John Warner: Save Us from Saviors

The previous post by Paul Thomas quote a post by John Warner. I read it and wondered, wow! Why didn’t I know this guy before?

 

Warner writes a devastating critique of “educational tourists” and “saviors” like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

 

 
“This past Friday, under the headline, “The Myth of the Hero Teacher,” the New York Times shared the story of Ed Boland, an executive at Prep for Prep, a nonprofit tasked with putting minority children in elite private schools.
In 2006, Boland decided to leave Prep for Prep in order to “work on the front lines” and “be one of those teachers that kids really like and listen to and learn from….”

 
“He’d been inspired by movies like Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver, badass teachers that took control and led their students to the promised land of learning as measured by scores on standardized tests.

 
“Likely sniffing a fraud, Boland’s students had other ideas, challenging Bolland’s authority. As he recounts in his memoir of his experience, The Battle for Room 314, in the midst of a class disruption, a female student was, “towering above me like a pro wrestler about to pounce.” As the Times characterizes it, the student, “moved her hand in an obscene gesture then told him to perform an act that was anatomically impossible….”

 
“Boland has obviously been chastened by the experience. He seems to understand that the “hero teacher” is indeed a myth.

 
“I’m less convinced that Boland has had an awakening to where he went wrong. It appears that at least some measure of the hubris that led him into the classroom, follows him today. Reviewing Boland’s book for NPR, Nicole Dixon, a seven year veteran of NYC public schools says that Boland uses the word “monsters” to describe his students so many times that she “stopped counting.” Boland seems to understand that he was underprepared for the challenge, but also that the challenge was not winnable. If he couldn’t do it, no one can.
The seeds of Boland’s undoing are made apparent in the language he uses to describe his teaching. To Bolland, the key to success is for him to assume “control.” With control, he’s certain he can get the students to learn, inspire them to “success.”

 
“But from the beginning, it’s clear he put himself at the center of the learning equation. He wanted to be “liked” and “listened to.” He didn’t know enough that control and authority comes from respect and listening.

 
“When your chief metaphor is a “battle,” someone has to win.

 
“Those of us who teach know that control of the authoritarian variety is actually antithetical to genuine learning….

 
“Most of these saviors arrive with two things, a boatload of hubris, and a belief that the purpose of education is to help students succeed as competitors inside a so-called, meritocratic system.

 
“And the supposed key to success, according to each of these reformers, is establishing “control.”

 
“David Coleman, the “architect” of the Common Core State Standards and current president of the College Board (proprietor of the SAT) was spurred to action by his experience as a college student tutoring lower-income students in English Poetry and being surprised that “Thirty years after the civil-rights movement, none of these students were close – not even close – to being ready for Yale.”

 
“Coleman believes if he can control the curriculum and how it is assessed, he can create a level playing field. A man who has never worked in a classroom has had more influence over what is taught in schools and the chief gatekeeping test that stands between students and college than any other single person in the entire country.

 
“Unless that person is Bill Gates, another education savior who funded the development of CCSS and continues to search for a magic bullet that will allow us to control education.
The desire for “control” runs through all of our education saviors. Mark Zuckerberg’s well-meaning $100 million gift to the Newark public schools assumed that they could move teachers and families out of the way to make room for his version of “reform.”

 
“The charter school movement is predicated on gaining “control,” particularly over teachers, and yet we have a generation of data that says outcomes in charter schools are no better than traditional public schools, unless the charters (as they are wont to do) flush out the difficult students, the ones they can’t control…

 
“Ed Bolland learned what life is like without self-respect, when you have no authority or agency, and little hope. Perhaps if he’d put himself in his students’ shoes, he might’ve lasted more than a year.

 
“Maybe this is something we should bring to our discussions about education reform, less desire for control, and a little more humility. Listening, rather than telling. Those of us who have had the privilege to teach and to learn know that it is, by definition, messy, and that it necessitates risk, and giving up on control.

 
“People like Ed Boland and these other reformers are not saviors. They are education tourists. Boland has used his year as an education tourist to launch a book that’s been reviewed everywhere, and is now a sought after public speaker, a supposed expert on education and our educational system.

 
“This is like a student pilot who crashes on his inaugural flight being asked by the FAA about aeronautical safety.

 
“More and more I’m starting to think we need someone who can save us from the saviors.”

 

 

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Paul Thomas: Bad Journalism and the “Hero Teacher”

Paul Thomas has written a series of posts about how poorly the media covers education. In this post, he lacerates the New York Times for its interview with Ed Boland, who wrote a book after teaching one year, and leaving.

 

He writes:

 

“Ed Boland wrote a really bad edu-book that all the mainstream media adores because, well, you know, nobody gives a crap what a teacher thinks, but let ANYbody dip a toe in education who isn’t an educator and then everyone is all gaga….

 

This will be a short post, one that simply notes that I have told you so, again and again—mainstream journalism about education is godawful.

 

I also want to turn your eyes to the promise of the New Media, where two posts have addressed the bad journalism and bad edu-book very well, I think.

 

Thomas then quotes from two devastating reviews on blogs.

 

Nobody Told Him How to Take a Cellphone Away from a Kid, Alan Singer

 
“My fear is that this will book will be used as another weapon in assaults on public schools and teacher certification programs. I have no question there are public schools that are not functioning and should be closed, although it would not be fair to make a judgment based on Boland’s report. Boland says he is in no way blaming the students, they are the victims of poverty….But that is not how it comes across in interviews or what sells books. The focus in “The Battle for Room 314” is on the horrors Boland feels he experienced because of the students and he offers a detailed description of their behavior, at least as he understood it.”

 
Education Tourists Can’t Save Anything or Anyone, John Warner:

 
“The desire for “control” runs through all of our education saviors. Mark Zuckerberg’s well-meaning $100 million gift to the Newark public schools assumed that they could move teachers and families out of the way to make room for his version of “reform.”…

 

“People like Ed Boland and these other reformers are not saviors. They are education tourists. Boland has used his year as an education tourist to launch a book that’s been reviewed everywhere, and is now a sought after public speaker, a supposed expert on education and our educational system.

 

“This is like a student pilot who crashes on his inaugural flight being asked by the FAA about aeronautical safety.

 

“More and more I’m starting to think we need someone who can save us from the saviors.”

 

 

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Kicking Over the Ant Hill

One thing I used to debate with Ed Kilgore about was whether or not we’re stuck in a 40-40 nation where any major party candidate will be assured of finishing relatively close in a presidential election or whether we’re entering into a turbulent time where one party may utterly lose the political argument and go down Goldwater-McGovern-Mondale style.

I was more open to the latter possibility than Ed, but that was last year and things have gotten steadily crazier since.

Not too long ago, I was criticizing Nate Silver for discounting Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. Now he’s talking realignment.

So, things change.

Rather than do another deep analysis here, I want to start a discussion.

I have a theory that the Republicans rely heavily on their ability to stay on message and keep united behind narratives. Obviously, they have their own cable news network and they dominate political radio, so they have some advantages over the left in terms of their ability to promulgate their messages. I think, however, that the effectiveness of their politics depends heavily on the cohesiveness of their movement. If all their media platforms are rowing together, it works so well that they can convert their voters to climate change skeptics overnight. But, when they start suffering from internal divisions, I think the hive (colony?) mind gets disrupted like when you kick over an ant hill.

My theory is that they’re so reliant on this ability to move people from message to message that they can’t operate without it.

Now, things are always messy during a contested primary season, but if the Republicans can’t unite around a nominee then this problem won’t go away after their convention in Cleveland.

This is kind of how I see the mechanism of their collapse working. If they are about to lose a realigning election, this is going to be one of the prime reasons why.

In other words, it’s not just defections for reasons of ideology, but an inability to campaign coherently and with focus.

So, do you think I am on to something?

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Ed Boland Responds to Critics

Ed Boland, whose interview in the New York Times set off a flurry of negative responses, commented on the blog:

 
“With all due respect, Diane Ravitch, I did everything you suggested: I got my masters in education in advance of teaching, I did even more student teaching than was required, I sought out good mentors. This was not a silly whim. I may not have had the chops for the job, but if so I have plenty of company: 68% of new teachers leave NYC high poverty schools within 5 years. The school where I taught has had 100% teacher turn over, many of them were dedicated veteran educators. I’m trying to call attention to the fact that we are expecting teachers in high poverty schools to do too much. We must end the myth of the hero teacher.”

 
I’m with Ed on that last point. The idea that teachers are to blame for the ills of society is simply ludicrous. The idea that a “great” teacher can singlehandedly overcome all social ills is a myth. Why not have high expectations for both teachers and for society? We have for too long allowed politicians, pundits, and billionaires too divert our attention from society’s responsibilities and shifted the blame to teachers.

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Mercedes Schneider: Why Jeb Bush’s Presidential Campaign Fizzled

Mercedes Schneider is a close Jeb! watcher. She recognized that he was the godfather of many of today’s most damaging corporate reforms. He linked arms with Michelle Rhee to push for vouchers in Florida (but the voters turned him down). He begat the idea that schools should be given a single letter grade, based mainly on standardized test scores. He has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for school choice of all kinds, especially charter schools and for-profit charters. He cheered the Common Core standards more than anyone. He created an alliance between ALEC and his own organization, the so-called Foundation for Educational Excellence.

 

He started his presidential campaign with more money than anyone else. But voters didn’t want another Bush. They wanted a reality TV star.

 

We can hope that the dimming of his presidential prospects also dims the luster of his faux education reforms, which were always about privatization and profit, not students or education.

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William Doyle: What Makes Finnish Schools So Successful?

William Doyle recently returned from a Fulbright year in Finland, and he spent his year studying education. His own child attended a Finnish school.

 

He wrote about some of the lessons he learned in this article that appeared in the Hechinger Report.

 

Here is the big takeaway:

 

If you want results, try doing the opposite of what American “education reformers” think we should do in classrooms.
Instead of control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications, try warmth, collaboration, and highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.

 

When American reformers refer to “personalized learning,” they mean that every child should have his/her own laptop. Finnish teachers use the concept of “personalized learning,” but they mean person-to-person learning:

 

While the school has the latest technology, there isn’t a tablet or smartphone in sight, just a smart board and a teacher’s desktop.

Screens can only deliver simulations of personalized learning, this is the real thing, pushed to the absolute limit.

 

Instead of walking in lines, remaining silent, blowing a bubble instead of speaking, and maintaining perfect order, as our reformers prefer:

 

Children are allowed to slouch, wiggle and giggle from time to time if they want to, since that’s what children are biologically engineered to do, in Finland, America, Asia and everywhere else.

 

Teachers in Finland have the freedom to teach and are encouraged to innovate:

 

Here, as in any other Finnish school, teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals….

 

Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.

 

But is there something about Finland that makes it inappropriate as a point of comparison? Does it succeed because of a homogeneous population? Doyle says no:

 

There are also those who would argue that this kind of approach wouldn’t work in America’s inner city schools, which instead need “no excuses,” boot-camp drilling-and-discipline, relentless standardized test prep, Stakhanovian workloads and stress-and-fear-based “rigor.”

 

But what if the opposite is true?

 

What if many of Finland’s educational practices are not cultural quirks or non-replicable national idiosyncrasies — but are instead bare-minimum global best practices that all our children urgently need, especially those children in high-poverty schools?

 

 

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Don’t Politicize the Opioid Epidemic

In 2014, nearly 20,000 people in this country died because they overdosed on a prescription opioid. Nearly 30,000 people died because they overdosed on any kind of opioid, including the illegal types like heroin. The numbers are not in yet for 2015, but everyone expects that they’ll be even worse.

Politicians are finally noticing that we’re experiencing a health disaster that’s been as deadly or deadlier than the AIDS and crack cocaine epidemics of the 1980s. The Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to work through the process of marking up and sending the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act [CARA] to the floor. They’re scheduled to have a bunch of votes today, and unfortunately the whole thing has become politicized.

As the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Jason Cherkis reported last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer is getting involved in a way that’s making supporters of the bill uneasy.

The root of the problem is that the lead author of the bill is vulnerable Republican incumbent Rob Portman of Ohio. While there are official denials all around, some anonymous sources on both sides of the aisle are accusing Schumer of being reluctant to give Portman a political win that he can take to the voters in November. If true, it’s the same kind of nihilism that Mitch McConnell has been pilloried for authoring in response to the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

The dispute, at least on the surface, is about funding levels in the bill. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has an amendment that would authorize $600 million on an emergency basis. The Republicans aren’t willing to spend that kind of money, so Schumer is arguing aggressively that they aren’t serious about the opioid problem.

This might be considered Basic Politics 101, except that the gambit threatens to kill the bill in its entirety. And that’s not something organizers (or even Senate Democrats working on this issue) are interested in seeing. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was reportedly upset enough with Schumer’s posturing that he skipped a press conference with him on the funding amendment.

Senate Democrats and drug policy groups pushing for a strong response to the heroin epidemic are growing increasingly concerned that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is dangerously politicizing the issue, risking what has been steady, if slow, bipartisan progress…

…The bad news is that some of the states that are in the most desperate need of help also happen to be home to some of the Republican senators Democrats would most like to knock off in 2016. And if the Democrats pick up enough seats, Schumer is poised to become Senate majority leader…

“[M]eaningful progress on the opioid and heroin epidemic is only possible when policymakers commit to moving forward in a bipartisan fashion,” the letter [to the Senate] from the Harm Reduction Coalition reads.

“We have appreciated the bipartisan spirit of collaboration with which Senate Committees have thoughtfully approached these issues, emblematized by the strong support in the Judiciary Committee and amongst the broader community for [CARA]. Harm Reduction Coalition requests that you honor this bipartisanship as you work to advance this bill to the Senate floor,” reads the letter, which was sent this weekend to Senate leaders and provided to The Huffington Post by a Senate source.

Sen. Whitehouse seemed to get with the program later on.

Democrats want to add the money to a smaller bipartisan measure negotiated by Portman, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and others that would authorize grants for prevention and treatment programs. The bill is set for a Senate procedural vote Monday.

“There comes a time when something has taken enough American lives that you have to take it seriously,” Whitehouse said in an interview at the Capitol. “It would be unfortunate if they insisted on passing a bill that addresses this issue without being willing to put a nickel behind it. I think that’s really dishonorable and I hope they won’t do that.”

Honestly, the funding here is of secondary importance for a variety of reasons. First, the most important thing is that Congress come to a consensus that this is one of the biggest problems facing the country and authorize a response. Second, while a problem of this size certainly requires substantial resources, the money being discussed here is insignificant whether it’s appropriated or not. Third, much of the money under discussion isn’t even devoted to tackling the emergency. Research is nice, but what’s needed is tens of thousands of beds for people who are addicted to opioids and require long-term intense treatment. Other monies are devoted to law enforcement, which is also potentially useful but runs counter to overall thrust to get people to treat this as more of a public health fiasco than a criminal one.

To his credit, Schumer has been talking about the opioid epidemic for a while now. I’d hate to see him screw this up because he’s so reluctant to give people any reason to reelect vulnerable Republicans.

Let’s get Congress to agree that something must be done.

Once that’s done, the brutal facts on the ground will eventually lead even the blind to better solutions that are more sensibly targeted and more proportionate to the enormous task at hand.

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