Category Archives: General Thoughts

Times-Union seeking DCPS teachers to speak about libraries

From Chris Guerrieri’s public Facebook Profile:

​DCPS teachers please share with other DCPS teachers, the Times Union is looking for teachers to talk about their classroom and school libraries. I got this note from their education reporter today:

Hey, Chris. Do you think any teachers would be willing to talk with me about the state of their school library and classroom libraries? Of course, I would protect identities. I’m just trying to accurately describe what they look like now.
Denise Smith Amos

Education Reporter

The Florida Times-Union



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Will DeVos enforce 14th Amendment rights of the vulnerable?

​The Federal government’s main role in Education is to enforce the 14th Amendment rights of vulnerable children.

For example, programs like IDEA (special needs children), Title I (for students in poverty) and Title IX (equality of boys and girls). These programs were made to help achieve that goal. This hits home because my brother is special needs, and my mom has been an ESE job coach for 20+ years. She and many of her colleagues see DeVos’s appointment as cause for concern.

Unfortunately, too many (not all) states and districts try to avoid providing required services for special needs children. Often, it’s only fear of DOE enforcement that keeps them in line.

Betsy DeVos seems completely ignorant of these programs. She was not able to speak to them at her confirmation hearing. And she seemingly has no interest in enforcing them. If your child is poor, female, or disabled (learning, physically, etc.), you can expect the Department of Education to now do little or nothing for your child.

Betsy DeVos appears to be interested in two things. First, to replace public schools with for-profit schools. And secondly, to implement School Choice, a euphemism for resegregation. Regrettably, the end-result of School Choice is that families with cars and time drive their children to richer districts while poor children lacking a ride out of the ghetto stay behind.

School Choice = Resegregation. Never forget it.

This means we may now be depending on the court system to protect the most vulnerable children. Ideally the Secretary of Education should be doing this. To me, this is the main reason DeVos’s nomination and confirmation are so frustrating.

As I mentioned, my brother went to school as an ESE student, and my mom worked as an ESE job coach. This has been the case under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Federal support for special needs programs has never been a concern, until now.

Boy, I hope I’m wrong about her, but I don’t think she was nominated to prove people like me wrong.

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Special Needs Children Threatened by DeVos Appointment

Lee DiGeorge, the father of an autistic little girl in New York, speaks out regarding the ways Betsy DeVos might harm his daughter’s education.

My daughter, Zoey, is autistic. She’s a fantastic little girl who has struggled with acquiring language. Thanks to IDEA, I have successfully forced the hand of local and state education departments to give my daughter the proper setting… the one that her doctors, her therapists and her teachers have begged for.

At first, in a blue state, in the bluest city in the world, I had to fight for services that were going to be denied. Because they’re expensive. Services that, according to IDEA, my daughter had a right to.

Leaving education in the states hands is terrible for the special education population. Before, I had the threat of federal intervention to help save the day and force the states to abide by the law. Who’s gonna help me fight the states when the DeVos won’t force the states to abide by IDEA?

Please, before you assume you know better. Or know more, ask me about my experience fighting the educational bodies on the local and state level. And how utilizing federal law has enabled my daughter to acquire more language now than ever before.

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U.S. Senate: America’s Teachers Expect You to Vote “No” on Betsy DeVos

Most problems in Education don’t arise from classrooms, but from well-meaning policymakers who are not experts in Education.

For example, like Betsy DeVos.

This should not be a partisan issue. DeVos has never administered a state Department of Education. Nor a School District. Not even a school. Neither she nor her children attended public school. This makes her a puzzling choice to influence public school policy. Common sense suggests that someone who deeply understands the issues children and teachers face in Public Schools would be the best choice.

Instead, we have someone who has never shown any interest whatsoever in Public Education, except perhaps to dismantle it.

Teachers are nearly unanimous in condemning the nomination. So Senators, please watch your vote. America’s teachers and parents will be watching as well.

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Educational Technology is a false savior

I was a consumer of Educational Technology as a student; I benefited from taking computer classes in school. I started doing BASIC programming on a Commodore 64 when I was in fourth grade. I have a B.S. in Computer Information Systems, have worked in Information Technology for over fifteen years, was an I.T. teacher, and leveraged technology in the classroom.

I was also a producer of Ed Tech as a teacher. My colleague and I set up a Moodle server for our students, and administered tests and curriculum through that interface with positive results.

The most important thing I learned from these experiences is that effective Ed Tech comes from tech-savvy teachers who use tools in their own unique way. These technophile teachers still taught traditionally (myself included); they simply used technology to streamline and improve its delivery.

So let’s be clear: I do not espouse abandoning educational technology, but I think we have to be much more intelligent and methodical about purchasing it. In my own classroom I used technology, but only in ways I felt helped me do my job better, almost never by administrative mandate. In fact, I’ve always suspected top-down mandates and purchases of classroom technology are rarely effective, especially the haphazard way it’s implemented.

This morning, the BBC  reported on a study by the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development that seems to confirm my suspicions:

[The] frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results. . . If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms . . . Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.”

I believe our recent attempts in the U.S. to measure and quantify Education have exacerbated the issue.

Teachers are evaluated on their use of technology. Their raises and even their employment are at risk if they don’t leverage computers to teach English or History. How many teachers know enough about effective use of computers to use them intelligently? How many teachers are sufficiently knowledgeable about technology to be able to take this increase in funding and translate it to an improvement in student learning? Almost none. Yet all of them are forced to take time away from traditional teaching to leverage these technologies they (quite understandably) don’t know how to use properly.

This well-intentioned but misguided thinking largely applies to how we approach Educational Technology. If a teacher is not extremely comfortable with technology — or if this technology creates more work rather than streamlining existing tasks — it will probably not have the desired result.

My experience as School Technology Coordinator and high school teacher (of Math, Science and Computers) has taught me a few things about Educational Technology. Here is my experience; others may have different experiences or may disagree, and that’s fine. Here is what I’ve observed:

  1. Technology advances are purchased without proper research.
  2. Technology advances are applied recklessly without proper transition or training once purchased.
  3. A significant percentage of technical advances purchased are best described as “solutions without problems”, which are invariably forced upon teachers who neither want nor need them.
  4. I have never seen User Acceptance Testing implemented prior to completion of an Ed Tech project.
  5. Borderline-inexcusable oversights (I certainly hope they’re oversights) like:
    • Issuing computer-based curriculum without making sure there are enough computers to deliver the curriculum to all students using it.
    • Issuing Macintosh-based curriculum to teachers without issuing Macintosh computers to teachers.
    • Issuing a class set of laptops or tablets without Wi-Fi access points that can handle an entire classroom.
  6. Replacing Intensive Reading (“remedial”) textbooks with iPads.
    • iPads are great, but a waste at $500-$700 a pop. Why not, for example, this $99 Kindle for Kids bundle that includes cases (to take the abuse students will inflict) plus a 2-year replacement warranty? And this $99 is a retail price, not a bulk contract price.
    • Again: these iPads were issued to classrooms without installing WiFi hotspots capable of handling 30 wireless clients at once.
  7. Everything is rushed. Superintendents and politicians have short terms, so they have to “do” something or “change” something in order to give the appearance of success.

I think of stories where American Government textbooks were removed and replaced with online curriculum. At any given time, there were always significantly more American Government classes than there were computer labs. And during standardized testing season (which is scattered throughout the entire school year), instruction would grind to a halt, unless teachers prepared their own lessons from scratch. This means the introduction of technology (a.) lowered the quality of instruction for students, and (b.) created extra work for teachers.

Technology should be a tool that makes formerly manual jobs more easily accomplished, and/or with better quality. Too often, it is quite the opposite in my experience. Educational technology is a false savior; we can’t just throw money at it and expect it to work. We have to be intelligent and informed in our purchases. And again, this is not scientific, just an observation that may be flawed. But I think there’s a strong basis of reality beneath the observation.

I can’t help but think that looking at ways to improve how Ed Tech is purchased and implemented would be a very interesting project and might alleviate some of the problems found by this study.

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Education is not the solution; it is an opportunity

Education is not the solution for poverty, injustice or even ignorance. Education is an opportunity — no more, no less — for each individual student to work their hardest to escape these evils. If we actually want to improve Education, we have to accept this.

When we lose sight of the fact we’re here to provide opportunities, we spend billions on redundant exams and unneeded curriculum changes while dissolving libraries (to save mere millions) and failing to prepare teachers properly for the constant change. We spend billions to fulfill the demand for guaranteed outcomes, when nearly any guarantee in Education outcomes is a fantasy; most variables are outside our control.

I think it’s obvious this trend stems from businesspeople lobbying and advising our government to run Education like a business. I actually think the people wanting to run schools like businesses are overwhelmingly well-intentioned — with some exceptions — but it doesn’t work. I’ve lived in both worlds, and they are extremely different. By nature, businesses have much tighter control of their input and processes. When you hire someone, you choose the person you think has the best chance for success and tell the other applicants (nicely) to hit the road. When an employee disrupts your business processes, you might fire them. If someone is valuable to your company, you have powerful incentives at your disposal like raises or bonuses to retain them.

But schools are not factories, students aren’t widgets, and they certainly aren’t our employees. Students have minds of their own. They have different backgrounds, aptitudes, desires and work ethics. In Education, we can’t (and shouldn’t be able to) hire and fire them, give them raises, or control their study habits, strengths and weaknesses.

And since students are the only ones who live with the privileges or consequences arising from their performance, all we can do — and must do — is ensure we provide students with the best opportunities possible, and encourage them to take advantage. But we still can’t guarantee any level of student success, because the rest is up to them.

Administrators say, “Kids don’t read much; why should we provide libraries for books to collect dust?” Administrators say, “Kids never take their textbooks home to study, why should we buy a book to issue to each student?” Even if many kids don’t use these resources, it doesn’t matter. If we are to reasonably provide children with the best opportunities, all of them should have the choice to take a book home for a couple of weeks (as I’ve pointed out numerous times, restoring librarians would be incredibly cheap), or their textbook home at night, and read it. Whether or not they do so, is up to them. Education is here to provide opportunities, not make guarantees.

I am not pretending that all, or (let’s be honest teachers), even most students are conscientious enough to take full advantage. That doesn’t matter, because the children who have (or develop) initiative should have the choice to better themselves. To take a textbook home, and study. To take a vocational book home, and get started on learning a trade. To take a novel home, learn to love reading and become better readers (And who knows? Reading scores might even improve if you provide kids books to read). Whether or not kids do so, is up to them. Some will, many won’t. We hope and strive to encourage  as many children as possible to do so.

I say this with the firm belief that we have already won 90% of the battle in Education over the past century with two strokes of the pen (Child Labor Laws/Compulsory Education Laws) and the struggle to enforce one Supreme Court decision that sets the ideal of equal opportunity for all (Brown v. Board of Education).

Yes, there are legitimate concerns and debates, but they pale in comparison to progress already made. The opportunity is there for the taking; parents and students must seize it. And as anyone who runs any kind of enterprise should know, unnecessary or improperly applied changes are at least as likely to harm than help. For this reason, I advocate common-sense boosts and moving spending towards the work of teachers and students, rather than sweeping reform that shifts spending towards administration and exam publishers. A bit of calming down all the way around may be what we need. This is much easier when we acknowledge Education is not the solution, but an opportunity for all.

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“What was taken away from my children’s education in order to make them better at taking standardized tests?”

This decades-old quote from Alfie Kohn is as true today as it ever has been, because everything in life is a trade-off. We have limited time and resources. If we increase the importance of testing in our schools, we decrease the importance of something else. We must ask ourselves: what is that “something else” that’s being taken away?

The arts? Creative learning and teaching? Physical activity? Recess? Joy in learning for its own sake? Joy in reading for its own sake? Weeks of instruction per year?

We may want to take time to think about what we lose when we introduce “accountability” and seek “higher test scores” at all costs.


March 13, 2015 · 11:46 AM