7/4/13

The Internet Defense League


5/27/13

Among The Dead And Wounded Her Darling Boy She Found




There was a wealthy merchant, in London he did dwell
He had a Beautiful daughter, the truth to you we'll tell
Oh the truth to you we'll tell

She had sweethearts a plenty, and men of high degree
But none but Jack the sailor, her true love ever be
Oh her true love ever be

Jackie's gone a sailing, with trouble on his mind
He's left his native country and his darling girl behind
Oh his darling girl behind

She went down to a tailor shop and dressed in man's array
She climbed on board a vessel to convey herself away
Oh convey herself away

Before you get on board sir, your name we'd like to know
She smiled on her countenance, they called me Jack-A-Roe
Oh they called me Jack-A-Roe

I see your waist is slender, your fingers they are small
Your cheeks too red and rosy to face the cannonball
Oh to face the cannonball

I know my waist's to slender, my fingers they are small
but it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall
Oh to see ten thousand fall

The war soon being over she went and looked around
among the dead and wounded her darling boy she found
Oh her darling boy she found

She picked him up on in her arms and carried him to the town
she sent for a physician to quickly heal his wounds
Oh to quickly heal his wounds

This couple they got married so well they did agree
This couple they got married so why not you and me?
Oh why not you and me?
Oh why not you and me?

Grateful Dead - Jack-a-roe Lyrics @ LyricsTime.com

War Is A Racket (Repost)

So much for the dead – they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded – they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too – they paid with heartbreaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam – on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they were hungry for days at a time; where they slept in the mud and the cold and in the rain – with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby.

But don't forget – the soldier paid part of the dollars and cents bill too.

Up to and including the Spanish-American War, we had a prize system, and soldiers and sailors fought for money. During the Civil War they were paid bonuses, in many instances, before they went into service. The government, or states, paid as high as $1,200 for an enlistment. In the Spanish-American War they gave prize money. When we captured any vessels, the soldiers all got their share – at least, they were supposed to. Then it was found that we could reduce the cost of wars by taking all the prize money and keeping it, but conscripting [drafting] the soldier anyway. Then soldiers couldn't bargain for their labor, Everyone else could bargain, but the soldier couldn't.

Napoleon once said,

"All men are enamored of decorations...they positively hunger for them."

So by developing the Napoleonic system – the medal business – the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals. Then the Congressional Medal of Honor was handed out. It made enlistments easier. After the Civil War no new medals were issued until the Spanish-American War.

From War Is A Racket, a book written by the only two-time medal of honor winner in history, Major General Smedley D. Butler. Check it out.

4/15/13

From A Murderer's Mouth To A Neo-Nazi's Ears

This was written back in 2009. A fellow blogger linked to it, so I figure I should let you see it.

_______________________________________________________________________

I am only posting this because I find it revealing and prescriptive.

I also have a rather intimate connection with the place this man shot up and murdered and injured people--people I know.

However, it is a warning of sorts from a man who seems to know what he did. I am glad he is in jail, and he needs to stay there forever. His letter to teabaggers and right-wing fanatics/terrorists seems pertinent in light of the right's desire to spread fear, hate, and soon maybe even lead.

For those who don't know or don't remember, Buford shot up the North Valley Jewish Community Center back in August of 1999. He killed a postal worker and wounded three children and the receptionist. I know the receptionist. I used to work there. I went there as a kid. My niece was there when it happened.

I present this letter from Buford to my right-wing visitors as a reminder of what racism, anti-semitism and hate will bring you (jail and a ruined life). Be careful, haters.
Convicted murderer Furrow says his mind was full of sickness

Los Angeles Daily News

Attn: Kevin Modesti

21860 Burbank Blvd., Suite 200

Woodland, CA 91367

Mr. Modesti,

Hello, I was sorry to hear that we couldn't speak during your earlier interview request. Today, I received the paperwork of the denial of that request. I have filed an administrative remedy in response to this unconstitutional refusal of your visit.

I did want to speak to you for the simple reason that I feel deep remorse for my crime. About 5 yrs. ago I threw away my racist books, literature, etc. and took up a new leaf. I now publicly renounce all bias toward anyone based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc. and am a much happier person. I feel a life based on hate is no life at all.

Those people I hurt, and the man I killed that day in 1999 will probably never forgive me, but I am truely (sic) sorry and deeply regret the pain I caused. My mind was filled with sickness and unfortunately I acted on it. But, I am now a "model" inmate who has shunned criminal activity and spend my day with exercise, art, and learning prison civil law. I can't change the past, but I can damn sure change the future, and my future will never include Neo-Nazi activity again. That is all I can do. [emphasis mine]

(Unrelated paragraph removed)

Well, if you wish you may reprint or distribute this letter to anyone. I'd hope to have you write about my change of heart and the evils of hate but I guess it's not meant to be. Thanks for your interest though, write me if you wish at this address.

Sincerely,

Buford Ocq Furrow
Who knows if Buford has really reformed? Personally I don't give a shit. But his point ought to be taken by the KKK wing of the Republican soldiers of fortune haters who may just end up Buford's bunk mate.

h/t DWT

3/25/13

A Confederacy of Reformers

The following is from Crazy Crawfish's Blog

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by all the rapid changes happening in the education sphere. I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling this way based on the feedback, articles and correspondence I’ve been receiving from local and national groups and individuals. As I struggled to zero in on a topic where I could help or enlighten the most, something else even more screwed up would be sent to me. I’ve started and stopped work on several pieces, which may make their appearances later, but I feel the need to get my bearings again. All this crazy “stuff” (not my first word choice) needs to be sorted out and organized before I can make any more forward progress. I think the mistake I was making, and many others are probably making, is not connecting all the dots and figuring out what kind of picture they reveal.

Right now hundreds and probably thousands of disparate groups polishing their individual pieces of the puzzle and identifying a few corners and straight edges here and there . . . maybe the occasional face piece. All of us are focusing on our own small pieces of what is actually a very complex puzzle. If we could put them all together, it would surely show a grand scheme, but we’re all convinced we’re holding the key. I can’t solve this puzzle on my own, but what I can do is show you the pieces I’ve managed to put together, and what I think I’m starting to see. These are my pieces:

Intentionally Flawed Teacher Evaluation Systems

A scourge of questionable teacher evaluation systems and Value Added programs has surged across Louisiana, but across dozens of other states as well. While all these systems are referenced as “Valued Added” or “Teacher Evaluation” systems, they all have very different methods of operating and degrees of crappiness. Every one I’ve reviewed or seen reviewed by unaffiliated evaluators all of them have been revealed to be questionable at best, and outright absurd such as in the case of Louisiana’s Value Added system. Despite all these studies and findings, reformers and their allies still tout these kangaroo court evaluation systems as valid and necessary, and tie tenure and continuing employment and compensation to them. When the public starts to recognize just how absurd the metrics are, Reformer headed DOEs change the formulae, either in small ways or even quite dramatically. Sometimes this makes the systems even worse – for teachers and in terms of accuracy, but this change is only meant to fool the masses. Changing these systems gives the appearance of reasonableness, and shifts the conversation to one of getting data from DOE’s to prove their new systems are more accurate. Of course reformers like John White refuse to provide this data except to sympathetic patsies. The clamorings of researchers unable to get data without lengthy lawsuits is never covered by the mainstream media. Ultimately what happens is experienced teachers are driven from the profession in droves to make room for poorly trained, easily manipulated, inexpensive temporary recruits, teachers unions are dissolved and public education is diluted and destroyed to make way for privately held charter schools. These systems are a farce and are simply a tool to evict experienced teachers from their schools, so those schools can be handed over to private companies, who make campaign contributions to anyone who will further their destructive agenda.

Vouchers and Charter Schools are better for “Choice” although not a better choice

John White and his ilk routinely defend unvetted voucher schools and unregulated charter schools in the name of “choice.” John White has claimed he doesn’t need to monitor and evaluate these programs because parents are in the best position to know what is best for their children. He and his allies actively fight any attempts to evaluate these programs receiving public dollars by the same standards he evaluates public schools, student performance and teachers. The routine claims that are made is that such evaluations are cumbersome and interfere with learning (which is true and why they are foisted off on public schools). However it is also true that most charter students and voucher students perform worse than their peers, in many cases much worse. Initially reformers encouraged this type of comparison, until the results came back overwhelmingly negative. Since they can no longer claim these schools are “better” by their own standards, they have shifted the argument away from quality to one of “freedom” allowing these schools empowers parents by providing them “choice.” However without any information, or guidance, most children (and probably most adults) would choose chocolate chip cookies over carrots. Without nutritional information, calorie content, and high blood sugar readings which would you choose?

It’s Okay to segregate our schools by class, race, disability as long as we claim to be doing it “for the children”

Since desegregation didn’t work, it’s okay to re-segregate our schools. It doesn’t matter how this is accomplished. You can create shadow schools (multiple campuses miles apart that are racially segregated and reported as a single school to disguise that fact), you can create charter schools that through sheer coincidence only enroll white students in a majority minority district, you can split your school district into as many different school boards and zones until you get your preferred racial mix, you can refuse to hire Special education teachers to serve disabled students so they are forced to enroll somewhere else, you can banish all your low performing students or discipline problems to alternative schools (ideally done after the funding date but before the testing date.) As a side note, you can say or do anything to anyone as long as you end your suggestion with “for the children.”

Student data is a commodity that can be handed over to private entities as long as they claim it is for an educational purpose

Several years ago the Federal Department of education secretly made an exception to allow vendors, states and school districts to ignore FERPA and provide as much private student data to whomever they wish and use it for whatever purpose they see fit, regardless of whether parents consent or not. This data will be very valuable to these companies, and potentially very harmful to the children. This data can be used for non-educational purposes; there is no oversight as to how this data is used or protected, and no way to correct data that may be erroneous. This data will be used by employers, credit agencies, insurance companies, and marketing companies to direct market products to children throughout their lifetime.

History and Science are negotiable and can be rewritten to suit conservative agendas

Creationism and biblical teachings are being substituted for true Science curricula. Schools teach children that humans probably herded dinosaurs just a few thousand years ago, and they probably still exist in hidden enclaves such as Loch Ness or off the Japanese coast. Students are taught that evolution is impossible (because it seems complicated) that Climate change is either not happening because God would not allow it, or if it is happening it is part of God’s will and plan and not caused by burning rainforests or manufacturing everything in Chinese coal powered factories. Schools are teaching slavery was just a misunderstood part of our nation’s history, and not a very bad one. They are being taught that hippies and liberals are Satan Worshipping amoral communists trying subvert all that is great and decent in society.

Virtual Schools with virtually no attendance compliance, or any compliance, and universally poor track records for preparing students are exploding in every education market

In every study I’ve seen, Virtual school students do worse than their demographic equivalents in physical settings. Virtual school classes have been known reported having in excess of 500 students per teacher. These schools are being offered to students of all grade levels (k thru 12). It is clear that these schools are money makers as in most states they earn a sizeable portion of the funding that goes to a traditional student (in Louisiana it ranges from 90% to 100% of MFP) with less than a tenth of the cost. Often these students withdraw and return to a traditional setting, but the virtual school gets to keep the entire funding for the year, and the traditional school has not only the uncompensated cost of the student to cover, but also takes a hit on their “scores” (in Louisiana it’s called an SPS or School Performance Score) as well as the additional cost of trying to get that student caught up. Many of these students enroll in virtual schools simply to dropout without getting hassled. They get a free computer and internet connection and never have to log into school or complete an assignment. This is especially true in Louisiana where virtual school operators are forbidden by the Louisiana State Department of Education from exiting students that stop logging in, or fail to ever log in.

Teach for America has been converted into a temp teacher displacement and replacement organization

Teach for America originally had a noble purpose but it has been corrupted by billionaires and special interested and serves as little more than a temp agency for school districts and a training ground for new education “leaders.” These leaders are often political science and marketing/media majors that preach the Reform gospel. TFA now even establishes staffing contracts and demands placement fees from states for bringing in a constant pool of new, 5 week trained teachers that rarely stay longer than their 2 year commitment and often leave sooner.

It’s better to close schools and spread the students around to higher performing schools to mask the problem.

Rather than trying to fix the schools which have poor students who are performing poorly, Reformers believe it’s better to close the doors and shove all those kids into higher performing schools, no matter how high the class size gets. Just this past week Rahm Emmanuel closes 54 schools in Chicago and shuffled all those kids to other schools. I have not seen any studies that show this strategy works. I have seen some that show these students are more likely to feel disaffected by school, by the longer bus rides, the cramped classrooms, by the loss of all their friends and teachers, and tend to perform worse the next year and even drop out. You won’t see any studies showing this is effective, because it’s not. What you will see is “school” scores which Reformers point to and say things are going swell. What they don’t tell you is they routinely change these formula from year to year to make them say whatever they want to say. Pre-school closing and privatizing they say how horrible the scores are. After a few years of destructive policies they boost the scores by adding points or changing the test and say all is going well and pat themselves on the back. For the schools that even the most generous boosts are insufficient they simply exclude from the rankings. You can’t be disappointed by what you can’t see. To make sure you can’t see it they usually stop providing data to researchers and remove all traces of historical or current school data from their websites, as Louisiana has done.

So what’s my point do you ask?

I could go, and maybe I will later when the fancy strike me, but I hope this is enough for you to start seeing the picture I am. What I am seeing is a purposeful plot to destroy public schools, and to profit from the destruction. These folks say they are data conscious and want to rely on “data driven decisions” but if that were true the data already readily available shows that everything they are doing is having the opposite effect of what they are purporting to provide. There is too much coordination for this to be accidental, and they are too successful for me to believe they are simply not competent enough to understand the data that disproves everything they claim. These groups have gone out of their way to spin the data, falsify the data, or simply hide or destroy the data to prevent people from seeing what is going on. These groups are fully aware of what they are doing – destroying public education in our country. Some of them are doing it purely for profit driven motives, but there is more going on here. These are some of the puzzle pieces I have and what I see. Now if we allow this to continue, what do you see?

ConfederacyOfReformers

3/4/13

Monday Cartoon Fun: Corporate Pinocchio Edition

It's Worse Than You Think

12/25/12

Poverty, Homelessness, Fear and Insecurity: They Creep Up On You

This is personal.

All my life I have been well-fed, housed, and confident. I always had a job, health insurance, and a decent place to live. I was a typical middle middle-class guy. I could afford to visit my mom a state away, pay for my son's bar mitzvah and his extra-curricular activities.

I was a teacher for 13 years, which was sort of a second career--I had always worked with kids as director of programs for non-profits, camps, and schools. Kids are my life, especially my own kid who happens to be awesome and doing well in 10th grade.

I was a teacher when NCLB kicked in. I watched as things that once were of no value become the focus--test scores, what was on the bulletin board in my classroom, test scores, and test scores.

Teaching had become, over the course of my 13 years, not something I did FOR kids, but rather something I did TO kids. Spontaneity was out the door as lesson plans were required and sticking to them became the measure of good teaching. Any soldier will tell you about plans and how they are often not followed as the situation changes constantly, leaving your plans useless. This is what teaching young students is like--they are not static. Their interests shift. What moves them shifts, often mid-lesson. A good teacher is able to meet these changing needs on the fly, and that means abandoning whatever isn't working, not trying to force it.

Teaching was becoming less about kids and more about "accountability" to management. Well, I have talked about all this before, so I won't bore you with what you can probably figure out from a quick look at this blog, or listening to the many radio shows I have done on BTR.

A few short years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. It's a rare form, called GIST and it attacks the gastrointestinal tract. A patient like me has two options: 1) Get the tumor removed and hope it never comes back, or 2) die of it. I was lucky and got number one.

The surgery was a big deal, as they had to open me up and cut out half of my stomach; the tumor was attached to my stomach and cutting off the half to which it was attached was simply insurance against any spread. We are pretty confident they got it all.

The recovery was long, and I have never really been the same; my appetite changed, as did other 'things' involving my digestive tract. It prevented me from returning to the classroom.

I began working with kids with IEPs and 504 plans as a content specialist/tutor while waiting for my gut to heal, which it never really has, though I could probably get back in the classroom now, some 5 years later.

Then dad died of cancer. Then my big brother killed himself. Mom has never been the same.

I started this blog way back in 2006 as a way to vent about what was happening to teaching that I mentioned above. I gained a small following. I argued with people. I still do.

I realized that I could not end poverty on my own, and it seemed (seems) that few are ready to help now. But poverty is the reason so many kids struggle in school. I realized what I could do to help ameliorate the stifling effects of poverty on young kids--I could open a preschool.

After I lost my home to foreclosure (because I couldn't afford it due to losing the teaching gig) I moved into a fantastic place that I decided could become the greatest preschool in town.

I got a fiscal sponsor and started asking for donations to help make it happen. One foundation did indeed help me out. I formed a non-profit corporation and am constantly asking for donations, which rarely come. We have been turned down for every grant we have applied for. I have lots to say about all that, but not here, not now.

I got licensed to open the school, bought all the stuff a preschool needs, and started advertising for kids, and got one who would have started next month. Then I got slammed.

The lease, up in a week, was not renewed, and for no reason. I must move.

I found a great place and rented it. I am still going to make it happen. But, we spent everything on the deposit and must get the license transferred and can accept no kids until the transfer is done.

This all means I have no more money and no income until we enroll some students.

When the 'job creators' as they erroneously call themselves take about certainty, they are talking not about certainty of housing and food, but certainty of profit.

I now understand the true meaning of certainty and instability; impoverished families live with insecurity of food and housing, and the fear the lack produces.

And that is why I am asking for your help. I am asking you to help me get through the next couple months so that I can open the school and help at-risk families. I can't do it without you.

This is about money. It's the country we live in. There is no sugar-coating it.

You can help with donations, and there are two ways to do it.

1) You can donate over there on the sidebar at the Paypal link. That money goes to me, TFT and will help me eat and pay for the son's health insurance. It is NOT deductible.

2) You can go to the school's website and donate at the Paypal link there. Those donations ARE deductible and go towards the costs the school must pay, like rent, supplies, advertising and subsidizing tuition for families who need the help.

I have found that very, very few people donate money, especially to a cause that isn't already established. I get that.

I am a simple man with a son and an elderly mother who will need me very soon. I am the greatest teacher you ever saw. I ran into some bad luck and need your help. Your help will allow me to create a school that will serve the under-served. It will give me a job, one I was built to do.

I will make you proud.

Please, instead of Lattes this month, send that money to the school, or to me. It will be paid back when the kids I serve get what they need at the school I am creating where they will get the background knowledge, love and care I have spent my life providing to kids for the last 30 years.

It does indeed take a village.

Please, give what you can.

I am happy to talk with anyone who wants to hear more. I will even call you. Send me an email and ask me anything.

--Rich (TFT)

12/23/12

Help A Guy Out (Updated)

My lease was not renewed, so I have to move. Work has been sporadic. I am need of help, like I have never needed it before.

All my money has gone into the project that is now on hold until I am in the new place, which is happening next week, if I can afford to eat and feed the boy until then.

I was in the process of opening a non-profit daycare for at-risk little ones when I got slammed with the surprise of non-renewal of the lease. This put the whole thing on hold. You can make a tax-deductible donation there if you want, which will go towards rent at the new school site.

I found a new place, but had to stop accepting kids until the license gets transferred  which might take a few weeks.

It cost me everything I had to make the move. I am therefore reaching out for help.

If you want details, email me and I will give them to you.

Please, donate what you can at the Paypal link on this blog (to me, not the school) or follow the link above in this post to make a tax-deductible donation to the school.

9/26/12

Why The NEA Sponsored Education Nation

 

When I discovered that both the AFT and NEA had both sponsored Education Nation I was angry.

I asked for an explanation on twitter and was told by Sarah Robertson (Sr. Press Officer for NEA) to give her my email address (I guess the Sr. Press Officer couldn't look around for it) and she would send me an explanation. So I did. And, she sent me an explanation. The only thing about the explanation was that I was not allowed to publish it. Well, I was asked not to and won't. I could. If you were to read it you might wonder why she didn't want it published.


I responded to her response-that-I-could-not-use by asking for an explanation that I could use. This is what I got:
Here is our formal response: "NEA Communications develops both internal and external strategies to increase awareness of NEA members' efforts to increase equity and student achievement in all public schools." 

You may use my name/title/dept, if you wish.


Sara Robertson
Sr. Press Officer
NEA Center for Communications
My response:
Really? That's the official, un-embargoed answer to why you gave EN money? It's a non-response, and it seems to indicate you partnered for access only. How much did it cost?

I hope to make this a problem for you, as it is certainly a problem for public education.

Again, I won't go to press until tomorrow morning.

--TFT
Sarah responded:
That is our answer.
I then responded:
How much did you pay and from what budget line?
--TFT
To which Sarah responded:
If it isn't too late, we'd like to add (or replace) with the following: "NEA has a responsibility to ensure that our members voice is heard on the national stage even if that means walking into the lions den. We will fight for our members' views and voice on any stage and would not leave those who our hostile to our public schools to take a national bully pulpit alone and unanswered." Sara
I then asked:
How much did you pay?
To which Sarah answered:
No idea
So I asked:
You said in your original response that the "NEA sponsored at the lowest level."

I would like the details of that level, as it appears you do indeed have some information on the "level" of support NEA provided for access.

Thanks,

--TFT
And Sarah said:
I was told that we sponsored at the lowest level.
I responded:
Yes, I know. How much was that?

--TFT
I still do not have an answer about how much. With unions like NEA and AFT, who needs enemies?

"Poverty is water in the gas tank of education"

Contextual Accountability
by John Kun

Every school is a microcosm of the community it serves—that is, every school that serves any and all students in the neighborhood. Peaceful schools are nestled in peaceful environs. If there are drugs or violence in the streets, educators will contend with drugs and violence working their way into the school like crickets through unseen cracks. If there are racist or misogynistic attitudes in the homes, they will manifest themselves on campus. And so it goes. If there is materialism, superiority, entitlement, narcissism, coldness, anti-intellectualism, vanity, laziness, or greed ensconced in the hearts of the parents or grandparents or neighbors or pastors or businessmen or family friends who act out their human dialogues in the public space shared with students, then students will bring traces of those attitudes with them into class and the air will hang with secondhand dysfunction.

Educators spend entire careers—some without even realizing it—trying to accentuate and play off of students’ positive outside influences and minimize or at least sidestep their negative ones, just to prepare the groundwork so they can teach their content. Teaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum, an obvious fact which bears repeating only because it’s so common to hear people go on and on about teacher quality as the ultimate driver of student learning. Too many experts spout the mogul-endorsed “no excuses” mantra reflexively when the conversation turns to the context of student lives, and in so doing effectively refuse to talk seriously about the increasingly debilitating conditions of that context.

As though it doesn’t matter. As though it needn’t be tended to. As though a serious education can occur no matter what is going on there. “Poverty isn’t destiny” is trite and meaningless and pretends to honor poor kids for their wide-open potential while actually disrespecting their experiences and neglecting to patch their holes; it posits that there is no such phenomenon as generational need and that neither public policy nor wealth distribution warrants consideration as a contributing factor in the formation of American kids. Poverty is water in the gas tank of education, but its apologists facilely condemn a pit crew of teachers who—not allowed to say the water won’t combust—are pushing sputtering lives, but not fast enough, around a track where youthful suburban rockets whiz by in their mall rat garb.

Meanwhile, high-performing charter schools are portrayed as having cracked the code when it comes to educating poor inner city students. In reality, the quiet secret to their trumpeted success is simply a strategic divorce of cultures. Via lottery-purified enrollment, high-hurdled parent involvement, and hair-trigger expulsions, the highest of the high-performers embrace select children from the neighborhood while flatly rejecting the broad sweep of the neighborhood’s culture, preferring to substitute their own pre-manufactured culture-like products. Culture goes to neighborhood schools; it is there that we see the health or frailties our nation’s policies have wrought in our neediest zip codes. Tragically, creatively-selective charter schools portend national blindness to the suffering our policies foster.

This is, of course, far less inspirational than the heroic charter school packaging we see on Education Nation’s store shelves. Our nation’s model charters haven’t cracked a code for educating inner city students; they have cracked a code for isolating motivated inner city students and parents who see education as a way out of poverty, and filtering out the rest. They do this by implementing exclusionary practices not available to traditional schools. Charters are free to purify their campuses of undesirable test scores, and the media will reliably gloss over attrition rates and highlight academic results that have been fully uprooted from the context that saddles every nearby traditional public school. Ultimately, the hope of the school reformer is tangled up in a knot with non-universal education. When they hold up choice and charters as our nation’s panacea, their sleight of hand may temporarily obstruct our view of the kids left out on the sidewalk, the kids unwelcome in their brave new dynamic, but it doesn’t disappear them from the face of the earth. After charters capitalize on the manipulation of context, that context still exists and it still has a name and a face and a future. The media ulimately asks us to pretend that shuffling ruffians fixes them, that a shell game with troubled kids is something noble, is “the answer.” But context will win out.

Teaching is so complex. People who talk about it but don’t do it every single day—at least from my view—fall into a trap of self-congratulatory oversimplification. On a stage or on Meet the Press, a series of bumper sticker phrases may pass muster. Platitudes assembled just so construct a virtual reality that is convincing to well-meaning onlookers and passionate neophytes. But reform isn’t talk; in actual schoolhouses, those of us doing the work are busy educating rich kids, middle class kids, poor kids, special education kids, gifted kids, and every other kind of kid imaginable; and teachers who take their calling seriously—the majority, I like to think—have never NOT been reforming our practices. (Yes, it’s popular to say schools haven’t changed since our agrarian days because we still have summer break. But to believe in overwhelming educational stasis one has to ignore commonplace modernities like video production classes, students designing their own websites, homework turned in electronically, virtual field trips, all manners of creative scheduling, online courses, dual credit academic and vocational courses, podcasts, and dozens of other things no one ever heard of in the 1950s.)

The conventional pabulum leaves much to be desired for those of us with dry erase marks on our knuckles. Real educators have to discover (through trial and error) the right answers to specific, small-picture questions about curriculum, classroom management, facilities management, extracurricular activities, dress codes, instructional technology, content delivery, test prep, and so many other things. And in traditional schools, we can’t count on the magic “parental academic contract” fairy to wave her magic wand and disappear the students who “aren’t the right fit” (hat tip to Dr. Steve Perry for that euphemism).

Teaching isn’t as easy as it sounds. And neither is reform.

I don’t write to argue that improvement in the education of American minority students isn’t necessary. The reformers are right at the beginning of the conversation—there’s an emergency in our urban schools. But they are consistently wrong about their monolithic, ideology-driven cause, and about how to fix it. They are also wrong to pretend that there isn’t a whole family of non-school emergencies in our urban areas, and to play-act that schools should somehow be immune from the general devastation around them. If an earthquake hits, should the school building’s pictures not move? If a wave of poverty, drugs, and obliterated families inundates a neighborhood, should the school float above the fray?

They are at their most wrong and most disingenuous when they proffer exemplar schools and say, essentially, “Look here. This is what you could all do if you cared enough.” Secretary Duncan was wrong when he told us that Urban Prep Academy in Chicago was showing us the way; President Obama was wrong to single out Bruce Randolph School in Denver as a model of “what good schools can do.”

I believe fervently that Michelle Rhee and an army of like-minded bad-schools philosophizers will one day look around and see piles where their painstakingly-built sandcastles of reform once stood, and they will know the tragic fame of Ozymandias. Billion-dollar data-sorting systems will be mothballed. Value-added algorithms will be tossed in a bin marked History’s Big Dumb Ideas. The mantra “no excuses” will retain all the significance of “Where’s the beef?” And teachers will still be teaching, succeeding, and failing all over the country, much as they would have been if Michelle Rhee had gone into the foreign service and Bill Gates had invested his considerable wealth and commendable humanitarian ambition in improving law enforcement practices or poultry production.

They are building castles out of sand because they are deliberately ignoring the humanity of both student and teacher. What they are calling “excuses” are really “lives.” They are really saying, “No lives.” Lessons, yes. Teacher evaluation systems, certainly. Data, of course. But lives—real human idiosyncrasies and foibles and challenges that exist neither inside nor outside the schoolhouse but rather transcend both—those are left out of the reform equation.

If numbers-and-labels accountability is the way it’s going to be for schools then the only appropriate accountability possible will be contextual. A simple look at test scores—or even the slightly more granular value-added look at test score improvement—is grossly insufficient when one considers the vast differences between schools and the communities they serve. Socioeconomic differences, for example, but also school-to-school funding differences, student-selection differences, and attrition rates cannot be ignored. These are left out of the formulas, but not because they don’t make a difference in outcomes. Of course they do.

So we must ask the psychometricians to do much, much more; or we must ask them to quit. We must not allow them to burn up our fuel and funding and popular will on moonshots taken with half-right calculations that leave out inconvenient variables.

My nephew is studying to be an engineer. He talks about a course in fluid dynamics and leaves me with the impression that engineers use formulas that are accurate to a degree very near perfect. When we build towers and dams and bridges in our country, we rely on measures that don’t really allow for error. An engineer can tell you with absolute precision how much water can flow through a pipe of a given size buried at a given angle and pushed by a pump of a given capacity. Not with sixty percent accuracy, but with stunning exactitude. Construction is too important a task to leave variables out of the formulas. With big projects, failure can be catastrophic.

The formation of our children, of course, is even more important than that of our bridges. Formulas whose inaccuracies result in the annual arbitrary firing of several great teachers and the blanket terrorization of many, many more will undoubtedly be as devastating for our society as an erroneous building code. If the people who teach our kids are going to live and die by a value-added measure, it must be a comprehensive, context-honoring value-added measure. Per-pupil funding distinctions must be incorporated. Outside-of-school factors positive and negative must be figured in.

Until policy mavens give them contextual accountability, the ever-bitterer voices of teachers and their supporters will condemn the flawed formulas, along with heavy-handed tactics, profitable privatization schemes, and cheesy Hollywood anti-teacher porn. Educators whose livelihoods and reputations are being tossed around by pundits and policymakers deserve accurate labels and honest weights and measures; anything less is careless at best and reckless at worst. And until the psychometricians can come up with formulas that accurately reflect the reality of this amazing thing called education, they won’t truly be measuring what they claim to measure, and many of us will insist that they add nothing of value to the conversation.

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