Monday, September 9, 2013

A Win-Win, But Not for Obama

The Obama administration may be mistakenly seeing this "breakthrough" as a win and vindication of its "red line" in the sand strategy with Syria. If Syria does cough up its chemical weapons arsenal, President Obama will expect his supporters and detractors alike to see this as a political victory in his force of wills with Bashar al-Assad (and Iran).

Unfortunately—for him and those who have been pushing the United States into this action with hopes it will help the rebel elements in Syria—this "potentially positive development" will actually expose his game plan as superficial and more of a dead-end than if he had actually launched Tomahawks into Damascus and nothing changed for the better.

If the chemical weapons exeunt stage right and the president does back down—which is not how he'll spin it, of course—that will definitely be a win for Americans who are tired of our "war weary" warrior's bellicose foreign policy and his trampling of the Constitution and it will be a win for Syrians who will not die by cruise missile.

The White House, on the other hand, should not be celebrating too much, however, since everyone will quickly discover that the focus on chemical weapons as a solution has truly been a sham as all see that the death rates in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Daraa continue unabated.

Committee Fecundity

"The efficiency of a committee is inversely proportional to the number of participants."
C. Northcote Parkinson
Author of Parkinson's Law.

A committee has been described as a "life form with six or more legs and no brain" (Lazarus Long), something to keep in mind as tens of thousands of committees are aborning in the thousands of schools across the United States right now.

Schools often prove their industry and focus on progress and achievement and inclusion with the number and variety of staff committees they create every year.

Committee assignments were announced at our high school today and—as seen here—there is indeed a focus on inclusion.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is Diane Ravitch Missing the Point?

Diane Ravitch takes to task in a blog post today a recent Associated Press Research Poll  for its findings that "Parents back standardized testing."

Unfortunately, Ms. Ravitch also takes the parents to task. Decidedly not good form  — and pointedly missing the point of what the parents really want.
She asserts, "The headline says parents support 'high-stakes testing,' but nothing in the story supports that assertion," which is not exactly accurate and shows a disconnect from what the parents really are saying in the survey:

"A full 93 percent of parents say standardized tests should be used to identify areas where students need extra help. Smaller majorities think such tests should be used to measure school quality, evaluate teachers or determine whether or not students are promoted or can graduate."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The New Math is Old Again ... is New Again ... is Older Again

Why, if there's more than one way, do we teach only one way?

My son rang me up the other day to give a heads-up about an All Things Considered (NPR) segment "Common Core Curriculum Brings Big Shifts To Math Instruction." Its 269 seconds nicely encapsulates why our monolithic one-size-fits-all public education model is flawed in theory and in practice.

The segment focuses on Common Core's decision that, to best foster an understanding of place value, a horizontal method ("regrouping") of addition should replace the "vertical" Standard algorithm for second graders (the Standard method doesn't go away, it just gets delayed until fourth grade). The show's guests do an admirable job of jousting the pros and cons of this move given the soundbite nature of the encounter (a more involved treatment appeared in The Grey Lady this past June ("The Faulty Logic of the 'Math Wars'"); reading the appended Comments is a must).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Speaking (Learning) Truth to About Power

Speaking truth to about power, Ms. Teresa Thayer Snyder, Superintendent of the Voorheesville (New York) Central School District, has produced a "Commentary on Math & ELA Results" letter to parents that's gone viral (I've encountered it repeatedly on Facebook and Google+ today). No surprise, since it's the type of standardized testing jeremiad that educators (FB) LIKE, as Superintendent Snyder takes the New York State Education Department to task for its "missives" about the recent low test scores across the state "because they reek of the self-serving mentality the ‘powers that be’ have thrust upon our students and parents."

But I think the superintendent has missed out on an opportunity.

Let's Talk With Matt — And To Each Other — About Teacher Evaluation

Matt Damon's getting dumped on by a lot of conservatives right now ("Jeb Bush rips Matt Damon for sending his kids to private school") and liberals. And he doesn't deserve it. Rather than rip the guy apart, we should be continuing the dialogue with him. We might learn something.

Just two years ago he was the hero of the NEA for defending the idea that teacher performance cannot and should not be evaluated. Now he seems to acknowledge that there is a way to measure what teachers and schools doand act on it to the benefit of his chidren's learning. He appears to have had a change of heart and we should be talking to him about the evaluation method he used.

And it's time for us in public education to consider the obvious: Despite all the claims that teaching is unquantifiable, we all measure it, we all quantify it, and we all qualify itall the time.

Parents request specific teachers for their children all the time. Guidance counselors have their official and unofficial lists of teachers to both avoid and assign for their children and those of friends. Just yesterday, I watched as a colleague looked at her class schedule for the upcoming school year and decided she must still be in good stead with her employer since none of her classes will be in the overflow trailers on the sideyard.

And none of these assessment methodologies involve standarized test scores.

It's time we acknowledge this and find ways to use it to advance learning, schools, and—perhaps most importantly—the teaching profession.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Matt Has a Choice — Shouldn't We?

Matt Damon is moving his family to Hollywood and recognizedlike many of us havehow important it is to find just the right school for our kids. His decision to now avoid rather than embrace public schools, however, seems to indicate that what he once thought "unquantifiable" just two years ago is now something measurable. What has changed and has he betrayed his mother?

Mr. Damon and his spouse have elected to send their children to a private school "that most matches the public education that [he] had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system." This decision apparently was not made lightly, as seen in this excerpt from the recent Guardian interview with him about his cross-country move
Choosing a school has already presented a major moral dilemma. "Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal. And it was a giant family discussion. But it was a circular conversation, really, because ultimately we don't have a choice. I mean, I pay for a private education and I'm trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It's unfair." Damon has campaigned against teachers' pay being pegged to children's test results: "So we agitate about those things, and try to change them, and try to change the policy, but you know, it's a tough one."