Sunday, April 7, 2013

Another PAPER!!!!! 
(I don't blame you, I probably wouldn't want to read it either.)

This one was about Educational Issues. It used this book: 

We had to pick our top ten from this selection.
Well, here are mine.

I grew up with two educators as parents. This is why I was absolutely positive, that although I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, I knew that I would not be a teacher. My dad was a HS History teacher, became department head, director of personnel, and then superintendent of a large white, upper and middle class Long Island school district. I remember him studying and in school for his doctorate. Mom, in contrast, was a career kindergarten teacher in an austerity district 30 minutes away. I have always been affected by the controversies in education, and by people who took sides. This explains why I didn’t ‘officially’ begin teaching until forty. My own ‘philosophy’, and history with this profession, like my peers, has been a lifetime in the making. It has been rewarding to see how many others have devoted considerable thought and energy to this topic though out history and in the present day. One last comment before I begin, I do appreciate these books. I have 7 or 8 of the Taking Sides titles in my classroom. They are the basis for debate or research for my accelerated Health students.

I will begin, aka Letterman, with #10. As with any ranking system, I feel good about the reasons for putting my top couple and my bottom couple, the middle ones are a bit more of a mélange. I have occasionally inserted links since I post these on my blog which chronicles my work towards my M. Ed.

Can Zero Tolerance Violate a Students Rights? My initial reaction, to even the premise, is that Zero Tolerance violates ANY person’s rights. It negates the context of any act. This is ‘all the more’ important when considering youth. Common sense, context, and whenever possible, knowledge of the motivation, should all be considered. These policies trap the school leaders into applying totally inappropriate measures because to do otherwise would mean writing a policy so wrought with exceptions, it would no longer be Zero Tolerance. The conundrum. A first grader who bites a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, may indeed need some guidance, I don’t know that, or they may be a gifted 7 year-old artist, but they do NOT pose a threat to the safety of their peers or community (albeit the Health Educator in me wishes that 7 year-old did not consider Pop-Tarts a breakfast food, and that schools did not provide it as one, the real fear being early onset diabetes, and poor nutrition which can affect learning).
Unfortunately, the case argued in this chapter, revolves around a strip search for OTC pills. OTC drug use and abuse are a major concern today. Although these were super ibuprofen and naproxen, they could definitely be risky, and should have only well documented and regulated use within a school. Was the strip search warranted? I don’t know, it doesn’t sound like it BUT here is the common sense part. Could she have been held in the nurse’s office until a parent or guardian was contacted and available to come to the school to be a part of the decision? Might that path also lead to the same inevitable conclusion?  Because this case involves an intimate search, he takes away from the more common uses of zero tolerance. I have very strong feeling about Hon. Clarence Thomas, and the nature of this case just ignite these. The notion that ‘safety’ is preserved by searching backpacks makes me think of a line from a film I use in class called “Bang Bang You’re Dead!”.  In it, the proverbial do-good teacher asserts “It’s not what’s in a kid’s backpack that makes him dangerous, it’s what is in his heart”. Thomas’ notion, although it has some bearing, is one piece of the solution, but the implication that it creates safety, is fundamentally wrong in my opinion and impossible to implement without devastating consequences. The question then is how do large urban schools with clear and present danger keep their schools safe? To me, this is overwhelming and systemic and precisely why I put this as #10, no answers.

Next up as #9, Is the Inclusive Classroom a Working Model? This is a massive topic with so many conflicting issues within it. As many do, I agree with the premise, wholeheartedly. The implementation creates a lot of conflict for me. Can public schools afford this? …is the overarching concern. Within that is: can we afford to spend so disproportionally? Can we afford to neglect then, our gifted and talented? Who is more worthy? Inclusion creates tremendous support and understanding in our students but they are not tested on that. Are the people who give their days to the small group or one-on-one responsibility, at minimum wage or slightly above, trained and therefore successful at this task? What is the goal? These are just a sampling of questions.
Mara Sapon-Shevin argues school climate. I whole-heartedly agree. I recall my own experience of taking the l-o-n-g way to the bathroom in elementary school, in order to go by the SPED room where there were autistic, CP, MR, deaf, etc children all jammed in together and it looked like a circus show, totally unmanageable. I mean no disrespect with the picture; this is how we were conditioned to think. We were not allowed to talk about these ‘poor children’ in the classroom, the mystique bred fear, and imaginative stories. Her strategies to create a positive inclusive classroom seem complete, and should be the standard, handed to every new teacher hired. However, with competing goals for education, are they realistic? Again,  a climate of acceptance, courage, support, and honesty, although we want them to be magically instilled in our children, we as a culture do not currently seem to place them high on the public school’s mission. School Climate Leadership and Facilitation was my previous M.Ed path at NEC. I left that because it lacked support, and I came back to PSU continuing a Tech Integration focus.
I do love that Wade Carpenter chose to relate inclusion with desegregation. I think through his impassioned argument is the thread that having these mass ‘fixes’ doesn’t work, the notion of imposed equality is fodder for oxymoron status.  His plea resonates with me, the school cannot ‘fix’ everything no matter how hard we try, and that effort may actually get in the way of teaching and learning. As a Health Educator, my class is often felt that it is  aplace where all kids can attend, like PE, or Art. I think this stems from a persistent lack of understanding the difference between Health Ed and PE, but in this case it works for my classroom. Since Health is NOT tested currently, we are able to foster the classroom environment  and it aligns beautifully with our holistic health curriculum.

Number 8 is very interesting to me, it is only as low as 8 because I haven’t yet had a great deal of time to delve into it. I see it as very topical, especially as we go through our Health Care Reform process, and conversation. Is Privatization the Hope of the Future? Maybe? My initial concerns are that business may not understand education, that market fluctuations might then make education fluctuations, but I believe there is a lot that the education systems can learn and adapt for better management and to be more transparent.
Chris Whittle assertion that public schools lack imagination and creativity to move forward seems right on. Public schools have evolved less than any other institution I can think of, despite the huge resource of thinking and research on the subject. This article is seven years old, his new ‘truths’ are more mainstream conversation as we explore the 21st Century Learning Skills and realize that teachers no longer hold the content, it is easily accessible elsewhere.
Henry Levin focuses too much on the Edison Schools, he has to because there is little else out there to use as a a guideline. Just because one effort is perhaps flawed, doesn’t mean we can not improve on it. He also brings up the very real notion that we are not talking about education exclusively, we are talking about politics, unions, economics, and even immigration. Therein lies the block. I do not believe that radical transformation is necessarily the way to go but even an attempt to make measureable movement becomes so entrenched and stagnating. Some feel this is key in such an important institution but in one so tragically behind, can we afford it? Can we afford it in respect to all of those factors mentioned? And add in global competitiveness? To me, it is more like clearly like the energy debate in that realize that we can no longer rely on oil as the primary source, but many other sources come with severe consequences. We must re-align our thinking from the one-source fits all to multi-sources depending on geographic location (i.e. wind in the flats of the Midwest), transitional sources, and continued efforts to slow the pace of need. In education, we may need to include this model as a part of the solution, in places where it is applicable.

Annnnnd now, heeere’s number 7 !!!! Are Undocumented Immigrants Entitled to Public Education? What is that saying “Shall the sins against the father be laid upon the child?” I know there is the biblical reference from Exodus but I am thinking more of the Shakespeare quote: The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.
The Merchant of Venice (3.5.1). Personal reflection, makes that a very frightening premise. Justice Brennan’s argument comes down to, ‘does it serve the greater good’ to deny education to these children? He argues it does not, and therefore they deserve an equal education to other, legal, children of the U.S. I think that his ultimate conclusion is evident in his rephrasing of the question. He does not refer to them as ‘undocumented immigrants’; he replaces that with ‘undocumented children’. The shift is evident and follows in his argument.

I don’t believe that the dissenting argument offers much relative to this case. Justice Burger and the others, agree. They argue ‘no’ on the basis of the constitution and whether the court should be required to ‘fix’ a social issue, that may be caused by a lack of effectiveness of another part of the government. In each of the sections, he begins with an acknowledgment of the opposing premise, and agreement but then tweezes out the constitutionality as against. In fact, he brings up the sturdiest arguments to me such as, is education a right or privilege (sounds like the healthcare debate?), and creating a ‘suspect class’ of ‘innocent’ children serves no purpose.

Number 6: Can Failing Schools Be Turned Around? This one is so tough because it begs the question, that if they can’t, what’s the point? But that is not really the argument. Some people may still be critical of criteria used to determine ‘failing schools’ but I can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t believes that they exist. Often it is the symptom of a social paradox. If a school in a poverty stricken area is ‘failing’, instead of focusing on the school, could the efforts be divided between the school’s improvements and the reduction of poverty?  I am reminded of bell hooks, and her reminiscence of her southern black school filled with virtue and determination to provide for the students because they knew that education was deliver the kids from the cycle of poverty. Then she went on into a desegregated environment, lacking in all that and disengaging. 
The key elements used in ‘turning around’ schools, as proposed by Karin Chenowith, are not revolutionary. Until a school is labeled failing, and possible closure, financial punishment, until then, maybe we just don’t make the effort as a community. She uses the term ‘galvanized’. The entire teaching, learning, and greater community have to agree on the mission. If that occurs, what could really prevent it from achieving a great deal of success?
Andy Smarick takes a more skeptical outlook and even implies that finding the way to effectively turn around failing schools is akin to finding the cure for cancer. I agree but in a way he did not intend. Although the cure for cancer seems illusive, we have found ways to prevent, and at least greatly reduce the impact, of certain cancers. The HPV vaccine prevents the leading indicator for cervical cancer, a very deadly form of cancer. Can we also, refer back to numero 7 as a reference, as a society, work on the causative factors? If we continually look for the magic fix, we may be setting ourselves up. Maybe some schools need to close and charters may be an option. These, along side of the efforts of some communities to ‘galvanize’ for improvement, and maybe some ‘private sector managed’ schools, will yield an answer. But, this kind of quilting of systems leads to the next issue on my list. Also, an interesting blog from the DOE addressing various techniques: Also, an NPR series on it:

Gently moving into the top 5, Should Curriculum Be Standardized for All? In relation to the previous topic, it seems almost like a requirement so why do I want to scream NO at the top of my lungs? I am also internally disappointed to hear one of Plato’s themes, distorted 9to me) to argue for YES. In my interpretation of his theory, that there are ‘certain subject matters that have universal qualities’, he is advocating for root learning that can lead to anywhere since he felt that an educated person could go in any direction they chose. I guess this could be seen as we all get the same education and then branch out but, I don’t think he was arguing precise curriculum, more general topics and depth.
The Paidela Curriculum offered by Mortimer Adler for Rediscovering the Essence of Education seems so similar to Bloom, or a multitude of literacy models, except tht it stays very limited. In Health Education we use the Health Literacy pyramid. At the base is Core Concepts, which corresponds to his Column One, but then we move on to Accessing Information, and Analyzing Influences, which does not appear in his Column Two or Three. Instead his Column One seems to represent acquiring knowledge through delivery, or introduction. His Column Two is practice, or perhaps mastery, and his Column Three is application. This is all good but it is all fairly basic, without the self-management, synthesizing, creating new product, and solving problems with this understanding. And, I find it horribly wrong to say that ‘nothing like this exists in education’. I believe it does, it is called elementary school, the formation of the foundation of learning but he completely ignores differentiated learning, and learning styles. I think that any teacher sees, on a daily basis, that students today have a variety or portholes in which they can learn. I can’t help but think of an young student I had with Asperger’s Syndrome. He fixated on ships, much teaching/learning had to be done through this ships. He was clearly bright, later in HS was inducted to the National Honor Society, and is now attending Maine Maritime Academy and doing very well. The path would have been very different had we required him to follow the Columns instead of hi mind.
We can ignore the differentiation in our students any more than in our teachers. Strengths should be nurtured and given due in the classroom. I am at a bit of a loss to comment fully on John Holt. On the one hand, yes, I agree that students should be active participants in their learning, and have some say in it also. On the other hand, I am not sure I am ready for complete freedom he advocates; I think there is an expansive middle ground worth exploring. I also disagree with his premise of the ‘control’, and ‘harm’ teachers do.

Moving on to position number 4; Is No Child Left Behind a Flawed Policy?  Of course it is, if for no other reason than it stills leaves unfunded mandates in place and we are still trying to define the terms it is based on such as ‘adequate yearly progress’. That alone doesn’t make it bad policy. It is the latest attempt at federal school reform. I personally think that is backwards approach. Imposed school reform, like anything else has a tough battle that takes energy away from the intent.
As seems often the case, the federal government stepped in with policy after feeling that states, and local authorities had not done the job, therefore the feds had to. This tactic seems to invoke two previously mentioned controversies, Zero Tolerance, in this case for failing schools, and Turn Around, of those failing schools. As with any sweeping measure, some parts are good, others not so much. Transparency, for instance, I think is good, in context. It is simply a snapshot of the moment. Snapshots over time, give a picture. Snapshots over time with accompanying narrative, give context and meaning.  Setting goals, requiring accountability, and implementing intervention are all excellent, and should be in place in education. It’s how it is done. Are the goals realistic, are the tools in place for success, and is there built in periodic reflection, that all too often forgotten step that can help guide,  is our intent is being met or maybe we need to look again.
Dianne Piche argues for NCLB. She sees agreement between the two sides on almost all of the intent. She disagrees with the premise that states should have control because she points to this as being an issue about the poor and minorities and states have a questionable history of being able to create equality. So, on this point, I am in agreement. The federal government has had to step in, eventually, to create equality after states battle it out without success. Whether it was gender, racial, or now sexuality based….the states will begin the battle but eventually it must once again come to the federal bench to parenthesize what equality means…..”all men are created equal (including women, racial minorities, and one day sexual minorities….etc)

Now we are into the Top Three!! Is Constructivism the Best Philosophy of Education?
This seems a bit of a rehashing of the Kant v. Locke perspectives. Experiences provide the context, I am not sure I can even imagine an argument for this. Since watching some quantum physics, such as What the Bleep Do We Know? and this much shorter,  simplistic, version of parallel universes, I doubt that anything is absolute knowledge. Why would we expect that anyone could learn identically as we teach? or that any two students could store the same information the same way? Everything is relative to our own experience. Anyone who has spent anytime in a classroom knows this. You say a direction, not even content, in as obvious a way possible, and three hands go up to ask what the direction was. Yes, one was simply not listening, another might ask just for attention, and one might have been distracted. Then the rest that go off to carry out the direction, are all over the place, each certain they heard and understood the direction. Alas, I do agree that Social Readiness is the true barrier.
Jamin Carson, although this article is only 7 years old, seems to still believe that we have any control over how our students receive content. He has not integrated this into his argument. In a time when the teacher was the all-knowing delivery of content, perhaps there was more possibility for the objectivism theory. His example of Romeo and Juliet is dismissed before he delves into that students reasoning for his seemingly mistaken understanding. Find where he took a turn and suggest another view? In any case, pure constructivism is not really the goal as I see it, it is what I like to call, ‘a leaning’. When we ‘lean in’ towards something, we open the door to it and by doing so, we open our mind to it.

Getting closer! Number 2: This is where I get a little crazy in conversations. Video games are ruining our kids, parents shouldn’t allow them! Instead of fighting against what is, can we find a way to incorporate it, find a benefit in education? Of course we can. Futile ranting that doesn’t allow for incorporation, that makes me crazy. So the next title: Do Computers Negatively Affect Student Growth?, to say the least, enticed me. We can not and do not, go backwards. The world changes, each generation has a different perspective, different tools. Perhaps that change is getting so fast we are struggling to keep up now. This is breeding a lot of insecurity, and this is easy to see with technology. The notion that the teacher has to turn to the students to solve a technical glitch, that we are not the experts, they are. Why is this bad? So many more students are engaged in learning because they have a way in now. So I have a problem with the premise, in that I feel it implies that we are able to measure today’s growth when we are yesterday’s product. Lowell Monke uses the example of the Oregon Trail simulation, remember this article was written nearly a decade ago so it was relevant. His argument is that the simulation can teach the value of resources, and the strategic use of them but cannot instill the determination and courage it took for those pioneers to make that journey. Duh! Of Course it can’t, it’s a simulation, on a computer. Again, the premise sets up the argument in an all-or-nothing fashion.  The computer is a tool for learning, for teaching, and for everything else. It is not a complete replacement for the teacher. However, in terms of making the allocation of resources, and it’s effect more ‘real’ to a 4th grader, I believe it surpasses the teacher. Then he says that the skills a student needs to enter the job market “can easily be learned in one year of instruction in high school”. Really? Taught by whom? One of us quasi-dinosaurs? Our students need to be embedded in the ever-changing computer and media tools. Changing with the applications of technology is the skill they most need to be adept in.
I do whole-heartedly agree about the ecological impact. I remember that computers were going to cut down on paper use but instead they have exponentially increased it. There is immense techno trash as devices change and become obsolete so quickly. There are the work forces that build these, and their conditions. These are all very real ecological impacts that need attention, now. However they do not really apply to the ‘student growth’ argument, more of a side bar, a very, very important side bar for our world, just not limited to educational growth.
Frederick Hess realizes that technology is a tool, not a cure. I am replacing the word technology instead of computers in this section because the use of computers just further points out the pace that has evolved. How many students use a computer, as we imagine and name them, in class? Netbooks, Chrome books, tablets, readers, etc and far more common.

Let the trumpets blare …we are at number 1: Is the “21st Century Skills” Movement Viable? I have not been as excited as a teacher as I am about this movement, so let’s say, I am biased, and very hopeful that the YES wins out on this one.
This is the educational philosophical battle I feel most embedded in. My school is deep into NEASC preparation. We are researching, writing, adopting, and preparing to implement. It is all wrapped around these 21st Century Learning Skills, moving our students from the dogma of passive learner to the active role of thinking! To begin, we have to move the board (I really was tempted on the topic of School Boards being obsolete), the administration, and the staff…and that’s just the work inside the building! Public education has always had the component of educating students to become productive members of society. Although Plato believed that the core educational focuses would prepare for any later endeavor, our world has become far more specialized. We prepare for what the future requires of them, to the best of our ability. So, we ask employers what they need and what they project to need and we revise to meet those needs. As mentioned in the previous contender, #9, the pace of change is difficult to keep up with. I believe this means that occasionally we have to leap. This is our leap.
Every school has those teachers, the veterans, who sit back and wait. They have seen it all before, heard it all before, and now they look at everything as a fad, a passing initiative and they may feel smug in that knowledge and that they know they don’t have to buy in or change a thing, and it will go away. We had one teacher in our school, who was also a veteran but who somehow kept her mind and practice open to change. Her name was Barb Rennie. My 21 year-old was lucky enough to have her for both 2nd and 3rd grade. She retired years ago, and sadly, she is still the picture that comes to mind, a rarity. She had taught every level, most subjects, and still gave new ideas a try, a listen, and then she took from them what worked best, she evolved. Is this the reason education has been so resistant to change, to evolve, because there are too few Barb Rennie’s and too many who ‘have been there, done that’ and have become resistant to change?
The argument that these skills have existed forever is true, of course they have, but not as the product of our education. Repositioning these skills, mobilizing around what is needed for our students, and therefore making it a priority instead of a hopeful by-product.
The NEASC process we went through, the Mission Statement was hauled out for all to see. It was carved into a new sign above the entrance. We all got laminated copies of the ‘key terms’ within it, all in an attempt to show the visiting committee that we were all aware of, and following it, that students could recite it. Those signs are still up. This time, the Core Values and Beliefs Indicator explicitly states that the adopted mission statement will be used as a basis for policy, decision-making, and budgeting.  This was big because typically these were not related in any way. I fought to get on the Core Values committee. We have school-wide rubrics based on 21st Century Skills, and they are embedded in out Mission Statement. I have asked School Board members NOT to adopt these unless we are all agreeing to the process, that these are our common goals, and our policies, decision-making and budgeting will flow from them. I was never so scared in my job as that day. We were discussing scheduling with our board members in favor of a 45 minute, 8 period day and our staff members desperately trying to preserve block learning. In the end, we can and will teach in a 30 min, 45 min, 50 min, 60 min, or 90 minute time frame. We can do it if our role is to deliver content. If we are buying in to the past years work we have done on 21st Century Skills, we need time, this decision must align with our Mission Statement. Still, a work in process. But just one reason why this was number 1 for me.

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