Friday, August 15, 2014

From Two Sides: Ed Reform versus the Most Famous Teacher in the U.S.

That teacher would be 5th grade teacher Rafe Esquith from Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles.  He has taught for nearly 30 years and written several books.   But I'll let Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post's Answer Sheet tell you more:

*When he goes to China he is so popular he needs security guards to protect him from the crush of the crowds.

*He is the only K-12 teacher to be awarded the president’s National Medal of the Arts.

*A documentary, “The Atticus Finch of Hobart Elementary,” was made about the famous Shakespeare program he has run for years at Hobart, where all of his students appear in at least one full-length production a year. The English actor Ian McKellen actually noticed some of Esquith’s young students mouthing the words to a Shakespearean play in which he was performing in Los Angeles.

*He has been given the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, and Disney’s National Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. He’s gotten more awards and honors, but you should have the idea by now.

So I think we can all agree; the guy knows his stuff.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates is pushing hard on Common Core.  From Diane Ravitch:

The long arm of the Gates Foundation reaches out to create a rating system for Common Core-aligned materials. Not content to have paid for the writing of the CCSS. the evaluation of the CCSS, the implementation of the CCSS, and the promotion of and advocacy for the CCSS, the foundation wants to take the next step to make sure no one uses anything less than stellar CCSS.

The story from Politico:

A new nonprofit funded with $3 million from the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust launches today with plans to review textbooks and other instructional material for fidelity to the Common Core. will start by bringing in teams of classroom teachers to evaluate K-8 math materials. The curricula will be judged by how well it matches the Common Core and assesses student learning and by whether it offers teachers guidance in reaching children at all levels.The group will post its ratings online and invite response from the publishers. Up first: Pearson’s enVision Math, McGraw-Hill’s Everyday Math, Houghton Mifflin’s Go Math and more than a dozen other widely used curricula. EdReports will turn to high-school math and language arts in future years.

They want to to be a kind of "Consumer Reports" for Common Core.  I can only say that considering how many teachers they actually used and listened to for Common Core, I have to wonder if the teachers for this effort will be window-dressing as well.

And it won't be the first time that  people have put their faith in a Gates-funded effort.  (InBloom, anyone?)  As well, you can check Helmsley Charitable Trust site and here's their opening sentence about their work in K-12 public education:

The Trust's Education Program aspires to advance American economic competitiveness as well as individual social mobility.  

To that end, it supports the adoption and implementation of policies aligned with college- and career-ready academic standards, and the development and dissemination of the resources, training and exemplary instructional practices that educators need in order to bring the standards to life in classrooms. 

That's fine wording but I always get worried when "American economic competitiveness" comes before educating great citizens." Oh wait, they don't care about the citizen part - just that everyone is educated enough to be socially mobile. 

Some of the groups they fund?  Many ed reform groups: New Venture (charters), Achieve, Council of Great City Schools, Council of State School Officers (those who brought us Common Core), and TFA.

So back to Mr. Esquith.  He has just published a new book for new teachers and this is what he has to say on public education:

- In the United States, professional development is usually just some publishing company talking to you about some book they are selling. It has nothing to do with the education of children. In China, it’s the government bringing me in to try to help teachers learn how to do their jobs better. I give them credit.

- I am not saying this to be conceited, but I’m a very good teacher and I want them to know that I fail all the time. There are factors beyond my control. But I have to understand there are issues of family and poverty. Sometimes even if you do reach a kid it’s not going to happen in the year you have them. They aren’t going to sing ‘To Sir With Love’ at the end of the year.

And to the veteran teachers who really understand what’s going on, every month it’s a new [school reform]  flavor of the month. The Common Core [State Standards initiative] isn’t going to do anything. They are spending tens of millions of dollars but it isn’t going to do anything. In my classroom you still have to put a period at the end of a sentence…. I don’t need a new set of standards to make that clear to me.

-I have a chapter called ‘Keeping it Real.’ If you ask most kids in school who are doing an assignment, why they are doing it, they will say, ‘Because my teacher told me to.’ In my class, if you ask a student, ‘Why are you writing this essay or doing this problem,’ they will say, ‘Because I will learn a skill and my life will be better.’… I tell my students, ‘Of course I want you to do well on the test at the end of the year, but the real test is what you are doing in 10 years.’ 

- Q) What is different about public education today versus when you started?
A) The obsession with testing. We always gave tests, but basically now it’s the entire day. Basically if it’s not on the test don’t teach it. Teachers spend hours and hours and hours trying to figure out what’s going to be on the test.

- He says that nutrition and sleep are two of the biggest issues he sees with kids in school who are poor.

 - Q) You mentioned the Common Core a little earlier. You are clearly not a supporter. What do you think about some of the other parts of the school reform movement? How about Teach For America and its five-week Summer Institute that serves as the training for all corps members?

A)  They [TFA corp members] are in my room all the time. Good kids. Nice. Bitter joke: TFA really stands for ‘teach for a while.’ Like all other teachers there are some great ones who are there for the right reasons who want to make a difference and some who want to pad their résumés. I certainly don’t think anybody can be a great teacher in five weeks.

They [TFA leaders] are incredibly defensive about hearing an alternate idea. What’s said is that they are constantly throwing data and money showing they are successful. But they are really not.

- Q) You have long used the slogan in your classroom, “Work Hard. Be Nice.” That is now the motto of the KIPP network of charter schools. 

A) Yes, Mike and Dave [KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin] followed me for a year, and used all my slogans. And I have to be careful. They are nice guys. But I don’t think they captured the spirit of what I’m doing. We don’t agree about how you get kids from A to B…. ‘Be nice’ in a lot of these schools means being obedient.

One of the expressions Teach For America borrowed from me is, ‘There are no shortcuts.’ That’s in my classroom on the wall. If you want to be a guitarist it takes thousands and thousands of hours of disciplined practice. You don’t’ get to be Eric Clapton in a week. But it’s ironic that an organization that believes there are no shortcuts trains teachers in five weeks.

He's nicer than I would be to people who basically took ideas from him and now pass them off as their own.

So honestly, who would I listen to?  To the person who has put in the time.  To the person who has been recognized as an education expert.  

I'd listen to the teacher.


Marc Behar said...

Thank you for posting this interview! Quite illuminating and filled with truth!

Anonymous said...

My son has had a terrible experience in school, but has thrived in local theater with Shakespeare being his favorite. I shutter to think where he would be without the support of the local theater groups.

SPT supporter

dan dempsey said...

Speaking of long arms reaching out to create a rating system --

Arne Duncan has refused WA's request for an NCLB waiver ... because WA did not put in place a rating system that factored in student test score growth into teacher evaluations (and eventually teacher pay?).

Note this refusal by Arne Duncan had zero to do with actual student growth in WA.

On the NAEP test (referred to as the nation's report card) from 2011 to 2013 WA students in 4th grade Math & Reading as well as 8th grade Math & Reading grew in each of those for areas by at least double the National Average Growth.

Arne is ignoring the NCLB law (which is currently impossible to meet for any state) for those states that do what Arne wants. So what penalty is there for public officials that violate laws? [Apparently there is no penalty for administrative outlaws. This is a clear case of two sides -- Ed Reform (outlaws) vs. Sane folks with data (treated as chumps) in current US Dept. of Education system.]