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Education and the Teacher Cheaters

July 17, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times July 16, 2011 editorial states, “A cheating scandal in which scores of teachers and principals in Atlanta’s public schools falsified student test results has thrown the system into chaos and made its name synonymous with fraud. This shameful episode has destroyed trust in the schools and made it impossible to determine how much students are learning and whether the system is doing its job.”

At least 178 teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta public schools cheated to raise student scores on standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These teachers and administrators helped Atlanta’s minority children cheat for money, which included teacher bonuses for raising a child’s academic level, to teacher evaluations, and federal money for performance. This is being referred to as an “ethical lapse”. I call it Criminal!

Now Washington DC and Los Angeles, and maybe other school systems, have been implicated in this horrible crime against innocent and mostly minority children. The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a study that says, “By fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.”

Cheating teachers, principals, and school administrators aid and facilitate these children ending up in poverty and crime. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools says, “The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low (in this study), not only in cities, but nationwide.”

According to a November, 2010 report by Bill Whitaker, who wrote an article for the CBS News’ series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform, “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. It costs on average $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and only about $14,000 a year of community college.”

What should alarm us is that these “professionals”, and I use this term with disgust in referring to these cheating teachers and staff, felt that their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training. This massive fraud against minority children, those who need education the most, is a reflection of these “professionals” who are so ordinary and incompetent that they need children to cheat on tests so they, teachers and administrators, can receive their bonuses and rewards.

While they spend their bonus money and bask in the glow of their rewards they condemn their students, without a trial and jury, to a life of irreversible poverty, ignorance, and maybe crime. How terribly heartless of these so called “professionals”. I wonder what the Teacher Unions have to say about  these people? Who will they defend the teachers or the children?

How terribly disheartening for the minority parents and their sons and daughters, who they entrusted into the public educational system. They thought their children would have opportunities they never had by getting a proper education. What they have in Atlanta, Washington DC, Los Angeles and maybe other cities across the country, are their children who cannot read, write and do mathematics at grade levels. One step forward two steps back! If it were my sons I would be storming the gates of the educational bastion with fire in my eyes and a sword in my hands.

What a mess!

Education in America; Wisconsin – The Real Story

February 23, 2011 5 comments

Here’s what we know that will make our schools better:

1.    Improve the quality of teaching.
2.    Personalize the educational experience of children to meet diverse needs and interests.
3.    Treat schools as unique, organic communities, not standard same-for-all institutions.

What do we have?

1.    We have “No Child Left Behind” that places enormous importance on standardizing instead of a more personal, organic, and creative experience for each child.
2.    We have president Obama’s recent State of the Union speech emphasizing that the only disciplines of importance are math and science. This message tells our children that if they are not good at either one of these subjects they are not smart and they will probably not be as successful as those who are accomplished in math and science.
3.    We continue to believe that if everyone is good at math and science, we’ll be fine. Meanwhile, creativity, innovation, lateral thinking, and the treasures all our children house in their minds are wasted as we are commanded to focus on math and science.
4.    The entire model for our education system is built on Industrial Age beliefs regarding supply and demand. This no longer holds true. The rapid acceleration of technology, population growth, and the shifting of power throughout the world make it impossible to predict what our society and economy will have even 2 years from now.

Here is what is true:

1.    Education is extremely personal. Everyone is unique and different in their interests, talents, and learning styles.
2.    Human talents are buried deep within us and teachers must be adept at identifying and nurturing our children’s aptitudes.
3.    It will take more than competency in Math and Science for America to prosper and grow in the future.
4.    It is NOT about money!

Now let’s look at money and what it has accomplished in Wisconsin, since it is in the news for leading the charge in education:

1.    Wisconsin’s per pupil spending on public school students increased from $6,517 in 1996 to $10,791 in 2008.
2.    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator the $6,517 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in 1996 dollars equaled $8,942 in 2008 dollars. That means that from 1996 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $1,849 or 20.7% in real terms while adding only one percentage point to their average eighth grader’s math score. (Terence P. Jeffrey)
3.    The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest.
4.    In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, the latest year available, only 31% of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 8% earned an “advanced” rating.
5.    The other 61 % of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 40% who earned a rating of “basic” and 21% who earned a rating of “below basic”.
6.    The NAEP tests also showed that the mathematics test scores of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders have remained almost flat since 1996 while inflation adjusted per-pupil spending had significantly increased.
7.    In fiscal 2008, the federal government provided $669.6 million in subsidies to the public schools in Wisconsin.

I don’t mind paying teachers what they are worth. I don’t mind paying them for results, but NOT these results! If Wisconsin teachers, their unions, and teachers all across our country call the above statistics “Results” then they have lost their way.

We have placed our most precious treasures, our children, in the hands of impostors who cannot deliver. They are stealing the nation’s future. We are doomed. They cannot produce. They cannot be fired. They have TENURE, a job for life. The laugh is on us; we pay their salaries with our property taxes. They take our money and dull the minds of our children.

It is easier to get rid of a Predator Priest than it is to fire an Incompetent Teacher.

Education; Critical Thinking vs Rote Memory in American Education

January 28, 2011 6 comments

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

We have an American educational system that languishes under the premise that if a student repeats something many times he will learn it. He may not understand it, but he will learn how to repeat it so he sounds knowledgeable. Our primary classroom teaching methods use Rote Learning, defined as, “…a learning technique which avoids understanding of a subject and instead focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.” Wikipedia

This is how teachers continue to process your children in grades K–12 and our students in colleges and universities throughout America in the 2011 Global Knowledge Economy, which is driven by information and technology. This is a time and age when students have to be able to deal with changes quickly and effectively. This new economy places increasing demands on flexible intellectual skills, and the ability to analyze information and integrate diverse sources of knowledge in solving problems. NO ONE will advance in this new information age with rote memory skills. Those are the skills of mindless workers who put this gidget with that gadget for eight hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 30 years. That age is over in America. It left for China and India more than10 years ago.

Why do our teachers and educators continue to use a mode of education that consigns our children to a life of irrelevancy? Why do they resist change, flexibility, and new thinking techniques?

I believe it is because it threatens their lifelong Rote learning habits. Technology threatens them; teachers are artifacts from a time where they were taught they had to know all the answers. They believe in authoritarianism in an age when large groups are sharing information every day in a world without Ethernet boundaries; this is how teachers were taught to teach. They see technology as a threat rather than a challenge. Their students know more than they do in this Knowledge Economy and so they avoid the embarrassment of having to admit they are fallible by demanding safe Rote answers to safe standardized  test questions.

Educators have forgotten that one of the most exciting teaching moments is when the student teaches the teacher. Information exchange between teachers and students allows everyone to participate in the exciting adventure of Critical and Creative thinking. The teacher becomes the guide who helps channel student energy, creativity, intellect, and critical thinking into new solutions that awaken enormous possibilities for all. Teachers do not have to have all the answers; they need to ask the right questions! Their students will find the answers.

There is a serious relationship between Critical thinking and Creative thinking. They are like a hand in a glove. Creative solutions to problems involve not just having new ideas. New creative ideas must also be useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones, and modifying them if necessary.

Now what is Critical Thinking? The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, and explanation. There is a reasonable level of consensus among experts that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to:

•    Evidence through observation
•    Context of judgment
•    Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
•    Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
•    Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand

Critical thinking employs not only logic, but also broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness. A teacher or student disposed toward critical thinking includes a courageous desire to follow reason and evidence wherever it may lead. They are open-minded, display attention to the possible consequences of choices, have a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and maturity of judgment, and a confidence in reasoning.

To be fair, the real question is, do our educators possess this kind of thinking? Are they able to develop critical thinking in their teaching methods so their students have a future in the fast moving, ever changing world of the Global Knowledge Economy? If our educators cannot make this transition between Rote Memory and Critical Thinking then our student population is doomed to languishing in Industrial Age thinking while the rest of the world, i.e., China, India, and others leap forward, above, through, and beyond them.

It is NOT about money. Socrates taught under a tree.

It is about questioning old assumptions, creating group think in classrooms, exciting students and challenging them to question everything they are told, and requiring them to develop their own solutions to problems, which may or may not agree with ours. It is about trust and belief in our ability to learn along with our students as they learn along with us.

Finally, the student must be taught not how to know the answer, but how to ask the question. Teachers and students must first embrace what they do not know and Critical thinking is a primary tool in approaching this. Spend some time with any 3, 4, 5 or 6 year old and count how many times they ask you, “Why?” Watch them play and watch how they solve problems and disputes. They have it! Then we turn them over to government schools that Drill and Kill it out of them.


Education; Vertical Thinking – Lateral Thinking

January 23, 2011 1 comment

“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”

Edward DeBono

In the last post “Race to NOwhere – NOWhere” our students are falling asleep in their one dimensional learning rooms. What the chalkboards and rows of desks lack is creativity and excitement in thinking and problem solving. We are a nation whose public school system is churning out vertical thinkers in an age of 21 year old internet multi-millionaires, who are thinking laterally, way ‘outside the box’. These lateral thinkers are changing the millennium. Some have dropped out of prestigious Ivy League schools and their rows of desks and chalkboards  to create and implement their extraordinary ideas and solutions to problems, i.e., Facebook, SCVNGR, Microsoft, and others.

Vertical thinking, which is the primary thinking method practiced in the American public school system, is a method of the Industrial Age, not the High Tech Age. It destroys creativity in children by forcing them to seek the one “correct” solution to a problem while working within defined boundaries. Lateral thinkers use techniques for changing concepts and perceptions, and generating new ones. They explore multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach. Lateral thinking was developed by a major force in British creative thinking, Edward DeBono, who has doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge and is most famous for this term in his 1967 book, ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’.

A way of understanding lateral thinking is through its opposite, vertical thinking. A vertical thinker is analytical, careful and precise, taking the data around a problem and analyzing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions. A lateral thinker understands vertical thinking, but chooses to deliberately look outside of this bounded thought process. It requires digging in many other places because creativity is like a joke; you don’t get it until the punch-line at the end. It is not an easy concept to teach in a vertical thinking society and a good way to learn is through examples. A good example of lateral thinking is:

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus; An old lady who looks as if she is about to die; An old friend who once saved your life; The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose?
Click here for The Solution.

Lateral thinking is thus very much about standing back, looking at the big picture and understanding concepts. It also requires that you focus in on the parts that have perhaps been overlooked, challenging assumptions, and seeking alternatives. To be more simplistic:

•    vertical thinkers – CHOOSE
•    lateral thinkers – CHANGE
•    vertical – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS RIGHT
•    lateral – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS DIFFERENT
•    vertical – ONE THING MUST FOLLOW DIRECTLY FROM ANOTHER
•    lateral – MAKES DELIBERATE JUMPS
•    vertical – CONCENTRATES ON RELEVANCE
•    lateral – WELCOMES CHANCE INTRUSIONS
•    vertical – MOVES IN MOST LIKELY DIRECTIONS
•    lateral – EXPLORES LEAST LIKELY DIRECTIONS

Vertical thinking is mostly an individual process, solitary. Lateral thinking involves not only individual thinking, but also group thinking. Many large corporations use group lateral thinking to solve difficult problems by creating new solutions through brainstorming and close collaboration.

We desperately need to reorganize our classroom structure so that children may explore, share, and brainstorm for new ideas and new solutions outside the vertical path. There was a time in American education of the one room school. The teacher taught all grade levels, oftentimes with the help of her older students who looked after and help teach the youngest. The group dynamics of that generation, who had the opportunity to explore the best and most compelling ideas and solutions, led us into the Industrial Revolution.

The Volkswagen Company sponsored an initiative called  Thefuntheory. They invited people to invent a new structure for a mundane, already existent idea. Their challenge was to make this mundane, every day experience FUN for people to experience. They believe that “Fun can change people for the better!” The initiative produced the most extraordinary results and was held in Odenplan, Stockholm. One of the most intriguing ideas dealt with changing people’s behavior in taking either an escalator or the stairs. This is an amazing video of lateral, individual and group thinking! You will smile…

What would happen to our American educational system and our students if we unleashed this kind of fun, exploration, creativity, excitement, and learning in our classrooms? I suspect that every building, every classroom would be a beehive of energy and engaged participation. I would love to try this out somewhere! It’s not about not enough money. It’s not about better buildings. It’s about teachers letting go of their preconceived notions of education they bring into our classrooms from the Industrial Age. It’s about teachers challenging their students to come up with more than one solution to a problem. It is their obligation as professionals to explode the creative energy within their students, not destroy or inhibit it.

Learning to read together, all ages in creative Group Learning.

The Family; The Smallest School

September 7, 2010 1 comment

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

I have talked about many things regarding children. I have discussed infant brain development, parents, teachers, curriculum, education, teacher unions, public schools, obesity, and nature, to name a few topics. All of this discourse has brought me back to “The Family; America’s Smallest School”. Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley wrote a report for the Educational Testing Service in 2007 on this topic. It is an interesting and informative read. They assert, as I have in my book, “Peek-a-Boo, I See You!”, that the family is the determining factor in a child’s success in school and beyond. Family means Two (2) Parents + Children.

At last, we are looking at and demanding change in the way we educate our nation’s children. Alarms have sounded and we now admit that our children do not read at grade level, cannot balance a checkbook, write a paragraph, or speak the English language articulately. The richest, most powerful country in the world is producing an illiterate generation compared to its European counterparts. We are depriving our American children of the freedom that comes only through education and literacy. Without these tools they will always be someone else’s slave, never free to create, invent, or fulfill their destiny and promise. It is the Family that ensures a child’s destiny and success, not anyone else, or any entity.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

•    Forty-four percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.
•    Sixty-eight percent of U.S. children live with two parents, a decline from 77% in 1980. Only 35% of Black children live with two parents. In selected international comparisons, the United States ranks the highest in the percentage of single parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest.
•    Nationally, 19% of children live in poverty. The percentages increase to nearly a third or more of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic children.
•    Nationally, 11% of all households are “food insecure”. The rate for female-headed households is triple the rate for married-couple families, and the rate for Black households is triple the rate for White households.
•    Nationally, one-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. This is the case for half of Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.
•    There are substantial differences in children’s measured abilities as they start kindergarten. For example, average mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic children are 21% and 19% lower than the mathematics scores of White children.
•    By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families.
•    About half of the nation’s 2-year-olds are in some kind of regular, nonparental day care, split among center-based care; home-based, nonrelative care; and home-based relative care. Black children are the most likely to be in day care.
•    Overall, 24 % of U.S. children were in center-based care that was rated as high quality, 66 % were in medium-quality center-based care, and 9 % were in low-quality center-based care. Of those in home-based care, 7 % were in high quality settings, 57 % were in medium-quality settings, and 36 % were in low-quality care. More than half of Black, Hispanic, and poor 2-year olds were in low-quality home-based care.
•    As of 2003, 76% of U.S. children had access to a home computer, and 42% used the Internet. Black and Hispanic children lag behind.
•    Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders reported having a desk or table where they could study, just above the international average but well below the averages of many countries.
•    Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday. 24% of White eighth-graders spend at least four hours in front of
a television on a given day, while 59% of their Black peers do so.
•    One in five students misses three or more days of school a month. Asian-American students have the fewest absences. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
•    Since 1996, parents have become increasingly involved in their child’s school. However, parent participation decreases as students progress through school, and parents of students earning “A” averages are more likely to be involved in school functions than the parents of students earning C’s and D’s.

A new report card by UNICEF on the state of childhood in the world’s economically advanced Nations paints a bleak picture for the future of education in the United States. In the report, UNICEF compared the United States with 20 other rich countries on their performance in six dimensions of child well-being. The United States ranks in the bottom third of these 21 countries for five of these six dimensions. It ranked 12th in educational well-being, 17th in material well-being, 20th in family and peer relationships, 20th in behaviors and risks, and 21st in health and safety.

We can make all the changes we want in our educational structure by implementing and funding Charter Schools, The Seed Schools, Teacher Operated Schools, Parent Operated Schools, Magnet Schools, Waldorf Schools, and Alternative Schools. These progressive and innovative ideas may work for a few, for a time. However, unless the Family, two parents, changes the nurturing of their children, the unattended masses will remain the slaves of those who were nurtured and loved from birth.

The freedom and success we wish for our children is birthed in the Family. Literacy development begins long before children enter formal education. It is critical to their success in school and in life!

Family is A Mother and A Father + Children

I will explore many of these issues in my next series of posts.

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