Teacher assigns ‘oppo’ research for Obama

Eighth graders at a Virginia public school were told to research the weaknesses of Republican presidential candidates, write a paper on how to exploit the weaknesses and identify who to send the paper to in the Obama campaign.

“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.

Michael Denman divided his honors civics class into four groups, all assigned to do “oppo” research on Republicans. After parents complained, the principal told the teacher he should have let students research a candidate from either party, a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman said.

Duh.

Allegedly, the teacher never told students to send their research to the Obama campaign, but why assign two students in each group to figure out the name of the right “oppo” person?

 

Hess: Top 10 edu-stories of 2012

Why wait for 2012, when Rick Hess has the top Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in the new year?

Among his headlines of the future: “GOP presidential nominee abandons primary season attacks on Department of Education; talks up education reform in push for moderates.” Meanwhile, Republicans will feud over Common Core standards, he predicts.

Despite doubts about Race to the Top’s implementation, “Obama campaign makes Race to the Top, push on college affordability a centerpiece in effort to woo suburban swing voters.”

Hess also foresees a backlash against aggressive anti-bullying campaigns after elementary school boys are suspended for tussling and name-calling. (Think zero tolerance.)

Rewriting No Child Left Behind will be left till 2013, he predicts.

Finally: “Mixed results for the Khan Academy‘s ‘flipped’ classroom lead some educators and policymakers to worry that the model doesn’t work for kids who don’t do the requisite work at home. One expert notes, ‘The kids who didn’t do their reading or homework before are the same kids who aren’t viewing their lessons and lectures now.’”

Occupy in the classroom

Occupy Oakland wants teachers to teach about the movement, plus “the role of strikes in movement history,” “the systems and issues this movement is protesting against,” “the possibilities for change this movement is part of envisioning” and “what students need to know about how to stay safe during protests.”

For (very sketchy) lesson plans, teachers can turn to Occupy’s site or the New York Times Learning Blog.

Kristen Burzynski, who teaches eighth-grade science at Community Day School, spent a day on Occupy’s message, reports KQED’s Mind/Shift.

. . . she began her lesson by asking students to think about three slogans of the movement: “We are the 99 percent,” “Human need not corporate greed,” and “Save the American dream.”

Her students had heard these phrases before and recognized the images of the Occupy Oakland camp. Burzynski asked her students, “What do the protesters want?” Responses included money, fairness, and jobs. She answered, “You know, Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for NOT having a distinct goal – a lot of people are saying, What are they asking for? I think it’s cool that you guys are able to hit a lot of things they’re asking for without being told about it.”

To explain the 99 percent wealth disparity, Burzynski asked all her students to try a math problem. She told students to imagine that there were one hundred people and one hundred dollars. One person has 40 dollars. The other 99 people have to split the other 60 dollars. How much would each of the 99 people get? Students mulled over this long division problem, before throwing out guesses, “A penny!” “A quarter!”

Perhaps they need more time on math. Or, since it’s a science class, they could study science: What are the health risks of living without running water or toilets?

Teachers who joined Occupy’s strike cost Oakland Unified about $60,000 to cover the cost of substitute teachers, according to the Bay Citizen. That’s tough on the district, which is laying off staff and closing schools.

Inside angle on K-12 politics

What do the insiders think about education politics in the next two years?

Ed Week’s Politics K-12 has the juicy stuff from a subscription-only report by Andrew Rotherham (Bellwether Education Partners and Eduwonk) and John Bailey, a Bush education aide.

Nearly 70 percent think the Republican surge will slow President Obama’s education agenda. Two thirds think the federal role in education will be scaled back.

One person surveyed said: “Next Congress is going to be about cutting spending, repealing Obamacare, and setting the stage for 2012. Noises will be made about how wonderfully bipartisan education can be and Congress will even attempt to make progress, but Harkin [Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee] is incapable of making the right deals to get the Senate Republicans on board, and the House won’t move forward on anything other than piecemeal bills.”

Eighty-three percent expect bipartisan consensus favoring charter schools and 61 percent predict agreement on teacher effectiveness.

. . .  just 9 percent see the possibility of agreement around extending the Race to the Top (a key Obama priority), and absolutely no one expects agreement on increasing K-12 funding or regulation of for-profit colleges (a higher education issue that many in the GOP say has poisoned the bipartisan well for agreement on K-12).

Insiders predict Republicans will revive debate over the end of vouchers in Washington, D.C.  Some think the Republican wave could slow the push for Common Core Standards. Most think states that made reforms to get Race to the Top money will stay the course, even with Republican governors.

A caste rises through education, trade

Southern India’s lower-caste Nadars, once only a step above untouchables, are now well-educated business leaders, reports the New York Times.

. . .  southern India has rocketed far ahead of much of the rest of the country on virtually every score — people here earn more money, are better educated, live longer lives and have fewer children.

Why? Southern India’s lower castes concentrated on education and business, while northern India’s castes worked for “political power and its spoils.”

Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states.

Lower castes in southern India began fighting upper-caste domination a century ago, before independence from the British. Gaining political power wasn’t an option, so the Nadars focused on “dignity, education and self-reliance.”

Nadars created business associations to provide entrepreneurs with credit they could not get from banks. They started charities to pay for education for poor children. They built their own temples and marriage halls to avoid upper caste discrimination.

“Our community focused on education, not politics,” said R. Chandramogan, a Nadar entrepreneur who built India’s largest privately owned dairy company. “We knew that with education, we could accomplish anything.”

What happened to the teacher bloggers?

What Happened to All the Teacher Bloggers? asks Anthony Rebora on Ed Week’s Teaching Now.  He thinks fewer teachers are blogging regularly, except for ed-tech bloggers.

Are would-be teacher bloggers (a la Epiphany in Baltimore) just too frustrated or burnt out to write? Do they fear professional repercussions? Or has recreational blogging lost some of its cache with the rise of Facebook and Twitter?

Teacher bloggers often start strong, have their say and then decide to devote their energies to teaching rather than blogging. Are fewer newbies starting blogs? That could be.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, a Catholic school teacher was fired after she criticized a student’s anti-Obama speech for its tone and viewpoint on her blog, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Elizabeth Collins, an English teacher, writer, artist and “activist,” admitted her “annoyance” at the girl’s politics and posted her own model speech, which defended Obama’s policies. She encouraged students to move “beyond knee-jerk joining of their parents’ political party, and not become one-issue voters, to open their minds and consider the ramifications of their votes.”

The student’s parents, James J. White IV and Megan White, read the post and asked: “If this had been an overly liberal paper, would our daughter have been the subject of your blog?” When the Whites pressed their complaints, Collins used her blog to complain about provincial, intolerant, ultra-conservative parents. Eventually Academy of Notre Dame de Naumur fired Collins.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association says on its website that teachers should not blog about their “job duties, colleagues, supervisors, or students,” notes the Inquirer.

Mandy L. Fleisher, a PSEA staffer who gives workshops about blogging, said, “We recommend that people be safe rather than sorry.”

Others don’t go that far, but Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and a blogger, said he liked guidelines set down by a fellow education blogger, which include: “If you wouldn’t say it in a faculty meeting or yell it down the hallway during a passing period, perhaps you need to rethink posting it.”

Collins’ unprofessional conduct is the issue, writes Christine Flowers, a former English teacher, in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Collins had every right to have a blog, although it might have been better to keep a private journal instead of presuming that anyone cared about the minutiae of her job. What she didn’t have a right to do is drag into public view something that was a private matter between teacher and student. If she felt the student’s work was mediocre, she should have given her a C. And if she disagreed with its viewpoint, she should’ve sucked it up. It’s not for a teacher to shill for a specific political or social philosophy.

Teachers have to separate professional duties from personal prejudice, Flowers writes.

Real men of genius

One of my favourite education writers, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, writes about a Mr. Eric Hanushek, who in addition to being an economist, may very well be a real man of genius.  Remember all that money that might be flowing to the schools?

I read about a school principal who disliked saying she was firing staff. She preferred the phrase “freeing up teachers’ futures.” That is sort of what Hoover Institution economist Eric A. Hanushek is saying we should do with any new school bailout: use it to pay severance packages for ineffective teachers so they can find their true calling elsewhere.

That’s not going to happen any time soon, of course.

Hanushek’s article actually has a much larger scope: he looks at different possibilities of what will happen to schools (with respect to the economy) and discusses multiple strategies.  Still, the notion of paying teachers to leave has a certain amount of poetic justice to it; and really,who among you didn’t have an absolutely crappy high school teacher that really needed to be asked to go elsewhere to find their calling?  How much better would schools be without much of that intellectual detritus?

Both Mathews and Hanushek see the obvious problem:

My first problem with his solution, as he recognizes, is that we are not really sure which teachers are effective and which are not. Most districts have no dependable way to find out.

That depends on what the meaning of “dependable” is.  As I’ve said often before (here and elsewhere), there are very dependable ways to identify the ineffective teachers.  Students know.  Principals usually know.  When people say that there aren’t dependable ways to find out, what they usually mean is one of three things: (1) There’s no way to prove that a teacher is ineffective, at least not with a strong enough basis to withstand a lawsuit or a union action; (2) A method might have some false positives and false negatives — some good teachers might accidentally get swept up and some bad teachers might be missed; (3) that they don’t want to fire any teachers anyway so they won’t accept any method as dependable.

I really don’t see either (2) or (3) as an actual problem.  (3) is just institutional inertia.  As for (2), when I clean a sticky spill from my counter — some counter molecules come off onto the scrub brush, and some spill molecules are left behind.  So what?  (1) is a thornier problem — for all the reasons that get discussed ad nauseam throughout the edublogosphere.  When it takes half a million dollars and months of time and effort to fire a teacher, you can imagine what sorts of painstaking accuracy and relevance will be demanded by teachers and unions and what sort of holy hell will be raised if it isn’t.  Still, hat’s off to Mr. Hanushek’s thinking outside the box.

Undermining ethnic studies

Most readers of this blog have probably heard about the new Arizona law that, depending on whom you ask, “bans ethnic studies“,  “rein(s) in ethnic studies“, or “curbs chauvanism (sic) in ethnic studies“.

I thought it might be a useful exercise, though, to tamp down the rhetoric and just look at the actual text of the provisions.  So here we go:

The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.

This isn’t an active part of the law — it’s just the declaration of policy.  Courts might take a look at this as part of their determination of whether there’s some sort of nefarious, impermissible legislative intent at work, but it’s mostly just for show.  Still, nothing objectionable here.  I think pretty much everyone agrees that hating races or classes of people is bad, unless you’re talking about child molesters, businessmen, Nazis, clowns, communists, Republicans, terrorists, or the Jews.  (People seem to disagree about hating those classes of people.)  Moving on.

A.  A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1.  Promote the overthrow of the United States government.

While it’s certainly politically protected speech to advocate the future (though perhaps, depending on context, only nonviolent) overthrow of the United States government, there’s a very big difference between the government’s prohibiting speech on the one hand, and the government’s producing its own speech on the other.  I can’t see that this provision is really problematic.

2.  Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

This seems horrifically vague to me.  What is a “class” of people?  I don’t see it in the definitions for Title 15 of the Arizona Revised Statutes… though perhaps it’s defined elsewhere.

Now, we might think that promoting resentment is never a good idea, towards any group of people whatsoever.  But that just puts us in a further bind: what’s “resentment”?  One would hope that the law would be interpreted by courts not to require the actual word “resentment” to show up in a lecture or textbook in order for the offending course to qualify.  But beyond that, I have a hard time imagining how a jurist could make a determination that a course was promoting resentment.

3.  Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

This seems problematic, also.  Good pedagogy might demand that certain courses be designed for certain ethnic groups.   Now, later on we are assured by section (E)(2) that the law does not prohibit:

The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.

But there’s more to a course designed for a particular ethnic group than language issues.  I’m imagining something like a group of immigrants moves to Arizona and their kids start attending school and it turns out that what they really need is a primer on existing in a society with television and electronic media.  So the principal designs a quick and dirty course for these immigrants to help them through the culture shock they are experiencing.

Sorry.  Can’t do that!

Moving on.

4.  Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

I can only assume that the person who wrote this provision was either a moron or was just being careless.  Imagine that I made the following illegal: “Persons shall not smell flowers instead of baking pies.”  Anyone arrested for smelling flowers would, rightly, complain that they weren’t not baking pies by virtue of the fact that they were smelling flowers, so they can’t be said to be doing one instead of the other.   Likewise, one can easily imagine that it is possible to advocate ethnic solidarity while at the same time advocating the treatment of pupils as individuals (whatever that means).

After a few passages relating to procedural issues, we come to the other substantive part of the provision: things that aren’t prohibited.

E.  This section shall not be construed to restrict or prohibit:

1.  Courses or classes for native American pupils that are required to comply with federal law.

Necessary to avoid federal preemption, I think.

2.  The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.

Sensible.

3.  Courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students, unless the course or class violates subsection A.

WHAT THE BLOODY BLUE BLAZES? If I am reading this statute correctly, the ONLY place a course can be prohibited is in subsection A.  So… a course is not prohibited under this section, unless it’s…. prohibited under this section.  Is that it?

I’m going to pray that the actual law that was signed by the governor had this problem fixed.

4.  Courses or classes that include the discussion of controversial aspects of history.

Ah… finally.  The release valve from all of our problems.  Classes might be prohibited.  But not if they include a discussion of the controversial aspects of history!  Let’s count the number of things wrong with this provision.

First, there’s no requirement that the discussion of controversial history have anything to do with the material that led to the course’s being prohibited under Subsection A in the first place.  In other words, I can have a course entitled “Why Mexicans should slaughter all those oppressive white people” and as long as I include a discussion of a controversial aspect of history, I’m in the clear.  Now, I’m being somewhat facetious.  Presumably a court is going to read some sort of requirement into this provision that the controversial aspect be what brought it under scrutiny in the first place.  Let’s hope so.

Second, though, one might think that because the sorts of things that are being banned here are inter-racial grievances, and because most grievances happened, you know… in history, and because most grievances require, you know… disagreement about the characterization of such past acts, that every course that qualifies for prohibition under this section is going to do so in great part because of its discussion of “controversial” aspects of “history.”

I’m just sayin’.

So there we are.  That’s the text of the law.  And as much as I might sympathize with the sentiment behind it….. my verdict is this: sloppy, sophomoric, and not long for this world.

When stimulus isn't enough

A little more than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed the “Stimulus” bill.  At the time, we were told that one of its chief features was to save the jobs of public school teachers.  There was, despite my general feelings of disapproval towards the Stimulus, some sense to doing this.  As I’ve often argued, there’s no “playing catch up” with missed education.  Once a child falls behind, he or she is pretty much screwed, both from a biological perspective (the brain becomes less adaptable as it ages) and on a social basis (our school system and our merit-tracking systems tend towards the chronologically-based).  So if there aren’t any teachers — the scenario that proponents of the stimulus package averred would come to pass in its absence — it’s actually really bad for students.

Now we can argue back and forth about whether the feds actually should (or do) have this sort of authority, whether public school teachers really needed shoring up, and whether states and districts ultimately just needed to learn to tighten their belts and are being led down the garden path by the DoE and Congress.  We can go back and forth all day on those issues.  But it’s clear that the argument for keeping public school teachers in play is (at least as I’ve made it here) a plausible one.

Sometimes, though, when a person get’s a good argument in their head, the argument keeps getting made.  Over, and over, and over.  It’s like in Les Miserables, where Thenardier gets a plausible argument that he’s a hero.  (It’s false, but it’s plausible.)  The guy’s entire life becomes about leveraging that story over and over again for everything it’s worth.

I wonder…. how many more times are we going to see the feds saving state jobs in education?

The Obama administration on Thursday threw its support behind a $23 billion measure intended to avert large-scale teacher layoffs, urging Congress to include the effort in a spending bill lawmakers are drafting to fund wartime costs and other urgent needs.

“We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Duncan added: “These budget cuts would also undermine the groundbreaking reform efforts under way in states and districts all across the country.”

It’s for the children.  At least that’s what we can keep telling ourselves.

Donde estan?

College students aren’t receiving their recommended daily allowance of  American Latino Political History, according to a “page by page” study of 29 college textbooks.

The authors cite considerable research suggesting that, in introductory courses, textbooks are reflections of what students are taught. And since for many students, poli sci 101 (as a general education requirement) will be their entire study of government, these students are unlikely to learn much more about how Latinos fit into the U.S. political system.

* * * *

They conclude with a call for textbook authors and editors to rethink their treatment of the ethnic group.

There are two ways I can see this complaint.  One is that the complaints are directed to a lack of coverage for Latinos in American political history.  The other way of seeing this is that the complaints are about a lack of coverage for Latinos in textbooks relating to modern political science.  (The concern could also be directed at both.)

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of complaints that disenfranchised groups aren’t represented in historical accounts.  I would like to humbly submit the following thesis:  Disenfranchised groups aren’t a big part of history because they are disenfranchised and generally lack the power to be movers and shakers on the political scene.

There are of course exceptions.  Sometimes the peasants get uppity, and you get things like rebelling gladiators, guillotines, or marches on the capitol.  Such things get coverage in textbooks.  But that might not be good enough for certain parties.

Many of the texts discuss César Chávez, but for most that’s about it for sustained discussion of Latino civil rights leaders or movements. The Latino civil rights movement is portrayed as “a few random events, not as part of an overall movement,” the article says. Key figures like Dolóres Huerta rarely appear. Only three of the textbooks studied explained terms such as “Chicano” or “Brown power.”

As for modern political science… that’s not really my field so I don’t know whether there’s more to say about distinctly Latino contributions to the modern political landscape other than the obvious: immigration, bilingual education, and agriculture worker issues.  Presumably there is more to it, but I’m not really privy to what goes on in the sort of general ed polisci classes that the authors are concerned with, and I don’t know how much detail can really be crammed into a single semester or 10-week quarter.

There are serious problems with measuring the absence of something in a study.  There are a lot of things in this universe that are absent from a number of different contexts.  In cases like this, I’d like to see specific, concrete proposals about content that can be weighed on its merits, rather than generalized complaining about a lack of coverage.  Then we can know whether something is really missing or simply isn’t of great enough quantity or importance to warrant inclusion.