Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pt 4- Ravitch Book Review (Ch 6 and 7)

I'm going to keep the same format as the last entry- chapter summaries and gut reactions.

Chapter 6- NCLB: Measure and Punish

Chapter Review:

This is the money chapter. The one that made me buy this book in the first place. If you're going to pick one chapter out of this book to read, this is the one (unless one of the later chapters measure up).

Here we get to see how and why Ravitch changed her mind about NCLB. She started out as a strong advocate and by the end of this chapter pretty much completely disowns it. She tells of the four main tenets of the law: 1) every child should be tested every year in grades 3-8, using state tests, not a national test, 2) decisions about how to reform schools would be made by the states, not by Washington, 3) low-performing schools would get help to improve, 4) students stuck in persistently dangerous or failing schools would be able to transfer to other schools. Sounds pretty damn good, eh? But as always with federal legislation, the politics often sound great and the devil is in the details...

This was an issue that both Democrats and Republicans rallied around. Republicans liked the increased accountability and market reforms/choice, Democrats liked that the government was getting more involved and lower income and racially diverse groups were a main focus. It passed with rare bipartisan, broad support.

Now on to the details that doomed NCLB from the start. The first and most glaring is the impossible goal it set of having 100% of students proficient by 2014. No one in education believes this goal is attainable. The law provided tougher and tougher sanctions each year a school did not make all AYP goals- from labeled as failing to requiring extra tutoring, to closing the school or turning it over to the government. Every year the number of failing schools grows as we get closer to 2014, the year where all students are supposed to be proficient.

The next large issue in the details was letting each state determine their own tests as well as define what is "proficient". This of course led to states creating tests and sliding scales that would allow nearly every student to pass the test.....eventually. This led to fudging numbers, shifting results, changing definitions, etc.

Each subgroup of students was separated out so the numbers for each subgroup could be used for sanctions. As those of us in schools know quite well, if even one subgroup does not make AYP, the school as a whole is labeled as failing. Often, this happens with the ELL or special needs students- a group that it is nearly impossible to bring to 100% proficient, no matter how you slice it.

So Ravitch pinpointed a date when her mind changed- November 30th, 2006. On this day, she went to a conference in Washinton D.C. to hear a dozen or so scholars report on the effectiveness of NCLB and it's accompanying remedies. Here is what she found out- even though NCLB provides parents a free opportunity to transfer their students away from a failing school and towards a non-failing school, hardly anyone was taking advantage of this. The numbers were amazing- less than 1 percent in CA, less than 2% in CO, less than 1% in Michigan. The scholars argued that parents didn't want their kids taking too-long bus rides, that parents generally felt their school was good despite it's "failing" label, ELL parents prized the neighborhood school.

The numbers were similar for the free tutoring that was offered with federal monies to students in failing schools. In short, it was rarely used and even more rarely effective. NCLB created a multi-billion dollar industry of testing and tutors, but was doing virtually no good for students. Scores remained the same, classrooms were too narrowly focused on reading and math, and all other subjects faltered.

A couple quotes from Ravitch:

"Under NCLB, the federal government was dictating ineffectual remedies, which had no track record of success. Neither the Congress nor the U.S. Department of Education knows how to fix low-performing schools."

"Every state was able to define proficiency as it saw fit, which allowed states to claim gains even when there were none."

"I realized that incentives and sanctions were not the right levers to improve education; incentives and sanctions may be right for business organizations, where the bottom line- profits- is the highest priority, but they are not right for schools."

"If all students are not on track to be proficient by 2014, then schools will be closed, teachers will be fired, principals will lose their jobs, and some- perhaps many- public schools will be privatized. All because they were not able to achieve the impossible."

"Perhaps most naively, NCLB assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools."

My Reactions:

I thought this was the strongest chapter yet. It was nice to see Ravitch laying out how she changed her mind and why. Basically, the facts slapped her in the face and made her wake up. My main question is- why is she seemingly the only sane / logical one? Where are the others that supported this piece of crap legislation? The facts are the facts- it's not working, plain and simple.

I can admit that the bullet points of NCLB sure sounded good. Politically, it was a slam dunk- we want all students to improve, we don't want to let all these subgroup kids fall through the cracks, we're going to require schools to be accountable, and we're going to give parents choices about their school. These are all good tenets. The problem is that the policymakers did not think this thing through to the end- they didn't think about the realistic consequences of making tests the primary determinant of a successful school. They didn't think about schools meaning more to parents than test scores and labels. They didn't think about how states would bend the model to make themselves look as good as possible. They didn't think about how narrow the classroom would be- on reading and math. It just is so typical of policymakers and how much they are disconnected from classroom and school realities.

Chapter 7- Choice: The Story of an Idea

Chapter Review:

Going to keep this one short. It was kind've dry and more of the same. She tells the history of the idea of school choice and how it manifested itself in urban areas. It morphed to vouchers and eventually to charter schools. The bottom line is we now have some decent data about charter schools and how they compare to public schools. Many folks have researched and pored over the data and the results are, in a nutshell- no real differences. There are good charter schools and bad charter schools, just like there are good public schools and bad public schools.

The main thrust of this chapter for me was the idea that so many reformers want to hinge their hopes on- that you can take a school's model and spread it to other schools and get the same good results- is flawed. You can't carbon copy schools and what they are doing. It takes time and hard work to achieve improvement, and it's as much about the staff and students as much as the model they are following. If you take a great model and combine it with different staff, the results invariably are not the same. It's not easy to create a successful school. There is no magic bullet.

My reactions:

It's harsh, but I'm glad she acknowledges the reality- there is no easy way to create a school model and then spread it. Schools must pave their own way. It's up to the government to provide SUPPORT, not dictate circumstances. I've never been in a school where the staff did NOT want the students to succeed. The teachers and admin are in the best possible position to know what their students need to be successful.

One other thing that I don't like about this book is that it has thus far completely ignored schools outside of urban areas. I'm not sure if she'll touch on this or not, but it's a huge mistake to take urban reforms and spread them to rural areas. Especially in the focus of this chapter- school choice. In rural areas, school choice simply is a geographical impossibility. It's just not going to work. I hope she touches on this aspect in future chapters. I'm getting a little tired of reading about all of these urban driven reforms, thought I must say I'm not surprised.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pt 3 (Chapter 5)- Ravitch Book Review

All right, so I didn't get so far today- had some awesome beach time with my Mom, Dad, and Emily (my 3-yr-old), then naps and general laziness. I did get through chapter five, though.

Also want to throw a disclaimer out there- these review posts are not going to be well written. They are mostly my own gut reactions and gibberish and since I'm on vacation they will read more like that kind of nonsense rather than anything sequenced or actually analyzed. These are just reactions and first reflections!

I'm going to split the rest of these posts into two sections- chapter review, then my reactions.

Here we go. Back to New York City (would be nice to see something other than urban reforms, incidentally):

Chapter Five- The Business Model in New York City

Chapter Review:

This chapter told the story back in NYC, between 2002 and 2009. Mayor Bloomberg did some nifty political manuevering to pretty much take sole control of the NYC school system. Of course, Bloomberg is a businessman, so he laid out a corporate model going forward. He hired an antitrust lawyer named Joel Klein to run the system to his specifications. Klein visited and modeled a lot of his efforts from Alan Bersin, the evil corporate guy in San Diego. So now we've got a lawyer and businessman setting the agenda for all 1,200 schools in the NYC area.

There was a swift consolidation of power and the micro management began. They followed the Balanced Literacy program that appeared in the previous chapters and basically told teachers how they need to teach. Teachers were required to fall in line. The focus was on raising test scores in reading and mathematics, so that's what got taught. The other subjects were shuffled to the side and of course, suffered.

In order to bolster numbers, they secretly changed the requirements for passing. There are four levels (I'm sure most that would read this know about this)- Levels 3 and 4 are passing, Level 2 is almost there, and Level 1 is the lowest kids. In NYC, the Level One kids were held back. In an effort to make it look like more kids were doing better, they re-normed the tests so that more kids would make it to Level 2. Students in NYC needed only a 17.9% to score Level 2 in reading and 22% to score Level 2 in math. This means that a student can completely randomly guess answers and get a Level 2.

The other aspect of NYC reform was choice and charter schools. Parents and students were offered choices and high schools were developed that met specific goals- a school for future socialologists, a school for future firefighters, etc. Large high schools were closed and new smaller schools (500 kids) were opened instead. What ended up happening to the high schools is that the majority of kids would apply and get accepted to some of the smaller high schools- but the hardest to reach kids were shuffled to another large high school, which then had a timetable for it's closure.

Ravitch also goes on to tell about how the natural effect of focusing on test scores is for the school system to game the system- fudge the numbers, teach to the test, only include certain groups in grad rate numbers, etc. In other words, the same stuff that happens nearly everywhere because of NCLB and it's focus on test scores. And the end results were statistically insignificant improvements in reading and math and a decrease in science skills (and all other subjects that weren't tested as well).

My Reactions:

The first thing I'd like to say is that so far it seems like all reform that Ravitch talks about is poor. The way she writes makes it seem like every idea is horrible and no good came of any of it. That's hard to believe. In this chapter she talked about high schools being an place of choice that can offer specialized programs based on student wants and needs. Well, I'm sorry- but that's a pretty cool idea. I bet a lot of those schools really served those students well.

The corporate takeover of school policy has brought some really evil things along with it, primary to me is the introduction of unchecked corruption and fudged numbers. With all of the emphasis on test scores, people all over the place are gaming the system to make themselves and their systems look better. The graduation rate is a prime example of this. SAT scores are as well. There are so many ways to define/delineate graduation rates that it's easy to fudge the numbers in whatever direction you like. In Moore County, NC, where I taught for 8 years, our superintendent actively had principals encourage college bound students to take the SAT and encouraged other students not to. In other words- to boost SAT scores, he wanted the smart kids taking it and the not as smart kids to take some other alternative. Slimy....

Another slimy aspect is the Levels for the testing- 1, 2, 3, and 4. I know in North Carolina the percent you have to get for a level 3 was around 45%. In other words, you are proficient if you score a 45% or better on the test. This is dumbing everything down and fudging the numbers to make things look better than they are. It's the same thing that happens in corporations- they fudge numbers so that their business looks better on paper to stakeholders. Here's the difference, though- at least there are laws and oversight agencies to take corporations to task for doing this kind of thing. Where is the accountability for school systems when they essentially do the same thing? Where is the oversight? Are we leaving it up to the media to uncover? If so, is this smart???

Reading all of these stories of centralized power consolidated by businessmen and lawyers makes me sad. It demonizes teachers and makes it look like they have no clue what to do, when the reality is the exact opposite. Here's a radical idea- what if we gave TEACHERS a voice in curriculum/pacing/testing, then asked THEM what they needed to teach it, then actually provided what they request to make it happen? They develop what content students should work on, what skills they need, and then the school system delivers any materials or support they need to make it reality. Is there a school model out there that gives the primary voice/respect to teachers, instead of administrators and policy makers? My guess is that you would see an amazing school system that actually serves the needs of the students, where teacher morale and flexibility would be at an all time high.

I've got some other things jotted down but may save them for some other time. I'm off to watch a movie and go to bed. More to come tomorrow for sure!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ravitch Book Review- Part Two

This is the 2nd post in a series that I'm doing, attempting to review and comment upon Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American Education System. Today I read chapters 3 and 4- not at the beach this time. At the pool. And with Pepsi instead of beer. Not sure how that will affect the review :)

Chapter 3- The Transformation of District 2

This chapter tells the story of changes that swept through District 2 in New York City in the late 1990's, which consisted of 50 schools and over 20,000 students. It had a cross section of races and some pockets of poverty, but housed many of the wealthier neighborhoods of NYC. In comparison to the rest of NYC students, District 2 was affluent and housed a much greater percentage of white/Asian students than the overall NYC student population.

Under the direction of Superintendent Tony Alvarado, District 2 made some significant changes- they focused on a literacy program called Balanced Literacy, which was 3 hours of literacy every day, K-12. It involved a lot of stations and very little whole group instruction. The teacher was facilitator. It actually sounds like a pretty good program that had emphasis on both phonics and constructivist learning. The district poured tons of money and staff development into their key improvement piece. Coaches were placed in schools, teachers and principals were trained in methods and vocabulary, etc.

The program produced improved reading scores (imagine that, 3 hours of literacy a day improves reading scores!). But it shortchanged other areas of the curriculum. It made instruction less of an art and more of a prescribed process that teachers were expected to follow without questioning. Coaches became less of coaches and more enforcers/reporters. District 2 improved their scores, but Ravitch points out that the scores were not improving any faster than the rest of NYC schools. She also points out that the demographics of District 2 changed as well- basically, it got whiter and Asianer (like that?). So the actual improvements were questionable.

Now, one thing I don't like is how things so often come back to race and demographics in these conversations. It's a topic we shouldn't dance around, but it still feels slimy to say "well, of course these schools were better- they had more white kids." But that's a topic for another post.

Another thing that keeps popping up that feels slimy is the idea of quantifying a good school completely through test scores. Those of us that have worked in different types of schools know that this is far from the truth. I'm proud to say that I've worked primarily in low income schools whose test scores will probably NEVER be the best. But those schools, those teachers- they love those kids and they'll do anything for them. You can't tell me that schools with low test scores are bad schools. That doesn't fly with me at all. I've seen some awesome schools with some awesome yet challenging kids with some not so awesome test scores. Focusing on proficiency rather than growth is always a poor idea.

Anyway, back to District 2- Ravitch says:

"District 2 is important because it caught the eye of the corporate reformers who came to prominence at the turn of the 21st century. They became convinced that District 2 was the model for success in an urban district, that Balanced Literacy was the key to the district's success, and that other districts would experience experience similar improvement if every teacher were compelled to adopt District 2's methods unquestionably." (p. 33)

As the program wore on, teachers started rebelling against the micro management of their classrooms. They were fearful of reprisal, however, because they were being watched! This of course happens all the time. Those that refuse to include teacher's in the process of reform will always see teachers being subversive in order to do what's best for their kids. That's what rocks about most teachers- they know better than anyone what their particular class needs. If those needs don't match up with the latest initiative, they'll find a way to get around it.

So the end of chapter two says that the corporate minded reformers thought they had found THE formula for improving schools and sought more places to implement it. This brings us to chapter four....San Diego.

Chapter Four- Lessons from San Diego

Man, you think your school is a hot mess? San Diego from 1998 to 2005 has to have you beat (unless you were there). A dude named Alan Bersin was elected by the board to be the new superintendent. Here's the thing- he had never been in education before. He was a former federal prosecutor (fun boss!). He stormed in with the philosophy of instant change, complete centralized control of reform, and take no prisoners. Those that would not toe the line were fired- teachers and principals alike.

Bersin brought with him Tony Alvorado from NYC as his partner in crime. Together, they "got tough" with teachers, principals, and schools. They implemented Balanced Literacy with an iron fist- reprimaned resistant teachers and fired principals. They created fear and obedience.

Here's my first question- since when do we have to "get tough" with teachers? There seems to be this huge opposition to teachers because of teacher unions. All of us fat, lazy teachers who want huge salaries and all....right? I just don't get this perception. Yes there are bad teachers and yes there are teachers that shouldn't be in the job at all. But is the solution to get tough and create fear among the good ones?

Anyway, back to San Diego. This basically comes down to two schools of thought- one, evidenced by Bersin in San Diego, is to forge ahead with a vision regardless of what any of the stakeholders feel, want, or believe. The other is to build consensus, take input from all stakeholders, and work change slowly. My thinking is that neither of these are good. The first creates fear, obedience, and stifles differentiation. The second leads to paralysis/death by committee. The best solution lies in the middle- get input for key/large decisions and move forward without discussion on the smaller ones. The important thing is to remember to keep learning #1. The impact on student learning should be considered for every decision.

So the reformers in San Diego made a big splash, completely changed the system, created fear, and in the process completely alienated the teachers and parents. The major complaint was that they were never consulted on anything- they were told exactly how to teach and reprimanded if they wavered. This resulted in just what you might expect- huge teacher turnover, massive revolts, and all time low morale. But the scores improved, even if only slightly. So this model was seen as "working".

I can see where Ravitch is going here. These models for urban schools were probably the ones that influenced NCLB. She hasn't talked about it much yet, but I'd imagine part of the urban solution was providing choice, where the school system will pay for bussing to a better (as in, higher test scores) school. Which is all fine and dandy for urban schools. As a teacher in rural North Carolina, I can tell you that this policy is a joke when applied anywhere but in urban areas. There is no way a parent is going to put their child on a bus for 1.5-2 hours every day to go to ANY school. And the folks living in poverty are the least likely to be able to take their own kids to school- either because they don't have a working car, or their job would never permit it. So from my perspective the provision of NCLB that promoted school choice was never thought through on a national perspective.

All right, that's all I'm going to write for now. I'm surprised if any of you made it this far, but I'm just getting this stuff down for my own notes anyway, mostly! These two chapters were interesting background/history. So far I'm enjoying this book and the insight it gives behind the scenes of policy. It's sad and disturbing, but you can't fix something if you don't know how it broke.

Ok, one more thing- the main reservation I have so far is that I want to know the REAL stories. I'd love to hear more from actual teachers in District 2 or San Diego. I'd love to actually hear what the real deal was. I never take writers about education for their word when they speak in a historical sense. I've seen too many crappy school systems shined up with fake numbers and shiny gadgets. I've been in schools where the perception of the school is terrible, but the reality inside is a wonderful place for kids. So I'm skeptical. Still, it's been interesting.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ravitch- Death and Life of Great American Education System - First Thoughts (Ch 1 and 2)


I first saw this book's title cross my Twitter Feed via @garystager and @jonbecker, I think. saw the title, researched the premise, and knew I wanted to read it. For those that don't know what it's about, I'll give you a little background.

Diane Ravitch has been involved with education reform since 1969, through articles, books, critiques, etc. In 1991 she began working as assistant secretary of Education. She was a strong advocate for curriculum and instruction based decisions and was very involved with the creation of national curriculum standards in the 90's. After her time in the department, she began to hang around the bad crowd....the thinkers that sprang directly from the corporate world and tried to apply these principles to the American Education system. She got involved with the groupthink that promoted accountability and testing as the way to correct schools. She was an advocate for this approach for years, but has now changed her mind and changed her thinking. Basically, this book is interesting to me because here is someone that was entrenched in a position but has the smarts and sense to see the truth as it lays in front of her now- the testing movement has backfired, hasn't produced the results they thought it would, and she is rebelling against the very thing she once strongly promoted.

So that's why I'm reading. I really value people that are open to their mistakes, admit them, then try to figure out: a) why they made the mistake, and b) how to go about correcting it and finding better solutions. From this point forward, I'll quote sections of the book that stood out to me as well as my honest gut reactions as to how this makes me think and feel.

Chapter One- What I Learned about School Reform

Right off the bat, I must admit that I was disgusted. On page 2, when Ms. Ravitch is outlining her changing of position:

"It is the mark of a sentient human being to learn from experience, to pay close attention to how theories work out when put into practice." (p. 2)

Ok, that's all well and good, but shouldn't we shoot a little higher here? It's great that she is realizing the folly of her ways, but wouldn't it be nice if, for once, the policy makers in America had some foresight instead of (rare) hindsight? The mark of a sentient human being is to learn from experience, but isn't the mark of an intelligent human being to think through the implications of a policy before shoving it down people's throats? I mean, why are we always dealing with the consequences instead of having foresight to do it right in the first place? I think the answer to this lies in the policymakers having complete disconnects with classroom/school realities.

She goes on to explain how all of her professional life she criticized those that looked for magic feathers or silver bullets to "fix" education. Prior to getting mixed up with the wrong crowd, she advocated real change rooted in curriculum and standards. But then she says:

"In the decade following my stint in the federal government, I argued that certain managerial and structural changes- that is, choice, charters, merit pay, and accountability- would help to reform our schools. With such changes, teachers and schools would be judged by their performance; this was a basic principle in the business world. Schools that failed to perform would be closed, just as a corporation would close a branch office that continually produced poor returns. Having been immersed in a world of true believers, I was influenced by their ideas. I became persuaded that the business-minded thinkers were onto something important. Their proposed reforms were meant to align public education with the practices of modern, flexible, high-performance organizations and to enable American education to make the transition from the industrial age to the postindustrial age." (p. 8)

This is sad. Here is a highly intelligent leader, a school reformer with influence on policy, who basically jumped on a bandwagon. Groupthink is so dangerous and it scares me to see it laid out so obviously in the area of federal education policy.

So the answer to education reform is now coming from the corporate world and market forces. Lovely. This next part actually made me growl when I read it. Good thing the waves were so loud that I didn't scare any small children...

"Market reforms have a certain appeal to some of those who are accustomed to 'seeing like a state'...In education, this belief in market forces lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens. Instead of dealing with rancorous problems like how to teach reading or how to improve testing, one can redesign the management and structure of the school system and concentrate on incentives and sanctions. One need not know anything about children or education. The lure of the market is the idea that freedom from government regulation is a solution all by itself....The new corporate reformers betray their weak comprehension of education by drawing false analogies between education and business. They think they can fix education by applying the principles of business, organization, management, law, and marketing and by developing a good data-collection system that provides the information necessary to incentivize the workforce- principals, teachers, and students- with appropriate rewards and sanctions."

Wow. This outlines how NCLB came to be played out. How infuriating. Here we are as educators dealing with so much day to day nonsense of labels, standardized testing, and rote learning for dumbed down tests, and why??? To provide data so they federal government can better qualify what they believe are passing or failing schools. We're dealing with all of this testing because corporate-minded reformers needed strong data points to be able to label schools as failing? That is nuts to me. I wonder how many corporations spend as much money as education does in testing- the extra positions, the materials, and of course the gigantic amounts of TIME it takes to perform these tests? The great irony to me is that if a corporation were to spend as much time and effort on gathering data points as schools do, they would fold up in a heartbeat...yet here we are, plugging along to provide this data. Yikes.

I will say that I give credit to Ms. Ravitch for seeing the error of her ways. As she watched NCLB be implemented she has started to realize the negative impact it has had (of course, people I talked to the year it took effect had already figured this out...but I digress). She writes, 'Testing, I realized with dismay, had become a central preoccupation in the schools and was not just a measure but an end itself." That's great she noticed this....finally. But again- some foresight would have been nice.

Chapter Two- Hijacked! How the Standards Movement Turned into the Testing Movement

She starts this chapter off with this:

"NCLB changed the nature of public schooling across the nation by making standardized test scores the primary measure of school quality. The rise or fall of test scores in reading and mathematics became the critical variable in judging students, teachers, principals, and schools. Missing from NCLB was any reference to what students should learn; this was left to each state to determine." (p. 15)

She goes on:

"I saw my hopes for better education turn into a measurement strategy that had no underlying educational vision at all...Accountability makes no sense when it undermines the larger goals of education...What once was an effort to improve the quality of education turned into an accounting strategy: Measure, then punish or reward. No education experience was needed to administer such a program. Anyone who loved data could do it. The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education." (p. 16)

This is striking to me. It's hard to believe that this actually happened. We actually let this happen. We allowed (and are allowing) folks to set sweeping education policy that have no idea what they're talking about. Are you scared yet? I had no idea this book would be so frightening...

She then goes on to tell an interesting back story that I was not aware of. Did you know that Lynn V. Cheney (wife of Dick) played a large role in the mess we're in today? Apparently this is the case! When Ms. Ravitch headed the task force to produce national standards in history, the arts, economics, geography, foreign languages, science, civics, etc., the first one they put together were standards for history. The first (unreleased) draft included a broad array of topics that promoted a more balanced view of U.S. history that included the warts as well as the stars. It encouraged students to learn about McCarthyism, the Ku Klux Klan's role in the civil rights movement, Harriet Tubman, etc. In other words, folks other than just the rich white dudes were included. Well, Cheney wrote a scathing critique in the Wall Street Journal that opened up a can of worms. She felt that the history standards were a warped vision of American history that painted us as oppressors (which we kinda were). The debate got picked up in a large way and all of a sudden this draft of history standards (not even final and completely voluntary) became a political hot potato.

The standards movement died because once this issue because so hot and public, politicians backed off. They didn't want to get dirty. The Clinton administration backed off and basically said "we didn't write it- the former admin did". Ravitch writes:

"In January 1995, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning the standards by a vote of 99-1. After the vitriolic front-page battle over the history standards, the subject of standards, curriculum, and content became radioactive to political leaders." (p. 18)

So our leaders (predictably) chose the politically smart thing to do- avoid the subject at all costs. Instead of working to improve the standards, they were scrapped and the issue of content and curriculum was punted away. They passed a law that said every state should write it's own standards, pick it's own tests, and be accountable for achievement. Classic politics! But in this case, it led to horrendous education "reform"- instead of tackling the real issues of learning and curriculum and raising standards, it begat NCLB- which bypassed these issues entirely and went straight for "here's what you gotta do, we don't care how you do it- just get it done." Not good....not good at all.

One question I had while reading this was- why in the world would they start with the most potentially contentious- history? Why not start with math, or foreign languages, or really any of the other areas? That was an obvious failing, in hindsight.

Another outcome of this is all these dull, overly broad standards we have to deal with in education. Stuff like "students will demonstrate an understanding of how ideas, events, and conditions bring about change." States wrote these non specific broad standards for the same reason the federal government punted the issue to begin with- to be inoffensive. We have to deal with these extremely broad, poorly written standards because of politics, plain and simple. They didn't have the cajones to do the right thing, educationally speaking.

For the rest of the chapter she speaks about 1983's A Nation At Risk report, which sparked it's own maelstrom at the time. This report recommended that schools should strengthen the curriculum for all students; setting clear and reasonable high school graduation requirements; establishing clear and appropriate college entrance requirements; improving the quality of textbooks and tests; expecting students to spend more time on schoolwork; establishing higher requirements for new recruits into the teaching profession; and increasing teacher compensation.

Her basic argument is that we need to move away from the NCLB model and go back to the ANAR model above. I agree with some but not all of this. I agree that we need to get back to improving curriculum and learning. I agree that major changes need to be made in teacher prep. I agree that teachers should be paid more. I don't agree with requiring students to spend more time in a broken school. I'd say let's fix the school before we even begin to think about requiring more time for students.

All right, so this is incredibly long I'm sure and I'm tired so I'm heading to bed. This takes us through the first two chapters and we'll see how far I get on the beach tomorrow!!!!

Beach Reading

ahhh Spring Break! I'm in Hobe Sound, FL, visiting my Mom and Dad's house on the golf course, which is just 5 minutes from the beach....ahhhhh. I brought my 3-yr-old Emily and we trucked down for 11 hours to get here. I worked very hard to be able to take this break and am planning on setting the gold standard for relaxation while here. :)

I've decided to pick up and read a book for the first time in a long time. The one I've had my eye on is Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American Education System. I grabbed it today and started reading.

Today was the first of a weeklong series of "3 beer reading sessions." Basically, I take a book, a funny looking beach hat, a highliter, a pencil, a bag of Frito's, and 3 beers. Then I read, take notes, jot down ideas/analysis, then by the time I'm done with the 3rd beer I head home. It's one of the most relaxing and thought provoking things I can think of. I never thought I'd be a nerd like this- to relax I grab a book and take notes, but it works for me...

Anyway, I've decided to jot my thoughts and reactions down into this blog space to log my scratchy notes somewhere. If it helps someone else to read and react to this book, all the better. If it serves as a reference point for some future writing, that's all good too. If no one reads it, that's totally fine too!

Anyway, I'm off to create the first of several posts about it. Hopefully anyone that is reading finds some value on what could be a very important book for us education nerds.