The purpose of this blog is to know and understand the teacher's perspective concerning current issues on education reform and the teaching profession. Inputs from the ones who probably knows what is best for students academically -- the teachers -- are rarely considered in decision making of policies. Yet, these so-called education experts and lawmakers dictate how we do our jobs and what we should teach. That's not right!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of the Road...

While most folks are preparing for Christmas gifts giving, family gatherings, and other types of celebratory activities, I will be preparing for something anticipated return to the classroom. Yes, I was hired as a teacher last week!

Starting January 4, 2011, I will be teaching four classes of 6th-grade science and one class of 7th-grade social studies at a public middle school in my hometown of suburban New Orleans. During the next week and a half, I will be preparing to move back to New Orleans and return to the school district where I graduated from and started my teaching career.  While I have taught at a middle/junior high school before, I never taught sixth-graders or social studies. However, due to these economic times, I am grateful for another chance. So, here I go...

I won't say this will be my last blog entry; but I know it will be a long while before I write another blog entry again. Adapting to a new school, new curriculum, new subject matters, and new students will be time-consuming tasks. Plus, I will try to finish my Specialist degree, too. Whew! I already feel a bit overwhelmed; yet I have been here before. In addition, I will have support from my family and long-time friends at home.

Lastly, what I hope the most is that I will be able to rekindle the passion for teaching I once had. I don't know what I will be walking into, but I believe in divine intervention. The circumstances behind me getting this new job are short on luck. I was destined to have this job. Why? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, I am nervous yet excited in my future prospects and blessings.

Despite the public on slaughter we public educators have and will continue to face, I am hopeful we will continue to do the great, noble work we were called to do. Teaching is a tough job; yet somebody has to do it. It's not a quick-fix, stepping stone; it's a calling! It's a profession that I am still passionate about. Now, it is time for me to put that passion back to work. Perhaps, one thing we all need to remember is we are here for the children we serve. Not saying we should be treated as doormats, but our primary job is to educate and prepare our students for the future ahead. We can't do this alone; yet we can and must always strive to do our part the best way possible.

So on that note, I am out of here...Happy Holidays to you all. Good-bye 2010! This year was a learning experience I will never forget. Hello 2011! Peace!

I dedicate this entry to my good friend, Mr. Tyraun Washington, who inspired me to understand what my passion is and to write about it. I am forever grateful. Thank you for your inspiration and unconditional support.

PS --> By the way, I will strive to stay abreast on the happenings in the ed reform debate; plus, I will plan to attend the Save Our Schools: March and National Call to Action conference in July 28-31, 2011. Also, I plan to become a dues-paying member in the local teachers union as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Playing "The Race Card" Goes Wrong

Trying to overcome my insomnia blues early this morning, I start reading online news that I missed since I last was awaken. Then I stumbled across this:

All I could do initially was to shake my head in disbelief and embarrassment.

I heard about this press conference a few days ago. On the local news stations, they showed snippets of this video in their coverage of this press conference. But after viewing this press conference in its entirety has evoked so many emotions within me...including outrage.

As a black educator, I am completely outdone with the Concerned Black Clergy (CBC), a group of local black pastors in the Atlanta area. Their plead to stop the criminal investigation of Atlanta Public School (APS) teachers in the cheating scandal was well intended; yet, the angle the CBC took to rationalize their plead was insane at best. Preaching that APS black teachers should not go to jail for helping [black] students pass standardized tests they were presumed to fail will not help the teachers' cause:

Will we put teachers in jail that help students passed because they knew or they know that students were smarter than a test measure?

Now, there are some things I do wholeheartedly agree with the speaker:
  • Educational disparities among black and white students, especially in the South
  • Overemphasis of standardized testing 
  • Underemphasis on "initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, efforts to build and improve good will and ethical reflection, and a host of other valuable attributes" in public schools
  • Adverse impact of APS cheating scandal on local economy, schools, and the community
  • History of racism in public education and in the media (particularly the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • The big business ($500-700 million) of standardized testing
  • More support for public schools
However, their using of the race card to condone the cheating that occur in schools by teachers is beyond misguided and outrageous. Here's why...

Although I didn't teach in APS, during pre-planning in every school district in Georgia, we teachers went through a mandated in-service on The Codes of Ethics for Educators, which spoke against cheating of any form. In addition, prior to administering any standardized tests, generally, site-based test coordinators reviewed the testing rules and consequences for infractions with teachers. Also, teachers were required to sign an agreement form to adhere to these testing rules. Therefore, the teachers (and administrators for that matter) KNEW BETTER and chose to do otherwise; thus, they should be held accountable. However, for the guilty teachers only, I don't believe they should literally go to jail IF they told the truth to investigators AND they were pressured by administrators to change answers on the student test answer sheets. Their teaching licenses, however, should be temporarily revoked for 1-2 years, if this was their first offense, and permanently revoked if this was their 2nd+ time. For guilty administrators, since they should lead by example, their penalty should be more stringent, including some jail time.

Last year, another metro Atlanta school system in Dekalb County went through a similar cheating scandal at an elementary school, resulting in the temporary suspension of the licenses of two  administrators. Below is an internal e-mail sent to all employees from the (now former) superintendent, addressing the aftermath of this scandal:

----- Original Message -----

From:           Postmaster      Wednesday, June 24, 2009 12:28:25 PM
Subject:        Message From the Superintendent
To:             News Flash


To:             All DeKalb Employees
From:   Dr. Crawford Lewis, Superintendent
Subject:        Message From the Superintendent
Date:   24 June 2009

As you know by now, Atherton Elementary School was recently implicated in
the CRCT cheating scandal that has been a source of much publicity by the
Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).

As Superintendent, I was both concerned and surprised that this
investigation was elevated to the front page of Sunday’s AJC newspaper and
warranted a probe by the District Attorney’s office.   Dr. James Berry and
Mrs. Doretha Alexander are good people who made a grave mistake.
both acknowledged their involvement and accepted their consequences.  They
have served the DeKalb School System with distinction for many years.
is important that you know that the school district was not consulted nor
played any role in their recent arrests.  While we do not condone their
actions in any way, they should be allowed to move on with their lives.

DeKalb County School System is a family, and during difficult times family
should come together.  As a family, I am asking the entire system to reach
out to Dr. Berry and Mrs. Alexander and show your support.  An e-mail,
card or phone call will go a long way towards showing Dr. Berry and Mrs.
Alexander that we still care about them
.  The DeKalb County School System
is a great school district working together to ensure that all of our
students are successful and prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st

The DeKalb County Postmaster

Off topic: I wonder if teachers would have received this type of "love" if they were guilty of similar offense. His history of cronyism and corruption has finally caught up with the former superintendent as he and three of his buddies were indicted on racketeering charges in late May of this year. Unfortunately, it is worthy to note that all the parties involved (in the email and indictment) were black.

Regardless of race, cheating incidents on standardized testing are a growing problem in many American school districts. As my friend and former union colleague, Patrick Crabtree, explained, cheating is an unintentional consequence of tying student test scores to school performance and teachers' careers:

Patrick Crabtree, an APS elementary schoolteacher who heads the Atlanta Association of Educators, said his group has helped teachers caught up in the probe find lawyers to represent them and has helped pay the legal fees by tapping into a National Education Association legal assistance program. A number of school principals have retained their own defense attorneys. 

The investigation should focus on school leaders and their tactics, Crabtree said, because principals and administrators pressured and “bullied” teachers to meet academic targets. 

“This overt threat of job loss, bonuses and pay for performance created this climate,” Crabtree said. “It was stated that targets must be met ‘by any means necessary.’ ” 

No one condones unethical behavior, he said, but “when an ethical person operates under constant threats, they will do unethical things, simply for survival. I have met with the investigating team and they assured me that they are not out to ‘get the teacher’ and they want to go after the ones who created the climate. That part I commend them [for] but, in many cases, the threats have been a bit much.” 

Indeed, the bigger picture here needs to be address to curb cheating in the future; unfortunately, it will not happen anytime soon because Pres. Obama and other ed deformers are pushing for more emphasis on standardized testing. Nevertheless, falsifying legal documents (i.e. answer sheets of high-stakes tests) and perjury are felony offenses, according to Georgia state law. To enhance the already broken public faith in the judicial system, any person, regardless of race, ommitting any felony infraction should be punished fairly. As black people, we have come a long way; yet we know that racism is still prevalent in this country. But using race as an excuse for condoning wrongdoing is counterproductive, troubling, and unjustifiable. As black people, we need to forge ahead, not step further backward by using the race card at the wrong damn time!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Be Careful What You Ask For...

A few weeks ago, I heard about a new law passed in California earlier this year that empowered parents to transform failing schools. Under the new "parent trigger" law, if 51% of the parents of any public school sign a petition, they can "trigger" (i.e., force school districts to use) measures to transform the school via converting into a charter school, firing of principal and/or staff, or closing the school. Spearheaded by Parent Revolution, an advocacy group seeking to pursue "kids-only" interests in improving public education, this legislation will serve a precedent in empowering parents as similar laws may be passed in six states -- Connecticut, New Jersey, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, and Georgia. See video below for an introduction to this group:

Yesterday, a group of parents at McKingley Elementary School in Compton, CA used their parent trigger authority to demand a change. Seeking to convert this failing school into a charter school, the parents' action will mark the first time implementing the law. See video below for more on their perspectives:

So far, their actions have received praises from the state governor and several ed deformers, like Secretary Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who made a recent unannounced visit to these parents giving them a "pep talk", according to the LA Times. Plus, this may inspire other states and similar groups nationwide to do the same thing.

While I feel it is always great to see parents involved in education reform debate, I have mixed views about this. Based on my professional experiences with parents as a teacher, I believe that parental empowerment can be a dangerous thing. While some parents, like those in Parent Revolution, believe that teachers and their unions are more concerned with "adult interests", I believe these parents, to a certain degree, will entertain subjective viewpoints in addressing needs of their own children, not all children. Plus, these parents have fallen or will fall for the hype that charter schools is the only way to go.

It is already alleged by some critics that Parent Revolution have some connections with corporations and people who embrace the corporate takeover of public schools formation of charter schools. There is Steve Barr, the chair of Parent Revolution's Board of Directors, who is also the founder of a charter school network organization, Green Dot America (check out the interesting list of people on its Board of Directors). According to an article by LA Weekly on the McKingley case,

...Parent Revolution, with 10 full-time staff members and a $1 million annual operating budget, is funded by blue-chip philanthropic endeavors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

In addition, California Federation of Teachers, one of the state's teachers unions, unapologetically called the parent trigger law "a lynch mob provision". In addressing the McKingley situation, according to LA Times, this is what the other state teachers union said:

But the mobilization at McKinley has raised concerns. Two school board members and a district spokesman said they were not aware of the petition drive before being contacted Monday by the media, and the state teachers union criticized the effort's low profile.

"How transparent was this process?" asked Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Assn. "Did they hold forums for parents to discuss what's going on with the school staff?" He also said the chosen charter, Celerity Educational Group, should have competed publicly against other possible choices.

Good questions. Based on what I have read thus far, there is no documented evidences proving that measures were taken beforehand to inform the local board or announced public hearings for parents to bring their concerns. If these things did happen and the local board did nothing, then they should be made public nationally to bring some objectivity to the McKingley parents' case. Otherwise, this appears to be an effort to bulldozer reform in a highly subjective manner.

In conducting any type of scientific research, once the problem has been identified, the next step is to research the problem by finding out as much information possible about the problem. Then one proposed possible solutions to the problem and test them. Based on the data collected, one will either validate the proposed solutions or make some changes and start the process over. While the problems with our schools are obvious, well-documented, and agreed upon by everyone, the proposed solutions vary and can be categorized into two subjective groups: sensible and insensible. The McKinley parents believe that conversion into a charter school is the ONLY way to improve their failing public school. Yet, there are research studies that questioned the effectiveness of charter schools. I wonder were they aware of these studies? Also, I wonder if they were aware of many instances in other states where parents' inputs are being shut out in charter schools' affairs? Thankfully as there are a growing number of parents who support charter schools, there are just as many parents who support public schools. Nevertheless, this is about the children of McKinley; I pray their parents went into this with their eyes wide open, for the children's sake.

Be careful what you ask for...

UPDATE: As previously mentioned, Georgia is one of the states considering to passing a similar parent trigger law. Already, some citizens in the metro Atlanta area are seriously embracing the idea...*sigh*

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Breaking News: China's Emergence Expands into Education

Courtesy of AJC's Get Schooled
This is just in: Forget Finland! China (Shanghai) is now ranked #1 internationally in education!

Based on the 2009 PISA test scores released today, the students in China's most populous city outperformed their international peers in reading, math, and science tests. What's so stunning is this is China's debut in international standardized testing! See graphic below for international ranking results:

So how did they do it? What was their secret to success? There are plausible explanations from two sources:

According to The Two Million Minutes blog,

One might argue that the Chinese have distorted the results in a variety of ways:
  1. Testing kids in China's most developed city
  2. Pressuring kids to take the test more seriously than their international peers
  3. Even stacking the deck by holding top students in Shanghai schools an extra year to get better results.
From several years experience in China, I know a few things for certain:
  • If there is a way to "game" the system, the Chinese will find it
  • National pride is a huge motivator of the Chinese people
  • Winning at all costs is a Chinese attribute

According to The New York Times,

Mr. Schneider, however, noted some factors that may have influenced the outcome. 

For one thing, Shanghai is a huge migration hub within China. Students are supposed to return to their home provinces to attend high school, but the Shanghai authorities could increase scores by allowing stellar students to stay in the city, he said. And Shanghai students apparently were told the test was important for China’s image and thus were more motivated to do well, he said.

Chinese students spend less time than American students on athletics, music and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects. Also, in recent years, teaching has rapidly climbed up the ladder of preferred occupations in China, and salaries have risen. In Shanghai, the authorities have undertaken important curricular reforms, and educators have been given more freedom to experiment

Regardless of how it was done, like with Finland, there are some lessons to be learned by all of us in America, especially the cost-cutting, quickies-endorsed ed deformers.

UPDATE: Here is Sec. Duncan, a fellow ed deformer, on his take on this news:

Today’s PISA results show that America needs to urgently accelerate student learning to remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. More parents, teachers, and leaders need to recognize the reality that other high-achieving nations are both out-educating us and out-competing us. Our educational system has a long way to go to fulfill the American promise of education as the great equalizer.

Being average in reading and science -- and below average in math -- is not nearly good enough in a knowledge economy where scientific and technological literacy is so central to sustaining innovation and international competitiveness. The results are especially troubling because PISA assesses applied knowledge and the higher-order thinking skills critical to success in the information age.

How ironic!

In addition, School Matters reported an interesting perspective on how poverty greatly influenced the American student performance on the 2009 PISA tests.

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining: A Tale of Three Cities' Locals

As a part of my daily morning routine to skim various online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, on the front page of Huffington Post's Education page was this headline:

Union leader to Michelle Rhee: "We invite you to work with us"

My immediate reactions were WHY, RANDI WHY? OMG! UGH!

While I shouldn't be surprised by this, AFT President Randi Weingarten rather offered an olive branch to Rhee than mobilized her base for an inevitable fight against her and the other ed deformers. On too many occasions, Rhee has consistently made it known she has no interest in working with teachers unions like AFT in reforming education. The kind gesture wasn't necessary, Randi! Trying to play "the good guy" here isn't working for you, Randi! In fact, it makes us more vulnerable to scapegoating and look weaker. This appeasing efforts of yours, Randi, can be easily equated with President Obama as he is currently seeking to "make-a-deal" on extending tax cuts for the rich with GOP Congressional leaders, all of whom made it known they are seeking to end his presidency in 2012. I can't tell how much you and Obama continue to disappoint me!

Thank God for a silver lining!
On a local level in three cities, union leaders are winning battles as each of these locals are "cleaning house" by ushering in new leadership:
Therefore, the moral of the story is CHANGE MUST BEGIN FROM THE BOTTOM UP! Even within our teacher unions, there is a need for change as our leaders, especially at the national level, are compromising our interests for the sake of getting along with the powerful and wealthy ed deformers. They are not willing to keep the peace; so why should we? Our unions need leadership which reflects that. As eloquently, yet concisely stated by education blogger William Ferriter in his HuffPost-Education blog entry last week:

Teacher working conditions are students learning conditions.

Despite what the ed deformers say, most teachers are not seeking a lucrative career in which they will have for life. Instead, we are looking for ways
  1. To protect teachers from arbitrary termination via due process rights; 
  2. To improve school culture and physical conditions that foster learning in a safe environment; and  
  3. To enhance the professional image of teaching by meaningful professional development, attractive salaries and benefits, teacher leadership opportunities, and collegiality among teachers
These are the fundamental precepts that teachers unions should always fight for in ensuring that every child receives a quality education in an adequate school setting. If union leaders fail to adhere to the fundamentals, then they needed to be booted out!

Michelle Rhee...Revisited: Enhancing Her Prowess with

As expected, Michelle Rhee, the former DC School Chancellor, has been a very quiet, yet busy bee since resigning from her post nearly two months ago. However, her discreet efforts have come to fruition today as she revealed her new political endeavor:, a newly-launched website devoted to initiate a grass root movement for her brand of education reform. Of course, she was praised by her ed deformer friends, like Oprah (who allowed Rhee to formally announced her new initiative on today's episode, which I missed by the way) and side-eyed by her critics. Nevertheless, Rhee is exceptional in taking advantage of the spotlight to advance her philosophy and her agenda.  On the Take Action page of her website, there is one statement that perhaps I agree with her the most:

Parents, teachers, students, and citizens: The movement begins with you.

I could spend some time bashing Rhee, but, at the end of the day, it will be pointless. Whether we like it or not, her message resonates with many people. As polarizing as she is, she is continuing to press forward in her quest to reform public education that consistent with privatization. Plus, her allies of powerful, wealthy individuals and entities are growing. In a Newsweek cover story released today, Rhee made it clear not only she is in the fight for the long haul, but also she will fight against anyone who obstruct her efforts to "transform education" i.e., allow a corporate takeover of public schools. Just as in her condescending "manifesto" with her former boss, ousted DC mayor Adrian Fenty, she blamed teachers unions, school boards, and others for being obstacles to her brand of change; even though she acknowledged, in the Newsweek piece, she failed to involve teachers, parents and the community more during her tenure in DC. Essentially, will become a propagation instrument to further polarize the public in the education reform debate.

What I find most amusing, yet hypocritical of Rhee's new initiative is her rationale for conflict, as described in the final paragraph of the Newsweek article:

Lastly, we can’t shy away from conflict. I was at Harvard the other day, and someone asked about a statement that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others have made that public-school reform is the civil-rights issue of our generation. Well, during the civil-rights movement they didn’t work everything out by sitting down collaboratively and compromising. Conflict was necessary in order to move the agenda forward. There are some fundamental disagreements that exist right now about what kind of progress is possible and what strategies will be most effective. Right now, what we need to do is fight. We can be respectful about it. But this is the time to stand up and say what you believe, not sweep the issues under the rug so that we can feel good about getting along. There’s nothing more worthwhile than fighting for children. And I’m not done fighting. 

As passionate as she sounds, this is a woman who has NEVER -- to the best of my knowledge -- made a concerted effort to collaborate with others in reforming education, particularly with those who dissented her stance. Successful civil rights activists always sought consensus first! All of this hoopla are nothing more than Rhee using her public relations prowess to bulldozer her soundbites in the public psyche...and they are eating it up, begging for more.

There is a lesson to be learned here. We educators and public school advocates have to do a better job in getting the truth out. We all agree our public schools are broken and desperately need to be fixed; we diverge in how to do it, maybe with the exception of "cleaning house" at top-heavy central/district office. It is a sad case that ed deformers and teachers are fighting with one another over what is academically best for the children. But are children the REAL focus here? Both sides claimed so. However, the actions of both sides are contrary and questionable. Nevertheless, I will never side with anyone who oppose public schools and the professionalism of teachers. It will be ideal if both parties can actually put their differences aside and make reasonable compromises for the sake of the children. Unfortunately, that is a mere fantasy as the "righteous" ed deformers drew blood first, long before According to public opinion, Rhee and her ed deformer cohorts are winning, but it's not over yet.

UPDATE: In case you missed the Oprah episode when Rhee first announced, you can see it below...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Compilation of Sensible Rhetoric

I worked hard at memorizing lists of facts and figures, and carried with me a book of facts ~ Charles Van Doren

For the past two days, there has been a couple of interesting "lists" based on common-sense logic, experiences, and "white lies", from likely and unlikely sources. I would like to share and compile some of those lists below:

Yesterday, accomplished teacher/instructional coach-turned-activist/writer, Anthony Cody, created a list of nonsense ideas being touted by ed deformers and complementing each item with a common sense approach he and other educators (including myself) believe is necessary for meaningful school reform (in colored bold and larger font) -- see here for article:
  • Poverty is just an exuse; poverty matters.
  • Class size doesn't matter; class sizes matters in many ways
  • Test scores are the way we measure student learning; when we focus all of our energy on only one set of measurements, we miss so many other crucial aspects of learning
  • Reform MUST be driven by external measures such as high stakes tests; assessments are most useful and reliable when they are closely connected to classroom instruction
  • [Classroom] experience does not matter; experience matters very much
  • Tenure provides teachers with lifetime jobs... Teachers do not have "jobs for life"; we have due process.
  • Charter schools are deserving of public funds and support; actually, charters have not even been shown to have better test scores, on average, than regular public schools
  • The heart and soul of a school is in our passion for data; the heart and soul of a school is in our passion for children
Today, from of all places -- the Wall Street Journal's SmartMoney magazine, author Sarah Morgan included in her compilations of "10 THINGS" a list of truths charter schools would like to keep out of public domain:
  1. We're no better than public schools
  2. Our teachers aren't certified
  3. Plus, they keep quitting
  4. Students with disabilities need not apply
  5. Separation of church and state? We found a loophole
  6. We don't have to tell you where your tax dollars are going
  7. We'll do anything to recruit more kids...
  8. ...but we'll push them out if they don't perform
  9. Success can be brought
  10. Even great teachers can only do so much
As a supplement, SmartMoney has a similar "10 THINGS" list for public school districts as well; you can view that list at your perusal.

Finally, in a call for more activism from educators and public education advocates, Failing Schools' blogger Sabrina Stevens Shupe included in her plead an accurate list of characteristics that makes schools "sick environments":
  • The mandated curriculum and teaching practices are often drastically out of step with what is known about how people learn
  • Children have little to no time to play (especially if they don’t pass the tests), and people are openly hostile to the idea that joy and learning can co-exist, or the idea that creativity is as important as basic skills
  • Children are so anxious about work and tests that they cry and vomit in class. (There’s also something pathological about a paper that reports on such occurrences as if they’re positive developments…)
  • Bullying is committed not only by errant children, but by school leaders
  • Parents are pressured to medicate their young children, while older students illegally procure the same drugs in order to survive the schooling experience
  • Teachers who routinely work 10 to 12 hours a day have trouble keeping up with all of the demands on their time and energy, and develop severe health problems like exhaustion, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and anxiety as a result
  • Children who routinely work 10 to 12 hours a day have trouble keeping up with all of the demands on their time and energy, and develop severe health problems…
  • Lying is all but required in order to keep your job, and competitive/punitive assessment practices for students and teachers create such desperation that cheating is increasingly common.
  • The most “accountable” people in the system are the least powerful, being told everything from what to teach and how and when to teach it to the specific manner in which the information on their whiteboards should be arranged (and if you dare to question such things, well…)
  • Veteran teachers who found joy in teaching for decades are now itching to retire because their working conditions have deteriorated so badly, while younger teachers leave much sooner, feeling undervalued, burned out and unable to imagine how we might balance such work with families or lives of our own.

Friday, December 3, 2010

To have...or to have not...

Right now, in Raleigh, NC, the NAACP is holding its Education Summit to primarily address the current trend of re-segregation in American public schools. In addition, the oldest civil rights organization will also be tackling the following areas as well during its 3-day conference:

...stopping re-segregation and promoting diversity, equity in funding, high quality facilities and leadership, high quality teachers and smaller classrooms, parental and community involvement; a focus on math, science, history and reading, and addressing the disparities with minorities in graduation, suspension and drop-out rates.

While racism is an issue that still plague every aspect of American way of life, including its public schools, in my honest opinion, it doesn't compare to the adverse effects of classism. Even in the current education reform movement, classism is so overt as the wealthy strives to dictate education reform policies and run our public school systems. Yet, the children of the wealthy still attend private schools. The wealthy is funding and promoting education reform tactics that their children will never be exposed to. If charter schools, for example, are supposed to be "the saving grace" of public education, then why aren't the wealthy children attending them? Most Teach for America recruits, who are typically from a privileged family background and graduates of Ivy-league schools, leave the classroom after fulfilling their two-year commitment for greener pastures. Yet, these are the type of teachers the wealthy wants in our public and charter schools.

It's not odd that the ed deformers -- all of them, by the way, are wealthy and/or come from privileged backgrounds -- fail to address the heart of the problem with our public schools -- poverty. Since public schools are mainly funded via property taxes, many urban and rural school districts suffer due to the lack of funding and resources. In addition, many of the items expected to be covered in the Education Summit, which I colored bold for emphasis, are largely due to low socioeconomic status of most families in the community. While school improvement is still needed, research studies have shown non-school factors affect student performance more than in-school factors. To the wealthy, poverty is an excuse to hinder reform in our schools. Yet again, their kids don't attend our schools. In fact, in the beginning of the celebrated, yet controversial film Waiting for Superman, privileged director Davis Guggenheim narrates his perspective on how frustrating it is for him as he drive pass four "failing" public schools in DC each morning to bring his children to their private school. Let's be real here: Guggenheim himself attend private schools. Even if those public school he passes every morning were "blue-ribbon", successful schools, would he have enrolled his kids in one of those schools? I seriously doubt it!

Recently, via research for a graduate school assignment, I came across an interesting, yet thought-provoking article entitled "The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching" by education professor Martin Haberman. Essentially, it touches on two points: (a) the "pedagogy of poverty" -- fourteen typical acts of urban school teachers that focus more on maintaining order than meaningful teaching and (b) promoting the use of "good teaching" strategies to reverse "the pedagogy of poverty" in urban classrooms. While Haberman emphasized the importance of a school-wide initiative to foster good teaching and high expectations, he failed to discuss the lack of resources and funding plaguing many of these schools, which can affect teacher performance as well as student performance. Nevertheless, for the most part, I agree with his assessment on the "pedagogy of poverty"; for every child -- rich or poor -- can learn and poor children deserve a quality education like the rich. Perhaps one of the most striking assertions Haberman makes is concerning those individuals who wants to continue perpetuating the "pedagogy of poverty":

The pedagogy of poverty appeals to several constituencies:

1. It appeals to those who themselves did not do well in schools. People who have been
brutalized are usually not rich sources of compassion. And those who have failed or done
poorly in school do not typically take personal responsibility for that failure. They
generally find it easier to believe that they would have succeeded if only somebody had
forced them to learn.
2. It appeals to those who rely on common sense rather than on thoughtful analysis. It is
easy to criticize humane and developmental teaching aimed at educating a free people as
mere "permissiveness," and it is well known that "permissiveness" is the root cause of our
nation's educational problems.
3. It appeals to those who fear minorities and the poor. Bigots typically become obsessed
with the need for control.
4. It appeals to those who have low expectations for minorities and the poor. People with
limited vision frequently see value in limited and limiting forms of pedagogy. They
believe that at-risk students are served best by a directive, controlling pedagogy.

5. It appeals to those who do not know the full range of pedagogical options available. This
group includes most school administrators, most business and political reformers, and
many teachers.

But why the wealthy still wants to perpetuate "the pedagogy of poverty", yet they claimed they're not? Aren't giving and reviewing for tests, particularly in reading and math, two of the acts of the"pedagogy of poverty"? The overemphasis of standardized testing that is being pushed by wealthy ed deformers and NCLB exacerbates the fight against such pedagogical practices for our neediest students. Thanks to school accountability measures, public and charter school teachers are coerced to "teach the test" and used test data to "drive instruction" so not only their students pass these tests, but also to save their careers and livelihoods. These teachers have to overcome obstacles beyond their control to ensure student success due to the risk of losing their jobs; how are they supposed to enjoy what they do under this type of  extreme pressure? Private school teachers don't have those types of concerns to contend with.

Due to the current economic decline, some of the ed deformers, like the privileged Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the wealthy Bill Gates, are now calling for school districts to "do more with less" by anticipating and making additional cuts, increasing class sizes, and dismissing teachers' advanced credentials for compensation purposes. Gentlemen, do you suggest the same for the private schools your children attend? Would you want your children to attend a school that lack resources, have overcrowded classrooms, and hires inexperienced teachers? So what gives? Are your children entitled to a different kind of educational experiences than other children? During yesterday's protest against Cathie Black's appointment as the next NYC School Chancellor, NYC Board of Education member, Patrick Sullivan, believes so.

What ever happen to the golden rule: Treat others like you want to be treated? I guess it doesn't apply to the wealthy and the privileged.

The Oprah Effect on Education

While I am not a die-hard fan of The Oprah Winfrey Show, I have always admired her for her philanthropist and humanitarian work, as well as her rise-to-the-top success story to become one of the most influential figures of our time. Perhaps that explains why recently I was disheartened when Oprah became one of the advocates of the current education reform movement. Earlier this fall, she used her show to promote Waiting For Superman and the ed deformers' propagandized message. That episode sparked so much outrage from supporters and opponents of education reform, she devoted another episode a few days later to further push the ed deformers' brand of reform. Her influence and support were a big asset to the ed deformers and a major blow to us teachers and public education supporters. A prime example of how powerful her meddling is was her recent endorsement of her magazine's publisher, Cathie Black, as the next school chancellor of New York City public schools. She lives in Chicago; what do NYC schools have to do with you, Oprah?

From a recent conversation I had with one of my friends, I was reminded of something she said about American urban schoolchildren nearly four years ago. In response to possible criticism for opening a lavish, all-girl school in Africa instead of in America, in a candid interview with Newsweek, Oprah implied American urban students are spoiled and materialistic. This is an except of the interview:

Oprah also knows that some people will complain that charity should begin at home, even though she has provided millions of dollars to educate poor children in the United States, especially via her Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program. But she sees the two situations as entirely different. "Say what you will about the American educational system--it does work," she says. "If you are a child in the United States, you can get an education." And she doesn't think that American students--who, unlike Africans, go to school free of charge--appreciate what they have. "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," she says. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

While she is entitled to spend her money as she pleases, is it fair to call her out on her hypocrisy? I would think that, nearly four years later, her induction as an ed deformer would spark her to create a charter school or better yet, a private academy on American soil. With her clout and money, why not? Oprah, you don't think American urban youth are deserving of that type of charity from you; yet you will ignorantly support education reform tactics that are not research-sounded and will be detrimental to student learning.

I always thought of Oprah as a successful woman of integrity and strong convictions who never forgotten where she came from. Well, change is good...even a change of mind.

A Wish List: Seeking A Palingenesis In Education Reform

It's been a while since I published an entry here. Needing to take a brief hiatus to deal with some personal issues, I still managed somewhat to stay abreast on the current happenings in the education reform debate. I see I didn't miss much. Same old song. The rich and powerful are influencing their brand of reform, while there was little to no outcry from teachers, parents, and students...maybe with the exceptions of New York City and DC. 2010 is quickly coming to a close. One thing for certain is we teachers and public education advocates have definitely lost the public relations battle. Yet, we haven't lost the war.

I am hoping and praying that, in 2011, the momentum will begin to shift in our favor somehow. As long as NCLB remains the law of the land in education, we will have three more years to meet a highly unrealistic mandate for 100% proficiency in reading and math. It appears, especially under the current administration, this mandate will be expanded to include more mandates to undermine public education. Neither of the two major political parties favors sensible reform. In addition, so-called experts Arne Duncan and Bill Gates suggest school districts should consider "doing more with less" in the backdrop of the current economic decline. None of the big players are on our side. And we surely can't afford to wait for something worse to happen.

Before then, I hope and pray several things will happen in 2011:
  • More teachers and public education advocates will speak up and speak out in outlets reaching a larger audience. 
  • More teachers will demand more from their unions by becoming more actively involved and holding their leaders accountable.
  • More public education advocates will use their resources and connections to oppose any type of reform that will close public schools, cripple student learning, and de-professionalize teachers
  • Teacher unions will work more closely together for a common goal, that is to ensure every child receives a quality public education that is not overemphasize on testing.
  • More Americans will open their eyes and see the hype for what it really is: A systematic takeover of public schools by corporate America
Some may consider this list as wishful thinking; but hey, it's not a crime to have hope. These will require some out-of-the-box thinking and strategic planning, but they are doable if they follow a bottom-up approach and everyone is on the same page. I don't expect every one of these "wishes" to happen by the end of next year. What I do hope is we come together as one voice to speak out and demand changes that will benefit the community; enhance the teaching profession; and more importantly, educate our children with a comprehensive, holistic curriculum and quality instruction using effective practices in safe and adequately-funded public schools.