North Carolina anxiously awaits its grades. State law (General Statute 115C-83.15) now (2013-2014 school year) directs the State Board of Education (my former employer) to award each of the state’s public schools a grade, A-F. 80% of the calculated score is based on standardized test scores.
This is, to this citizen, further evidence of the arrogance of North Carolina’s pompously conservative law makers. Is their goal, to improve the state’s public schools, when there actions are designed to make it easier for parents to judge their community schools at the same time that they continue to cut staff and instructional materials?
An October 2013 NC Policy Watch article itemized the effects of state’s education budget (2013-2014), as reported by 34 local mostly conservative news outlets in 34 NC towns. Among other degradations to North Carolina children, the cuts totaled the loss of 364 more teachers, 901 more teacher assistants and $8,226,774 for textbooks and instructional materials.
By coincidence a publication just released by the Southern Education Foundation reports that students in American schools, who qualify for free and reduced lunches, now outnumber those who do not. 51% of U.S. public school students are low income children. Of North Carolina’s Students, 53% are low income, and to our south, 58% of South Carolina and 60% of Georgia public school students are low income.
I especially appreciated the statement made by SEF Vice President Steve Suitts.
“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness… Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”
For the last several years, I have been opening my keynote addresses by describing something that I’ve learning in the last 24 hours. It was usually something that I’d run across on my iPad (Flipboard), or a conversation I’d had, or some other striking something that caught my eye. Today, it would likely be the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant just brought on line in Kenya with the assistance of Germany’s continued development of green energies. I first learned about the plant from the Kenyan cab driver who took me from the St. Louis airport to my hotel yesterday.
But no story today. The first reason is trivial though not insubstantial. It’s time. I’ll only have 45 minutes for my opening talk. It’s usually closer to an hour.
The second reason is more important. It is my audience; school librarians, students of library science, and supporters and administrators of school library programs. I’m not launching into a demonstration of personal learning because librarians and their libraries are almost entirely about person learning. Their patrons explore, examine, experiment and discover – in much the same ways that we all conduct our essential learning outside of school.
These authentic learning experiences are way to rare in the classrooms of our schools, and this is due not to the best intentions, reflections and inventiveness of our teachers. It is my country’s continue obsession with market motivated and industrial methodology of public education.
I’m working on my new book and just ran across this article, an ingenious project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, here in North Carolina. Jim Tomberg, a teacher at the High School has received a grant from state and federal funds, to establish a software development course for his school. The funds were intended to promote unique and innovative projects in education.
The high school students in the project were to create original, documented (software) to the specifications of teachers in the elementary grades. Tomberg wanted the programmers to work closely with the students and teachers receiving the (software).
To make the entire project educational, Tomberg says he “let the kids make all the decisions. They organized the whole course.” They studied various brands of computers and decided what equipment to buy. Then they came up with the idea of doing a newsletter about their study – all composed on computers using word processing programs.
The (elementary) teachers who requested material did, however, retain complete control over the content of the programs. In every case, students spoke directly with each teacher to insure useful results in the classroom.
Sheila Cory, the districts computer coordinator is quoted saying, “The computer is (forcing) us to reexamine our goals in education.”*
If you’d like to read the article, you’ll have to dig up a September 1983 issue of Compute Magazine, page number 100.
In many ways, I think that we were more innovative and even forward thinking back before computers and the Internet became mainstream.
Chris Lehmann challenged us (EduBloggers) last week to join the conversation about the police shooting of an 18 year old African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri and militarized posturing of law enforcement against the resulting protests. To be honest, I was not fully aware of the situation, too focused on getting my daughter ready to return to college and establishing a second residence to be closer to my and my wife’s parents.
I’ll agree wholeheartedly with all of Chris’ sentiments here, here and here, and would expound on them if I could. But, as a white, anglo saxon, protestant, eighth generation American, whose grandfather’s grandfather probably owned slaves, I honestly do not feel worthy to ardently express righteous sympathy with what I would characterize as second Americans. White man’s guilt?
I would like to ask a different question, though – and not as an attempt to distract us from a conversation about the unfulfilled promises (myths) of the American Dream. I ask this alternate question because I believe that there is another struggle happening here, one that possibly goes back to the beginnings of this country.
Looking at the picture to the right, I do not see how anyone could disagree with calling this a militarized police presence. But where did all that military hardware come from? Who bought it? ..and why? ..and Who got paid for it?
If we agree that one reason for learning (being taught) history is to avoid making its mistakes1, then here might be a useful starting question, “What were the historical mistakes that led to the situation of this picture?”
This could go almost anywhere in human history, of course, and why should formal learning experiences be limited (by testable standards)? But that’s a different issue — maybe.
We might, for instance, go no further than a little more than a decade ago, when 19 mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists, attacked the United States at it’s heart, New York City. Those 19 mostly Saudi Arabian men, using our own technology against us, were effective nearly beyond anyone’s imagination.
Our response was to make war in Afghanistan and Iraq and declare war on terror, establishing the Department of Homeland Security. Although little else happened here, local police forces still find themselves armed for terror both from without and within. ..And you know what they say about a hammer.2
I would suggest that we responsibly and effectively teach history to avoid its mistakes, but also as a guard against having history re-written for us.
I will close here by suggesting that we ask students utilize contemporary literacy skills and do what Deep Throat3 said, “Follow the Money.”
2 The Law of the Instrument, or as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.“
3 Deep Throat is the pseudonym given to the secret informant who provided information toBob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972 about the involvement of United States President Richard Nixon‘s administration in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal.
After finishing up the last episode of Breaking Bad Brenda and I applied ourselves to finding another moderate to long-running TV series to binge-watch, two episodes a night. We were looking for another character-based crime drama, though nothing so emotionally stressful as BB. Martin suggested The Wire and we gave it a try. If it had been just me, I would have nixed the show after the first episode.
“What’s going on?”
“What did he say?”
But, as is often the case, three episodes in to this series created by author and former police reporter, David Simon, and we were hooked. Essentially, the show is about life, death, business and politics in neighborhoods that the rest of America would rather pretend aren’t there. In the show, they are “the projects,” “the towers,” “the vacants,” “the east side,” “the west side.”
One of the aspects of The Wire that most impresses me is its portrayal of both good and bad, wisdom and near-sightedness, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery on both sides of the criminal code.
But mostly, it’s about thriving in economically depressed Baltimore in the first years of the 21st century, facing drugs, disease, murder and gangster politics.
And, in season 4, a new evil threat emerges from Eric Overmyer’s scripts, reaffirming the futility of trying to rise out of the streets of east and west Baltimore. You guessed it. It’s the effects of high-stakes testing on the lives of children and their teachers.
I find it interesting that a major network, even if it’s a limited-view premium network like HBO, has placed, along side violence, disease, and dysfunctional government, the debilitating effects of an education system, based increasingly on bubble-sheet compliance.
2/7/13 - Gerry Roe posted a comment to this article, asking for the data source on this infographic. The designer did not include the data, which in my opinion, renders the graphic useless. Ryann has not yet commented below. She's busy with her other job and her graduate work.
I did some googling and found three tables with identical data, but none of those documents sited valid sources. I am leaving the graphic up as an example of the critical importance of the basic literacy practice, "Ask questions about the answers that you find."dfw
Taxes are a constant debate among politics. Everyone wants lower taxes, but few people think about why taxes are necessary. Before you show this infographic, challenge each student to find five unique uses for tax money, and imagine what the world would be like without the government having that money.
This infographic shows that the US and Japan have the highest taxes in the world. Why do these two countries need such high taxes? What do each of the countries listed use their taxes on. What is their national debt like? How did they rack up these debts? Make sure your students understand why taxes are necessary, and brainstorm ways for the government to come up with the necessary funds without taxes.