Monday, December 26, 2016

Carl Paladino: Worst School Board Member of the Year

December started well for Carl Paladino. A member of the Buffalo, New York school board, co-chair of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in the state, Paladino met with the president-elect and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, just before Christmas. He told reporters afterward that the question of “whether he would be interested and/or willing to serve in the administration in some capacity did come up. By December 21 the presents at the Paladino home were all nicely wrapped and snug under the tree. 

We might even guess there was a “Make America Great Again” hat for Mrs. P. and “Jail Hillary” t-shirts for all the grand kids.

 
That same day the Buffalo News reported on Paladino’s formal request, during a school board meeting, that once President Trump took office his picture might be placed prominently in every city school.

“Other board members responded to Paladino’s request,” the News continued, “by noting it is at the discretion of principals to decide what they display in their schools. ‘I think this is problematic,’ said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg. ‘Now we are going to mandate, and force something, when it has been their prerogative.’”

“‘Why do we care?’ Paladino responded. ‘Why do we care what their prerogative is?’”

In the end, a compromise was reached, with board members agreeing to put up posters of all former and current U. S. presidents in the schools. Sadly, there was no mention whether or not Paladino would have liked to see Mr. Obama’s picture crossed out.

We don’t know if he was satisfied with the decision. We do know, two days later, he was up to his knees in feces of his own creation. Trouble began brewing when Artvoice, a local weekly, asked city leaders to answer four questions. 

For current purposes only the first two matter:

 

1. What would you most like to happen in 2017?

2. What would you like to see go away in 2017?



Most city leaders responded in predictable fashion. Sue Marfino, a businesswoman, answered #1: “A return to shopping in communities and at brick & mortar stores.”

Jeff Mucciarelli, co-owner of 31 Club, offered up a wish with which almost everyone in the world might agree: “ISIS removed from this earth.”

 

Mr. Paladino went for what he later insisted was a humorous approach:

#1: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

#2: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Well, what could be funnier, especially in a school district which serves a majority minority population, than wishing the current First Lady might spend the rest of her days in a cave with a gorilla?

And what kindergartner or fifth grader or high school senior wouldn’t be bent double laughing at images of President Obama having sex with a cow and dying as a result?

(Hey, kids, don’t worry! If Carl Paladino has his way, you might have a chance to salute a portrait of President Trump as you goosestep down the hall on the way to your next social studies class.)

Several local leaders called on Paladino to resign his seat. “These comments harken back to the darkest days of racism in our nation’s history,” said one. By afternoon on December 26 more than 11,000 people had signed an online petition calling for this Trump fan to be removed from office.

Paladino tried but failed to clean the feces off his shoes in a series of bumbling interviews. At one point he explained to the New York Times that he was “not politically correct.” A reporter asked why he wanted to see the first lady live with a gorilla. Paladino paused a long time and then said, “What’s wrong with that?”

Sadly, the clueless Paladino has traveled the racist road before. During an abortive campaign for New York governor in 2009, a trove of his emails came to light. They included a photo of President Obama dressed like a pimp, Michelle Obama as a whore:

Paladino claims to have many black friends.
No doubt they would "appreciate" his sharp sense of humor.


Another email in July 2009 showed a photograph of an airplane landing directly behind a group of black men. The caption read: “Holy Sh*t. run ni**ers, run!”

Oh, what scintillating humor!

As a bonus, in September 2009, Paladino forwarded an email entitled: “Easy Steady Big Fella.... XXXX,” including a graphic photograph of a horse and a woman having sex.

(If you’d like to see other examples of Mr. Paladino’s emails, and you have a strong enough stomach, you can click here.)

Paladino, later claimed in a radio interview that he had done nothing wrong, but only managed to step in his own poop again. “It’s only these retarded liberal people that’ll find it necessary to come out and call me names and not really listen to the issues,” he whined. He couldn’t possibly be racist. He had “many, many friends in the black community” and we might guess even a few horses who were good and loyal friends.

He went on to air a string of grievances against President Obama and claimed his answers and emails were all in good fun. “And yes,” he told the interviewer, “it’s about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time. Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”

Tough luck, indeed.

In honor of both his racism and his clueless stupidity we nominate Carl Paladino “Worst School Member of the Year.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

School Reform: Fifteen Years of "Diet Plans" That Couldn't Fail


IMAGINE YOU WANTED to lose a few pounds. Most of us do. So this might not be hard to imagine. Now picture some svelte fitness guru. He promises: “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong. You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You excitedly try the plan for six months and gain seven pounds. You waste $1500 dollars on diet supplements too.

A second weight-loss guru comes your way. “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong,” she insists. “You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You do as told again, and put on ten pounds. Even your “fat pants” no longer fit. (Not that I would know from bitter experience.) You wasted $1200 on diet shakes and motivational videos.

Eventually, you try a third, fourth and fifth diet plan. Every time, the gurus promise you cannot go wrong.

Not one plan works as promised. 

Not even close.

WELL, AFTER FIFTEEN YEARS of school reform that’s where we find ourselves, as a nation, today.

You may not recall, but the push to “fix” U.S. education began in earnest in 2001, in large part due to test results from countries round the world. These results came from a test that had not existed before 2000: the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. In the spring of that year, 15-year-olds from 32 nations, mostly first-world countries, took the test for the first time. U.S. students finished fifteenth in reading, with an average score of 504. In math we finished eighteenth with an average score of 493. In science, America’s teens were fourteenth with a score of 499.

Reporters took a quick glance at results and wrote fevered stories about how the United States was doomed! Talking heads on cable news saw the scores and decided it might make compelling viewing to blame teachers for everything that had gone wrong. School reformers, safely ensconced in think tanks far from the educational front lines, studied and analyzed and promised—if we would only listen to them—that they knew exactly how to get those PISA scores up! Finally, politicians decided they had to be involved. Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

So keep those first PISA scores in mind:

Reading: 504
Math: 493
Science: 499


IN 2003 THE TEST WAS administered again. This time, students from 41 countries were involved. In reading, U.S. scores fell to 495. America’s teens dipped in math to 483. Science scores were down, with the average 15-year-old scoring 491. After two years of reform scores were down twenty-seven points.

The politicians and reformers were puzzled. But they never doubted their great plans. They were absolutely going to work in the end. Just keep listening to us, they reassured millions of real educators, who were starting to wonder. In 2006 PISA was given again. U.S. reading scores were thrown out. In math, however, our kids scored 498; in science they averaged 489. In other words, reform was working! Math scores were up five points! Oh, wait, science scores were down ten.

Overall: down five!

In a vain effort to improve standardized scores of all kinds, schools across the nation cut back time spent on “non-essential” learning, like music, art and physical education. School reformers (again: people who never actually teach) promised all these sacrifices would be worth it in the end.

Like the seventeen-year locusts, only appearing far more often, PISA returned in 2009. Reading results for U.S. teens: 500; math: 487; science: 502. Scores were still down a total of seven points.


Scores for U. S. students still looked bad in 2009!
They would look even worse in years ahead.


With the years flying by—and scores refusing to rise—more and more changes were forced upon administrators, teachers and students. Charter schools spread like kudzu because charter schools couldn’t fail! Teach for America was going to work because everyone knew smarter teachers would be a thousand times more effective than the nincompoops in the classrooms we had. Tens of thousands of teachers and administrators were axed under state laws when test scores didn’t rise,. Others earned fat bonuses when scores did. (See: Atlanta cheating scandal.By 2012 testing was costing states and the federal government $1.7 billion per year. Surely, by then, reform had to have worked!

Or not.

On the PISA test administered in 2012, U.S. students averaged 498 in reading, 481 in math and 497 in science.

Our teens were twenty points down.

Twelve years of abject failure didn’t faze arrogant reformers and pompous politicians. Sure, SAT scores were down too. Sure ACT scores remained flat (that was good news compared to the rest). And, yes, reading and math scores for seniors on the National Assessment for Education Progress hardly budged or fell.

The gurus kept telling everyone how great their plans were. By 2015 No Child Left Behind had morphed into “Race to the Top.” Common Core had come along. After dithering for years, Congress phased out NCLB and replaced it with the Every Child Succeeds Act. Soon we were sure to see all the great results of a decade-and-a-half of top-down school reform.

For a sixth time the PISA test was administered in 2015.

Now, 15-year-olds from seventy countries and educational systems took the test. How did U.S. students fare?

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE

In reading our students scored 497. After fifteen years of reform and tens of billions wasted, scores were down seven points.

Fifteen years of listening to blowhard politicians—and students averaged 470 in math, a depressing 23-point skid.

Science scores averaged 496, still down three points.

The idea of raising PISA scores had been the foundation on which reform was built and after fifteen years America’s teens were scoring 33 points worse.

Teachers were left to ponder several questions. First, and foremost, had real harm been done to students, all in the name of reform? Second, did the reformers really know what they were doing? Third, had all the changes, particularly the insane focus on data collection, even to the point of curtailing actual time-on-task working with students, made the job so much more frustrating and so much less rewarding that perhaps they might not want to remain in the field much longer?

THE ANSWERS, from this retired educator’s perspective being, yesno, and yes for too many young teachers, should send a chill through the education community.

*

If you agree with my position you might like my book: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, in which I lay out the best case I can in condemning the current insane focus on standardized testing.


I theme of the book is about the one variable in education I found, during my 33 years in the classroom, mattered most.

Available on Amazon.com.




Monday, November 28, 2016

Heroes Who Never Fight: U. S. Secretaries of Education (Betsy DeVos Edition)

Back in 2011, when I first started this blog, I complained about school reformers who talked and talked about leading a battle to fix the nation’s schools but didn’t ever seem to do any of the actual fighting.

Now, with Betsy DeVos the latest choice to lead the U. S. Department of Education I can almost recycle the article whole.

(I have also blogged about bicycling across the United States to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)


It's a beautiful country. Get out there and see it.
(Grand Teton National Park.)



Anyway, here’s what I said six years ago. Almost every syllable still applies:

I TAUGHT FOR 33 YEARS, SO I INTEND TO USE MY BLOG to defend good public school teachers whenever possible. 

Still, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know there are bad teachers. We used to joke of a colleague at my school that you could replace him with a cardboard cutout and students wouldn’t notice a difference. 

So, yeah, we need to do more to weed the dandelions in the classroom. 

When I started researching a book about education, however, I was stunned to find how little time our nation’s “leading” school reformers have devoted to the classroom. On November 30, 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler first United States Secretary of Education. It was the start of a bizarre trend.  

Hufstedler was charged with saving U.S. education. But in 1979, starting my fifth year in a classroom, I had more experience than the Secretary of Education. I had her beat by four years, two months. Hufstedler never taught a minute. She probably knew as much about teaching as I did about driving a car at the Indianapolis Speedway or playing concert piano with the London Symphony. 

Mr. Carter plucked her from the federal bench. 

Terrel Bell, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, came next. Bell was actually tasked with dismantling the Department of Education, an idea most teachers might support today. Bell, at least, had tried his hand at teaching. He later became a principal and a superintendent in the Idaho and Utah public schools. 

William Bennett, Reagan’s second appointee and third to hold the position of Education Czar was another teaching virgin. Big Bill didn’t come out of any classroom. He came striding out of a think tank and started lecturing teachers about their failings. Later he wrote a thick book about “virtue” for adults.

Then he wrote a thinner volume: The Children’s Book of Virtues.  

Last but not least, he admitted a serious gambling addiction and blowing eight million dollars in Las Vegas. 

Lauro Cavazos Jr. was fourth in line, coming to the Department of Education straight from the university level, having never spent a day in his life working with K-12 students. He didn’t last long either. Cavazos was forced to resign after an investigation into misuse of frequent flier miles. 

Lamar Alexander was fifth. His first taste of Washington, D. C. life had not come working in a public school—of course not—but as legislative assistant to Senator Howard Baker. Alexander did meet his wife during a softball game for Senate staffers. So that was kind of cool. Later, as governor of Tennessee, he won fame and got his face on a Time magazine cover for “reforming” that state’s schools.

Naturally, none of the reforming was done by his hand. Lamar was just another virgin. Based on “his” success in Tennessee, however, Alexander was elevated to the cabinet post by President George H. W. Bush.  

President Clinton had the next crack at the problem and reached deep down into the classroom …no, no, no, we’re joking! He chose Governor Richard Riley of South Carolina as his U. S. Secretary of Education. Riley’s time in a classroom: 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes. 

0.

George W. Bush had two chances to get it right and blew them both, turning first to Rod Paige and later Margaret Spellings. Paige, at least, taught and coached at the college level; but his real claim to fame was the “Houston Miracle” which supposedly occurred while he was in charge of that city’s public schools...In no time at all, Paige had inner-city high schools whipped into shape and principals were reporting zero dropouts. Mr. Paige was a genius and President Bush tapped him to work his magic as Secretary of Education. 

Unfortunately, real teachers know that in real classrooms miracles are in short supply; and the “Houston Miracle” turned out to be completely bogus. Reporters discovered that one Houston high school had reduced dropouts to zero by classifying all 462 students who left school during the year as “transfers.” 

Where they might have “transferred” to, whether another high school, or a nunnery, or another planet, was a mystery. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Paige huffed and puffed and couldn’t make No Child Left Behind work. True: states initially reported stunning test-score gains. On closer examination almost all the gains proved to have been achieved through sleight of hand. Most states simply made their standardized tests easier to insure higher passing rates and avoid penalties under new federal regulations. 

Paige eventually gave way to Margaret Spellings, who came to understand the processes of education not by working in a classroom but by serving on an education reform commission down in Texas. 

Spellings did her fighting for children from the safe distance of the rear. She fought for kids in spirit, you could say. 

By 2009, if you were a real teacher—and by that, I mean a good one—it seemed hard to believe education policy could get worse. When President Obama took office you could hope wisdom might prevail. 

Instead, we found ourselves saddled with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan was the hero who “reformed” the Chicago Public Schools, a man who once taught...no, ha, ha, just joking again…who got his start in education in administration and kept clambering up the bureaucratic ladder.

So you figure he learned everything there was to know about the challenges faced by real teachers.

Back in 2011, I made fun of several other “leaders” in the field of school reform. 
I will skip that part.

This will bring us up to date:


President Obama had a second chance to get it right, selecting John B. King Jr. to serve as tenth Secretary of Education. Mr. King did teach three years, two in a charter school, and did serve as charter school administrator for five more. So he wasn’t devoid of firsthand knowledge. Sadly, as New York State Education Commissioner, he pushed several misguided policies and was politely asked to leave. King wanted to link teacher pay to standardized test scores—ironically, on tests that later proved so badly flawed they were discontinued. He also pushed hard for Common Core despite the fact New York parents by the tens of thousands started opting out of all the tests.

In the meantime, Congress was supposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but failed to do so for eight long years, also failing to remedy flaws in the legislation. Duncan pushed a Race to the Top  initiative but his plan seemed to lead the children nowhere. Front line educators rightly came to suspect that  neither Mr. Duncan nor their representatives in Congress knew what they were doing.

Eventually, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act, which, for all we know, may be replaced by the Make Every Child Great Again Act under President Donald J. Trump.

If Betsy DeVos passes Senate muster, we will be adding a woman with zero teaching experience—with zero experience as a school administrator—who never went to public schools—who never sent her children to public schools—appointed by a man who went to private schools—a man who sent his children to private schools—and Mrs. DeVos will “lead” us to battle. I suspect she knows what most men and women who have held the post of Secretary of Education have known about working with America’s children. 

Next to nothing.

What she does understand perfectly is how to collect great wads of cash and then donate same to wily politicians. DeVos knows how to block laws she and her husband don’t want passed by skillful lobbying. She’s rich because her father-in-law founded Amway and her husband runs the company. 

In other words, everything in education is going to be great!! 


And, if the next set of “school reforms” proves as misguided as the last, or the last before that, or before that, or even before that, maybe this time schools can at least stock up on Amway soaps and cleaning products.

Because DeVos might not know kids; but she really, really knows her Amway.

Heroes Who Don't Fight: America's School Reformers (Betsy DeVos Edition)

Back in 2011, when I first began working on this blog, I complained about school reformers who talked and talked about leading a battle to fix the nation’s schools but never seemed to join the actual fight.

Now, with Betsy DeVos the latest choice to lead the U. S. Department of Education, I can almost recycle the article. 

In fact, the may end up being the worst choice yet. And when it comes to ineptitude in the field of education, she has some stiff competition to beat.


***

(I also blog about bicycling across the United States to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)

This is a beautiful country; get out there and see it.

Anyway, here’s what I said six years ago. Almost every syllable still applies:


I TAUGHT FOR 33 YEARS, SO I INTEND TO USE MY BLOG to defend good public school teachers whenever possible. 

Still, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know there are bad teachers. We used to joke of a colleague at my school that you could replace him with a cardboard cutout and students wouldn’t notice a difference. 

We need to do more to weed the dandelions in our classrooms. 

When I started researching a book about education, however, I was stunned to find how little time our nation’s “leading” reformers have spent in the classroom. On November 30, 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler first United States Secretary of Education. It was the start of a bizarre trend.  

Hufstedler was charged with saving U. S. education. But in 1979, starting my fifth year in a classroom, I had more teaching experience than the Secretary of Education. In fact, I had her beat by four years, two months. Hufstedler never taught a minute. She probably knew as much about teaching as the average American did about driving a car at the Indianapolis Speedway or playing concert piano with the Chicago Symphony. 

Mr. Carter plucked her from the federal bench. 

Terrel Bell, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, was next. Bell was actually tasked with dismantling the Department of Education, an idea most teachers might now support. Bell, at least, had tried his hand at teaching and had been a principal and superintendent in the Idaho public schools. 

So: Go Terrel Bell!!

William Bennett, Reagan’s second appointee and third to hold the position of Education Czar was another teaching virgin. Big Bill didn’t come out of any classroom. He came striding out of a think tank and immediately started lecturing teachers about their many egregious failings. Later he wrote a thick book about “virtue” for adults.

Then he wrote a thinner volume: The Children’s Book of Virtues.  

Later still, he admitted a serious gambling addiction and blowing eight million dollars in Las Vegas. 

Lauro Cavazos Jr. was fourth in line, coming to the Department of Education straight from the university level, having never spent a day in his life working with K-12 level students. He didn’t last long either. Cavazos was forced to resign after an investigation into misuse of frequent flier miles. 

Lamar Alexander was fifth. His first taste of Washington, D. C. life had not come working in a public school—of course not—but as legislative assistant to Senator Howard Baker. Alexander did meet his wife during a softball game for Senate staffers. So that was kind of cool. Later, as governor of Tennessee, he won fame and got his face on a Time magazine cover for “reforming” his state’s schools.

Naturally, none of the reforming was done by his hand. Lamar was just another K-12 virgin. Based on “his” success in Tennessee, however, Alexander was elevated to the cabinet post by President George H. W. Bush.  

President Clinton had the next crack at the problem and reached deep down into the classroom …no, no, no, we’re joking! He chose Governor Richard Riley of South Carolina as his U. S. Secretary of Education. Riley’s time in a classroom: 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes. 

0.

George W. Bush had two chances to get it right and blew them both, turning first to Rod Paige and later Margaret Spellings. Paige, at least, taught and coached at the college level; but his real claim to fame was the “Houston Miracle” which supposedly occurred while he was in charge of that city’s public schools...In no time at all, Paige had inner-city high schools whipped into shape and principals were reporting zerodropouts. Clearly, Mr. Paige was a genius. President Bush tapped him to be Secretary of Education. 

Unfortunately, real teachers know that in real classrooms miracles are in short supply. The “Houston Miracle” turned out to be completely bogus. Reporters discovered that one Houston high school reduced dropouts to zero simply by classifying all 462 students who left school during the year as “transfers.” 

Where they might have “transferred” to, whether another high school, or a nunnery, or Pluto, was a mystery. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Paige huffed and puffed and couldn’t make No Child Left Behind work. True: states initially reported stunning test-score gains. On closer examination almost all the gains proved to have been achieved through sleight of hand. Most states simply made their standardized tests easier—to insure higher passing rates and avoid penalties under new federal regulations. 

Paige eventually gave way to Margaret Spellings, who came to understand the processes of education not by working in a classroom but by serving on an education reform commission down in Texas. 

Spellings did her fighting for children from the safe distance of the rear. She fought for kids in spirit, you might say. 

By 2009, if you were a real teacher—and by that, I mean a good one—it seemed hard to imagine education policy could get worse. When President Obama took office you could only hope wisdom might prevail. 

Instead, we found ourselves saddled with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan was the hero who “reformed” the Chicago Public Schools, a man who once taught...no, ha, ha, just kidding…who got his start in education in administration and kept clambering up the bureaucratic ladder.

So you figure he learned everything there was to know about the challenges faced by real teachers.
Back in 2011, I made fun of several other “leaders” in the field of school reform. 
I will skip that part.

This will bring us up to date:


President Obama had a second chance to get it right, selecting John B. King Jr. to serve as tenth Secretary of Education. Mr. King did teach three years, two in a charter school, and did serve as charter school administrator for five more. So he wasn’t devoid of firsthand knowledge. 

Sadly, as New York State Education Commissioner he pushed several misguided policies and was politely asked to 
leave. King wanted to link teacher pay to standardized test scores—ironically, on tests that soon proved so badly flawed they were discontinued—and pushed hard for Common Core despite the fact New York parents by tens of thousands started opting out of testing.

In the meantime, Congress was supposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but failed to do so for eight long years and failed to remedy flaws in the legislation. Secretary Duncan had pushed a Race to the Top”  initiative, but that plan seemed to lead children nowhere. Front line educators rightly came to suspect that  neither Mr. Duncan nor Mr. King nor lawmakers in Congress knew what they were actually doing.

Congress, for various reasons, saw its approval rating fall below 30% in August 2009 and stay there. 
Congress dropped below the 20% mark in December 2011 and remains there to this day. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

Eventually, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act, which, for all we know, may be replaced by the Make Every Child Great Again Act under President Donald J. Trump.

After a rocky confirmation hearing, Ms. DeVos was confirmed by the Senate only after Vice President Mike Pence broke a rare 50-50 tie. What we were left with, then, was a woman with zero teaching experience. She had zero experience as a school administrator. She never went to public schools when she was young. She never sent her children to public schools either. She was appointed by a man who went to private schools—a man who sent his children to private schools—and Mrs. DeVos was going to “lead” us all in battle. I suspect she knows about what most men and women who have held the post of U. S. Secretary of Education have known about working with America’s children. 

Next to nothing.

What she does understand perfectly is how to collect great wads of cash and donate same to wily politicians. DeVos knows how to block laws she and her husband don’t want passed by skillful lobbying. She’s rich because her father-in-law founded Amway and her husband runs the company. 

In other words, everything in education is going to be great!! 


If the next four years of “school reforms” prove as misguided as the last four decades maybe this time schools can at least stock up on Amway cleaning products.

Ms. DeVos might not know anything about the challenges public schools face or the lives of public school kids.

She does, however, know her Amway soaps.