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.
|One of the nice things about writing again, is that it doesn’t require a huge monitor. Therefore, I am not chained to my upstairs office. I can do it virtually anywhere. :-)|
In our 35 years of marriage, there have been only a few instances when my wife realized what a cleaver fellow I am – maybe three. I think one occurred yesterday.
As you may be aware, I am winding down my career as an educator. My wife, concerned about identity security, has spent parts of the last couple of days looking for my social security number included in two large file cabinets of documents from 19 years of clients and jobs. She commented, as we were walking up to North Hills yesterday, that I had accomplished a lot in my years as an independent and been part of some pretty exciting developments in education and technology.
Then she said, “You should write a book about all of this.”
My reply was simple, the same that I’ve said to colleagues who have recently asked, “So now that you’re not traveling so much, are you going to write a new book?”
“I’m through! I’m tired! ..and writing is really hard work for me…”
Yet, this morning, as I woke and lay in bed, my mind was going like it hasn’t in many months, seeming to have realized that in some deep and evil corner of my brain, the decision has been made. I had an outline written out by 8:30 this morning – for a new book about the history of educational technology.
I really can’t believe that I’m Doing this Again!
I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.
Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated. ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.
That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…
— David Warlick (@dwarlick) June 26, 2014
There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.
You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance. Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”
I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?”
Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use. My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.
Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics). But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library. They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.
Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.
Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.
Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.
Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.
Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.
It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.
If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”
If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.
Exactly 2¢ Worth!
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?
I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding. Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.
However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.
If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.
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.
Yesterday, Tim Holt wrote “Why I am At a Science Conference,” describing his work at this week’s Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), and why it is so important that we edubloggers and techspeakers should be sharing our messages into other communities of interest, science teachers for instance. I agree. I’ve tried, for years, to get into social studies conferences. When I succeed, it’s to do a concurrent session, and only 12 teachers showed up. It’s part of the nature of the profession, that we owe our professional identity to our particular area of specialty.
I have keynoted foreign language conferences, library conferences, administrator, and even book publisher, real-estate developer and farmer conferences. Perhaps the most receptive to my particular message are school boards conferences. But Tim is right. Little of this actually makes it into classrooms, especially the “Common Core” classrooms.
Holt referred to the fact that I too will also be speaking to Science teachers this week, in Charlotte, at one of the regional conferences of the National Science Teachers Association – and my efforts to tailor my presentation to that audience. I admit some concern about speaking to science teachers, because I taught social studies, and my examples tend to be more social studies oriented – though I would maintain that any good social studies teacher is also teaching science, math, health, literature, and everything else. It’s all societal.
Tim mentioned me because of a string of posts I made to Facebook and Twitter yesterday, reporting my progress in playing with Kerbal Space Program, a sandbox-style game that has the player designing, building, and flying space craft, on missions from the planet Kerbal. It’s been fun, regardless of my immigrant clumsiness with video games – though I am experiencing some pride in finally getting a manned (well a Kerban-piloted) space craft into orbit. It cost the lives of 12 fellow kerbans and several billion $kerbols worth of hardware.
And although (David’s) message is VERY general, it is at least a start. He is trying to tailor the message to the audience by demoing the Kerbal Space Program online game (https://kerbalspaceprogram.com) so good for him. But those opportunities are few and far between.
These opportunities rare and priceless. ..and forgive me if I seem overly sensitive and even defensive, but there is nothing general about this. The message is singular and it is revolutionary. It has nothing to do with, “Look, here’s something that you can do in your classroom with technology.” It is,
“Look, here’s what many of your students are doing outside your classroom. It’s fun, but it’s work. It’s hard work. And it is entirely about learning. The energy of our students’ youth culture is not based on how high you can jump or fast you can run. It is neither wit nor the appealing symmetry of your face. The energy of their culture is the ability to skillfully and resourcefully learn and to inventively employ that learning.”
My message is that children are entering our classrooms with learning skills that, although based on long understood pedagogies, they are skills that we are too often ignoring and sometimes even handicapping. When I say that we “chop their tentacles off,” it’s not about cutting them off from technology. We’re amputating their access to the learning skills that they are so effectively developing outside our classrooms – their avenues to personally meaningful accomplishment.
Perhaps those of us who have chosen to pursue education technology or have been seduced by its potentials are in a unique position to notice our children’s ’native’ learning skills – more so than science or social studies teachers. But we all must be careful to shed the glow of tech, and get right down to the point of being educated in this time of rapid change.
It’s not about being taught.
It’s about becoming a learner.
We know why we became teachers. If it wasn’t the reason, then it’s why we remained teachers. It’s..
Seeing the light bulb go off. I think that’s why any teacher gets into teaching, because that’s the best feeling, seeing them so interested and engaged and finally getting it … and knowing that you made a difference. (Stancill, 2013)
“Seeing the light bulb go off.”
That’s how Haley Brown describes it. She’s a seven-year elementary school teacher in Raleigh, who has just accepted an administrative position – with a homebuilder. According to the October 24 Raleigh News & Observer article, Haley says that testing has not only robbed her of her emotional and professional energy, but also robbed her students of meaningful learning. Teacher assistants have been laid-off (state legislation), the workload keeps growing, and she has received only one raise and a 1% cost of living increase in her seven years.
It’s not an uncommon story, but one that has gained traction because of the note her husband, Matt, handed her, when she’d made her decision. Haley was so thankful for her husband’s support that she posted the note on her blog, earning 1,200 likes on Facebook. As the letter continued to resonate with some many people, Matt sent it to the N&O, and they published it as an opinion piece. As of this week, it is the most popular story page on the paper’s web site for 2013. It’s been read more than a half million times.
Does this really matter. Is anyone noticing? North Carolina is a right-to-work state, so there’s no teachers union and teachers don’t strike. They just slip away. Who cares?
|Pictures to come|
There is a new story out there. It’s made up of lots of characters, plots and sub-plots, but it’s not been assembled yet.
This weekend, I’ll be attending the ReinventEd Unconference at Black Mountain SOLE, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It’s going to be one of those learning events that’s driven by questions, not authorities, and no small part of its appeal comes from the fact that its organizer is Steve Hargadon.
My greatest wish is for a new narrative about education – a new and complete story that will resonate not only with passionate educators, but also with anyone else,
..who’s willing to listen.
In early 2012, Public Policy Polling ran a national survey to determine the favorability of each state in the union. Not surprisingly, Hawaii was number one with 54% of those polled giving it a favorable rating and only 10% an unfavorable. Southern states, North Carolina and south, generally did not fair well in popularity. Exceptions were my state (NC) and Tennessee, both landing among the top ten. All others, except for Florida, were in the bottom half, four of them in the bottom 10.
Later that year a new government took control in North Carolina, Republicans winning 65% of the seats in the General Assembly based on only 52% of the citizens’ votes (see the Best State that Money can Buy). Since then, this arrogantly conservative body has?
- Denied access to federal emergency unemployment benefits
- Blocked access to federal Affordable Care Act health care benefits
- Increased taxes for low-wage workers
- Lowered taxes for millionaires
- Did away with 5,200 teacher positions and 4,580 teacher assistants
- Canceled salary incentive for educators to become more educated
- Are giving away $10 million in public funds to private schools
- Closed 15 of the state’s 16 abortion clinics
- Suppressed voting rights
- Enacted policies policies that make millionaires more important to candidates and voters less
On September 5, PPP reported a re-assessment of the states’ favorability and wrote,
North Carolina’s national image has seen a strong shift in a negative direction since that time. Its favorability has dropped from 40% to 30%, while the share of voters with an unfavorable opinion of it has more than doubled from 11% to 23%. Its +7 favorability rating would have ranked it 40th in our national study of state popularity in 2011, rather than its top 10 popularity at that time.
I fail to see how this points to improved economy, more good jobs, safer and healthier citizens, more tourists or new businesses.
My daughter texted me yesterday morning, wanting to meet at the coffee shop to talk about an article she’d just discovered. She texted me the URL, http://goo.gl/pFc39Z. It’s not a recent article and is actually one of Valerie Strauss‘ (The Answer Sheet) reprints of a blog article [link/pdf], written by Marion Brady (veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author).
The article concerned a forth-term Florida district school board member, a friend of Marion’s, who had taken a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th graders. After taking the test, the board member called Brady, and this repeatedly re-elected board member, who helps to oversee 22,000 employees and a $3 billion budget and claims to be “able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities,” said that he “hadn’t done well.”
He confessed that he wasn’t confident about any of the 60 math questions, “but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.” On the reading test, he got 62% of the questions right. In an email to Brady, his friend wrote,
It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of (that) life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.
Strauss later identified and interviewed the school board member, and reported on that interview in “Revealed: School Board member who took standardized test.”
My daughter, who is certified to teach elementary grades and high school history, but has given up finding a teaching job (2008 recession followed by recent school staff cuts imposed by our state General Assembly [see]), expressed outrage. She is currently struggling to score well enough on the GRE to get into the graduate school of her choice.
That Florida school board member’s experience suggests a question that we are still not asking in any substantive way. We eagerly, actively, and obsessively ask,
“What kind of teaching best practices lead to higher standardized test scores?”
We are not asking,
“How do higher scores on high-stakes standardized tests lead to satisfying, successful and productive lives and a better world?”
Brady says that decisions about how we assess teaching are,
..shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.
How many of us, productive and successful adults, would willingly and confidently take our state’s high-stakes standardized test, especially if our freedom to move forward was based on passing those tests?
What would our legislative bodies look like, if a requirement for serving elected office was to pass the same tests that they impose on their 15 year old children?
- Larry Miller’s Blog: Educate All Students! – http://wp.me/sBWTO-4010
- Kentucky School News and Commentary – http://goo.gl/Saoi1V
- Hack Education – http://goo.gl/3GsRs7
- Sunrise School of Miami – http://sunriseschoolofmiami.org/?p=1432
- Brush off the dust! History now! – http://wp.me/p116wR-vx
- Web 2.0 and Beyond – http://wp.me/p6Urw-5Y
- Democratic Underground – http://goo.gl/MSRkj4
keep looking »