Friday, November 25, 2011


Twitter has been a tool for education change since long before I discovered that it's more than just a silly kids' plaything. The hashtag -- a search device that allows people to participate in discussions pertaining to a topic area -- has connected huge numbers of people who otherwise would never have known of each other. I've been fascinated with (and grateful for) this tool for almost a year -- since my sister-in-law explained to me what Twitter really is.

While there are hashtags connecting educators interested in a certain kind of education discussion, and general ones that cover many topic areas, I haven't found a hashtag devoted to parents who are interested in advocating for real education change -- as opposed to corporate education reform. There's #edchat, the most popular as far as I can see, which connects huge numbers of educators and others interested in changing education. Then there's other favorites of mine: #passiondriven, #meschools, #edtech, #mathchat all cover their own areas of interest.

I've not found a general hashtag for parent activists interested in connecting with other parents nationwide. We are critical to the fight against corporate education reform and high-stakes testing culture. Parents who advocate for a truly child-centered education for all students need a hashtag to call our own. So I'm making a try at starting a hashtag: #edparents.

Help parents who are dedicated to changing education connect and share information and ideas with each other. Promote and retweet the #edparents hashtag!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anger, and New Orleans

There isn't enough outrage at what is happening today in the struggle to change public education. Time for anger is here; it's been here for awhile.

When someone stands in front of my school board as they did this past Monday night and talks of the New Orleans school system transformation as a reason to support charter schools, the outrage stands out all over my face; imagine the face of a child who returns to NOLA to find that she is no longer welcome to attend her neighborhood school because it has become a specialized charter, admittance is selective and favoritism is granted to children of Tulane faculty?

In the area of education reform, or "Rhee-form" as I like to call it (after the gloriously hailed former superintendent of the Washington DC school system) you have to consider the source of your information. You have to develop and stay in contact with your own selected touchstones of wisdom and clarity in order to sort truth from nonsense. These are people whose hearts and minds you have come to trust over time and after much scrutiny. I have my own sources: Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Lisa Nielson, Joe Bower, Ken Jones, Chris Lehman, Dan Pink, Ken Robinson, just to mention a very few of the people I depend upon for good sense.

Some might say this is the lazy way, a cowardly device used to maintain the us-vs.-them quality of the education debate. I should be reading and considering every possible proposal for fixing schools because it's not about partisanship -- it's all about the kids, right?

Actually, no. Well, yes, it's all about the kids, but no, I don't need to consider every point of view to figure out what I need to know about what serves them best. Life is too short, for one thing; for another, when you pay close attention to the national debate on education for long enough, you get to see quite clearly where the lines are drawn between what's good and what sucks among all the proposals and theories.

So when the words "charter school" are mentioned, red lights and sirens do go off in my head, and I go on the alert, ready to hear something that will stand dead in the way of good public education for all. In that regard, charters and their advocates never disappoint me.

Back to the guy who stood before my School Board and claimed New Orleans as a victory for the charter movement.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What is Self-Expression?

I have been chewing over a conversation I had with a friend of mine for a couple of years. We were talking about our daughters' dance experiences. Her daughter was learning modern dance, and mine was learning classical ballet. She spoke rhapsodicaly about Alexa, her daughter's dance teacher, who rarely had dance concerts but worked on bringing out the movement artistry in her students, having them learn how to create their own artistry and expression through their bodies.

"Ballet is so much about, you know, the makeup and the costumes, and a particular way to hold your body. But Alexa is a real artist."


I was troubled by this for a long time. Where does personal expression come in when you only repeat the steps of a centuries-old dance? Where, for that matter, does it come in when you are learning to play the violin, so that you can merely repeat the music Bach or Mozart or Beethoven created? That was their self-expression. Where is mine?

I'll tell you why I think my friend had only half the story. Ballet is the result of centuries of the human's desire for the beauty of movement of the body. The turn-out of the foot is not required of modern dance, but in ballet it is critical. So a dancer is not just following rules. She is mastering something that has the history of movement in its steps, it's leaps, its expression, its interpretation of music.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is Steve Bowen a friend to education?

Steve Bowen, Maine's Commissioner of Education under our dear darling Governor Paul LePage, is a smart man by all accounts. Friends in Camden say good things about him from the time he was a teacher there. We hear words coming out of his mouth that we like, that seem to be words we have been waiting to hear from an education bureaucrat for...well, forever.

But this is Education we're talking about, and in the USA in 2011, words lose their meaning. Achievement is a good word. Literacy is a nice one, too. Teacher evaluation sounds very responsible, something we should have. Accountability sounds like something taxpayers ought to ask of any government-funded system. Critical Thinking, that's a big one; that's like Polaris, the star we keep looking for so we can follow it anywhere.

The problem is that we live in a time when words about the education of young people have been co-opted. You have to be a detective to understand the intent behind them, and there are certain clues you need to know about in order to determine this.

Take a look at this, from a DOE news release dated September 28, 2011:
*We’re implementing the rigorous Common Core state standards for math and English language arts – standards that clearly lay out what students need to know and be able to do to be prepared for college and careers;

*We have plans to transition to a new generation of modern, computer-based assessments that are aligned with those rigorous standards, test higher-order skills and offer teachers the chance to make assessment useful – using it as a way to identify areas where students need help and to adjust instruction accordingly;

*We’re laying the groundwork for an accountability system that recognizes our educators when they help students grow, provides them with constructive feedback when improvement is needed and allows for a wide variety of improvement strategies – rather than a one-size-fits-all approach; and

*We have schools that are devising an array of model teacher and administrator evaluations that school districts can use – evaluations that provide helpful feedback to the professionals in our schools so they can continue to grow in their jobs.
To me the above is simply bullshit. If I was a kid and I came to understand what the above meant, I would run screaming in the opposite direction. I'd think, “What does any of that have to do with me?” I know that language was not intended for kids, but you'd think that in that whole sweeping, bulleted scheme, above, there'd be something for a kid to latch on to. But there is nothing.