors and researchers. Some have been in the field for decades, while others graduated from Mills only last year. Each inquiry varies according to the participants in attendance, the dilemma explored, and even the environment where it takes place. Yet common across all of the inquiries is the collaborative production of complexities that participants (especially the presenter) had not previously understood.
We have been very inspired by the rich conversations and the strengthened relationships that resulted from the first three years of the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. This past year, we decided to expand the Inquiry Events to include community partners beyond Mills ECE graduates. We are interested in sharing this model of inquiry with our valued colleagues in the larger field. We also had the wonderful opportunity of having one of our meetings filmed by West Ed for the California Department of Education. They plan to create a 5-7 minute video segment of the meeting included on a DVD linking the new California Early Childhood Educator Competencies (http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/ececomps.asp) with contextualized examples of how the competencies can look when authentically embedded in professional practice. The Mills Inquiry Event will exemplify how leadership can be developed in the early childhood field and linked to the leadership competencies used for professional development for teachers and administrators across the state. We were honored to be part of this important project.
Thinking back to that grant report three years ago, I can now reflect on what a tremendous gift it has been to work with such an engaging and thoughtful group of professional colleagues to collaborate on the development of this professional learning community. “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?”
On Poverty and Systemic Collapse: Challenges to Education Research in an Era of Infrastructure Rebuilding | Gregory K. Tanaka
In this essay I argue the economic inequities of today carve out a very large social condition that is orders of magnitude greater than can be conveyed by the term “poverty.” This condition derives from a massive theft of public wealth and abandonment of the principles of representative democracy.
There is a silver lining: on encountering “systemic collapse” (a breakdown of society’s largest social institutions), we as education researchers are presented with a challenge for which we are uniquely well suited. We do applied work and as such, are predisposed to building something new. But will we be ready to make contributions that match the human need in an “Era of Democratic Renewal?”
Most Americans have become poorer and not as a result of a four-year cyclical downturn. This is systemic. From 1972 to 2012, U.S. hourly earnings adjusted for inflation dropped from $20/hr to just $8/hr (Nielson, Bullion Bulls Canada, 2/7/11). While social welfare benefits made up 10% of all salaries and wages in 1960, today it is 35% (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). Where in the 1970s the top 1% earned just 8% of all income, this year they earned 21% (Id). In 1950, household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 30% but by 2011 rose to 120% of personal income (Tanaka Capital Management, August, 2011). By 2011, 100 million out of 242 million working age Americans were not working (Seabridge Gold Annual Report, 2011). Today, one-fourth of all children in the U.S. are enrolled in the food stamp program (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). And since being established in 1913, the Federal Reserve (representing the largest U.S. banks) has destroyed 96% of the dollar value of U.S. family savings by printing money (Economic Collapse, 2/9/12).
Meanwhile, the 1% has truly become “the elites” by boldly stealing from middle and working class Americans. During the 2007-2010 financial crisis, $27 trillion in bailout money was given to U.S. banks that was “off-budget,” meaning it was not derived from taxes but rather taken from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid accounts paid into by taxpayers over a 40-year period (Catherine Austin Fitts, 9/4/12). In 2009-2010, 93% of all new U.S. income went to the top 1% (U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, 6/29/12). A simple solution is available but Congress won’t act: a return to the tax rates of the 1950s-1970s would result in a 50% tax on the top 96-99% and 75% tax on the top 1%. This alone would cover ¾ of the current U.S budget shortfall.
The net result is that the U.S. is stuck with $150 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities, leaving U.S. taxpayers with more debt per capita than citizens of Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain (Economic Collapse, 7/14/12). Worse, the global overhang from debt, derivatives and contingent and unfunded liabilities and pension accounts is now a whopping $1.5 quadrillion (Greyerz, King World News, 7/20/12). With global GDP at $50 trillion, the financial “overhang” is systemic and irredeemable.
Is this the end of democracy as we knew it? All three branches have certainly failed the American people. It was Congress that reduced the elites’ income tax from 75% to just 15% (for long-term capital gains). The White House authored NAFTA (exporting millions of manufacturing jobs offshore), launched two oil wars and gave trillions to bankers. Most appalling, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that sanctioned in Citizens United the ability of the super rich to “buy” U.S. elections, thus bringing to an end the “representative” characteristic of representative democracy.
To restore democracy, a massive project of social change is now needed that can model the contours of a democracy that is participatory and might include the following kinds of ideas. (I invite others to offer ideas of their own.)
- Exempting full-time preK-12 public school teachers from having to pay federal income taxes;
- Paying off the U.S. bonds with low yield (and later, cheaper) dollars, followed by a re-linking of the dollar to gold at $300/ounce, absolving U.S. citizens of all debt (Iceland model), letting banks restart as utilities, seizing illegal accounts held for Americans in the Cayman Islands, etc, and closing down the Federal Reserve;
- Paying for this renewal by deploying already available technology that can produce far cheaper, clean energy—e.g. artificial photosynthesis, splitting water molecules to create ethanol, and passing cars over electromagnetic rods in roads (like charging an electric toothbrush);
- A second Constitutional Convention that is, this time, “by, for and of the people,” redefines a “person” as a human being, includes term limits, and enacts a participatory democracy; and
- The creation of independent think tanks that are in the public interest and can conceptualize, operationalize and evaluate initiatives like those above.
To renew this country, and its democracy, education researchers will need to do several things differently. We will need to broaden our work from a tendency to perform narrowly at the “mid-range level” of change in organizations, schools or programs—to a concerted effort to combine three registers in one analysis (“macro” systemic change in the largest social institutions, “micro” reformulations of the self, and “mid-range” change in organizations).
We will also need to shift from “assessment overdeterminism” to an emphasis on infrastructure rebuilding. This will mean more large scale, longitudinal, participatory projects; theorizing the connection, if any, between performing social change and development of the self; replacing NCLB/RTTT with policies that teach critical thinking, creativity, science, history, the arts, and coming into being by helping others also to come into being; new epistemologies that unite a diverse country; and change in reward systems to prize the above.
The question, then, is whether we as researchers in the public interest will be caught in a propitious moment worshiping old research epistemologies and methodological registers—or be willing instead to alter the reach and aim of our work to match the magnitude of the task before us.
This paper was presented by Greg Tanaka at the American Educational Research Association Conference, September, 2012.
Recently, the Oakland Unified School District was pleased to announce that it had established a relationship with Oakland Rotary to adopt Transitional Kindergarten (TK) classes at ten schools (eleven classrooms) throughout the city. OUSD wrote, “The group will compensate for gaps in state funding of Transitional Kindergarten by providing the funds needed to create nurturing and stimulating learning environments for young children.” OUSD further wrote, “While the state provides funding for TK teacher salaries, virtually no money is offered for classroom modifications, furniture, equipment, books and toys designed to optimize the learning experience for these younger students.” Oakland Rotary and its partners have pledged to help fill that gap. So far they have award $22,000 for the eleven teachers to spend as they deem necessary; $15,000 worth of books; and hundreds of dollars in toys. This is just the beginning.
We wrote to EdD student Krishen Arvind Laetsch, Board Member at Oakland Rotary and its Youth and Education co-chair, and asked him to tell us a bit more. He wrote,
“Several years ago with support from Oakland Rotary, I helped to create ‘Oakland Reads’, a program that gives three books to every third grader in Oakland traditional and charter schools, to promote literacy. In addition to providing $45,000 each year in books, and reaching more than 4,000 students, the program broke socio-economic barriers by putting 100 Rotarians into schools that otherwise they would most probably not visit; many returned to provide additional support. One member decided to give each student a book bag and we donated classroom sets of books too.
“The program operated for four years then transitioned to Family Reading Nights. In this program, Oakland Rotarians brought books to schools in the evenings, and then read with kids, provided dinners and literacy activities for families. Unfortunately, this program generated less excitement. When Transitional Kindergarten was created (the first new grade created in more than eight decades), we saw an opportunity. I proposed that the Oakland Rotary build on its record of success and adopt all ten schools that had TK, eleven classrooms in all throughout the city. With Oakland’s Rotary motto of Service above Self, it was an easy sell. We call it KinderPrep because few understand “Transitional Kindergarten.
“I have the privilege of co-chairing the Oakland Rotary Youth & Education Committee. Oakland Rotary is the third oldest Rotary Club in the world. It has been in Oakland for more than 100 years and is the largest service organization in the city. It has contributed a great deal to education, including books, equipment, mentors, scholarships, tutors, etc. For more on Oakland Rotary and its KinderPrep program, visit http://www.clubrunner.ca/Portal/Home.aspx?cid=3190.
“On a personal note, this type of program would not have been possible were it not for the support and training I have received from the Mills College School of Education. I’m a fortunate man…but am still waiting for my ‘Pearl M.’”
OUSD notes that other Oakland Rotary KinderPrep activities planned for 2012-13 include:
* purchasing and assembling furniture
* planting gardens
* building play structures
* supporting “Emergency Prep” classes for educators and guardians
* providing classroom assistance to teachers, particularly in the areas of math and science
* launching book and toy drives
* supporting literacy in ten schools with books, curricula and reading projects
*orchestrating two field trips for all of the Transitional Kindergarten students to Children’s Fairyland for art and literacy and to the Oakland Zoo for art and biology
As a white, middle class, single mother, there was never a time during my son’s childhood when I worried that his behavior would result in incarceration. While building a life for us did not come easily, the burden borne by the mothers of African American, Latino, Native American and South East Asian youth in the school to prison pipeline overshadows any challenges I faced raising my son. From a young age Lucas had access to multiple forms of capital: cultural, aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, and navigational. This web of capital and privilege made it possible for him to bypass the trauma and barriers placed upon young boys and men of color that have become an almost seamless path to incarceration. How our schools became the conduit for this pipeline demonstrates multiple levels of social and economic failure.
In my role as a writing instructor from 2008-2011 at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, introduced me to the lives of young and old men as they spread their rage, frustration and indignation across pages. There were also times that the most tender words imaginable and loving ideas possible flooded those pages as well. In 2011, I taught violent male offenders in weekly life writing and reading class at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. Earlier in my career as public school teacher I had been prepared as a Reading Recovery teacher which profoundly shaped my understanding of how reading and writing growth occur. My former experience informed how I assessed my student’s needs while working to keep the curriculum responsive to their needs and relevant to their interests. Currently, I am teaching a life writing class at Ralph Bunch Alternative Academy, part of the Oakland Unified School District. That class is comprised of students who have been expelled or failed out of comprehensive high schools in the district.
Through my varied experiences teaching in correctional and alternative settings, I have found much of the writing produced to be evocative and transformational. The efforts of my students to restory their lives drew my attention to the need to create a new narrative around prisons and the pipeline to prison in our society and the need to work to create social justice instead of imprisonment.
Many public schools have become pathways to incarceration rather than opportunities to educate and empower. The economic reality of the school to prison pipeline has extraordinary implications for school leaders, as it affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms. We need to alter how we deal with conflicts within and among students, how we build coalitions and what demands and values we identify as central to fight for social justice. The school to prison pipeline undermines the possibility for our country to truly become great because of the way we treat a certain demographic in our human capital.
The way school leaders and teachers respond to the behaviors children bring to school is one way the pipeline is fed. It is important to recognize the role that harsh discipline policies play is sustaining disparities in incarceration. California leads the way in suspensions and expulsions from public schools. In 2009-2010, California school districts expelled roughly 21,000 students and handed out more than 75,000 suspensions. In a recent study from the Council of State Governments, California’s annual suspension rate exceeds the national average.
Zero-tolerance policies are another way the pipeline is perpetuated. Such policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Even the American Bar Association has condemned zero-tolerance policies as inherently unjust. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer or in any way improve student behavior. On the contrary, research suggests that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.
Decker Walker and Jonas Soltis, esteemed scholars in the area of curriculum studies, note, “Even one mismatch or denial of opportunity for a person to grow in one direction rather than another would be a moral transgression against an individual that might change a whole life.” Advocating for and implementing practices that guard against such moral transgressions is imperative to ending the school to prison pipeline. Empowering learners to take responsibility for their learning while scaffolding positive social interaction in a democratic learning environment should be the sort of schooling experience every school age child in America can access.
As a student in the Leadership Program in Early Childhood, storytelling kept popping up. From the first days together with Cohort 4, we shared our own personal and professional stories as a way of building relationships and reflecting on our own life experiences. For me, as an infant care teacher, I was often asked by children to tell stories, to read story books for enjoyment and learning, over and over again and to share stories of events and experiences which were a part of our lives. Storytelling was a way to communicate and to build relationships. It was fun and engaging. Telling stories and reading storybooks is what I did in early childhood. It came to me as quit a surprise to learn that storytelling was also recognized as a formal tool for leadership and research in higher education as well. I’ll share here three examples.
First, in my field placement experience a thread of storytelling was there. The ‘parent-led, parent-run’ grassroots organization Parent Voices www.parentvoices.org used storytelling as an important aspect of their work in advocating for access and availability of quality, affordable child care. As testimony for public hearings at the state capitol, parents worked together to shape their stories into powerful statements expressing exactly what they had experienced and how specific choices made by legislature impacted their lives. I participated in the annual “Stand For Children” day in Sacramento where legislative visits provided opportunity for parents to tell their stories directly to elected officials. Telling personal stories in such a purposeful way is an act of leadership.
A second thread of storytelling as a tool for social change emerged from my volunteer internship with the For Our Babies Campaign. This project from WestEd is a national movement where individual stories are supported with research based empirical data to shape public will and improve lives of infants, toddlers and their families across the country. Through a visit to www.forourbabies.org one can access videos and hear real life stories, as well as sign a petition to support the cause. Using storytelling in this way is an act of leadership.
Storytelling appeared in my work as a research assistant with the global play memories project. In this project, www.globalplaymemories.org we are collecting adults’ memories of their childhood play and children’s stories of play in their lives today. The presence of personal narrative gives this work deeper meaning as it brings visibility to individual experiences. We presented our research at the Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI) Global Summit in Washington, DC. It was a graduate research award from the Mills School of Education which helped to finance my attendance at this event. Hearing stories about play opened up dialogue from which advocacy for the importance of play in the lives of children and adults emerged. Publicly sharing research based on storytelling is an act of leadership.
Now, beginning the educational leadership program toward a doctorate degree, I’ve learned that “all research is storytelling.” Within the realm of qualitative research, storytelling is the primary avenue for data collection and personal narrative is an actual research method. Interviewing someone and asking them to share their story can be very powerful. Interpreting their story to help shape and inform your story is at the heart of dissertation writing and research. Even quantitative research has an aspect of storytelling where the story of data and how it was collected and interpreted is told through the perspective of the researchers involved. Engaging in research based on storytelling, which results in significant contributions to the field of education, is an act of leadership.
It surprises me, the strong threads of connection from storytelling to research and leadership. I think I am not so much surprised that there is a connection – but that the connection can be recognized in such formal ways. This change in thinking about the place of storytelling came with new understandings of leadership and research. I used to see storytelling as a habit, something we did just because we did it. I used to see leadership as a job or a title where more was told then asked. Storytelling, if it was happening, wasn’t recognized as such. I thought of research as something separate from my experience. My new understanding of research as storytelling opens a place for bringing personal experience and perspective into the research process. For me, it is exciting that my experience at Mills has opened my mind and heart to seeing how storytelling can be a part of leadership and research. It is in recognizing these threads of connection that make all the difference.
As states and school districts across the country embrace common-core standards, U.S. educators are in need of a public proving ground where standards-based instruction can be enacted and studied. What might such a proving ground look like?
In Japan, changes in national education standards cause ripples of activity across the country, as practitioners and researchers collaborate to bring their ideas to life in “public research lessons.” Here’s a simple example of how this process works:
When the topic of solar cells was added to the Japanese elementary curriculum, national guidelines specified only the basic objectives for student learning, not the specific teaching methods. Teachers and researchers, working collaboratively in dozens of small groups across the country, studied the available research and curricula (much of it from the United States). These teams then tried out their ideas in a local elementary school, progressively refining teaching materials and approaches based on student responses. After a year or so of experimentation, they opened up their instruction to others in large public research lessons.
The tens of thousands of educators, researchers, and policymakers who attended these public research lessons could see and discuss live instruction designed to enact the standards. They were able to question the teachers and researchers about the rationale for their choices, scrutinize the entire unit plan and records of student learning across the unit, and offer their own ideas and critiques. Each team focused on the needs of their own local students, but also drew on work by other teams when useful.
Over the first year or two of public lessons, information on how to teach about solar cells spread rapidly. A store of shared knowledge developed about practical aspects of teaching the subject—for example, which solar toys were inexpensive and made important ideas visible—as well as about the kinds of student thinking to expect, how to handle it, and the subject matter itself. One teacher observing a public research lesson, for example, asked about the scientific significance of some student strategies, including moving a solar cell closer to a light source, adding a second light source, and using a magnifying class to “concentrate” light.
“I want to know whether the three conditions the children described—’to put the solar cell closer to the light source,”to make the light stronger,’ and to ‘gather the light’—would all be considered the same thing by scientists. They don’t seem the same to me. But I want to ask the teachers who know science whether scientists would regard them as the same thing.”
The Japanese system of distributed, local, collaborative lesson-study work, culminating in public research lessons, enables educators to develop and share the many intertwined types of knowledge needed to implement standards well in the classroom—knowledge of instructional materials, teaching strategies, student thinking, and content. Such a public proving ground has several advantages over the processes of standards enactment currently familiar in the United States.
First, it recognizes that translating standards into practice is demanding, important, intellectual work. The final product of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, now being adopted here, represents an enormous accomplishment. But the standards are only splotches of ink on paper until a teacher brings them to life in a classroom. Their enactment in the classroom requires continuing experimentation, intense scrutiny, and the development of shared knowledge about what works and does not—in many different settings.
Second, it allows teachers to take the initiative in the implementation of standards and to bring their own important knowledge to bear. Public research lessons provide a natural incentive for collaborative between teachers and researchers, who share the desire to create effective lessons and document them in ways that enable others to learn from their work.
Third, it places students and student thinking at the center of reform. Although U.S. policymakers talk about “a marketplace of good materials,” how well can materials be judged without actually seeing students and teachers use them in diverse settings?
Fourth, it recognizes that the knowledge needed for standards-based instruction cannot be captured entirely in written documents such as frameworks and teacher manuals. Much of the knowledge for teaching is embodied in the instruction itself, and is spread and refined as teachers watch each other teach.
Fifth, it recognizes that improvement needs to be continuous. A static set of “best practices” on paper or video is insufficient because students are not static.
Sixth, it exerts much-needed pressure on textbook content and design. In the work leading up to public research lessons in Japan, teachers and researchers together review existing textbooks and research and choose what they believe to be the best approach. Plans written by lesson-study groups explain why they chose—and rejected—various textbook approaches.
Japanese publishers notice the conclusions emerging from public research lessons and revise textbook content to reflect what is being learned. That may explain why our recent study of two U.S. and two Japanese elementary textbook series found that the Japanese texts use the same four models to represent fractions, while the U.S. texts use 15 different models.
Finally, public research lessons provide an opportunity for policymakers to see how teachers and students actually respond to the standards in a best-case scenario in which teachers have adequate time and support to enact them. Because the policymakers who write the national standards attend public research lessons and see what aspects of the standards need further support or revision, the lessons also allow formative research on policy.
Moreover, policymakers, teachers, and researchers develop a shared understanding of the standards, based on instruction they have all seen and discussed. For example, after a recent public research lesson in California, something startling happened. While many of the nearly 100 observers thought that the mathematics lesson they had seen brilliantly realized the mathematician George Polya’s ideas about problem-solving, a few, including some influential state policymakers, could not see any relationship between the lesson and the state’s problem-solving standards. This gap in perception sparked useful conversations about the meaning of “problem-solving” in the state standards, and helped lead to eventual consensus: that solving novel problems—not just solving word problems with known procedures—was an important facet of the standard.
How feasible is such a public proving ground in this country? Experienced lesson-study groups already exist over most of the United States, and some of them hold regular public research lessons one or more times a year, using video and audio projection to accommodate large audiences. Many of these groups center on close collaboration between classroom teachers and university-based subject-matter specialists. And evidence is accumulating to show that the groups help their members build content and instructional knowledge, enhance student learning, improve collegial work, and spread teaching knowledge across the boundaries of schools and districts.
In the quest to bring common-core standards to life, we should consider the power of public research lessons. In a recent Education Week article on the implementation of common standards, a researcher described the process of developing curriculum frameworks this way: “When people go into a room and come out with solutions, it’s typically about money or politics. … So the question is, why are people going into that room? What are they after?”
What would happen if “that room” were a classroom? By using classrooms all over the United States as the public proving ground to enact, analyze, and refine standards-based practice, we could come out of the room with solutions that are not about money or politics, but about what and how students are learning.
This post was originally published in 2010 in Education Week (Vol. 30, Issue 03, Pages 28-30).
And so we begin again. In many ways the start of this new academic year is very much like every other year—the same excitements and the same hesitations. But there are two key differences that stand out for me—one personal, one public. What I just realized the other day is that I am embarking on my 40th year as an educator! Certainly not something I imagined would ever happen when I entered my third grade classroom in East Los Angeles for the first time in the fall of 1972—and certainly not so quickly—in some ways it is forever ago, of course, but in others only yesterday!
I also cannot help but think about the fact that this is an election year—an election year that seems very significant to me in many ways, but then, aren’t they all? The combination of these two circumstances has given me pause to contemplate, even more than usual, what matters most in this work that I/we are doing? How should I spend what must surely be one of the final years of my life’s work, especially given the times in which I am doing it? What should my focus be?
I wish I had something more grandiose to offer up, something more innovative, cutting edge, technological, specific. But I am afraid that after all this time—all this practical, theoretical, empirical work—all that I have experienced and read and heard in and out of the educational domain, I am more convinced than ever that the answers, the solutions are much more basic. I truly believe that the only things that can save us and our planet are human connections—connections that embrace, nurture, and embolden the inner spirits, joy, creativity, courage, care, and multiple intelligences of every child and adult with whom we make contact, and certainly with those whom we presume, at whatever level and in whatever context, to educate.
One of the reasons I am so committed to this right now is that in the forty years I have been teaching, I believe that we have gotten further and further away from this, which is especially tragic at the elementary level. An over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing via agendas/laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have caused us to rigidify, dehumanize, and narrow the elementary curriculum. Children are being forced to learn to read and compute at earlier and earlier ages, often at the expense of everything else, and in more and more mechanical ways.
As a result, my personal aims for this year and the remainder of my career are to emphasize, even more than I have been, creativity, care, critical thinking, curiosity, initiative—the joy of learning. As children learn and develop the knowledge and skills they must have, they can and should do so through hands-on/minds-on curricula that is engaging, enriching, and responsive to the learning strengths and needs of the particular children with whom we are working. We have to observe and listen carefully to what they are actually doing, saying, and understanding, and then respond appropriately, over and over again. And we have to let them know every day and in every way that they are wondrous, brilliant, and beautiful—our one true hope.
CUSP: The Center for Urban Schools and Partnerships
We invite you to attend the first event in our year-long speaker series:
Preparing Educators and Youth in a World of Economic Injustice
Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right
In conversation with Ruth Cossey, Mills College
September 20th, 2012
Lokey Graduate School of Business, Room 101
5000 MacArthur Blvd
Oakland, CA 94613
Join us for an afternoon of dialogue with civil rights organizer Dr. Bob Moses. Dr. Moses was a leader with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Voter Registration Project and Mississippi Freedom Summer in the 1960s. As a MacArthur Foundation Fellow he went on to found the nationally-renowned Algebra Project. Most recently, Dr. Moses has been leading the call for an amendment to the US Constitution for Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right. We hope you will join us in conversation with Dr. Moses about his life-long leadership and activism for racial, social and educational justice for all.
This event is co-sponsored by Mills’ Office of the Provost, Department of Ethnic Studies, Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center, and Black Women’s Collective, as well as the National Equity Project and the Office of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
Let’s stop the hype and the hypocrisy: a nice note, a flower, a Starbucks card, and a week when we all go smooshy over Miss Brody or Mr. Escalante can’t possibly counter 51 weeks of official disdain and a continuing frontal assault from the powerful. Lots of cynical similes are filling teachers’ in-boxes this week: Teacher Appreciation Week feels a lot like Turkey Appreciation Week at Thanksgiving, or Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season—and we’re the turkeys!
Teaching involves engaging real students every day, nurturing and challenging the vast range of people who actually appear before us, solving problems, making connections, putting in 70 hour weeks and spending our own money on supplies; and it means listening to every two-bit politician, the bought media, and big money misrepresent what we do, and attack us shamelessly every day.
Want to appreciate teachers?
Don’t allow education to be defined as an endless Social Darwinist competition: nation against nations, state against state, school against school, classroom against classroom, and child against child. Education, like love, is one of the fundamentals of life—give it away generously and lose nothing—and school is where we can work out the meaning and the texture of democracy—coming together to explore the creation of community, pursuing the hard and challenging questions, and imagining new ways to be in balance with the earth and in harmony with each other. Good teaching deals with the real—honor teachers for that.
Reframe the debate: We are insistently encouraged to think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screw driver—something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity. The controlling metaphor for the schoolhouse is a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads; it’s rather easy to think within this model that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes,” is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled “standards” for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that “accountability,” that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials—is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of wealthy “reformers,” noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call “school reform.”
Oppose the “reform” policies that will add up to the end of education in and for democracy: replacing the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration, sorting the winners relentlessly from the losers—test, test, TEST! (and then punish), and destroying teachers’ ability to speak with any sustained and unified voice. The operative image for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an individual consumer good, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss—the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn’t leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.
Note that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions, and that teachers independent and collective voice is essential in determining these conditions.
Fight for smaller class size, limited standardized tests, enhanced arts programs at all levels and in every area, equitable financing, and a strong teachers contract that protects intellectual freedom, due process of law, benefits (from pensions to health care) negotiated in good faith, and encourages collegiality and collaboration.
Throw in a note or a flower if you like.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s open letter to teachers, his idea of a public appreciation, missed the mark badly even as it regurgitated every silly cliché rehearsed by opportunist politicians everywhere: my mom wuzza teacher, my sister wuzza teacher, my wife wuzza teacher—all the wuzzas feel our pain. He went on:
- “I have worked in education for much of my life.” (And some of his best friends are…you know).
- “I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do.” (Thanks, boss).
- “Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.” (And your “Race to the Top” program is paint-by-the-numbers on steroids).
- “You have told me you believe that ‘No Child Left Behind’ has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students…[it] has narrowed the curriculum.” (So now you’re telling us what we’ve been telling you?).
- “You deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.” (Just do it!).
Arne Duncan acts like a junior foundation officer dispensing grants, rather than someone whose responsibility is the education of every child in a democracy.
On the bright side, Duncan recently announced that he supports same-sex marriage—perhaps we should all gay-marry immediately, and hope that at last he’ll show us some love.