Save Our Schools March -You Can Make a Difference

Save-our-schools The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is holding a one-day fundraiser.  Please consider making a tax-deductible gift today, as part of their day-long May 7th “Money Cascade” to support the March. They’ve set an initial goal of $2500.  

I just made a quick $10 donation – will you match me?

Click here to go to their donation page via Paypal

Here’s more information from Save Our Schools March

“The march is being held in response to recent destructive ‘reform’ efforts which have undermined our public educational system, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation. Something must be done – and it must be done now!

Please join people from all across America as they gather to participate in the Save Our Schools March on Saturday, July 30 in Washington, D.C.

The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is calling on Americans everywhere to demand: 

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities. 
  • An end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation.
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.
  • Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies.”

Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Twitter Stream Visualizer

I posted this Twitter StreamGraphs visualization that displays a flowing graph of the words most frequently used in the latest 1000 tweets marked with the hashtag #SOTU. (#SOTU is a Twitter code for Tweets about the State of the Union address.) It was a great way to follow the backchannel Twitter chatter during (and just after) Obama's speech.

Because the level of Tweets using the hastag #SOTU has dropped way off – here's screen shot of what it looked like when it was live. Click to enlarge.

But since there are still a few people tweeting with #SOTU, click here for full screen of the live graph.

Navigation tips: Click on a word to highlight and see included tweets below.
Scroll to right for the latest keywords. Scroll down to see the full Tweet.
If you see a large spike in one time period that hides the detail in all the other periods, click in the area to the left of the y-axis to change the vertical scale.

Hat tip to Twitter StreamGraphs – @JeffClark


The Classroom is a Factory, But What’s the Product?

This morning I read Bob Barsanti's powerful commentary "The Classroom Is Not a Factory" Education Week (12/1/10). 

"Everything I needed to know about modern teaching, I learned in a factory. In the summer of my 18th year, I made plastic drink stirrers on the night shift at Spir-It Inc…. Many of the current reforms in education aim to turn the schoolhouse into that plastic-products factory. .. The machinery heats and molds our children, then stamps, bags, and packages them to a professional uniformity."

Lewis Hine

 So What's the Real Product?

I agree with Barsanti that schools have been turned into factories. But they don't produce students, they just work there. The demands of testing have turned schools into factories that harness the labor of students to toil at a "bubble-test" assembly line producing "achievement" data. 

Schools mask the child labor with noble mission statements that claim they are producing "life-long learners." But that's just a cover. If it were true, you would expect to see schools where students explored their interests and reflected on their progress as learners. 

The actual product of schools is data, and its production is pursued with relentless focus. Distracting subjects that aren't tested,  are cut. No time is wasted on "creative" student projects – they don't produce data. And when there's no test to take, students can always get ready with more "test-prep."

Of course, a test data factory is a not pleasant place to work, absenteeism runs high and every year many students quit. But there's a steady supply of new students to take their place. It should be noted that teachers work at the same factories. Conditions are better for them. They have a union.

Photo Title: One of the small boys in J. S. Farrand Packing Co. 
by Lewis Hine, July 1909
Library of Congress

Public School Teachers – Problem Or Solution?

Susan Szachowicz
Susan Szachowicz

A few years ago, after giving a workshop at a Chicago-area conference, I relaxed over a deep-dish pizza dinner (what else?) with a few of the other presenters. I never forgot the no-nonsense approach of  Susan Szachowicz, principal of Brockton High School. I was pleased to see her school profiled in today’s New York Times – “4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong” 9/27/2010.

While Arne Duncan, Oprah, and NBC’s “Education Nation” are busy blaming public school teachers, it was refreshing to see the NY Times highlight the turn around at Massachusetts’ Brockton High School that flies in the face of current ”educational reform du jour.” 

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

Note that this reform was led by dedicated public school teachers (including Susan, who later became principal) advocating a return to basics – reading, writing, speaking, reasoning. It wasn’t a top-down mandate, restructuring or charter school take over. It was a (unionized) teacher-led initiative, supported by thoughtful administrators. It took place at one of the largest high school in the country – so much for Bill and Melinda’s “small is beautiful” approach. 

Are public school teachers the problem or are they part of the solution? It depends on whether their unions put job security ahead of student performance. Teachers are responsible for results. But educational leaders, parents and the community are also responsible to support them. Accountability is reciprocal.

Kudos to the entire Brockton High School community. Their collaborative focus on instruction has resulted in dramatic improvements in student performance. It’s a lesson for parents, school leadership teams, teacher unions and education policy makers. Maybe Brockton can star in a sequel to “Waiting for Superman.” 

Image credit: Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick

Curriculum for Excellence – Educational Policy That Values Students and Trusts Teachers

Curriculum for Excellence
Curriculum for Excellence

American education has been hijacked by policy makers who don’t trust teachers, unions that are over-protective of job security, a private sector eager to privatize, and a standardized testing regime that rewards test prep over genuine learning. In the middle of it all, bored students disconnect from school as they realize that their main function is to be trivialized into a source of data for adults looking for someone to blame.

While America educational leadership offers hollow sound bites about life-long learning, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellenceoffers us insight into what American kids are missing. This video produced by the Scottish program offer a quick introduction to three project-based approaches. Here’s two quotes from the video that say it all:

~ A student,  ”When you’re just copying a text book … you’re looking at results which people have already achieved and proved their work…  but when you doing it yourself you get an idea of how things work … and what you actually need to make things successful.”

~ A teacher,  ”In this approach … your not teaching the subject in isolation – your teaching in a much more natural way … with greater depth and more enrichment… there’s an accessible point for every child in the class and they can build on that and take it in directions of their own personal interests.”