Bullying problems

From the Sun Sentinel.com

by Stephen Feller

Jodee Blanco was bullied as a kid, and dealing with the combination of cruelty and being shut out of social groups motivated her to want to help children avoid both bullying and being a victim. She brought her anti-bullying program to North Broward Prep this month.

In the past eight years, Blanco has become a best-selling author and brought her anti-bullying message to more than a half-million children and adults across the country.

Educating people that bullying is not just about being mean, but that also not showing compassion is almost the same thing as actively bullying, can make a very big difference for people who will carry that through life.

“I would rather have school be a place of compassion and tolerance than just a place where you can learn to go to war,” Blanco said. “The whole idea is to [compel] the students [to have compassion] and teach that bullying isn’t just joking around – it damages you for life.”

Were you bullied in school?

From fifth grade through high school. I was the kid that nobody wanted to hang out with – I struggled through that like many students. Most bullied students are old souls. They typically are intelligent and of a sensitivity that is far beyond their years, and struggle to fit in. What the adult community rarely understands is that while that bullied child is mature for their age, they struggle to fit in.

In the last several years, there has been a lot of talk about actually stopping bullying, which wasn’t the case not too long ago.

Bullying is not new. Abuse has always existed. After Columbine, America started waking up to see that it’s not just kids being kids…I think now since there’s been so many school shootings and bullying related suicides people are thinking about it.

Is bullying worse now than it ever is?

No, it’s not. The impulse to bully is the same. The only difference is that it’s easier to cut a wider swath. Thirty years ago, somebody could pass a note through math class. Now, it could be posted on Facebook or YouTube, or texted to the world…30 or 35 years ago, when I was being bullied, when I got home I could escape the assault. Maybe not the loneliness, but the assault. Now, kids can’t escape it because of the Internet.

What do you think about people who say it is a big mean world and kids need to be prepared for it, or at least that bullying is just a part of growing up?

No, that theory doesn’t apply because it’s counter-intuitive. Kids aren’t cruel or mean on purpose, bullying is about the desperate need to fit in – the bully and victim are opposite sides of the same coin. Saying kids have to prepare for mean people and school is the best place to live through it is ridiculous. Kids have to live up to their higher selves. They need to find out the best they can be and live up to it. Kids have to be taught compassion, and tolerance, and acceptance.

What is the question you hear most from parents?

The things I hear most are: How do I deal with the school? How do I deal with the parents of the bullies? Part of what I do is teach basic communications skills. Most of the time, it’s not the kids, it’s the adults that are the problems. The adults usually represent the biggest obstacles.

How about parents whose kids are the bully?

When I do a student presentation, I’ll normally get 10 percent of the audience who come up to me and want an intervention. Half of them are kids who are the victims. But half of them are the mean kids who didn’t realize that not letting somebody sit with them at lunch or on the bus was mean. After they hear my talk, they want to make amends to their victims.

Some of these ideas have been around for a while. Why do you think schools haven’t formally included this with their regular lessons?

Many schools do. When I go and work with the schools, I give them specific curricula that allows them to integrate these things into their plans. New Jersey just specifically started to require it, for example, so a lot of the schools are making the effort.


NAACP grows a pair, school board should follow

The local NAACP fired a shot across the bow of the school board today when they said they would sue if they allowed an out side agency to take over the four predominantly black schools that are in danger of being taken over by the state and I say good for them. It’s about time we had somebody stand up to the state. I however don’t think we should stop there.

We need a leader to stand up and say, we remember how for decades the state didn’t think Jacksonville kids were as important as those in South Florida, we believed your promise abut the lottery only to see funds originally intended for education diverted, we are tired of the f-cat which has turned our schools from a place where kids got a well rounded education to a place where all they know how to do is pass a test, we want an end to unfunded mandates and your data driven education policies have turned our teachers into stat taking drones and we’re not going to put up with it any more. Try and take our schools and we’ll expose you for the uniformed hacks that you are. Not that it is much of a secret.

We need our superintendent and our school board to follow the NAACP’s lead and after years of just going along start fighting for what is best for our children.

Isn’t that what they should have been doing all along?

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Building kids of character: Quality time defined

by Deborah Hansen

“To go from a boy to a man is a very long road, which needs the help of older men…. but older men are working overtime or retiring to Florida….

Young girls abandoned by their father may go into depression, but young men will burn your city down.”

Once and Future Myths, by Phil Cousineau

It is time for us to accept the fact that what our society is doing for our children isn’t working very well. Don’t get me wrong: Many parents embrace their roles as the builders of character, but there are thousands of others who are not picking up that banner. Their children are left to find their way to adulthood on their own, and look where that has led us. We live in a community that reverberates with violence, and those ripples permeate every corner of town.

Calls for mentors go unanswered. A few folks trickle in, but the need is much greater than a trickle. We need a flood of adults who are willing to give ONE HOUR A WEEK to a young person who has no one to ask important questions of, or show them how to dress for a job interview, or just listen to their hearts. If everyone who attended a football game in this town gave an hour to mentoring, the children within our reach would benefit for the rest of their lives. Plus, our city would be a safer place to live. It’s that simple.

Related to this, there are probably few of us who haven’t read at least one book or watched one television program that encourages us to spend “quality time” with our children. The statistics in support of the concept would most likely reach around the globe. The studies also provide data about the dire consequences that lie ahead for children who don’t get the time they need from the important adults in their lives, all reflective of the quote above by Phil Cousineau.

We need to be clear, though, on exactly what constitutes “quality time.” Some folks seem to think merely being in the presence or their children qualifies, but quality time is not:

■picking the kids up from school or practice and then talking to your friends or office on the cell phone all the way home.
■eating at the same time but in different rooms.
■seeing a movie together but not discussing it when it’s over.
■going to the mall together but taking off in different directions until it’s time to leave.
■taking the family out for dinner but not allowing the kids to get involved in the conversation.
■asking your children what they think and then condemning them for their answer.

I think you get the picture. Quality time means active engagement. It means talking to your children and then listening to them in return. We must discover who our kids are underneath the façade they like to present to us and their peers. We should also be prepared to share ourselves with them, complete with the mistakes we made and what we learned from those mistakes. It means attending to one another.

Many young women are depressed, lost in a media-drenched view of the world that is warped beyond comprehension. And young men are burning cities down. We must all carry a share of responsibility for these children.

Yes, that means you.

Building kids of character: Quality time defined

Where kids have kids and learning dies

From the City Journal.org

by Gerry Garibaldi

In my short time as a teacher in Connecticut, I have muddled through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind act, which tied federal funding of schools to various reforms, and through President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which does much the same thing, though with different benchmarks. Thanks to the feds, urban schools like mine—already entitled to substantial federal largesse under Title I, which provides funds to public schools with large low-income populations—are swimming in money. At my school, we pay five teachers to tutor kids after school and on Saturdays. They sit in classrooms waiting for kids who never show up. We don’t want for books—or for any of the cutting-edge gizmos that non–Title I schools can’t afford: computerized whiteboards, Elmo projectors, the works. Our facility is state-of-the-art, thanks to a recent $40 million face-lift, with gleaming new hallways and bathrooms and a fully computerized library.

Here’s my prediction: the money, the reforms, the gleaming porcelain, the hopeful rhetoric about saving our children—all of it will have a limited impact, at best, on most city schoolchildren. Urban teachers face an intractable problem, one that we cannot spend or even teach our way out of: teen pregnancy. This year, all of my favorite girls are pregnant, four in all, future unwed mothers every one. There will be no innovation in this quarter, no race to the top. Personal moral accountability is the electrified rail that no politician wants to touch.

My first encounter with teen pregnancy was a girl named Nicole, a pretty 15-year-old who had rings on every finger and great looped earrings and a red pen with fluffy pink feathers and a heart that lit up when she wrote with it. Hearts seemed to be on everything—in her signature, on her binder; there was often a little plastic heart barrette in her hair, which she had dyed in bright hues recalling a Siamese fighting fish. She was enrolled in two of my classes: English and journalism.

My main gripe with Nicole was that she fell asleep in class. Each morning—bang!—her head hit the desk. Waking her was like waking a badger. Nicole’s unmarried mother, it turned out, worked nights, so Nicole would slip out with friends every evening, sometimes staying out until 3 am, and then show up in class exhausted, surly, and hungry.

After a dozen calls home, her mother finally got back to me. Your daughter is staying out late, I reported. The voice at the other end of the phone sounded abashed and bone-weary. “I know, I know, I’m sorry,” she repeated over and over. “I’ll talk to her. I’m sorry.”

For a short time, things got better. Nicole’s grades started to improve. Encouraged, I hectored and cajoled and praised her every small effort. She was an innately bright girl who might, if I dragged her by the heels, eventually survive the rigors of a community college.

Then one morning, her head dropped again. I rapped my knuckles on her desk. “Leave me alone, mister,” she said. “I feel sick.”

There was a sly exchange of looks among the other girls in class, a giggle or two, and then one of them said: “She’s pregnant, Mr. Garibaldi.”

She lifted her face and smiled at her friends, then dropped her head back down. I picked up my grimy metal garbage can and set it beside her desk, just in case. A moment later she vomited, and I dispatched her to the nurse. In the years since, I’ve escorted girls whose water has just broken, their legs trembling and wobbly, to the principal’s office, where their condition barely raises an eyebrow.

Within my lifetime, single parenthood has been transformed from shame to saintliness. In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. During the last presidential election, much was made of Obama’s mother, who was a single parent. Movie stars and pop singers flaunt their daddy-less babies like fishing trophies.

None of this is lost on my students. In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. Other girls in school want to pat their stomachs. Their friends throw baby showers at which meager little gifts are given. After delivery, the girls return to school with baby pictures on their cell phones or slipped into their binders, which they eagerly share with me. Often they sit together in my classes, sharing insights into parenting, discussing the taste of Pedialite or the exhaustion that goes with the job. On my way home at night, I often see my students in the projects that surround our school, pushing their strollers or hanging out on their stoops instead of doing their homework.

Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments: medical coverage when they become pregnant (called “Healthy Start”); later, medical insurance for the family (“Husky”); child care (“Care 4 Kids”); Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.

In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock.

The young father almost always greets the pregnancy with adolescent excitement, as if a baby were a new Xbox game. In Nicole’s case, the father’s name was David. David manfully walked Nicole to class each morning and gave her a kiss at the door. I had him in homeroom and asked if he planned to marry her. “No” was his frank answer. But he did have plans to help out. David himself lived with his mother. His dad had served a short sentence in prison for drug possession and ran a motorcycle-repair shop somewhere upstate. One afternoon, David proudly opened his father’s website to show me the customized motorcycles he built. There he was, the spit and image of his son, smiling atop a gleaming vintage Harley, not a care in the world.

Boys without fathers, like David, cultivate an overweening bravado to overcome a deeper sense of vulnerability and male confusion. They strut, swear, and swagger. There’s a he-man thing to getting a girl pregnant that marks you as an adult in the eyes of your equally unmoored peers. But a boy’s interest in his child quickly vanishes. When I ask girls if the father is helping out with the baby, they shrug. “I don’t care if he does or not,” I’ve heard too often.

As for girls without fathers, they are often among my most disruptive students. You walk on eggshells with them. You broker remarks, you negotiate insults, all the while trying to pull them along on a slender thread. Their anger toward male authority can be lacerating. They view trips to the principal’s office like victory laps.

With Nicole, I dug in. In journalism class, I brought up the subject of teen pregnancy and suggested that she and a friend of hers, Maria, write a piece together about their experiences. They hesitated; I pressed the matter. “Do you think getting pregnant when you’re a teenager is a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Depends,” Nicole replied caustically, glancing at Maria and another friend, Shanice, for support. They knew this was coming and went on the defensive.

“On what?”

“My mom and my grandma both got pregnant when they were teens, and they’re good mothers.”

“Nobody gets married any more, mister,” Shanice and Maria chime in. “You’re just picking on us because we have kids.”

At this point, my “picking” has only just begun. It’s partly for their benefit, but mostly for the other girls in the room, who haven’t said a word. As much as Nicole is aware of her mother’s sacrifices, she is equally proud of her mother’s choice to keep her. It’s locked away in her heart like a cameo. They’re best friends, she offers. The talk turns to her mother’s loyalty and love, and soon the class rises in a choir to mom’s defense.

“Fine,” I say, glowering like Heath Ledger’s Joker. “If that’s your position, like any good journalist, you have to back up your arguments with facts and statistics.”

As do most of my 11th-graders, Nicole reads at a fifth-grade level, which means I must peruse the articles and statistics along with her, side by side. She groans each time I pick out a long article and counts the number of pages before she reads. With my persistent nudging, she and Maria begin to pull out the statistics for the children of single parents. From the FBI: 63 percent of all suicides are individuals from single-parent households. From the Centers for Disease Control: 75 percent of adolescents in chemical-dependency hospitals come from single-parent households. From the Children’s Defense Fund: more than half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts come from single-parent households. And so on.

“I don’t want to write about this!” Nicole complains. “I’ve changed my mind.”


“Nobody wants to read it.”

I point out that they committed to it. If they don’t complete the essay by the due date, they know I will give them an F.

Their first drafts are little more than two scribbled paragraphs, which they toss to me as a completed assignment and I toss back. Maria, in particular, rebels. She wants to recast the article in a rosier vein and talk about how happy her son makes her. It’s in these light skirmishes that we have our richest discussions. When the girls open up, their vague doubts come to the surface, and my flinty-eyed circuit preacher melts away. A father myself, I understand a parent’s love. Our talk turns more sweetly to teething cures, diaper rashes, and solid food. Nicole listens to us with tender interest. It’s in these moments that I feel most effective as a teacher. I suggest ways of incorporating that love into the piece, while also hoping that some of these grim statistics have gotten through to them.

As morbid as it sounds, the students take an interest in obituary writing. I have them write their own obits, fictional biographies that foretell the arc of their lives. From Nicole’s, I learn that her mother was 16 when she had Nicole; her father, 14. After high school, the fictional Nicole went on to have four more kids—with strangely concocted names, all beginning with M—whom she loved dearly and who loved her dearly. She also left six grandchildren. She died of old age in her bed.

“Nicole, you never got married?” I remarked.

“No,” she responded with a note of obstinacy in her voice.

“I think you would make a wonderful wife for someone.”

“I would make a good wife,” she replied. “I know a lot of stuff. But I’m not going to get married.” She was speaking to a hard fate that she was accepting as her future. She was slipping away.

As Nicole entered her third trimester, she had a minor complication with her pregnancy and disappeared for nearly two weeks. She returned, pale and far behind in my classes. She no longer had to report to two classes: physical education and a science lab where strong chemicals were used. The administration didn’t want her to be alone during those periods, and since my schedule coincided with the vacant spots, I was asked to be her chaperone.

For five weeks, Nicole became my shadow. If I had cafeteria duty, she’d happily trot along. I’d buy her a candy bar and she’d plop down in the seat beside me. I’d also escort her to her restroom runs, which were frequent, and wait for her outside the door. She carried a grainy sonogram picture of the baby, framed in a pink card with a stork on the front. Gazing at it with a smile, I felt my duplicity and the ragged trap of my convictions.

Her paleness and fatigue alarmed me. I carried Vitamin C drops in my pocket and slipped her a constant supply. A second private concern began to nag at me: the father in me wanted to be protective and kind, but Nicole was becoming too connected with me. She blew off assignments regularly now. When I admonished her, she only giggled and promised to get them done. She trusted me and would never think that falling behind in my classes would result in a failing grade. Life had allowed her to slide before, through every year of her education, as others in her life had slid—starting with her father, whom she barely recalled.

I felt that I was being drawn into this undertow. A simple D would ease everyone’s load, particularly mine, and Nicole wouldn’t register yet another betrayal of trust. More than anything, she wanted a buoy in her choppy sea.

Nicole failed both my classes, which meant summer school. When she returned the following year, she was in good spirits. The birth of her son had gone well. She had a heart-adorned album full of photos of her boy. Things were settled, she said. She was going to work hard this year; she felt motivated, even eager. And by year’s end, her reading level had indeed risen nearly two grades—but it was still far below what she would need to score as proficient on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, one of the yardsticks for accountability in Title I schools.

The path for young, unwed mothers—and for their children—can be brutal. Consider how often girls get molested in their own homes after Mom has decided to let her boyfriend move in. The boyfriend splits the rent and the food bill, but he often sees his girlfriend’s teenage daughter as fair game. Teachers whisper their suspicions in the lunchroom or in the hallways when they notice that one of their students has become suddenly emotional, that her grades have inexplicably dropped, or that she stays late after school to hang out in her teacher’s classroom or begins sleeping over at a friend’s house several nights a week. Sometimes she simply disappears.

And there are other dangers. I once had a student named Jasmine, who had given birth over the summer. She did just enough to earn Ds in my class. One day, I observed her staring off mulishly into space for nearly the entire period, not hearing a word I said and ignoring her assignment. At the end of class, I took her aside and asked, with some irritation, what the matter was.

Her eyes welled with tears. “I gave my son to his father to look after yesterday. When I picked him up, he had bruises on his head and a cut.” Her son was six months old.

Honestly? I just wanted that day to go by. But we have a duty to our students, both moral and legal. “You have to be a brave mama and report him,” I said. I led her to the office and to the school social worker, and I tipped off the campus trooper. Even with that support, she backed off from filing a complaint and shortly afterward dropped out of school to be with her baby.

My students often become curious about my personal life. The question most frequently asked is, “Do you have kids?”

“Two,” I say.

The next question is always heartbreaking.

“Do they live with you?”

Every fall, new education theories arrive, born like orchids in the hothouses of big-time university education departments. Urban teachers are always first in line for each new bloom. We’ve been retrofitted as teachers a dozen times over. This year’s innovation is the Data Wall, a strategy in which teachers must test endlessly in order to produce data about students’ progress. The Obama administration has spent lavishly to ensure that professional consultants monitor its implementation.

Every year, the national statistics summon a fresh chorus of outrage at the failure of urban public schools. Next year, I fear, will be little different.

Gerry Garibaldi was an executive and screenwriter in Hollywood before becoming an English teacher at an urban high school in Connecticut.


Why are they just now asking, how much does it cost to fund our schools?

Why are Mike Weinstein and Steven Wise, Jacksonville represenatives, making the Orlando Sentinel but not the Times Union? -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel

A state lawmaker wants a study to figure out “the minimum amount of dollars per student” needed to meet the so-called adequacy requirement in Florida’s constitution. And he’s filed a bill, HB 565, that would do just that.

An amendment added to the state constitution in 1998 says, in part, that the state must make “adequate provision” for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Orange Park, wants a study (done by OPAGGA, the legislature’s research arm) to figure out the “minimum amount” needed per student to meet those requirements.

Not sure at the moment what prompted Weinstein’s bill. But the issue of adequate funding — and high-quality schools — is the subject of a lawsuit against the state filed in late 2009 by parents and education advaocates, who argue Florida has fallen short on its commitment to public education. The lawsuit is still pending in a Tallahassee court.


Merit Pay: Public Input on Friday, Bill Submitted on Monday

Et Tu Brutus? I am not optimistic. -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Leslie Postal,

Florida teachers would be judged on their students’ growth on standardized tests, and new teachers would be paid based on that test-score data as part of a new merit pay bill filed today in the Florida Senate.

Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, filed the “Race to the Top for Student Success” bill.

It is the first merit pay bill filed for the 2011 Florida Legislature session but is similar to plans floated in the past few months by both the Florida Education Department and an education advocacy group.

Wise, whose committee took public comment on the issue Friday, has said he hopes this year’s debate on how to improve schools by changing how teachers are evaluated and paid would be less contentious than last year’s.

The controversial bill lawmakers adopted last year was vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and widely criticized by educators.

“We’re not here to beat up the teachers, we’re not here to beat up the administrators, we’re here for student success,” Wise said at Friday’s meeting.

The new bill, SB 736, would grandfather in current teacher-pay plans but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014.

The bill would require that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student test-score data — preferably three years worth. The data would be filtered into a new system that could take into account factors outside a teacher’s control, such as a student’s absentee rate, the bill says..

Teachers would earn one of four designations — unsatisfactory, needs improvement, effective and highly effective.

Under the new pay plan, they would get raises only if they earned one of the top two ratings.


Surviving the present

From Colorlines.com

by Julianne Hing

Education reform is about to return to the headlines, if not the floor of Congress, if President Obama’s State of the Union is any indication. Obama built his feel-good speech Tuesday night around the uncontroversial theme of “winning the future” and nestled every major policy issue within this rhetorical frame. He put particular emphasis on education as the path to that victorious future. But the education agenda the president articulated contained no surprises. It’s the same one his administration’s been selling for the past two years—and it’s the same one many of his critics have been fretting about for just as long.

Education reform watchers offered Obama reserved praise for giving education such a prominent place in his speech. “One reaction I had was exactly that he spent a lot of time on education, which I think is a good thing,” said John Rogers, associate professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. But Rogers, like a handful of other educators I spoke with after the speech, added long caveats after this initial praise.

Obama touted his administration’s undeniable wins, including student aid reform, and championed the more questionable achievements of Race to the Top, which is a $4.35 billion competitive grants program for states that adopt the president’s reform agenda. Eleven states have won millions of dollars each as a reward for opening up their states to more charter schools and agreeing to make test scores a component of teacher evaluations and salaries.

Under Race to the Top, states were rewarded for forcing public schools that were designated as failing to undergo a total restructuring or a takeover from a charter school company. The program remains controversial, especially among teachers who oppose new evaluation systems that they feel unfairly punish individual educators for a systemic problem.

Obama also called for 100,000 more science and math teachers by the end of the decade and called on Congress to take up a No Child Left Behind reauthorization in the model of Race to the Top. He didn’t suggest how those teachers would get funded, and congressional watchers consider it unlikely that the new Congress will have the stomach for a major overhaul of any program, including No Child Left Behind.

Obama called Race to the Top “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” If success is measured by impact, Obama’s correct. The program circumvented Congress entirely and got 39 states to rewrite their education laws. But if success is measured in students’ improved performance and teachers’ increased retention rates, the jury’s still out.

“I think the speech clearly shows the president understands the link between education and our country’s future,” said John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which works toward racial equity in public education. (Colorlines’ publisher, the Applied Research Center, has done contract research for the Schott Foundation.) But, Jackson stresses, the Race to the Top initiatives Obama is pushing aren’t proven to work. “We haven’t seen one state that has reformed its education system by removing its charter school cap, or reformed its education system by linking teacher salaries to student performance.”

A September 2010 study by Vanderbilt University found that performance pay on its own had no measurable impact on teachers’ ability to raise their students’ test scores.

Global Competition

In his speech, Obama tapped into the pain that many Americans are feeling right now as they wade through seemingly endless economic crisis, and tried to redirect that frustration toward global competitiveness. He warned that while America’s middle class has been dismantled over the course of a generation, other countries have been ascending, creeping onto the medal stands that the U.S. occupied alone for decades.

“Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world,” Obama said. “And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies.”

But pitting the U.S. against other countries unsettled some educators.

“The line here is: ‘Yeah, they go to the sweatshops now and make stuff for us, but if they beat us they won’t be in the sweatshops making stuff anymore. They might dare to have a standard of living that’s better than us,’ ” said Rick Ayers, adjunct professor of education at the University of San Francisco and co-author of “Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom.” “It’s all put out in a very polite, liberal veneer, but I would point out that it’s the dark, Asiatic other that is being called up.”

Ayers said that the true comparison between present-day America and Cold War America is “an extraordinary rise in income inequality that public policy could address separately, an extraordinary rise in incarceration rates that public policy could address. The presumption that education can act independently of economic inequality and incarceration is wrong.”

The United States is ninth globally in the percentage of undergraduate degree holders, Obama said. He wants the country to claw its way back to the top. As it is, more than a third of college students don’t graduate in six years, and that number is even higher for undergraduate students of color—something Obama pointed out in a speech he gave at UT Austin last year. The president seemingly knows that students of color are key to achieving his education goals.

Jackson said other countries’ educational success has been linked to the educational equity that the U.S. has not yet found. “All of the countries that are outcompeting us don’t deal with fringe structural issues,” he argued. “They provide all students access to early education. They hold teachers in high regard, and not in a punitive frame, and they have a much more equitable distribution of their resources.”

Jackson pointed out that there are over a million homeless children in the U.S., for instance.

“Yes, we want to ‘win the future,’ but for many the concern now is surviving the present,” Rogers echoed, adding that 22 percent of American children below the age of six are living below the poverty line. “How do young people who are growing up in families that are really facing difficult economic circumstances survive the present without a whole host of social supports that are being eroded or eliminated outright?”

There was a time not so long ago when Obama was willing to examine the structural factors that influence a kid’s education, Rogers said. “None of that was in the speech [Tuesday] night,” he complained. “Instead, all we get is that parents need to shut off the TV.”

Obama’s lone reference to the role that parents and communities play in the nation’s education effort was to declare, “Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.”

That’s the narrow, individualized perspective that makes teachers and parents feel so besieged. Obama tried to soothe teachers—“Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect”—but critics say his policies don’t match that rhetoric. “The truth is I didn’t feel the sincerity in that,” said Jim Anderson, who serves on the statewide board of the Alliance for Quality Education. “I haven’t seen the policies that shows that respect.”

Educators said that Obama’s rhetoric contradicted his policy in other parts of his education remarks as well. Obama praised America’s public school systems for providing students with more than memorization drills for standardized tests. “It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations,” Obama said, “but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ “

Rogers considered it one of Obama’s strongest lines and said that it reflected the part of the president’s vision he most admires. “But that’s not the sort of question that emerges when you have the narrowed standardized tests we have now,” he warned.

“Obama’s good at co-opting the criticism,” said Ayers. “He said, ‘We’re not talking about rote memorization; we’re about learning deeply and asking questions.’ But that’s our argument,” Ayers said, referring to progressives who take issue with the Obama administration’s policies, “that the test prep stuff undermines the possibility of deep learning and learning for democracy.”

Of course, amidst everything the president was said, there were notable silences as well. Rogers said he wished Obama was more willing to address the vast racial disparities in kids’ educational opportunities. “I was struck by the fact that there was so little attention paid explicitly to the issue of race in education, or even outside of education,” Rogers said. “He didn’t highlight those equity issues.”

The upcoming year holds many uncertainties. It’s still unclear whether Republicans or Democrats have any interest in tackling No Child Left Behind, or even what another Race to the Top round would look like. In the meantime, the debate rages on over what winning the future even means, let alone how to do it.

Obama’s State of the Union speech found lacking

I have to say I am very disillusioned with the presidents education policies. -cpg

From the blog ZhaoLearning.com

“It makes no sense”: Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech

“It makes no sense” is perhaps President Obama’s favorite phrase, using it twice in his 2011 State of the Union speech. I like the sound of it and what lies behind it—a simple way to point out the obviously illogical things that need to change. That is how I feel about the education section of his speech. It makes no sense.

President Obama wants to win the future by “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” “[I]f we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

How to win the race to educate our kids?

More math, more science, more high school diplomas, more college graduates, more Race to the Top, more standards and standardization, more carrots and clubs for teachers and schools, and no TV.


Because China and India “started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science;’” because “[t]he quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations;” and because “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.”

None of these makes much sense to me because they are either factually false or logically confusing. For one, President Obama suggested that parents make sure the TV is turned off. If every parent followed his suggestion and turned off the TV, there would be no one to watch his State of the Union next year. As with everything else, there is good TV and there is bad TV. More seriously, I did some fact checking and logical reasoning and here is what I found out.

Is it true that “China and India started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science?”

No, China has actually started to reduce study time for their children, with less emphasis on math and science

I am not familiar with education in India so I will stick to China and I assume President Obama meant education in schools, not education at home. Unless he meant 50 years ago, the statement is completely false. The school starting age in China has remained the same at age six since the 1980s when China’s first Compulsory Education Law was passed in 1986. Since the 1990s, China has launched a series of education reforms aimed at reducing school hours and decreasing emphasis on mathematics. According to a recent statement from the Ministry of Education (in Chinese):

Since the implementation of the “New Curriculum,” the total amount of class time during the compulsory education stage (grades 1 to 9) has been reduced by 380 class hours. During primary grades (grades 1 to 6), class time for mathematics has been reduced by 140 class hours, while 156 more class hours have been added for physical education. In high school, 347 class hours have been taken out of required courses and 410 class hours added for electives. (People’s Daily, http://edu.people.com.cn/GB/10320480.html)

Is it true that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations?”

It depends how one measures quality. If measured in terms of test scores on international assessments, yes, but these test scores do not necessarily indicate the quality of math and science education and certainly do not predict a nation’s economic prosperity or capacity for innovation.

When he says that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations,” President Obama ignores the fact that American students performance on international tests have been pretty bad for a long time, and believe it or not, has got better in recent years. In the 1960s, America’s 8th graders ranked 11th out of 12 countries and 12th graders ranked 12 out of 12 countries on the First International Mathematic Study. America’s 12th graders’ average score ranked 14th out of 18 countries that participated in the First International Science Study. In the 1970s and 80s, America’s 12th graders did not do any better on the Second International Mathematics study, with ranks of 12, 14, 12, and 12 out of 15 educational systems (13 countries) on tests of number systems, algebra, geometry, and calculus respectively. On the Second International Science Study, American students’ performance was the worst (out of 13 countries with 14 education systems participating, America’s 12th graders ranked 14th in Biology, 12th in Chemistry, and 10th in Physics) (Data source, National Center for Educational Statistics). In 1995, America’s 8th graders math scores were in 28th place on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. In 2003, they jumped to 15th , and in 2007, to 9th place.

Obama also said in his speech:

Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

So who has made America “the largest, most prosperous economy in the world?” Who are these most productive workers? Where did the people who created the successful companies come from? And who are these inventors that received the most patents in the world?

It has to be the same Americans who ranked bottom on the international tests. Those 12th graders with shameful bad math scores in the 1960s have been the primary work force in the US for the past 40 years. The equally poor performers on international tests in the 70s and 80s have been working for the past 30 years now. And even those poor performers on the 1995 TIMSS have entered the workforce. Apparently they have not driven the US into oblivion and ruined the country’s innovation record.

Is it true that Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of public education in a generation?

Again, it depends. It depends on how one defines “meaningful.” If defined as the scale of impact without questioning whether the impact is beneficial or not, it may be true but considering the actual consequences, Race to the Top is neither meaningful nor flexible. It does not focus on “what’s best for our kids” nor spark “creativity and imagination of our people.”

I wonder if Obama knows what Race to the Top actually does because it is just the opposite of what he asks for. He says:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world” perhaps explains why the American students scored poorly on tests but have been able to build a strong economy with innovations.

But Race to the Top is about killing ideas and forcing students to memorize equations by imposing common standards and testing in only two subjects on students all over the nation; by forcing schools and teachers to teach to the tests; and by forcing states to narrow educational experiences for all students to a prescribed narrowed defined curriculum.

Race to the Top is precisely what he said it is not: “We know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” It is nothing but a top-down mandate. Race to the Top applications required states and schools to be innovative in meeting the top-down mandates: adopting common standards and assessment, linking teacher evaluation/compensation with student test scores, offering more math and science learning, and allowing more charter schools. In the first round of competition, Massachusetts was penalized for not wanting to rush to adopt the common standards. Pennsylvania was penalized for proposing innovative practices in early childhood education (Source: Let’s Do the Numbers: Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Lin By William Peterson and Richard Rothstein)

Race to the Top is anything but what Obama says “the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” States that were desperate for cash had to use all means to coerce teachers, principals, and school boards to sign on to the application because participation of local schools was a heavily weighted criterion. And if teachers and school leaders did not agree, they risked being accused of not supporting children’s education.

And with regard to common standards, while it is true that they were not developed by Washington, but Washington definitely helped with billions of dollars to make them adopted nationwide.

Is it true that “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree?”

It depends for a number of reasons. First, different countries have different definitions of a college degree. Second, not all college degrees are of equal quality. Third, the changes in rank do not necessarily indicate America’s decline. It could simply other countries have caught up.

President Obama may be drawing the figures from a report published by the College Board recently. The report cites OCED data and suggests that “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.” But the data actually do not support the statement.

According to the report, in 2007, America ranked sixth in postsecondary attainment in the world among 25-64-Year-Olds. It ranked fourth among those ages 55 to 64. But for the 25-34 age group, America ranked 12th. Simply looked at the rankings, America is indeed in decline. But looking at the percentages of postsecondary degree holders shows a different picture. For the age group of 25 to 64, 40.3% of Americans held a college degree. The two countries that were immediately ahead of America, Japan and New Zealand, had a lead of less than 1% at 41%. The other three leading countries were Russia (54%), Canada (48.3%), and Israel (43.6%). For the young age group (25-34 year olds), America had 40.4% and five out of the 11 countries led by about 2%. The countries with over 10% lead were Canada (55.8%), Korea (55.5%), Russia (55.5%), and Japan (53.7%). For those ages 55 to 64, America ranked fourth, but the percentage was 38.5%. The countries ahead of America were Russia (44.5%), Israel (43.5%), and Canada (38.9). Based on this data we can draw two conclusions. First America was never number one. Second, the percentage of college degree holders in America has actually increased.

How many more math and science graduates does the US need?

President Obama wanted “to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.” This is driven by the belief that America does not prepare enough talents in these areas. But according to a comprehensive study based on analysis of major longitudinal datasets found “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before.” The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute. “Our findings indicate that STEM retention along the pipeline shows strong and even increasing rates of retention from the 1970s to the late 1990s,” says the report. However, not all STEM graduates enter the STEM field. They are attracted to other areas.

“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” one of the study’s co-author Lindsay Lowell was quoted in the study’s press release, “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”

What America really needs?

President Obama actually got the destination right when he said “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” But he chose the wrong path.

To encourage American innovation starts with innovative and creative people. But a one-size-fits-all education approach, standardized and narrow curricula, tests-driven teaching and learning, and fear-driven and demoralizing accountability measures are perhaps the most effective way to kill innovation and stifle creativity.

What America really needs is to capitalize on its traditional strengths—a broad definition of education, an education that respects individuality, tolerates deviation, celebrates diversity. America also needs to restore faith in its public education, respects teacher autonomy, and trusts local school leaders elected or selected by the people.

In addition, America needs to teach its children that globalization has tied all nations to a complex, interconnected, and interdependent chain of economic, political, and cultural interests. To succeed in the globalized world, our children need to develop a global perspective and the capacity to interact and work with different nations and cultures, the ability to market America innovations globally, and the ability to lead globalization in positive directions. That includes foreign languages and global studies.

Even the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct result of Sputnik and a product during the Cold War, was broader in terms of areas of studies than conceived in Race to the Top and the blueprint for reauthorization of ESA. It included funding for math, science, foreign languages, geography, technical education, etc. Moreover, it did not impose federal mandates on local schools or states.

Heading north for south: A Chinese story for the President

A Chinese story best illustrates the danger of choosing the wrong path for the correct destination. This story was recorded in Zhan Guo Ce or the Records of the Warring States, a collection of essays about events and tales that took place during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Here is my recount of the story.

The king of the state of Wei intends to attack its neighboring state of Zhao. Upon hearing the news, Ji Liang, counselor to the king rushes to see him. “Your Majesty, on my way here, I met a man on a chariot pointed to the north,” Ji Liang tells the King, “and he told me that he was going to visit Chu.”

“But Chu is in the south, why are you headed north?” I asked.

“Oh, no worry, my horses are very strong,” he told me.

“But you should be headed south,” I told him again.

“Not to worry, I have plenty of money,” he was not concerned.

“But still you are headed the wrong direction,” I pointed out yet again.

“I have hired a very skillful driver,” was this man’s reply.

“I worry, your majesty, that the better equipped this man was,” Ji Liang says to the King, “the farther away he would be from his destination.” “You want to be a great king and win respect from all people,” Ji Liang concludes, “You can certainly rely on our strong nation and excellent army to invade Zhao and expand our territory. But I am afraid the more you use force, the farther away you will be from your wishes.”

“It makes no sense:” Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech