Thursday, January 29, 2015

Standardized Testing and My iPhone

Today I got a notice that my iPhone system software was ready for an upgrade. And this is what the upgrade will do. Note point #5. [No, this is not a joke--the new iphone/ipad software is set up to make it easy to take "education standardized testing."]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Today This Blog Is Five Years Old

Five years ago today I started this blog. Read why here.

Five years, two children who have graduated from the Ann Arbor schools, one more with just 2-1/2 years left, educational policy in this state that goes from bad to worse.

I'm not sure what comes next with this blog. I do know that I have a lot of other things competing for my attention, and a lot of other interests that have gone untended.

I also know that there is a huge need for attention to be paid to the schools--much more than I anticipated when I started.

In the meantime, I expect the next year to be one of discernment regarding what I should do with this blog. It might continue, more or less as, or perhaps with a focus on higher level thoughts about education. I might be looking for someone else to take it over. Is that you? Or it might just remain, as a piece of history.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Silence Is Assent: Je Suis Charlie #charliehebdo

Je Suis Charlie. I Am Charlie Hebdo.

A collage of Charlie Hebdo covers. Taken from Berlin's BZ paper.

I'm posting this following the good idea of Dov Bear, who wrote: 

I am urging ALL of you to do this too. Put the collage of Charlie Hebdo covers (taken from Berlin's BZ paper) on your blogs, your Facebook pages and tell your local papers you want them to take a stand and run this, too. Tell the terrorists that they don't control the public discourse or the free exchange of ideas.  Tell them they aren't going to win this. We get to think. We get to talk, We get to laugh. And they can't stop us.

Silence is assent.
The pen is mightier than the sword. I hope.

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Louisiana Lesson #3: Invasive Species

One of the things we did in New Orleans was to go on a kayak trip. But first, we had to learn about the devastation of the Louisiana wetlands--how dredging and channelization, levees, oil and gas exploration, climate change and more have had a devastating impact on the Louisiana coastline. It is losing miles of land every year and is more at risk than any other part of the U.S. And that is even without hurricanes! I'm not going to go into a detailed explanation of it here--but if you are interested, this link has a nice primer.

[I'm not going to do into an explanation of why the nearly-all Republican legislators from Louisiana don't take the lead on trying to find a solution to the problem. Granted, most of them don't believe in climate change but I personally think you don't even need to believe in climate change to understand this is a problem...]

But anyway--while we were out there kayaking, we did hear about how some of the invasive species are contributing to the devastation of the wetlands.

In particular, we heard about the water hyacinth. A native of South America, it was innocently introduced as a beautiful plant for water gardens in the south at the 1884 Worlds Fair. And now it has spread, and spread--taking over wetlands throughout the south.

Having seen it, I can tell you that the Water Hyacinth is a pretty plant. It looks shiny and new.

It struck me that invasive species are a good metaphor for what happens with the schools. The idea of introducing a new species sounds good. And then it turns out that it wasn't such a great idea. In fact, that it caused a lot of new problems.

Here in Michigan we've got our own invasives to contend with--purple loosestrife, periwinkle, garlic mustard, buckthorn...(read about them here).

Testing, charters, Teach For America--to me they are all invasive species. They sounded like good ideas, but in the end, they are (as a famous story in my family goes) "not so hotsy-totsy, and not so ai-yai-yai!". In fact, they are destructive.

Louisiana is ahead of us in invasive species and wetlands loss, and ahead of us in destruction of public schools as well. But don't think that we are not catching up! And understand that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

As with the fight to get rid of invasive species, different techniques are required for different species. So too with all the "new, better" school invasions.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Louisiana Lesson #2: Charters and Choice

I spent part of my vacation in New Orleans. I didn't spend much time on the schools there (although my daughter did get me some Louisiana-themed books for Chanukah, including one on education that I have not read yet). Nonetheless, I did hear a bit about how the (nearly) all-charter New Orleans school system has negatively affected students.

Just two points:

1. One person described to me how the for-profit school charters are trying to decrease their costs--and the way that they are doing it is to make class sizes larger. And the initial reason for charters? Supposedly they were going to make class sizes smaller...

[You might want to read this Diane Ravitch post with important links demonstrating why class size really does matter. In fact, the needier the kids, the more it matters...]

New Orleans school district. Screen shot taken from Google 1/4/2014.

2. I visited with an old friend of mine who was visiting her family in New Orleans. She is a teacher in Florida now. She described to me how in New Orleans today, you put in your requests to schools to a central administrative body who decides what schools your kids will go to. One of her relatives has three elementary-school-age children, and each of them is in a different school. That is not his choice. I immediately thought, "getting kids to school must be a nightmare!" But that's not what she pointed out to me. She pointed out that the system is completely disempowering to parents.

The great irony, of course, is that the whole "promotional" idea behind charter schools is that parents should have choice.

But now, the last laugh is on New Orleans parents.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Louisiana Lesson #1: Plessy v Ferguson

I spent part of my winter break in New Orleans. And during a cemetery tour, I saw the grave of Homer Plessy.

Plessy, as in the famous "Separate but Equal" 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

What I didn't know is that the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which was applied to schools until the case of Brown v. Board of Education, did not start out as an education case. It was a case about separate transportation on street cars. It was a transportation case (think Rosa Parks), but its impact was felt on education. 

The family grave, which includes Homer Plessy,
and is in French, says that Homer Plessy
died March 1, 1925, age 63. Photo by Ruth Kraut

Facts of the Case 
The state of Louisiana enacted a law that required separate railway cars for blacks and whites. In 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy--who was seven-eighths Caucasian--took a seat in a "whites only" car of a Louisiana train. He refused to move to the car reserved for blacks and was arrested.
[Editors note: Back then, Plessy was described as an "octroon," since he was only 1/8 black. I always loved the sound of that word, though not what it connotes--that someone with only a single drop of blood ascribed to a black ancestor would be considered black.]
Is Louisiana's law mandating racial segregation on its trains an unconstitutional infringement on both the privileges and immunities and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Decision: 7 votes for Ferguson, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: US Const. Amend 14, Section 1
No, the state law is within constitutional boundaries. The majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Henry Billings Brown, upheld state-imposed racial segregation. The justices based their decision on the separate-but-equal doctrine, that separate facilities for blacks and whites satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment so long as they were equal. (The phrase, "separate but equal" was not part of the opinion.) Justice Brown conceded that the 14th amendment intended to establish absolute equality for the races before the law. But Brown noted that "in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races unsatisfactory to either." In short, segregation does not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination.