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Friday, May 31, 2013

Pure Bliss...

The odds are that by now you have seen the viral video below. It was recorded in a high school in Texas. Sophomore, Jeff Bliss, is shown frustrated and passionately explaining to his teacher that she can't spark her student's desire to learn from sitting behind her desk and assigning packets. A fellow classmate recorded it, posted it, and the rest is history.

Watch it here:

If you watch the local news interviews of Jeff, and of his mom, you learn some interesting things:

1. Jeff is 18 years old and in 10th grade, due to his dropping out to go to cyber school on-line, until his return this year to Duncan High School.

2. He was a pretty quiet kid, until this outburst.

3. His mom was a teacher for 40 years....which may explain his insight and knowledge on how teachers need to touch their student's hearts and get kids excited about learning.

4. There was an earlier part of their exchange that wasn't recorded, but apparently the teacher told him to stop, "B----ing." His use of that term was in response to her use of it.

I couldn't help but note how the other students seemed unaffected by the outburst. They seemed nonchalant, blasé, even bored.  Are they used to this type of thing?

Some people look at this scene and are put off by the teacher's lack of respect and engagement towards Jeff's passionate (or disrespectful, depending on your point of view) monologue. 

Others see this as an example of the shift happening in schools due to high stakes standardized testing, and the external pressure to get students prepped for tests that claim to show if our kids are "college or career ready."   Packets, practice tests, and disengagement, oh my.


Jeff may be onto something here. Excited & engaged teachers create (or at least don't extinguish) the passion of their students.

Let's say that both perspectives are right. Some teachers need to be more passionate, engaging, and creative. While other teachers may be feeling like test prep robots, and are disengaging due to the lack of autonomy and the forced focus on seeing their very human students as "data."

So now (in Pennsylvania) it's time to substitute "Keystone" for No Child Left Behind...

So thank you, Jeff Bliss, on behalf of all parents and teachers.

Thanks for reminding us that, as Albert Einstein said,

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When is less really more?

Sometimes in life, less is good.

 Sometimes less is just an empty box.

I don't buy into the less is more movement too much. I am currently reading up on the Common Core Standards and aside from more tests for our kids, everything else seems to create a ripple effect of less....less art, less music, less physical education, less recess, less foreign language, less creativity, less fiction, and most importantly, American kids liking learning less.

This cartoon is called, "Who Pays?"

Anyone remember Diane Ravich? Ravich  is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, under George H.W. Bush.

At one time, she supported No Child Left Behind....but hasn't in a long time.

From NPR:
Education historian Diane Ravitch served as Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush. She later advocated No Child Left Behind's strict testing standards and expansion of charter schools. But, Ravitch now says those initiatives have failed, and the real enemy of schools is poverty. Professor Ravitch talks to host Michel Martin. 

Listen to the 7 minute interview here:

Her blog is amazing. A recent posting about an article by a Fordham professor questions the extreme power Bill Gates has used against public education.  

Ravich highlights some key points from his article:

"The Common Core may raise standards in some school districts, but one ought to read the literature with a critical eye.The Common Core has not been field tested anywhere. The Common Core does not address many root causes of underperforming schools, such as hungry students or dangerous neighborhoods. And the Common Core has an opportunity cost, namely, that it forces thriving school districts to adopt programs that may be a worse fit for the student body."

"America needs many kinds of excellent programs and schools: International Baccalaureate programs, science and technology schools, Montessori schools, religious schools, vocational schools, bilingual schools, outdoor schools, and good public schools. Even within programs and schools, teachers should be encouraged to teach their passions and areas of expertise. Teachers inspire life-long learning by bringing a class to a nature center, replicating an experiment from Popular Science, taking a field trip to the state or national capital, or assigning a favorite novel. A human being is not a computer, and a good education is not formatted in a linear code."

Here is the link to the full article:

Sorry, in the midst of all of that critical thinking and questioning what is good for our kids, did I read the Common Core were not field tested anywhere before forty-five states, the District of Columbia & four territories adopted them? (States run by both Democrats & Republicans)

I live in a thriving school district and hear a lot people wondering if the common core is a good fit for us, though I question if it is a fit anywhere...

We have many Blue Ribbon Schools in our district.
From the US Department of Education website:
" A National Blue Ribbon Schools flag overhead has become a mark of excellence in education recognized by everyone from parents to policy-makers in thousands of communities."
 I wonder what changed that made a Blue Ribbon Award worth less...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Our rock stars aren't like your rock stars...

Do you remember this amazing intel Ad from 2009? If not, or if you just want a good laugh, click here.

What I loved (and still love) about it is the idea of having intellectual rock stars. How many of us really would react that way about a professor, an author, or inventor? 

Back in the summer of 2009 my colleague, Katy Morris, and I went to an education symposium at the Putney School in Putney, VT. The campus was breath taking, the learning was to be interesting, we were going to sleep in dorms and feel like kids for five days...but why did I really want to go? Two of my education rock stars were speaking - Alfie Kohn and Howard Gardner!

"Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of twelve books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations."
"Kohn's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

"Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981. He has received honorary degrees from twenty-nine colleges and universities, including institutions in Bulgaria, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, South Korea and Spain. In 2005 and again in 2008, he was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world.  The author of twenty-eight books translated into thirty-two languages, and several hundred articles, Gardner is best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be adequately assessed by standard psychometric instruments."

Alfie Kohn & Me

Me, Howard Gardner & Katy Morris

Howard Gardner on Standardized testing:
"Our analysis of the educational problems in the United States is very distorted. What does it say about the kind of a society we aspire to be, when we are analyzing our educational success almost entirely on standardized test scores in a few subject areas? Even the focus on global competitiveness, particularly with respect to test scores, is misguided. Instead, we need to focus on the kind of human beings we want to have and the kind of society in which we want to live. That is why, for two centuries, we have been much admired (and even imitated) around the world. Once we get that straight, I am not worried about our test scores or our rankings in one or another international ranking system."

Read the full interview here.

                                                  Alfie Kohn on the same topic:
"Standardized tests are extremely good measures of the size of the houses near a school. Study after study has found that you can predict as much as 90 percent of the differences in test scores without knowing a damn thing about what’s going on in the class-rooms. All you have to know is the poverty level, other measures of socio-economic status, or whether students have crammed forgettable facts and isolated skills into short-term memory."

"They don’t measure deep thinking; they don’t measure the ability to apply and connect disparate ideas; they don’t measure irony or creativity or decency. Test scores are not merely meaningless; the news is actually worse than that. Higher test scores generally are bad news."

"That’s true both at the individual level—because research shows that high test scores are correlated with superficial thinking on the part of many students—and at the aggregate level, because if a school boasts that its test scores went up, parents ought to immediately respond by asking what had to be sacrificed from their kids’ education in order to make that happen. "
"Little kids are being denied the chance to have recess; art and music programs
are being slashed. There are fewer discussions of current events, fewer field trips, fewer opportunities to read good books of the children’s choosing, fewer high school electives, fewer opportunities to do discovery-oriented science and interdisciplinary projects. The best is being sacrificed to raise test scores, and the news media uncritically report [high] test scores as good news."
Alfie has been saying this for more here.

I don't always agree 100% with my rock stars, but where would we be without people like them to remind us to think critically, to question, and to challenge the status quo?


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Question everything...

My name is Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, but my students call me Schwartzy.  I love what I do every day, not because of June, July & August, but because you never know what is going to happen next with my wonderful, funny, intelligent, justice-minded, caring, and inquisitive students.

 In 1994 I became a middle school teacher, and have taught English & social studies in grades six through eight.

I like to think of middle school as the wonder years. Some people think they are awkward years (Don't ask me to show you my middle school yearbooks!), some people find it brave or crazy, or both, but a good middle school teacher can ease the journey.  I once heard someone I greatly respect say that we walk our kids through these years. I liked that.

In this blog I will throw ideas out there that I may or may not agree with. They do not represent the opinion of my school district.  They are just food for thought. The late, great George Carlin said it well:
Thanks for taking this journey with me...let's see where it leads.

Disclaimer: Please forgive formatting inconsistencies due to blog limitations.
Consider this blog a journal written in the wee hours of the morning or late in the night,
and kindly excuse any human errors.