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According to a post yesterday from PBS journalist John Merrow’s blog Learning Matters: ”Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC.” His meticulous article (including over 30 footnotes) details the revelation of a confidential memo by one of Rhee’s own consultants that indicated widespread cheating was going on by educators in the district who were erasing wrong answers on students’ tests and putting in right answers. While Rhee did conduct limited investigations into the matter in the late 2000′s, she did not admit the possibility of teacher erasures and that the cheating scandal was far more widespread.
This is serious business, coming as it does from the one educator who has placed the most emphasis on standardized test scores and ”data-based decision making” (e.g. not using common sense or experience to drive educational policy, but purely and simply: numbers). She rewarded educators in her district who got the highest test scores, and fired teachers who had the lowest test scores in their classrooms. In such a tense climate, is it any wonder that teachers and administrators would resort to cheating?
We need to take a good long hard look at this new revelation. Taken along with the recent Atlanta public schools cheating scandal, which has resulted in indictments of over thirty educators in that district, including its superintendent, I believe these events are only the tip of the iceberg and are a direct result of our nation’s overemphasis on standardized testing. I hope that parents, educators, and politicians, will look at these cheating scandals, and at the sheer downside of using standardized testing (see my blog post ”Fifteen Reasons Standardized Tests are Worthless”) and begin to advocate for more sensible and humane ways to assess learning progress in our schools.
We all know Peter Parker’s secret to becoming a totally cool super hero who used smarts, spidey sense, and a little bit of webbing to save his corner of the world: a radioactive spider bite.
The funny thing is, what our students need from education isn’t so different from the transformation Peter went through (n.b. the first transformation, not Spiderman 3 – I haven’t seen that one yet, but looks like what happened wasn’t good). We want school to hone our students’ talents and develop their passions so they can make the world a better place.
We also know that what we have been doing in education isn’t turning out superheroes they way we would like. The kids who become innovators and change the world are the exception not the rule. They are kids who beat the system and managed to salvage their creativity and passion from our industrial model of schooling.
So how do we create this change? How do we have an education system that actually develops creative innovators committed to a more just, sustainable, and healthy world?
We know we can’t just keep doing what we are doing and expect different results.
And we can’t just wait around for a radioactive spider.
I used to think what we needed was just more. If we only made the school day longer, made kids go to school on Saturday, the list goes on and on, we’d get there. I would say to myself “If only we had more time with students we could reach that goal” or “If only we get a little better at what we’re doing we’ll get there.”
Now I see that more of the same though isn’t really change; it’s just more.
I used to think that the answer was finding someone with the answer and asking for concrete steps and strategies. At the end of trainings, I would ask “How do I do this in my classroom?” and wait for a formula that would be the saving grace for my students and me.
Now I see that there’s no single strategy, no step-by-step process for creating innovators. Spending more time and doing what we do now better won’t get us to the superhero level.
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I have spent the last few days in Nassau, Bahamas celebrating the approval of Bahamas ASCD application to become an ASCD affiliate. It was just a year ago I came to attend their inaugural conference as an ASCD Connected Community, their first step in becoming an affiliate. I remember being impressed with how well planned and coordinated that first conference was…how committed the leadership was to building this new organization to meet the needs of educators and students in their country.
It was at the end of last year’s conference that Bahamas ASCD made the decision to complete the affiliate application. Over the past twelve months we worked together to complete the application process and ensure that it would be given every consideration for approval. Interestingly enough, the ASCD Board met this past week at the same time Bahamas ASCD was holding its second annual conference, and we had no way of knowing if it would act on the affiliate application before the conference wrapped up.
As so often in life when good work is carried in a flow of positive energy, the ASCD Board approved the application on Tuesday and we were able to announce and enjoy the good news at the Bahamas ASCD conference the end of the week. What is significant to me is not the fact that everything fell into place, but the conditions that made this such a success story. Bahamas ASCD demonstrates:
- a leadership team that is highly respected in its education community
- a vision for education that addresses the immediate needs of educators
- a strong alignment with ASCD and the work we are doing
- a single-minded seriousness of purpose shared by all members of the leadership team
- clear messaging and effective public relations strategies
- professional connections that enhance its effectiveness and add value for members
- an energized membership base that seeks active participation in the affiliate’s work, and
- a work-life balance that evidences hard work, enjoyment of that work, and having fun as well
As I returned to DC and thought through these elements of success, it impressed me how much the Bahamas ASCD success story demonstrates the traits of successful membership organizations today. They aren’t looking to compete with other groups that already have created a niche on the education landscape. Rather, their singular reason for being is to meet the needs of educators on the ground in their backyard.
Yes there are lots of possibilities they will consider as they continue to write their story in the Bahamas, but with their clear sense of purpose, they will single out the opportunities to make an immediate difference from those initiatives that will take them away from their focus and weaken their impact. It occurs to me that staying small and nimble is an advantage today, as the education landscape continues to shift and morph around us. Perhaps Bahamas ASCD is a timely reminder of all that is right and good about effectively serving our peers: keep it simple and don’t take your eye off the ball.
Think of the organizations to which you belong and those which you joined at one time and in which you decided not to renew your membership. Aren’t the organizations you value similar to Bahamas ASCD? Let’s all aspire to follow its clear and concise example. Be there for each other and seek to make an immediate difference in the profession.
I am proud of my friends and colleagues who lead Bahamas ASCD:
Bahamas ASCD Board President Wenley Fowler, Board Vice-President Abraham Stubbs, Regional Director Verneth Patterson, Executive Director Christine Williams, Secretary Annastacia Forbes, Assistant Secretary Vernetta Ferguson, Treasurer Shirley Krezel, Assistant Treasurer Tamara Stuart, Public Relations Roberta McKenzie, Assistant Public Relations Tessa Nottage, and Project Coordinator Beverley Symonette.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
Every American knows it’s election season. Actually, it’s hard to remember when it’s not election season since it feels like we’ve been enduring campaign ads for so long. In the DC area, we are bombarded with mail, phone, radio, and TV spots due to Virginia being one of the “battleground” states.
My boys, in 2nd and 4th grade, have been asking a lot more questions than they did four years ago, when they were emerging readers or not really paying attention to what’s going on outside of their own world of playdates and toys. I guess it began a few weeks ago with the question, “Why are there so many of those signs on the side of the road? Does the person with most signs win or something?” That’s a question I have a hard time answering. I despise those signs so all I could reply was, “I hope people don’t vote that way, but maybe some people do.” My second grader was recently voted in as the student government representative for his class, and is getting interested in how civic matters work. He told me, “When I get to vote I’m going to read about the person and figure out if I should vote for them, not just look at a bunch of signs.” Since I knew there were no roadside signs at his school, I asked him about the process of how he won the election.
“Well, our teacher asked for a boy and a girl to be reps for the class. I raised my hand and said I wanted to do it this year.”
“Did you have to campaign or promise anything to your classmates that you would do?”
“No, I just told them I would go to the student council meetings and tell them what’s going on. I had to say three or four things about myself to the class and why I should be the rep. I told them that I love to write, I read 20 minutes a night, I’m a good listener, and I’ll bring your ideas to the meetings.”
“So, what do you have to do?” I asked.
“My responsibility is to go to the meetings and listen to the president and the principal talk about things like wacky hair day or other spirit days, and I help tell the class about that.”
He hasn’t gone to any meetings yet, but at today’s parent conference his teacher told us how excited he was to be voted in. If this is his first picture of how government works, albeit at the elementary school level, I truly hope it’s a lot more functional than what we see in our presidential campaigns. To be honest, maybe our leaders can take a lesson from the simplicity of this second grade election process. Who among us wouldn’t love a quicker course of action?
While in DC this past week for the Bammy Awards I had the chance to tour the Holocaust Museum with a few colleagues. It was powerful, moving, and saddening. I left convinced more than ever that what we do matters, and matters mightily.
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness.
Gas chambers built by LEARNED engineers, children poisoned by EDUCATED physicians; infants killed by TRAINED nurses, women and babies shot and burned by HIGH SCHOOL and COLLEGE graduates.
So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmann's.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.
Remember that day after the attacks? Most of us were still numb and in disbelief. The skies were quiet, the images were embedded in our minds, and many of us in the metro DC area were given a day off from work and school. As a country, we mourned, but we were united like no other time I could remember. As a certified member of Generation X, this was a new moment for Americans my age. We were too young to remember Vietnam vividly, heard stories from our grandparents about WWII, but for the most part we had never seen or experienced anything like 9/11. And then we were thrown into action, whether it was leading a classroom, a school, a battalion of firefighters, or a group of soldiers. I was born and raised on Long Island and that skyline was something I admittedly took for granted. I’ve lived in the DC area almost half my life and call it home now. In case you weren’t sure, these attacks hit me hard.
So I asked my sons (2nd and 4th graders) about what they knew about 9/11. It was a bold move for me, since the day brings back such raw emotions. You see, they weren’t even close to being born yet (’03 and ’05 birth years) and until this year I haven’t felt that we could talk about it with them.
At their elementary school, a whiteboard welcomes them daily with a message of hope, a quote, or an announcement from the office. Of course, yesterday there was a message about 9/11. So I asked them at dinner, “What do you know about September 11th?”
My older boy jumped in immediately and talked about an acrostic poem that they wrote as a class. He remembered talking about the military a lot. He looked cautiously at my wife and me before getting into too many details to spare our 2nd grader from the specifics. Understandably, the combined 1st and 2nd grade class he’s in didn’t talk about it at all. As our older son explained how planes flew into buildings, he didn’t know that they were passenger planes. “Like the planes we fly on?” he asked. As we talked, there were many questions that I anticipated that were difficult to discuss, even after 11 years. “Why would they do that? Is that why we’re at war? Where did the buildings go?”
We kept our answers short and factual. I read the 9/11 Memorial suggestions on how to talk to children about the event earlier in the day, and I did my best to follow those guidelines. When we talked about the fact that our country has been at war for their entire life and it all began as a result of 9/11, they were shocked. “So, is that longer than World War II?” “More than twice as long,” I answered.
I was a 7th grade history teacher that day and my school is on the flight path for Dulles airport, so every day I watched planes arrive and depart out of the corner of my eye, perhaps even flight 77 that eventually made its way to the Pentagon. That day was like no other, as you’d imagine, and I tried to explain to the boys what it was like to be in a school. They were curious if the kids knew about what was happening and shocked to hear that we didn’t tell the students anything for a while, since everything was so confusing that morning. With so many parents who worked in DC, there was panic around us and our principal wanted to maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach to the best of our ability. Her thought was correct, and the safest place for those students to be was in school. My boys were fascinated to hear what it was like after that day with the skies being quiet (we live on the flight path to National airport, which was closed for weeks following), how people were generally nicer to each other in the grocery store, parking lots, and in our neighborhood.
Our conversation was the first time that I could describe a historical event and go through what it was like personally. It reminded me that so many students today have no memory of that day. The students I taught in 2001 are mostly out of college by now and the current high school seniors were just starting their school careers. I’d assume most of them were clueless about what was going on while they were in their first days of school. After posting a message last night on my Facebook status, one of my former students reminded me of what I told them on the first anniversary in 2002:
I remember sitting in your 7th grade History classroom on the first 9/11 anniversary. Some of us were asking if we were going to watch the 9/11 broadcasts on TV during class, since it was history after all. After explaining why we weren't going to do that, you urged us all to spend time with our families and friends after school that day, and celebrate life rather than gluing ourselves to the TV and watching the devastating recaps of the year before. I think of those words of wisdom every year now!
I had forgotten that detail, and it was a wonderful reminder to me how the comments you make on a daily basis in schools can be indelible for the students you work with. Throughout my years as a history teacher, I know that describing turning points in history is not like living through them, and my boys’ curiosity made it hard to follow the rule to keep things simple. Someday maybe I’ll get into more details—but for now we were happy to maintain their innocence from geopolitical events.