CURMUDGUCATION: Real Teacher Accountability

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Real Teacher Accountability

Real Teacher Accountability

Reformsters repeatedly circle back around to the question of teacher accountability. If we give up evaluation system and test-based data and methods for turning professional development into a beautiful array of mini-competency-badges, they worry, how will we ever hold teachers accountable for doing a good job? How will taxpayers know they’re getting their money’s worth?

I know one good model for teacher accountability, a model that I can testify works, because it’s the one I have worked with for almost forty years. It’s simple, effective, and costs the school district nothing.

My school district is a small town/rural combo. We’re based in a city of about 6,000 and encompass several contiguous townships. We have just over 1900 students enrolled, of whom a little over 50% are economically disadvantaged, spread over 188 square miles.

I graduated from the same high school I teach in. That was not the plan, exactly– just how things kind of worked out. And like most (though not all) of my colleagues, I live within the district, a resident of the same town in which I grew up. Right in the city, in fact, across the street from the district’s main office.

We have, of course, all the usual trappings of ‘accountability,” from an idiotic VAM system (PVAAS, in Pennsylvania) to a bad standardized test and an ever-morphing state model for how my principal is supposed to keep an eye on me. None of that is what keeps me honest. I would point to two things that have driven my accountability (beyond the fact that, like most teachers, I’m highly self-motivated to do the best job I can– in my experience almost no people go into teaching with the intent to half-ass it).

First, teaching is a self-policing line of work because the worse you do, the more miserable you are. Every teacher has been through it– the day when you are waaayyyyy off your A game, and consequently the day seems to go on for a hundred hours, each hour more unpleasant than the last. There are lots of jobs in which you can sit quietly in your office or cubby or break room and just hide from the consequences of doing a lousy job. But teaching is the equivalent of a job where the supervisor follows you around every minute of the day and, every time you screw something up, whacks you on the head. Do a lousy job in the classroom, and the classroom will punish you immediately and ruthlessly. Do a lousy job day after day, week after week, and your students will make you wish you had never been born. You get good or you get out.

Second, you live where you work.

To one side of my house is a home where a guy I went to high school with is raising his three children, who all attend my school. To the other side is a married couple, both halves of which graduated from my school. The garage where I get my car serviced is run by a guy I went to school with, and his chief mechanic is a former student (whose kids attend the school where my wife teaches). My wife and I often eat at a restaurant run by my son-in-law’s brother, a graduate of my school. Some of my teaching colleagues are former students; some of their children are my current students. Back when I was a church choir director, my choir included former classmates, former students, and parents of current students. I cannot walk into any business in this town and not encounter someone who is familiar with my work. Ditto for the folks I encounter when I play in town band or work with community theater. I’m not a member of any fraternal organization, but the same thing holds true of membership in those organizations.

I know some teachers would find this sort of thing terrifyingly claustrophobic, and there’s no question that at some times it can feel a little fishbowly. But the flip side is that I understand my students a little better, understand their language, their attitudes, their history (and trust me– there’s nothing quite like dealing with a student whose parents you knew when you were all sixteen years old).

I don’t mean to suggest that we teachers are subject to rock star caliber scrutiny. But do people in our district know the kind of work that we do and have opinions about specifically who does a good job and who doesn’t, every teacher’s strengths and weaknesses? You bet they do. Meanwhile, if you’re going to teach in a small town setting, you’d better be prepared to answer for your choices at any moment of the day. It’s a different sort of transparency, all the better because it doesn’t tell the taxpayers what they are supposed to care about. Modern reformster accountability calls for transparency, but it also tells parents, taxpayers and government folks “This is what you want to see.”

So what if local folks aren’t concerned about the things the state says they’re supposed to be concerned about? What if locals say, “Yes, that Mrs. McFuzzyheart has long been everyone’s favorite first grade teacher because she is so kind and makes the children feel strong and capable and secure and loved,” and the state says, “Yes, but what about the first grade math test scores??!!” Is there any particular reason that the federal or state’s preferences should overrule the judgment of the local community? My community, which is pretty static, population-wise, has a pretty good longitudinal view. Folks know what kinds of opportunities their kids grew up to have, and they have a pretty good idea of how much the schools had to do with those outcomes.

But the modern model is distance management. I’ve had private industry folks tell me about management classes in which they’re told that business managers should live at least fifty miles away from their employees, so that they can make purely business decisions without any human distractions. Distance management by data screen is a popular model, and yet it gets you pretty much the exact opposite of real accountability.

I feel far more accountable to my community than to the state bureaucrats because I will have to meet community members on the street, see them in the grocery store, and look them in the eye knowing that they probably know my worst and my best.

Of course, none of this will generate data on spreadsheets or a method of comparing me to teachers across the state. So what? Granted, I am well into Crusty Old Fart stage of my career, but I could not care less about how the state ratings turn out (PVAAS is as accurate and predictable as rolling dice on the back of a horny toad under a full moon, anyway). State tests are an obstacle thrown in my students’ path, a useless exercises that has to be gamed every year, but otherwise, who cares? On the other hand, I face the taxpayers who pay my salary, who entrust their children to me, who remember how much of an ass I was or wasn’t when they were in my class– I face those people every day. At this point in my career, I conduct myself primarily so that I can face myself in the mirror (I remember the times when I couldn’t, and they suck) but also that I can face every one of them today and tomorrow and the next day.

Should all teachers be of the community and in the community? Probably not– some fresh outside eyes are good. But bottom line– the best accountability system is based on relationship. I don’t feel accountable to my spouse or children because of some system of threats or punishment, but because our relationship means that I will feel consequences for how I treat them.

And are their challenges in places where the community is fractured or has already turned its back on some of its own members? Certainly. A school reflects its community. A sick, fractured community gets sick, fractured schools.

But the best accountability system for educators is still a strong relationship with the school community. It may not serve many needs of bureaucrats or policy wonks, but it serves the needs of the school, the community and the students. Build a formal digitized number-spewing accountability system if you must, but if relationships are not at its heart, you’ll end up with nothing but empty, useless, meaningless faux data.

MSU to help increase student success in Grand Rapids | MSUToday | Michigan State University

MSU has joined a Grand Rapids-area community initiative to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering and graduating from Michigan colleges.

Source: MSU to help increase student success in Grand Rapids | MSUToday | Michigan State University


Published: Nov. 21, 2016


Contact(s): Stepheni Schlinker, Kim Ward

Michigan State University has joined a Grand Rapids-area community initiative to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering and graduating from Michigan colleges.

To College, Through College is a collaboration between the city of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and 10 higher education institutions across the state. The goal is to increase college enrollment and graduation for all Grand Rapids-area students, but particularly for first generation students and people of color. To reach this goal, the initiative offers a variety of services, including financial assistance, scholarships and one-on-one support to guide students to college admittance and through degree attainment. These services are offered at the T2C Studio in the main Grand Rapids Public Library.

“Joining the TCTC initiative extends our connection in Grand Rapids to increase the pipeline of successful undergraduate students,” said R. Sekhar Chivukula, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies. “The commitment builds upon our dedication to the learning and graduation success of all of our students. It will be accomplished in collaboration with our unique Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, which provides holistic academic, health and wellness, residential and intercultural support to all undergraduate students.”

TCTC is working hand-in-hand with community partners to increase the number of Grand Rapids Public Schools students who earn a college degree from 18 percent to 40 percent.

“One of our city’s top priorities is to address inequitable access to opportunities,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn BIiss. “To College, Through College is an important part of our efforts to increase equity in our community. We are incredibly grateful to MSU and the other partners that have joined us in investing in our community’s children so they can be successful.”

The initiative is unique by bringing together city government, public schools and a wide variety of higher education institutions. The partnership with MSU stems from the university’s land grant commitment to serve the state of Michigan, Chivukula said.

“We hope to create more cooperative agreements similar to this one in the future,” he said. “We will soon be working with partners in Detroit to establish the Detroit Scholars Program, the funding for which comes from a generous gift made by Dan Gilbert, MSU alum and his family.”

Grand Rapids is home to MSU’s Grand Rapids Research Center, which will open in late 2017 and support 44 research teams working to find answers in autism, cancer, genetics, pediatric neurology, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and women’s health, among other critical health areas.

In addition to MSU, other higher education institutions partnering with TCTC are: Aquinas College, Calvin College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Northwood University and Western Michigan University.

From Bridge magazine: Dual enrollment growing in popularity and also frustration

Dual enrollment is suffering growing pains. The popular program allows high schoolers to take college courses free, with the incentive that they will apply to a degree program.

But opportunities still vary widely between counties, and credits earned come with strings attached at many Michigan universities.

There is no state office assuring that dual-enrollment courses align with requirements at the state’s universities. And because Michigan’s 15 public universities are autonomous, their policies on accepting dual-enrollment credits vary.

Dual enrollment has benefited thousands of Michigan students by giving them an early taste of college and, in many cases, allowed them to earn credits without paying tuition.

But frustrations remain for students and families, who often find out later that the credits either aren’t accepted at the university they enroll in, or are counted only as general credits rather than applying toward a major.

Read more here: Bridge • The Center for MichiganDual enrollment growing in popularity and frustration

CURMUDGUCATION: MI: State Tells Students To Get Lost (If you can read this, don’t thank Gov. Snyder)

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: MI: State Tells Students To Get Lost (If you can read this, don’t thank Gov. Snyder)


MI: State Tells Students To Get Lost (If you can read this, don’t thank Gov. Snyder)

Last September, seven Detroit school children filed suit against the state of Michigan for depriving those children of an actual education. The state’s defense is… well, not encouraging.

Let’s dispense with the obvious first. While I don’t have a lot of background on the case, I’m going to guess that the seven school children didn’t save their lunch money and then put in a call to California law firm Public Counsel. Nor do I think these seven precocious urchins said, “Perhaps you could use our situation to establish a heretofore unestablished constitutional right to an education in the US, using our case to break new grounds in jurisprudence. Can we be done in time to watch Spongebob?” One actual fun note though– while most of the plaintiffs are public school students, one is a student from a now-defunct charter. At any rate, I guess this is how important lawsuits are filed these days.

Here’s what one plaintiff, Jamarria Hall, has to say:

I have friends who can’t read, but it’s not because they aren’t smart, it’s because the State has failed them. I feel like Governor Snyder doesn’t care about me or my friends. We stood up for ourselves and wrote letters asking him to fix our school. But he never gave us a response.

And here’s what the class action lawsuit has to say:

Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to the Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy. Literacy is fundamental to participation in public and private life and is the core component in the American tradition of education. But by its actions and inactions, the State of Michigan’s systemic, persistent, and deliberate failure to deliver instruction and tools essential for access to literacy in Plaintiffs’ schools, which serve almost exclusively low-income children of color, deprives students of even a fighting chance.

The lawsuit also contains some plainer language:

Instead of providing students with a meaningful education and literacy, the state simply provides buildings — many in serious disrepair — in which students pass days and then years with no opportunity to learn to read, write or comprehend,

Lawyers on the case include Evan Caminker, former dean of the University of Michigan Law school. Their basic argument, building on Brown v Board of Education is that the students have a constitutional right to an education, specifically, to an education that produces literacy.

Last week the state and Governor Rick Snyder fired back with a sixty-three page motion to dismiss the case. Their arguments are several, each just as appalling as the last:

* “Claims laid out by plaintiffs — including deplorable building conditions, lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures — go far beyond mere access to education.” Right– because even if you are in a collapsing building surrounded by rats and without a teacher or books, that doesn’t mean you don’t have access to education. Somehow? Through the ether maybe?

* This suit constitutes “attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools.” This is a particularly hilarious argument from the state of Michigan, where the legislature has come up with a variety of ways to destroy democratic local control of both schools and entire cities. Detroit schools have been run by an “emergency manager” since 2009, though they have currently been upgraded to a “transition manager,” but like many various previously-democratic bastions of local control, they have seen the state emergency manage them right out of democracy (yes, it was an emergency manager that brought us the Flint water crisis). Governor Snyder also tried the Education Achievement Authority, Michigan’s version of the Achievement School District that failed in Tennessee. It failed in Michigan, too. But it did completely override the local authority of democratically-elected school boards. For the state of Michigan and its governor to paint themselves as champions of democratic local control requires big brass cojones the size of Great Lakes tankers. This is the fox speaking out in favor of better henhouses. It is Grade A baloney.

* But let’s get right down to it. Students, says the state of Michigan, have no fundamental right to literacy. I don’t even know how you follow that up. We provide schools just as a favor, but we don’t expect them to actually do anything? We provide schools because the voters expect us to, but the minute their backs are turned we drop that whole education thing like a hot, smelly rock? How does that work as a state slogan? Michigan: If you want to read this sign, that’s not our problem.

* Also, just for extra fun, the state threw in a dash of, “Hey, we don’t actually run these schools (except for the ones that we took over), so it’s not our fault.”

I suppose they could have also thrown in, “Shut up! You didn’t provide literacy education!”

But doesn’t this just make Michigan look great. Michigan, where non-wealthy non-white folks aren’t entitled to an education, to non-toxic drinking water, to much of anything.

Look, there’s no question that Michigan and Detroit face some tough financial struggles. But damn– how can you just keep going to the solution of, “We’ll let all the poor people just go pound sand. It’s hard to run this city and this state, so we’ll stop running or financing the parts that don’t really affect us.” Not one of the officials responsible for the ugly mess that is Detroit schools would send their own children into these schools, but they will now fight tooth and nail their legislative and bureaucratic right to force Other People’s Children into those wretched, squalid schools. How any of these people get out of bed each morning without being crippled by the weight of their own shame is a mystery to me.

CURMUDGUCATION: Pearson Hurt By Common Core

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Pearson Hurt By Common Core

Pearson Hurt By Common Core

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports that Pearson bet big on Common Core and came up snake eyes or triple lemons or whatever gambling metaphor for losing your prefer.

The Journal article (it’s behind a paywall but if you squint real hard, you can read it through the “don’t you want to subscribe” haze) says that two factors led to losses for the edu-biz giant– one self-inflicted, and one market-driven.

The self-inflicted injury was Pearson’s inability to “develop and deliver new digital courses on time.” A big part of Pearson’s plan was to produce and sell digital Common Core curriculum, but after investing more than $125 million, they are three years behind schedule and have not yet “produced returns.” The project has been run by a “academic” with no tech experience who is trying to design an entire curriculum to be run through tablets. It is not going well. Says the Journal, “Her vision sometimes clashed with technological realities.” Because, of course, the educational quality and content has to be made to fit the tech, not the other way around. Pearson says it’s confident that soon the product will be ready, on market, and making tons of money. Oh, and they’ve taken the word “Common” out of the name– it will now be the “Pearson System of Courses.”

The market-driven injury was, of course, the huge backlash against the Common Core and the Big Standardized Tests that were supposed to come along with the standards. Pearson bet big on the testing and watched themselves get chased out of many states as parents, teachers, students, and sentient beings with more than a rudimentary brain stem saw the tests and saw that they were not good.

As one of the biggest and most visible profiteering corporations associated with Common Core reforms, Pearson has taken a lot of the heat for the botched Standards-and-Test movement. Back in January, Ian Whittaker, an analyst with Liberian Capital Ltd. said, “The simple fact is that Pearson’s brand is politically toxic in the United States.” Pearson, which has busily inserted itself into just about every part of the education sector, disagreed. But meanwhile, Pearson’s PARCC test has been booted from over half the original PARCC states, so the $2 billion that Pearson had planned to make from PARCC over eight years isn’t going to happen.

But as Pearson is wont to believe, numbers don’t lie. And the numbers says that Pearson share prices have declined 32% over three years, with a spectacular revenue drop  of 7% in the first half of 2016.

No word from the Journal about how Pearson’s long-term plan to digitize everything and eat all the data in the world is coming. But on many other fronts, Pearson is having a rough couple of years. It couldn’t happen to a nicer multi-national corporation.

Reflections on the Struggle at Standing Rock | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

Reflections on the Struggle at Standing Rock
by Jeff Smith (GRIID)
It has been 2 days since I got back from our trip on the invitation by the Lakota nation to be part of the fight for justice at Standing Rock.

There are things that I have been thinking about and wanted to share here…

Source: Reflections on the Struggle at Standing Rock | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

What you should know about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary pick — and what her choice might tell us about his plans | Chalkbeat blog

“DeVos and her husband played a role in getting Michigan’s charter school law passed in 1993, and ever since have worked to protect charters from additional regulation. When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation. The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country. Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state.”

Read more here: What you should know about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary pick — and what her choice might tell us about his plans | Chalkbeat