Paul Karrer: Schools lose with Race to the Top
A letter to my president, the one I voted for.
Your Honorable President Obama:
I mean this with all respect. I'm on my knees here and there's a knife in my back and the prints on it kinda match yours.
You're righting the wrong guys with your Race to the Top program, which provides grant money that "might" go to schools if they comply with unproven, absurd draconian "reforms" such as shuffling teachers around.
You're hitting the good guys with friendly fire.
I teach in a barrio in California. It's a public school. I have 32 kids in my class. I love them to tears. They're fifth-graders. That means they're 10 years old, mostly. Six of them are 11 because they were retained. Five more are in special education and two more should have been.
I stopped using the word parents when I talk with or about my kids because so many of them don't have them.
Amanda's mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother (a thousand blessings on him). Seven kids live with their grandmothers, six with their dads. A few rotate between parents.
Fifty percent of my 10-year-olds have visited relatives in jail or prison.
Do you and Arnie Duncan understand the significance of that? I'm afraid not. It isn't bad teaching that has taken things to the current stage. It's poverty. We don't teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities.
It's called the ZIP code quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high test scores. If they live in a ZIP where the people are poor, guess how they do.
We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven't had an art teacher or music program in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week.
And due to No Child Left Behind, we are punished most brutally. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level? That's like saying you have to get along with 100 percent of your cabinet (and unlike my kids, your cabinet gets to quit).
You lived overseas, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are Third World. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. We were supposed to say it was half full. Too many of my kids don't even have the glass.
And then, of course, there are the gangs. They are eating my kids, their parents and the neighborhood.
One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He'll be 27 next month. I've been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in Level 4 maximum security—he's in chains behind bullet-proof glass—in Salinas Valley State Prison.
Do you get that it's tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren't the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much and now you want to give us merit pay based on how the kids do, no matter their circumstances?
You're making it real hard to vote with enthusiasm.
Can you pull the knife out now? It really hurts.
Paul Karrer, who teaches at Castroville Elementary School, writes about education for this page.
|The range I would like|
A few years later the 4-unit apartment building was sold to a guy who wanted to turn it into condominiums. I couldn't afford to buy, so I went looking for new apartments. But then mom showed up with thousands and thousands of dollars and told me to go buy a house. It was the height of the housing bubble, and I got my condo for twice what it is worth now!
But the condo came with grown-up size appliances! I could do twice as much laundry in one load! Life was a frickin' dream.
About a year later the dryer died. I was told it was in good shape when I bought the condo, but I guess it really wasn't in such good shape. So I had to buy a new dryer. I was able to get a discontinued one with a round, glass door so I can watch the laundry dry like in the laundromat. I think it cost me about $150. It was a great deal.
Then, about two years ago (or about 3 years after the dryer died) I was watching television when I heard a loud BANG in the utility closet where the hot water heater and furnace are located--right in my little living room. I opened the door to find water (cold, thank goodness) spewing from a broken fitting on top of the water heater. It had died. It basically exploded. Do you know how complicated it is to drain, then move a water heater--alone? Being very manly, it was no problem.
A few years back, when I was in the apartment I talked about up there, my landlord, who lived in and owned the building, wanted to replace the water heaters in all four units. I went shopping with her because she asked me to. Back then they cost about $150-200 for a regular 30-gallon water heater.
When mine exploded I figured I would be out about $150. I went to my local Home Depot and saw that they were all like $300-400!! I couldn't figure out why they had nearly doubled. It turns out that there were some new regulations requiring that the pilot light be electronic, and sealed. On the old type of water heater you had to light something on fire and get it up under the heater where the pilot light was. It was usually a bit difficult and dangerous, but it was cheaper.
About a year ago my washing machine started to make a funny noise. Then it died. I was able to get a used one for about $100, and it works great.
I cook many things in my rather large toaster-oven. I can do a meatloaf in it, fer chrissakes!
The other day I wanted to use my grown-up oven...
I have great respect for Mike Rose's opinions on education. He is one of the smartest education bloggers (he's actually a highly respected academic, but he blogs) out there. He studies this stuff, and has for a long time. His opinion matters. Let's hope those who pay the bills (bribes?) listen.
Threats to school reform ... are within school reform
This was written by Mike Rose, who is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and is the author of “Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America" and "Why School?: Reclaiming Education for all of Us.”
By Mike Rose
Here’s an all-too-familiar storyline about reform, from education to agricultural development: The reform has run its course, has not achieved its goals, and the reformers and other analysts speculate in policy briefs or opinion pages about what went wrong. The interesting thing is that the reform’s flaws were usually evident from the beginning.
As someone who has lived through several periods of educational reform and has studied schools and taught for a long time, I see characteristics of the current reform movement, as powerful as it is, that could lead to unintended and undesirable consequences. But when reform is going strong it can become a closed ideological system, deaf to the cautionary tale.
I have six areas of concern:
Tone down the rhetoric
In the manifesto “How to Fix Our Schools” published on October 10 in The Washington Post, New York City’s chancellor, Joel Klein and 14 colleagues wrote: “It’s time for all the adults – superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions, and parents alike – to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children.” The collective “we” is used here, but it’s pretty clear rhetorically that the signatories believe that they are already on the side of the angels. Anyone who is not on board with their reforms is acting out of self interest.
This is not the way to foster the unified effort called for in the sentence. Reformers have been masterful at characterizing anyone who differs from their approach as “traditionalists” who want to maintain the status quo, putting their own retrograde professional interests ahead of the good of children. Teachers unions are the arch-villain in this Manichean tale of good and evil, and schools of education are right behind.
I’m reminded of the toxic rhetoric of patriotism that characterized the 2008 presidential campaign. So, if I may, in the interest of the children, I suggest a less adversarial language. Many of the people on the receiving end of it have spent a lifetime working for the same goals voiced by the reformers, and the reformers need their expertise.
There is another language issue, and that’s the unrelenting characterization of public schools as failures. To be sure, this crisis rhetoric predates the current reformers, going back to the 1983 document “A Nation at Risk.” Since then, the language of crisis and failure has intensified. Crisis talk can give rise to action, but heard consistently enough and long enough, such rhetoric can also lead to despair and paralysis.
There is a crisis in American education, and it involves mostly poor children, and thus it is a moral as well as educational outrage. But it is just not accurate to characterize public education itself as being in a 30-year crisis.
D.C. schools dinner program aims to fight childhood hunger
By Bill Turque
D.C. public schools have started serving an early dinner to an estimated 10,000 students, many of whom are now receiving three meals a day from the system as it expand efforts to curb childhood hunger and poor nutritition.
Free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch long have been staples in most urban school systems. But the District is going a step further in 99 of its 123 schools and reaching nearly a quarter of its total enrollment. Montgomery and Prince George's Country also offer a third meal of the day in some schools but not on the scale undertaken in the city.
The program, which will cost the school system about $5.7 million this year, comes at a time of heightened concern about childhood poverty in the city. Census data show that the poverty rate among African American children is 43 percent, up from 31 percent in 2007 and significantly higher than national rates.