Archive for December, 2013

Set out runnin’ but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine

-Grateful Dead-

Is this any way to start off a new year?

Are you scratching you head wondering…wondering why it is that Maryland has decided to become the PARCC fiscal agent? First of all, what does this mean?

In its new position, Maryland will manage the finances of the state-led consortium starting on January 1, 2014. Florida previously held that role within PARCC, which is made up of 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Florida and Maryland have been working closely together to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities.


It is worthy of a head scratch because you know something’s gotta be wrong with this “deal” when even Florida, ground zero for corporate-styled reform policies rejected the offer. Maybe our new state superintendent Dr. Lillian Lowery can answer the question. Her affiliations with corporate-driven individuals and groups might lead us to the answers some of us seek.

First and foremost, Dr. Lowery is a graduate of the Eli Broad Superintendents Academy (class of 2004). What does this mean?

The Broad Superintendents Academy runs a training program held during six weekends over ten months, after which graduates are placed in large districts as superintendents.

The Broad Foundation also supports a broad range of pro-charter school advocacy groups, as well as alternative training programs for non-educators who want to work as teachers and principals (Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools).

A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay for performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.

Eli Broad and the Broad Foundation are preceeding by maybe only Bill Gates in the charge to dismantle public education via venture philanthropy, erode teacher union rights, democratic states rights, and children’s privacy rights.

What else about Dr. Lowery should we know?

During her reign as state superintendent of Delaware she worked closely with McKinsey and Co (a global consulting firm) whose obsession with big data is unparalleled. They have also birthed some of the biggest names in education reform: Lou Gerstner (co-founder of Achieve), David Coleman, and Sir Michael Barber. It is the latter player, who is now the Chief Education Strategist at Pearson, with whom Lowery worked while he was the CEO of the US Education Delivery Institute to offer evaluative “insight” and recommendations on the state of educational affairs in DE. Governor Markell selected Michael Barber’s education group at McKinsey & Company to facilitate the RtTT application development. He assisted the Performance Management Team tracking performance data and other management needs related to their Race to the Top application.

So now, Barber worked directly with Dr. Lowery and is now a CEO at Pearson, and Pearson contracts with PARCC. And what about the other folks from McKinsey from whom Lowery sought education advice? Lou Gerstner is the gentleman who said during a National Governors Convention that, “education is big business, why are we not in it?” and advocated to abolish the 50-state departments of education so “it would be easier to get their education reforms through.”

O’Malley, who signed on to the MD partnership calls it a “favor to President Obama.” I’d call it a favor to PARCC. It’s not favor to Maryland students. It certainly is not a favor to local minority businesses. Because the PARCC Inc. organization is already doing the work, the contract was awarded to it as “a sole source,” with no competitive biddingJolivet told the Board of Public Works the contract has, “not one dime for the minority business community.” Further, he urged the board to reject the contract because “it is tinged with racial discrimination and exclusionary practices.”

But the most central reason why Maryland has agreed to this train wreck of a PARCC partnership might involve Lowery’s service on the Governing Board for PARCC itself.

According to PARCC’s Senior Vice President Laura Slover the bulk of the federal money “passes through” the state to the contractors. They include ETS and Pearson, which already produce Maryland’s current assessment tests. Ohhhhh……money laundering. OK.

And while Dr. Lowery attempts to explain that the testing is a completely separate issue from the implementation of Common Core by K-12 schools, one cannot help but notice that Laura Slover, PARCC’s Senior VPs prior employment included working at Achieve since 1998, and most recently serving as the Vice President for Content & Policy Research, where she led Achieve’s efforts on the development of Common Core State Standards. Sure, Dr Lowery….no connection between PARCC and Common Core. Except that the sole purpose of the latter is to serve the former.

While this proposition clearly bodes well for Lowery herself, it obviously also bodes well for Achieve, PARCC, and Pearson. I continue to wonder how it will bode for children, teachers, and schools in Maryland. The questions posed by Holcombe bear our examination:

Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma and Georgia have pulled out of PARCC and now the PARCC “Fiscal Agent” Florida has too. Florida is a HUGE loss for the scheme. What will PARCC governing board member Kevin Huffman and PARCC’s “project manager” Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam, board member) do now? What can we expect from Achieve Inc.’s affiliate relationship with Pearson, who was touting to investors that they would be cashing in on making the tests for PARCC? Who will PARCC now use for a third string “fiscal agent”?

So why does Maryland charge forward into this fool’s errand? Go ask Dr. Lowery. I bet she knows….

The SItuationists International

“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art

Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art

Not many have style
Not many can keep style
I have seen dogs with more style than men,
although not many dogs have style.
Cats have it with abundance.

When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun,
that was style.
Or sometimes people give you style
Joan of Arc had style
John the Baptist
García Lorca.

I have met men in jail with style.
I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail.
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done.
Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,
or you, naked, walking out of the bathroom without seeing me.”

― Charles Bukowski

I am reflecting on this poem today because I believe that resistance to corporate reform can and must come out of a collective effort charged with “dangerous style.”

Equally, teaching ought to be a dangerous thing done with style. Now by dangerous I don’t mean running with scissors dangerous. I mean the sense of danger that heightens the senses and creates what Maxine Greene calls a “wide awakeness” when we are in the act of doing something creative. Because creativity requires taking risks, it requires embracing the unknown, it requires both great humility to accept that maybe all the answers to life’s greatest question have not already been answered and great courage to trudge forward into the unknown. But how well do we prepare our teachers to approach their profession as a thing done with dangerous style?

And better yet why should we?

We could talk about the well-documented research that shows how creative teaching and learning result in vast improvements in student success, because if nothing else you’ve made the curriculum more student centered, hands on and engaging. But I am not going to reiterate the obvious even though this same research seems to escape the attention of policy makers pushing their one size fits all model of curriculum and assessment for the sake of “accountability.” Now I believe that some of these folks have the best of intentions-that they want all children to succeed and maybe they’re simply misguided in their efforts. They play great lip service to creativity and critical thinking.

Creative teaching requires emergence. Sometimes we don’t know what going to happen or where a teachable moment in the classroom is going to go. God forbid it might not even be on the test. The fact that it matters to kids should matter more don’t you think?

Secondly, creative teaching as dangerous style requires collaboration. Teachers work together, Creativity isn’t something a teacher goes into the back room and mixes up in a beaker. It happens through our communities when we share a common vision and look toward our imagination for solutions and then enact them. We must detach our schools and children from the “number thumpers.” Teachers are not afraid of assessment or evaluation. They are afraid of being reduced to a number. They reject the idea that a score can tell you what you need to know about a child.

Third, creative teaching as dangerous style is transformative. The goals cannot be predicted on the outcomes sheet written by someone hundreds of miles away in some office building working for a textbook company. He or she does not know your children. He or she does not know your community. The content of what we teach, even if its standards based, MUST reflect the needs and identities of YOUR kids, and to make the meaningful and powerful accommodations day day, from classroom to classroom and child to child doesn’t come in a teacher’s guide-it comes from creative problem solving-being open to imagine what each child needs and how best to create that learning space for them. It does not come on a standardized test.

These are the skill sets that are lacking in our teacher preparation schools today. More so now than ten years ago when I started. Because the disease of fear is trickling upward. Again we give great lip service to it. But not a lot of colleges of education are also beholden to the great and powerful accountability movement. And if our pre-service teachers don’t perform according to rank and file-they won’t graduate? And now you have college professors afraid to teach creatively because we too must do what we’re told “or else.” It’s not just enough to imagine other worlds and other possibilities-you have to believe you have the capabilities, the creative tools, to create them. It requires the courage born of a dangerous style. You see it’s not just enough to talk about-my talking about here itself doesn’t change anything. We have to DO it-we have to make real viable spaces for it in our university curriculum. We have to practice it-we must replace fear based punitive measures in schools all over this country with measures that put into place supports for teachers to ACT creatively-to inspire their students to WANT to learn-to attach real meaningful practices that foster a wide- awakeness in our children.

So ironically, the skills and capacities we most desperately need the most, creative thinking to face the challenges of a changing and complex world, are the same skills we are so quick to eliminate. We forgo art, music and PE in favor of more test prep. We fire teachers and increase class size while 45 billion dollars goes into the coffers of testing companies.  What does that say about us as a society? You see, creativity and complacency cannot exist in the same space. Which do we want for our children and for ourselves? A world that is constructed for us by others or one in which we give them the tools to make for themselves? What is our choice to be?

We need to teach teachers how to be more creative not how to be more compliant.

If we’re worried about keeping bad teachers in classrooms let’s create them out of schools.

Here’s how:

In the current system where everything gets handed to teachers from a script and they’re TOLD exactly what they need to do (or else…), if you were in a faculty meeting-bad teachers go great, I don’t have to think about it. I’ll just skill drill and kill em and go home. Good teachers make a face in the back of room, and worry, how am I going to make this interesting for my kids?

This doesn’t really make a whole lotta sense, and a great teacher is going to say “I’m outta here” or they get pushed out for resisting to do what they know is wrong for their kids. As Anthony Cody says: “I think it is likely to be some of the most creative teachers, working in the most challenging conditions, who are being encouraged to leave by the relentless pressure to increase test scores and the inequitable and unsustainable funding of high poverty schools.”
In a system that expects creative thinking here’s how it might go: you give teachers the idea for how to say, use the art work of Mondrian a famous artist in a geometry unit where THEY have to design and implement the connections between the artwork, the geometry learning goals and THEIR kids, where they have to THINK and do some creative leg work. The bad teacher is gonna say “I’m outta here. This is too hard” the good teacher is going to nod their head and say “Ok let’s get to work,” and the great teacher is going to raise her hand and say, “Wait a minute…I have an ever BETTER idea”

You see, great teachers don’t follow-they lead. And their greatness will not necessarily show up on the test scores, because you cannot measure creative outcomes on a bubble dot test, especially for kids with ELL needs or special needs that set them up for failure on a test anyway-those kids will not find their own creative greatness by filling in a bubble sheet with one right answer either. We need to prepare teachers to be creative-we need to teach them not how to simply FOLLOW the directions handed to them, we need to teach them how to ask questions like: “Does this even make the most sense for my kids?” and encourage them to take risks needed to really reach ALL children.

We need creativity not compliance to reimagine our public schools.

And we need teachers, great teachers, to show us how it can be done.

See  The Left Handed Curriculum: Creative Experiences for Empowring Teachers for more ways to fight corporate reform through creative reistance

Not feelin’ too good myself….(Joe Cocker)

Seems I got to have a change of scene
Cause every night I have the strangest dreams
Imprisoned by the way it used to be
Left here on my own or so it seems
I got to leave before I start to scream
But someone’s locked the door and took the key

I need to vent. Bear with me. No corporate connections today. Just raw emotion. Just sheer lack of clarity. Help me understand….

2:00 pm — I enter my daughter’s school to volunteer for the ginger bread house- making activity in her 1st grade classroom. As we’re all creating (parents and kids) my mind is noting all the amazing skills the children are using to create their masterpieces: logic, spatial relations, symmetry, problem solving, counting, measuring, and physics to name a few. I snap some pics. I think about the numerous other ways that children can think and express their understanding above and beyond standardized tests, which measure few if any meaningful bodies of knowledge or comprehension. Even building ginger bread houses have more meaning, purpose…and joy. I leave feeling good.


                                                  Molly making gingerbread house

3:05 pm  — Leaving the school I turn on CNN satellite radio in my car. There’s a school shooting in Centennial, CO, home to one of my best friends and her son who attends public high school in Centennial. I have now lost altitude. I am shaking as I text, “Are you ok????” I can’t breath. An hour later, thankfully she delivers me the news that she and her son are ok. But the need to cry still wells up in me as I write this now, 5:17 pm. Is it relief? Or is it profound sadness that lies just beneath the surface of my psyche every day that I wake up to this reality? How much more can we take? How much more will we stand?


                                                        Centennial, CO, 12/13/2013

As the media, millionaires, and the politicians (who serve as their pets) spout “21st century skills” and “career and college readiness,” children are going in to schools armed with guns to confront their teachers…again. On the anniversary of Sandy Hook no less. How many more times must this happen before reformers stop this self-serving “reform” charade while more and more communities suffer?

Boy you sure took me for one big ride
Even now I sit and wonder why
And when I think of you I start to cry
Got to stop belivin’ in all your lies
Cause I got to much to do before I die

Hey Arne, hey Gates, hey Rhee, hey Walton and the rest of you assholes…wake the fuck up. Spending billions of dollar on “faux” world class standards forced upon states by a federal/corporate agenda and the new rounds of ramped up tests that go with them do not speak to the issues we face. They serve you’re interests. Not our childrens. We’ve got an amputated leg and you’re handing us two aspirin. And we’re done with it. We need to make more ginger bread houses and stop increasing the levels of anxiety, depression, stress on children while saying “it’s for their own good.” Wasting monies that schools desperately need to function as meaningful sites of learning by handing it over to billionaires who claim to be “helping” is ethically bankrupt.

And I’m sick of appealing to people and institutions that will never care or will never understand. While my friend’s son is ok…someone else’s child right now in Colorado is in critical condition. How do I begin to grapple with that while on Capitol Hill politicians bicker like five year olds, companies like Pearson are holding out their hands for more money to abuse my child with their bogus tests, and now more children than since the Great Depression in New York City are homeless. All around us right now, today, children are struggling and suffering in unimaginable ways. And our solution is to shell out “standards” (written by testing companies and private interests) and administer more tests (to the benefit of those same aforementioned groups)?

Why do I keep screaming into an empty vacuous space where no one who is charge seems to be listening? What will it take to end this?

Or do I make gingerbread houses… because if I don’t I might not ever stop crying?

I have to give an exam next week for my undergraduate class on Urban Education. We’ve talked about policies, poverty, greed, and “reform.” But right about now, I think my exam is going to be comprised on making ginger bread houses. We all need it, I think.