Three Little Things and One Huge Thing in My Life as a Teacher

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So, I wrote a thing about getting into my forties and nearly slicing my thumb off a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, people seem to like it. I love you, bloodthirsty readers.

And, I consulted on a thing about New York State’s teacher evaluation system, acronym APPR. Written by Dr. Aaron Pallas of Teacher’s College Columbia University. If you still have no idea how or why you got the score you got, read this. It’s important. Journal where it’s published below.

IMPACT JOURNAL 2014_2-23-14_510pm

And, I had a thing came out in Educational Leadership last month about teacher morale. Headlined with Rafe Esquith and Nel Noddings, dear god, help me.

And lastly, I am no longer a classroom teacher.

About three weeks ago Expeditionary Learning, where I’ve been writing as a consultant these past few months, offered me a 20 month contract as a full time staff writer. I took it.

Expeditionary Learning is just about as close as you can get to a repository of all the stuff I’ve been trying to crystallize in my classroom for the past fourteen years: portfolios, student-led assessment, growth models and mindset, community roots, thematic curriculum, collaboration on all levels, inquiry-driven lessons. If you go back through the blog (now seven years old– wow), you’ll see all of this, and you’ll see me struggling to carve it out in my school.

So you’ll see that even more than this being an exciting new way to contribute something to the field of education… it’s also a relief.

I’ve hung back from posting because I haven’t been sure about how to make this transition work on the blog. I want to continue writing here– it’s essential to me to continue writing here– but I don’t want the blog to end up looking and sounding like a mouthpiece for EL, either, much as I love them and am on board with their vision.

So I need your help.

How can I make a transition from the classroom to educational non-profit work for you, my readers?

What can I continue to add to the conversation?

What can I add that is new?

What annoying things can I not do, or stop doing?

What do you find valuable about this space?

That’s about it, folks. Do leave a comment for me. It will help a ton.

Philosophy in Schools? Yes, Please. (Subtitle: Why The Common Core Isn’t the Devil, Either.)

lincolnAs a Catholic school girl (even through college, where Logic I, Rhetoric I, and Philosophy 101 were baseline freshman courses), I got a severe dose of syllogisms.

There is nothing I learned– nothing– which was more empowering.

NO.THING.

(By the way, don’t you love this new use of the period for emphasis? Almost as good as our new prepositional form “because/noun.”  English rocks, because creativity.)

Logic, rhetoric and their leafy green branches, philosophy, are an electron microscope. They are a scimitar.

They are the Defense Against the Dark Arts for Muggles.

And they used to be foundational in our schools. So what the heck happened to them?

Their classical formation disappeared right around the turn of the century, as the purpose of our schools shifted. They enjoyed a renaissance in the Progressive Era in public life and universities, but with the flowering of industrialization and mass technologies for persuasion, they have all but died away. (For a more detailed and nerdy take on rhetoric’s general history in the US and elsewhere, check this out.) Indeed, in February 2013, an article in Scientific American by Dennis Bartels argued that schools have gone so far past the point of no return that it is useless to even try to teach critical thinking in them.

And not for nothing– and I’ve saved this for last, since this is one of those topics that can derail Thanksgiving Dinner entirely– but this is one of the reasons I was attracted to the Common Core. I don’t believe Dennis Bartels. (Because critical thinking.)

The Core, insofar as I know, is the first concerted effort since the 19th century— and arguably the first concerted national effort ever– to introduce the idea of teaching the building blocks of critical thinking to everyone, not just privileged Catholic school girls.

You think the Common Core sucks? You’re not the only one. And yet, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, logic gives a lovely light. In fact, in one of the greatest ironies of the Common Core conversation, it is precisely the Common Core’s strengths in logic, evidence, and reasoning which creates the strongest means by which to constructively criticize the Core’s weaknesses.

I’m going to continue to make this baby-bathwater point in future posts.

For a really good article (and the piece which inspired this post), please read The Guardian’s “Teaching Philosophy to Children? It’s a Great Idea,”  published this past Wednesday.

“While academic achievement, career advancement and financial success are no trifling things, they’re simply visible husks that may grow around a philosophical life. The hidden kernel,” says this lovely piece,  ”is made of freedom, clarity of thought, and a professional mastery of what it means to be human.”

I might rephrase a bit. The teaching of logic, rhetoric, and philosophy is the clarity of thought, and a professional mastery of what it means to human, that results in freedom.

 

The Kitchen Drawer: Wednesday 10/12/13

drawerWe’ve all got one. That drawer where everything goes that doesn’t quite have a place, and/or for which we need to do some other stuff first to create a place, and/or, always, which we’ll get to later. Actually, right now that drawer is my garage.

<—– What IS that thing in the middle? Also, see the apple slicer underneath? Mine is in the exact. same. place. There is something about an apple slicer that defies categories. This should be what we tell students. “When life gets you down, just be an apple slicer, kids.”

To prevent a garage from occurring on the blog, I’m introducing a new category called “The Kitchen Drawer,” which will present to you in one place the neat stuff I’ve collected on education over the days.

Today’s Kitchen Drawer is from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, which conceives of its mission as”to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life.” So this is research wrapped up in a spa robe, which is my kind of candy. You’ll probably see a lot of stuff from the GGSC on here in the days to come.

The Silent Epidemic in Our Classrooms is about how to help yourself see a misbehaving child as not “a bad kid or a mean or oppositional kid… [but] a scared kid.” This insight has been one of the most helpful ones to me as a teacher. Zen Buddhism, which I’ve been doing some small exploration of recently, states that all strong emotion can be boiled down in the end to fear. Interesting, this is exactly how the great thespian Stanislavski taught his acting method, which is based on the idea that every impulse of your character, in order to be true, has to be walked back to “…or I will die.” As in, “I must have this woman, or I will die.” Or, “If she makes me do this homework, I will show her how stupid I am, which means she will reject me, and all adults will reject me, and no one will take care of me… and I will die.”

See?

Tidbit

 

Do you know how to pick a lock?”
“Not in the least, I’m afraid.”
“I often wonder what we go to school for,” said Wimsey.”
―  Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison 

Bill Gates Is Not The Devil.

gates-devilHis massive, unregulated, opaque, and technocratically-dominated influence on public education may be very troublesome

…but honestly, some of the vicious (or do I mean viscous) mud-slinging I’ve been seeing around these parts make it a little hard for me to sing my Billy Bragg Labor Day tunes. We all need evidence, people. Where’s your Common Core?

(OK, maybe that wasn’t the right question.)

Put less flippantly: it seems to me that one can ask critical, hard and necessary questions about Gates funding without assuming that accepting money from them makes your organization a cheap front for corporate school takeover.

We need people who do that– and here’s one of them. I introduce to you today Ken Libby, a doctoral student and blogger at the University of Colorado Boulder.

While skating around looking for non-polemicist texts on Gates, I stumbled across this post of Ken’s at the Shanker Blog, which I highly recommend reading. I sent him an email, as I tend to do, and now I gleefully follow him on Twitter (@kenlibby) where amongst erudite and interesting links, he also he posts some of the more hilarious examples of Extreme Edu-Makeover under the hash tag #CORESPIRACY.

What follows is an edited version of an extended email conversation we had over the summer.  ~ DS

Given your research, what sort of summative one-sentence statement would you make about what Gates funds in education?

If I only get one sentence, it would be: Gates funds lots of work in education and is without a doubt a significant factor in education reform, but the foundation is only one factor among many.

On the one hand, it is quite staggering to see the extent to which the foundation spreads money among a significant number of organizations that support similar policy positions. Critics make a big deal of this: either that Gates alone is pushing for something, or that the foundation is large enough to sway the kind of work that happens.

On the other hand, a lot of other things are happening in education that Gates doesn’t (and likely cannot) control: major budget cuts, other reform pushes (e.g., vouchers), and politics more broadly. Personally, I think a lot of Gates criticism overlooks the context in which the foundation operates. For instance, what would Gates’ work look like absent NCLB accountability systems? How about without the economic turmoil of the last five years? How about, as Larry Cuban notes, the larger trend of “unvarnished embrace of market-driven capitalism and business practices that has swept across all U.S. institutions, including schools”?

So statements like “Gates funds everyone” should be taken as a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are still a significant number of conservative philanthropies involved in K12 education, a collection of more liberal philanthropies, and local foundations that support education work.

What facts about the Gates Foundation do we not know– or hear about enough?

Gates doesn’t fund StudentsFirst. The foundation didn’t support Michelle Rhee’s DC teacher contract. Maybe I’m reading more into it than is appropriate, but I think the foundation’s distance from Rhee is indicative of a different, less brash approach. (There was some support for TNTP, which Rhee founded, early on, however.)

The foundation is also known for changing directions. It’ll be around for about 50 years after Bill and Melinda die. There’s still a good chance – looking in the longer term – that the foundation one day takes a very different approach to education reform. It’s actually kind of fun to think about.

Do you have any examples you like of Gates funding divergent educational approaches, and/or changing course, as you mention? 

The foundation’s work in Washington State is different than their more nation-wide strategy. They do a good amount of work with early childhood ed and some interesting stuff bringing together different agencies that work with children and families. But the foundation also supports a lot of education reform advocacy in the state, and Bill personally contributed to the ballot measure that allows charter schools.

Other divergent strategies… the foundation supports the Cristo Rey Network, a private Catholic school network. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen support for voucher advocacy, although some grantees may support it. Nothing too radically different: no unschooling, “progressive” stuff, etc.

As far as changing course, the foundation started off just giving out money to school districts to buy technology. That was early 2000s. By mid-2000s they were doing the small schools thing pretty intensely, but then Tom Vander Ark left and the foundation focused more on teacher evaluations, Common Core, and charter schools (to some extent). It also got more involved in supporting education advocacy. Small schools funding is gone. So yeah, they’ve changed course before– and probably will do so again.

Are you aware of places where the Foundation supports voices critical of the Foundation?

Ed Week receives Gates funding, and there are several bloggers over there who are very critical of Gates. (Not So Obvious Disclosure: I have published over at Ed Week in the past, as well as at ASCD’s blog InService. ASCD also has Gates funding. ~ DS)

Diane Ravitch recently linked to a post that purports to audit– extremely critically– Gates funding in education. What are your thoughts on it?

When we highlight Gates’ role in the standards (or education), we sometimes forget that there are a whole lot of other important players with a variety of different viewpoints, positions, and resources. Maybe it’s just a word, but even suggesting Gates “purchased” these services seems to imply that organizations have been bought off or bribed. I just don’t think that’s the case in many instances. There are plenty of orgs that have long supported standards – the Fordham Institute, for instance. Fordham’s support pre-dates CC and even Gates. Others support the standards because the commonality facilitates product development. And it’s not difficult to find teachers who actually like the standards for a variety of reasons. (Fairly Obvious Disclosure: I am– cautiously– one of them. ~ DS)

Also, the AEI grant linked to in Mercedes’ first post is supposed to explore the challenges of Common Core. Yet if you look at what Rick Hess is saying, it’s not at all pro-CC! Heck, one of the articles Mercedes links to has Hess saying he’s not on board with CC.

 The tone of posts like these strike me continually as unhelpful– but those facts are upsetting (as they always have been).

Yes. That upsetting feeling is nagging. Even the harshest critics are correct that the foundation’s work is very influential. But too much of the talk about Gates and philanthropy more broadly can be characterized as mud slinging or conspiracy theories.That stuff gets attention. More reasoned discussions, like the recent Boston Review forum, do a much better job of helping us understand philanthropy, including the possible benefits and disadvantages of these kinds of foundations.

Digging with Seamus Heaney

cratesYour kids’ toys and books are everywhere. Solution? Craigslist in upstate New York apple country.

For six bucks each we grab a bunch of apple crates to clean, paint and recycle into kids’ shelves. It’s only when I get them home, though, that I notice the stenciled words on the side of each crate. janto

Mysterious words on the sides of your newly acquired apple crates. Solution?

Sic your internationally-recognized genealogist mother on it.

Mom emails me within 24 hours:

Veto Janto was born in the town of Galen, NY, on 7 Sept.  1895 and died in Clyde, Wayne County, NY in Feb. 1968.  He was a  farmer.  He and his wife May had two children in the 1930 census of the  town of Galen, Wayne County, Josephine B. Janto, 8, and Rocco V. Janto, 5.  
Veto’s son Rocco (Rockie), probably named for his  paternal grandfather,  died at the age of 87 in April 2012 (b. May 3,  1924.)  His obituary says he was the son of “Vito & Mar Sapp Janto”  [sic].  The “Vito” spelling is probably the original, and I suspect the  surname was changed somewhere along the line.  From the obit:
 ”Rockie  was a successful and innovative fruit, dairy and cash crop farmer for over 70  years.  He was the recipient of the Cornell Conservation Farmer of the Year  Award for his skillful knowledge in the field of farming and agriculture.   He was a past member of the Wayne County Planning Board.  Rockie loved  spending his free time with his family and grandchildren on the  farm.”

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And then Seamus Heaney dies. Solution? There’s no solution to that. Just cry.

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You’re feeling grateful for this opportunity to use your best skills in the service of one of the best things on the planet. For a little while, you’re a writer, writing about and for education. More than grateful. It’s like a unicorn has apparated into your living room and put its golden horn down at your feet.

But there’s the students, not here, not laughing and crying with you. And Syria. And whole city-wide school systems failing, and not enough food.

Solution?

Solution. I don’t know.

But it has something to do with understanding where your apple crates come from. Remembering that the man who used them, and his son after him, cultivated the land along the shore of Lake Ontario.

It has something to do with Seamus Heaney– what he saw, what he remembered, what he honored. The man who used the spade, and his son after him.

Solution:

Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests.

Like Veto and Rocco Janto– like Seamus’  father– and like Seamus.

I’ll dig with it.

Digging
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper.
He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf.
Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney

The Times, They Are A’Changin: My New Job

Change1As of last week, my summer work with Expeditionary Learning has turned into a full-time consulting position through the fall, with anticipated equal work through the spring. To recap, I have been serving as a curriculum designer and writer for EL as they complete their contract with New York State to create and roll out Common-Core aligned curriculum, accessible for free to everyone at www.engageny.org. In order to accept this new journey, I’ve taken an unpaid leave of absence from school for one year.

This all happened very, very suddenly, and I am still somewhat astonished and very grateful that my district agreed to support it. My head is also spinning at the idea that I don’t have to clean my classroom, figure out my attendance book, deliver my annual performance of “IQ” by Ani DiFranco, or call 90 parents next week.  I suspect I’ll have some kind of full out, temporary breakdown shortly, and then everything will be fine.

I already miss the kids. The big room I always try to prepare and furnish for them in my heart at this time of year is empty, and I don’t quite know what to put there.

That being said, I am in love with Expeditionary Learning, what they do, how they do it, and what they stand for. The fact that New York was perspicacious enough to hire them is the flashlight I hold in the dark, murky night of other educational decisions New York has made. And now, I find myself in the very strange position of being 200% against the current wielding of standardized testing and the methods used to develop the Common Core, only about 75% sold on the full range of the Common Core itself, and 100% behind this work I am now doing. Try and label that, please, because I have no idea what it is.

A recent silly online political quiz I took pegged me as a “tender-minded moderate progressive”: I suppose that’s as accurate a description of my educational stance as there is. I like the idea of being “tender-minded”. It seems to describe someone who places almost equal weight on the input of the heart and head, with the balance being in favor of the head. I think this is something to which I can aspire this year with a clean conscience.

I am looking forward tremendously to continuing to blog as I work for EL. The curriculum and its implementation are going to create a lot of questions for practitioners as they feel their way through it, and I am raring to work through to the answers– or to further and better questions– together with my peeps still in the trenches.

So there you have it.

 

New York State Cut Scores: From the Inside

scissorsBelow, I present, quite unintentionally with great serendipity, the first-hand account of New York State cut score-setting from my gracious guest blogger Dr. Maria Baldassarre-Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy and Technology at my alma mater, Nazareth College in Rochester New York.

If you have ever wondered…

~ Where the hell do those cut scores come from, anyway?

~ How does the state actually set a cut score?

~ How political is this process?

~ Are there any teachers involved at all?

…then this is the article for you.

Maria spoke to me often during the writing of this piece of having to navigate legalese, non-disclosure agreements and so on, so you will not find a tell-all blow-up here. However, you may certainly find a window into the process that you may not have had before. The fight begins, as it always should begin, with good intelligence.

Take it and use it well.  ~ Dina

UPDATE: This post has been picked up by Diane Ravich, who has a testing expert respond– also a whole new set of comments. Go check it out.

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The Mission

If you are a teacher who has ever yearned to be sent on a secret mission (really, who hasn’t?), complete with coded documents, non-disclosure agreements, men in dark suits watching you, advance e-mails to dress in layers, unanswered questions and enormous breakfast buffets with zero protein, you must spend a week of your life working for Pearson. My mission: Make cut score recommendations to the commissioner for the maiden voyage of the Common Core ELA assessments.

The most thought-provoking question asked of me during my five days in Albany was by a no-nonsense, b.s.-calling principal from the Bronx whose intensity scared me a little: “So, what do you hope to get out of this?” I said something about using my new knowledge of the standards, the tests and how they are constructed and evaluated to help my students think about using sound literacy instruction to prepare their students for them.  That was Day 2.

A Word About Cut Scores

Cut scores were to be decided upon after NYS students in grades 3-8 took the tests.  By looking alternately at test questions, Common Core State Standards, Performance Level Descriptors, and other data-which-shall-not-be-named (thank you non-disclosure agreement!), 100 educators sat in four meeting rooms at the Hilton using a method known as “bookmarking” to decide what score a student needed to earn in order to be labeled as a particular “level” (i.e., 1-4).  How many questions does a student need to answer correctly in order to be considered a 3?  How about a 4?  2?  1?

In each room sat teachers, administrators and college faculty from across the state.  This mix made for some interesting discussion, heated debates, and a touch of hilarity.  There were smartly dressed psychometricians everywhere (i.e., Pearson stats people) and silent “gamemakers” unable to participate sitting in back of room looking on, clicking away on their laptops.  Sometimes they nodded to each other or whispered, other times they furrowed their brows, and at least twice when the tension was high in the room, one gamemaker (who I called “the snappy dresser” and others called “the Matrix guy”) stood up and leaned over the table like he was going to do something to make us rue the day.  I kept my eye on that one.

So, Bookmarking…

We began the bookmarking process with grade 8, later repeating the entire process for grades 7 and 6.  I will try to be as brief as possible:

  • We first reviewed Performance Level Descriptors for each level of performance on the assessment (levels 2-4; we were not provided PLDs for level 1).  PLDs were originally crafted by “content experts” at NYSED/Pearson and were categorized based on anchor standards that were being assessed.  While we were not permitted to leave with copies of the PLDs, we were told they would be made available to the public online … eventually.
  • We then had to consider this question:  What should a student who is barely at level ___ be able to do?  In other words, what separates a level 3 student from a level 2 student (etc.) on each anchor standard?  These were known as threshold descriptors.  I can’t say exactly what our threshold descriptors were, but I can say they included words like “smidge,” “glimmer,” “morsel,” and “nugget,” and phrases like “predominately consistently…”  This.  Took.  Long.
  • We reviewed selected passages and questions in original test booklets (40 minutes) and then the rest of the test (20 minutes).  (Just curious: How long did your students take to complete the test?  No reason.  Just wondering.)
  • We received Ordered Item Books (OIB) where all test questions for that grade were ordered by “experts” from least to most difficult.  Constructed and extended response questions were listed multiple times at various places, once for each possible point value.  Passage difficulty was considered in the ordering of the questions, where “difficulty” was synonymous with “Lexile score.”
  • Time to “bookmark”:  Each of us would place a post-it note in the OIB on the last question a student at a particular threshold level of proficiency would have a 2/3 chance of answering correctly.
  • But before we began, we were told which page numbers correlate with external benchmark data (I could tell you what those data were, but then I would have to kill you).  So, it was sort of like this:  “Here is how students who are successful in college do on these ‘other’ assessments.  If you put your bookmark on page X for level 3, it would be aligned with these data.”
  • We had three rounds of  paging through the OIB, bookmarking questions, getting feedback data on our determined cut scores, and revising.  We
  • had intense discussion as we began to realize the incredible weight of our task.  We were given more data in the form of p-values for each question in the OIB – the percentage of students who answered it correctly on the actual assessment. Our ultimate results were still not the final recommendation.
  • On our final day of bookmarking we came back to grade 8 (after the process took place for grades 6 and 7) and did one last round.  This 4th round determined the actual cut scores that would go to the commissioner as a recommendation.

I, along with the people in my room, completed this entire process for grades 6-8.   A group of educators in a similarly tiny room did the same for grades 3-5.  On day five, table leaders got together for vertical articulation.  This meant we looked across all of the cut scores to see whether or not there was some general consistency across all grades, 3-8.

And Now, a Gentle Plea to the Reader:

I received word on the day I write this that the commissioner has made a final decision on the cut scores.  I am not at liberty say whether the recommendation we made was the last word, but once the cut scores are announced I would like for you, with kindness in your heart, to hold the same image I cling to a month later – and it is this image that will have the most profound impact on how I channel this experience in my own teaching:

In the room where I sat for five days, I was among some of the most critical, thoughtful and intelligent teachers, administrators and college faculty I’ve ever met, all of whom were fiercely loyal to the students in their classrooms and communities. Despite the rigidly scaffolded and tightly constrained process of recommending cut scores, the educators in our room fought tirelessly for high standards and, at the same time, fairness to teachers and students.

  • Through gentle inquisition, they took the commissioner to task when he gave us our charge.
  • They challenged any and every part of the methodology that seemed problematic.
  • They thought about how these decisions would impact teacher and principal evaluations.
  • They pushed back hard at the reality that the cut score decisions could actually diminish the quality of education students—especially non-white students, ELLs and SWDs—would experience on a daily basis.
  • They realized that at the end of the day many questions would remain unanswered or unaddressed. Though our facilitator was lovely – a psychometrician from Pearson who was as intelligent and kind as she was passionate about the work she was doing, she was not a policy-maker.
  • They drank beer.

What I Took from This:

It was not quite what I had hoped or expected.  I wish I could say I now have answers to satiate my students’ hunger for the best practical answers to their instructional quandaries related to these tests.  If anything, my thoughts about that are slightly more muddied.

While I am required here to be vague about specific data, details and conversations, I trust that the discerning eye of the critical practitioner might read between these lines.  But I will be frank when I say that it has never been so clear to me that the dataphilia that is now the culture of our profession is not non-ideological.

My geek-life hero, Marilyn Cochran-Smith (among others), has written that teaching is never neutral. Every single thing we teach and how we choose to teach it is political, including how and what we assess and how we evaluate those assessments.

That admonition has never felt so real to me.  I am heartened by the vehemence with which the professionals in that room pushed back, working within the system in order to simultaneously work against it.

And that is my take away.  I was glad to be at the table.  I wish they had given us ten more days or two more years to make some substantive changes.  And I hope thoughtful people with a dog in the fight like the ones I met in Albany continue to fight to have their voices heard.

~ Maria Baldassarre-Hopkins

 

 

 

The Death of American Education?

round_handle_awl

(<——— Bonus points for anyone who can identify what this is, and how it connects to the post.)

Heavy, heavy post title for what I intend to be a pretty small post– more of a kickstarter to conversation than anything else.

My friend Joe Henderson sent me this piece on public education on Twitter last week, where it was immediately favorited by such blogging greats as Michael Doyle and Nancy Flanagan. It comes from a collectively written political blog, Permanent Crisis, that focuses on neoliberalism; it’s wonky, but excellent fodder for thinking.  If you take a look into neoliberalism, you’ll see that its tenets are spookily reflective of much of school reform rhetoric– or perhaps not so spookily, as many people believe it is the driving force behind an impending collapse of public education.

With mass closings of schools, entire districts declaring bankruptcy, the strings attached to the funding of Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, the disappearance of public higher education in other countries, and the rise of charter schools here, it’s an easy conclusion to draw. The article itself, which also draws this conclusion, is tightly written and linked as well.

I think that’s why I hated it.

I’m not saying it doesn’t discuss a credible view, or discuss it well. I’m mostly saying there are holes to poke in it, both on the side of those who espouse the neoliberal view, and those who label and reject school reform because of it.

Two quick examples, one from each side.

COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY/CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE NOT EVIL: I am currently hired as a consultant writer for Expeditionary Learning, which in turn has been hired by the state of New York to write some Common Core curriculum. These are, definitively, the smartest, kindest, most collaborative, kid-centered, motivated, and dedicated people I have ever worked with. Period.

SKILLED TRADES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER: If Mike Rowe testifying before Congress doesn’t convince you, try this March 2013 reporting from Forbes. While Permanent Crisis’ article seems content to lay the disconnection of education and trades employment directly at neoliberal school reform’s feet, I don’t think this is the case. Neoliberalism in and of itself doesn’t give a damn about what it commodifies, as long as it is commodified. Whether it’s a college degree or a trade doesn’t matter in the end.

Rather, this disconnect, I propose, is more directly the result of the increasing stratification of our economic classes. How can you know the need for someone to pave a road, or run the computers running your auto factory, when you don’t live, work, or talk to anyone who lives those lives?

(Don’t be that person, by the way. Get out and meet some of them– some of the parents of your kids, for example. For the definitive texts on blue-collar work in America (and, scarily, how some white-collar work is exactly the same), check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch).

Mainly, here, I am simply concerned about the trend to cull, versus surrender, in conversations about education. It’s so much easier for us to dismiss whole swaths of information instead of looking for the places where the individual story changes the theme…the cracks where the light get in. It’s in the cracks, I have come to understand, where we find hope.

If you do nothing else with this post, check out (again) Mike Rowe in this TED talk, where he gets at the exact same idea.

I’d love for other folks to read The Permanent Crisis article and leave comments on what they think is happening in American public education today, and why– or not, and leave comments on what they think is happening in American public education today anyway.