Sunday Cartoon Fun: The Crisis Edition


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)


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.


Friday Cartoon Fun: Political Rainbows Edition


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.

Sarah responded:
That is our answer.
I then responded:
How much did you pay and from what budget line?
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.


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

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.


Zero-Sum Game Theory By (almost) Dr. Stuart Rhoden

Stuart Rhoden (@ChitownStu) wrote the following at his blog:
"I made the argument that the education policy landscape is a game.  I'd also argue that politics as a whole is a game - some would argue, more often than not, a zero-sum game. A zero-sum game is briefly defined as one making gains and the other side making equally similar gains and therefore the total gains are zero.  As a political science major, and policy wonk in both Washington DC and Chicago, I understand the hand to hand combat of politics - for better or worse.  I am also seeped in a deep, philosophical understanding that there are those in education who believe this divisiveness does not exist."
Here is the definition of a zero-sum game:
zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant's gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.
So, to be clear, in order for things to sum to zero, one side must win, the other must lose, not have both sides win as Stu says, because then the sum would surely be more than zero, right?

For instance:

Stu would call the equation below 'zero-sum' according to his definition, even though the sum is positively NOT zero: 
For this equations, a = gains:
(+a) + a = 2a (not zero, so this is non zero-sum)

Below we see a zero sum equation as defined in the actual definition of zero-sum games.

For this equations, a = gains (and clearly -a equals losses):
(+a) + (-a) = 0 (zero sum)

So Stu, explain yourself and your deep understanding of stuff.

Wednesday Bonus Cartoon Fun Bonus: What A Complete Asshole Edition

Wednesday Bonus Cartoon Fun: What A Total Asshole Edition

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: What An Asshole Edition


Saturday Cartoon Fun: These Colors Don't Run Edition

Facebook Is Lettting Some Idiot Steal My Identity

As The Frustrated Teacher I made a Facebook Profile (you can't see it anymore--hence this post).

As The Frustrated Teacher I made some Facebook Pages as well: It's The Poverty Stupid, Miseducation Nation, TFTRadio, and $tudent$Fir$t. I cannot post to them now. Read on.

Miseducation Nation (MN) was created by me way back in 2009 when NBC created Education Nation and then started deleting comments and banning people from their corporate reform Facebook Page. I blogged about it a few times. They sort of fixed it. Good for them, sort of.

Some time last year, I think, Facebook decided Miseducation Nation wasn't a Page, or whatever it was, and disabled it. We were up to nearly 10,000 likes. Once Facebook gave it back, we were at zero again, but well known enough that our purpose --to share the horrors of reform-- was being fulfilled.

As Facebook fucked with everything and everyone by making them re-categorize pages as communities or groups and demanding real names and the rest, my TFT profile came under scrutiny. I had begun TFT anonymously, so attaching my real name to the profile was less than desirable. I finally came out and subsequently added my real name, Richard Sugerman, to the profile as an AKA. Fine. No more trouble.

Things were going great. All of my blog posts were being syndicated via Networked blogs and things were super.

Earlier this year my Miseducation Nation co-admin, Sahila Changebringer, chose to leave due to circumstances that were totally cool. She worked harder than anyone keeping that MN page going and rebuilding it after FB screwed with it. Sahila is a hero, and the page was her doing--I basically gave it to her. But, she had to leave, so I had to take over again. Sahila deserved and got my deepest thanks. She still has it.

Once Sahila left I wanted help so I made a couple people co-admins. Thanks, folks.

A month or so ago some guy named Eric Morgan complained that the Teachers Rock Facebook page was deleting comments and banning people, just like NBC did with its Education Nation FB page. Eric was now a kindred spirit and a warrior for truth, like Sahila and me. I made him an admin of MN.

Eric Morgan was a bad admin. He started fights. He made MN look bad. I got complaints. I took away his admin rights. He didn't like that. He started making stupid comments that were divisive, so I finally banned him. Basically I learned that this idiot was a vindictive jerk.

Then, a few days ago I find another Miseducation Nation page with all my art and the MN name and logo which belong to me. The fucker  Eric Morgan had stolen my shit and was now posing as Miseducation Nation, but with a hyphen: Miseducation-Nation (notice his url -- IndoctrinationNation).

I wrote on his new, stolen page that he had stolen it and to please make the changes necessary to make clear his page in NOT actually Miseducation Nation, and he deleted the comment and banned me.

When I try to log in a day later as TFT, I can't. I am sure he reported me for something and Facebook has chosen to believe him, or Facebook has only bots so no human within Facebook management has any idea what is going on within their platform. Total fucking fail.

I have been searching Facebook for a remedy. I have reported this idiot. I have explained in forms to be submitted the story of his theft and how my TFT profile DOES have my real identity right there for all to see, and that my page and art have been stolen and my account frozen and deemed a Page, not a Profile.

Can't do what Facebook suggests

Once you click 'submit' on one of those FB official complaint forms you get a confirmation that says, "You will receive a reply shortly." Well, nothing has come. I still have no access to my TFT profile. They demand I turn it into a page. I will lose some stuff, but don't know what will be lost. FB says to download a copy of the profile before converting, but I can't because they demand I convert before I can have any access back. Once I convert to a page, the stuff I want to download will be gone. Conundrum.

Facebook and Eric Morgan have effectively silenced The Frustrated Teacher on Facebook. Why? Because Eric stole my shit. No, it's not fair, or right, or good. Fuck them both.

Moral: Get co-admins.


Everything Is So Fucked

Have you ever visited Annotated Rant? It's hilarious. My favorite is Fuck The South.

I saw a similar rant recently and wanted to share it with you. It's from a Millennial (I assume) in response to The Atlantic's recent article on why Millenials aren't buying anything (cuz their cheap). The following rant explains it's not cuz they're cheap:

Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy


Maybe our generation aren’t buying houses and cars because EVERYTHING IS SO FUCKED

You want us to actually talk to bank people and get home loans and auto loans? They are still fucking us! Any time I go into a bank, I feel disgusted. You want me to do MORE business with the who want to charge me 5 dollars for every single swipe of my debit card? Get fucked!

You think I’m gonna buy a car? A car? Where am I gonna get the money for a car and the insurance and the insurance against the insurance company if God forbid they decide to do the same things they did to the poor Fisher family and countless others? And fucking GAS? Are you crazy? The planet is dying, and you want me to buy gas at $FUCK.YOU/gallon?

In the past 5 years since the economy fell apart, we’ve been adapting. We’ve been listening to countless horror stories of those who made the risk. Those who saved and did it right, and still ended up with an inferior product with inferior service that RUINS YOUR LIFE. It’s not like ordering a pizza, and instead of sausage, you get cheese. It’s like ordering a pizza and then your credit is ruined and you are flat broke. The pains of acquisition aren’t worth it if it can all be taken away like a bureaucratic fart in the bathtub. It would be smarter to save our money for tickets to god-damn Mars than to invest in these hideous, broken systems.

We aren’t cheap. We fucking hate doing business with you people.

All these pieces on Millennials are so mired in confusion since we don’t even trust journalists any more. The news, our entire lives, has been scary. Think about being 8 and processing the deaths of abortion doctors or homegrown terrorism. Now try to process the news when every asshole on camera just lies. The news hasn’t had an ounce of truth in it for 10 years. Can you not understand how much we don’t trust anyone who is older than us? How can you trust anybody when the president and vice-president of the United States lied to the Secretary of State so they could START THE WRONG WAR!

Fucking seriously.

Also, that graphic? Is that what you think we all look like? Are you fucking kidding me, Atlantic?

I hope they never find out how to market to us. I hope we splinter so much that companies like Ford will have to make a decent product instead of asking the Vomit Spouts that created Jersey Shore how to create MORE fantasies about how great THINGS will make your life. We don’t attach to things because things break. We saw everything break.

But, that’s just me.
h/t TFTT


Woody Allen On Education

I have been trying to write this for a while, but just didn't know how. Now I do.

I watched a documentary about Woody Allen a couple days ago. I always liked Woody Allen movies. I learned about his work ethic (strong--writes every day and puts out a movie a year, good or bad) and how he is able to get such great performances out of actors.

The thing he does first is cast well. He meets an actor for a minute or 2 (or 10 seconds) and decides if they are right for the part. If they get the job but don't work out, he blames himself for poor casting, fires them and hires someone else. No big deal, not a value judgement. It's not about worth, it's about fit. And he tells his actors the script is just an outline and they can change lines all they want as long as the meaning isn't lost; he's going for realism, and when actors can use their own words, it's just more realistic, ergo better.

Actors rave about Woody's direction -- which is minimal to non-existent, unless an actor asks for more direction. When an actor needs direction, Woody gives only positive comments and tries to make the actor comfortable so the actor can then give the best performance she is capable of. No pressure. Woody has a belief in the actor's ability to act and expects they will. They are professionals. A few Best Actor/Actress nominations and Oscars later, his method appears sound.

Again, actors love being directed by Woody because he believes in them and leaves them alone to do what they do--act.

What does this have to do with education reform? Well, reformers like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and the rest of them seem to operate in the opposite fashion; the anti-Woody.

Reformers have no trust in the actors (teachers). They make us follow a script we cannot alter. They tell us to do certain prescribed things in certain prescribed ways for certain prescribed purposes, none of which help children or allow teachers --gifted or not-- to reach their potential (earn a nomination or get an Oscar). Woody creates conditions where actors not only are responsible for their performance, but are free to do their best; Woody does not know how to get them to give their best. He trusts they will with enough freedom and positive support. The public love his movies and the Academy awards his movies and actors Oscars.

Woody doesn't read reviews and doesn't care for the Oscars. He thinks the awards are arbitrary. I agree.

The point, if you haven't got it sussed yet, is to leave teachers alone. Let them do what they do. Give them the support they need. Then they will be awesome.

(This probably true of every profession)


Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Blood On Their Hands Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Let Me Assure You Edition

If It Were About The Children....

Reforming School Reform 

by Matthew L. Mandel, NBCT

It’s not about the children.

The education reform movement, at least here in Pennsylvania, may be about a lot of things, but it certainly isn’t about our children.

If it were, efforts to bridge the achievement gap and advance opportunities for all children would look a hell of a lot different.

If it were about children, each and every public school would be awash in resources and technology. A licensed school nurse would be in each and every building so that the health and safety of kids were not compromised. All schools would have these necessities, not just “experimental” and privately-managed schools who are flooded these and then labeled a success.

If it were about children, students in the poorest neighborhoods—those most at-risk—would step into vibrant learning environments each morning—schools that met their intellectual, artistic, and athletic needs and inclinations. Schools would not be turned into grim test-prep facilities, with a curriculum narrowed to core, state-tested subjects. Children would be given a reason to be excited about coming to school, aside from making AYP.

It’s not about the children.

If it were about children, we wouldn’t value differentiated instruction, then test children all the same way.

If it were about children, schools would be as safe as the offices of those politicians in Harrisburg who cut funding to public schools, and then hand out EMO contracts to campaign contributors and others once a school has been labeled a “failure.”

If it were about children, those who cut funding for vital family services would realize the inextricable link between childhood poverty and educational outcomes. These same politicians would be as incensed by children in their state having inadequate nourishment, dental, vision, and medical care as they are about whether same-sex partners have a right to be married.

If it were about children, in Philadelphia, a state takeover charged with both improving financial management and educational outcomes would be put to rest as a failed experiment. A district’s management team wouldn’t be able to run a district into insolvency, say they are sorry, and then move on to lucrative consultant positions. Reformists like Michelle Rhee and Arlene Ackerman—who help to cultivate a culture of testing “irregularities”—wouldn’t be allowed to exit with a golden parachute before being held accountable for the results under their leadership.

If it were about children, boisterous, spotlight-seeking politicians who wax poetic about school vouchers as an elixir for what ills public schools would be required to do their own homework and examine research that compellingly indicates that vouchers don’t work. These same politicians would also be too embarrassed to call the fight for vouchers in Pennsylvania “the Civil Rights battle of our generation.” Our nation’s true Civil Rights leaders died trying to create greater opportunities for those without. Proponents of Senate Bill 1 are crusaders for someone’s interests, just not for our children’s.

If it were about children, legislators who stump for vouchers would have to guarantee a source of funding to bridge the gap between the value of the voucher and the cost of tuition at elite public and private schools. They wouldn’t be allowed to get away with deceiving families with the notion of “choice” when such choice belongs solely to the schools, not to the students and their families.

If it were about children, no Federal mandates could exist unless they were adequately funded.

If it were about children, big money philanthropy wouldn’t be the driving force in education reform; it would be research instead . As in the field of Medicine, what works in the field of Education would be replicated in schools and districts throughout the country. Theories and strategies that do not work would be discarded. Academic historians like Diane Ravitch wouldn’t be labeled “traitors” because they no longer support business-model reforms. An intellectual, not a politician, Ravitch lets research and outcomes influence her conclusions. What a novel idea.

If it were about children, teachers would be held in the highest regard. Those politicians who were bullies with a microphone when I debated them at Bright Hope Baptist Church wouldn’t be allowed to posture that they are the ones “fighting for children.” They are not in classrooms, every day—knee to knee, often amid poor conditions and with inadequate resources—advocating for our youngest and most at-risk. 

If it were about children, those who judge me would be able to do my job—today—not just be able to read a book in front of the cameras. My competency and teaching acumen would not be reduced to elements—such as the quality of my bulletin boards or organization of my students’ constructed response folders—that do not adequately convey my skill and my passion.

And if it were about children, teachers would be respected partners in any dialogue on necessary reforms. In what other profession are practitioners in the field given so little respect for their knowledge, insights, and contributions?

And if it were about children, 
teachers would be respected partners 
in any dialogue on necessary reforms.

None of the above is an apology for what improvements are necessary. No self-respecting professional believes he or she can’t do better and that things don’t need to improve. 

But I choose to believe that a state that can build billion-dollar stadiums, raise millions to save works of art from being relocated, and create impenetrable bubbles of security around visiting dignitaries (in a country that can allocate trillions of dollars in resources to fight with such gallantry and precision in foreign lands) can surely have the ability to effect change that works for all children.

Education reform, here and elsewhere, is about a lot of things. It’s about access to billions of public dollars. It’s about politics and kickbacks for friends and donors. It’s about retaliation and retribution. It’s about religion, right-wing values, and anti-unionism. It’s about creating more, but for fewer, and to hell with the rest. It is, in effect, a form of child abuse in a digestible political wrapper.

But it certainly isn’t about children.


Wednesday Cartoon Fun: It's Us. All Of Us Edition

New Paper Exposes Stifling Effects Of Poverty On Young Students

Dr. Stephen Krashen forwarded this paper by Dr. David Berliner (AZ State U) to me last night after our #SOSChat Radio show.

It explains, in excruciating detail, the stifling effects poverty has on young children, and how the money spent on testing could be much better spent ameliorating the effects poverty has on students.

It's an important read, and an exclusive preview of the yet-to-be published paper. Nichols Final 1


Microsoft Sucks Because Of Bill Gates' Love Of 'Stack Ranking'

Gates has been advocating for the adoption of a ranking policy for teachers and schools that has been in use at Microsoft for years. Essentially, it assumes that in any team of ten, there would be two that would get great reviews, seven would get mediocre reviews and one would get a poor/terrible review. Are you sensing the inherent issue with these preconceived rankings? The employees at Microsoft can tell you:
Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
That's right. The very policy being pushed to "fix" education is the exact same one that has damaged Microsoft's ability to innovate and lead.
h/t C&L


Education: The Civil Rights Issue Of....Wait A Minute!

Reformers love to tell us that education is the civil rights issue of our time. But they don't tell you they are scamming the shit out of you. The following is a comment left at Diane's blog that explains how the privatizers are using the civil rights meme to scam us.
The reality is that privatization of inelastic demand services, such as electricity, prisons, and education, will never lead to a decrease in cost or an increase in quality. This is fairly easy to understand for many economists, but I’ll try to break it down here.

In every market, the supply and demand curves respond to the necessity of the service being sold. The necessity of the service determines the demand curves “elasticity.” As a service becomes more necessary, the demand curve is seen to be inflexibly vertical, or “inelastic.” If the customers can decide the quantity of service purchased as the price increases, the demand curve is seen to be increasingly horizontal, or “elastic.”

My examples were electricity, prisons, and education. Electricity is a necessity because we have people in our nation who live in extreme temperatures which requires electricity to make habitable. Prisons are a necessity because certain criminals need to be removed from society. Education is a necessity because it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet on minimum wage (and it is determined by law to be a right in many states).

When the demand curve for a service is inelastic, any change in price yields little or no change in demand. When for-profit companies are allowed to enter these markets, they have no need to keep prices low. The purpose of every for-profit company to maximize revenues while minimizing costs to create the maximum profit for its shareholders. It is the inelasticity of demand that these companies wish to capitalize from. They can charge as much as they want and the demand remains the same. To cut costs, they decrease their salaries expense by hiring less qualified teachers. Online schools increase the number of students per teacher and eliminate any hands-on learning.

The truth of the privatization push that no politician will tell you is that they have conflated competition in an elastic demand market with competition in an inelastic demand market. They have two completely different results, and those who wish to make a fortune off of education are very aware.

Keep up the good work, Mrs. Ravitch.


Loving husband of a 3rd grade teacher


The School On The Hill; Yes, It's Mine

This is scary for me, but here we go:

Some of you may have already figured it out; The School On The Hill is the big project I have been working on.

I have resisted exposing my true identity for years and years. It started because I was writing about the district I had worked in and was worried about getting in trouble for being critical.

Well, I don't work there anymore and haven't for a few years, so who cares?

Anyway, in my travails as a teacher and then edu-blogger and edu-activist I became so frustrated with the state of affairs regarding low SES students that I decided to do something about it.

It started with staff meeting frustration and then on to blogging here. It then moved to Facebook where I put pressure on Students First and Education Nation. I then started the TFT Radio show which still happens fairly regularly. And, of course, I tweet.

I have come to realize that social media can't do it all. Maybe it can't even do much, though I will still try.

But I chose to something more direct, more impactfullish, more meaningful, more important, more satisfying and more real; I chose to open a non-profit preschool. And plant some seeds, literally and figuratively.

I had no idea it would require so much work. First, in order to get 501(c)3 status I had to get a fiscal sponsor. This required sending the prospectus around to a few and seeing if anyone would bite (First I had to write the thing, which is not what I was trained to do.). Well, a couple bit and one chose to sponsor The School On The Hill. Thanks, ISI. The sponsor gets 5% of all donations received. Boo. So I am in the process of incorporating as my own 501(c)3 so ALL the donations can be used by the school, not just 95% of them. This will take a few months.

TSOTH's non-profit status has opened the door to tax-deductible donations, especially from foundations that require they donate to non-profits. The School On The Hill is non-profit, making donations of any size tax-deductible (hint, hint).

Another reason I chose to open the school is because a certain foundation liked the idea and pledged a significant donation if we could get it together, which we did, so the donation is on its way. We need a bit more though.

I have worked with children my entire adult life--I am nearly 50 years old. I have degrees and certifications and all the useless nonsense that comes with decades of successful work in a particular field. None of it means much--the kids are the meaningful part. I care about the kids, not the accolades. Besides, nobody else cares about the accolades either!

The School On The Hill is sort of a dream I have had forever. Running a small school --on my property!-- means I can dedicate all I have to the kids. And that makes me happy and enriches them. Perfect.

Now all I need to make the school run the way I want it to run --as a subsidized school for low SES families-- are more donations; actual cash as well as in-kind.

Please, consider making a tax-deductible donation to this awesome school that will focus on broadening the background knowledge of Richmond's children, preparing them for school and life success by providing an awesome farm-based preschool in the heart of the concrete jungle known as Richmond, California.

The School On The Hill is one great way to help ameliorate the stifling effects poverty has on small children. That is the goal of The School On The Hill; to engage with children and help make connections. To guide them. To teach them. To love them.

It takes a village. I need you, villagers! The kids need you!


Rich Sugerman, aka The Frustrated Teacher, aka TFT, aka Teacher Rich

Mario Nguyen Would Like To "Support The Needs Of Standardized Tests"

I get unsolicited emails pretty frequently. This one takes the cake, though.
Good morning Frustrated Teachers,

My name is Mario Nguyen and I represent Applied Practice, an education company. In a few weeks we will launch our blog, which will cover various topics concerning K-12 academia. Applied Practice is a company, founded by two teachers, whose goal is to support educators in developing curriculum designed to meet the needs of standardized tests.

I noticed that your blog, The Frustrated Teacher, is already very active in this sphere. So, I just wanted to say, “Hello!” and possibly establish a relationship. I appreciate your perspective and the work you’re doing in the education system. We firmly believe that communications channels like yours and ours are the best way to spread new and innovative practices, and we’re committed to helping promote your ideas. I plan to interact with your posts, share them, and follow you on all social media channels. I hope you can do the same for Applied Practice on Facebook and Twitter.

I look forward to hearing from you.


-- Mario Nguyen
How thoughtful of Mario. I responded to his kind offer:

Thanks for your email.

You are the enemy of children and public schools if your goal is to teach people how to "meet the needs of standardized tests." Tests don't have needs; animate things do, like children have needs, and birds have needs, as well a viruses, which have needs. Tests? They don't have needs, nor do paper clips.

I will do all I can to destroy you, legally.

Go away. Shut down. Close up shop.

I am going to publish this email exchange on my blog for all to read.



Sharon Higgins (The Perimeter Primate) Explains Oaktown Poverty -- It's Not Due To Shitty Teachers

One Response to Nextset

Nextset is the screen name of a frequent commenter on the Oakland Tribune’s education blog. You can read his postings after almost any entry at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/. This is a modified version of my response to him on April 8, 2008.

Nextset: I will admit that I agree with a few of the things you have said over time. I am interested in the history of Oakland and its demographic changes and would like to get your perspective on something.

I have learned that a few Blacks (some free, some enslaved) came to the Bay Area for the Gold Rush and in the years that followed. After the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, more Blacks settled in Oakland because it was the terminus for the railroad. A substantial number of Black residents were connected to train work especially via the Pullman Company (the biggest single employer of African Americans in post-Civil War America). This was high status work for African Americans at that time.

In 1940, Oakland’s African American population was 8,462. Things changed during WW II.
Henry J. Kaiser needed laborers for his shipyards so he recruited many of them from Texas,LouisianaOklahoma, and Arkansas. For instance, I have heard that a large number of Black folk in Oakland have family ties to MonroeLouisiana. I have also been told that these laborers were some of the Deep South's poorest sharecroppers. Like most immigrants and migrants, they came to California seeking better opportunities.

By 1950, Oakland’s African American population had soared to 47,562.

When WW II was over, ships were no longer needed so the shipyards began to close down. Like most big American cities, Oakland had other industries for a time, such as food processing and auto manufacturing (we were called the “Detroit of the West”). Most of those blue-collar jobs had evaporated by the early 1960’s. Oakland then ended up as home to thousands of Black folk, with few familial accumulated assets (materially or educationally), who could not find work because there were just not enough jobs available.

From what you have written, your “…parents, grandparents and great grandparents were educators going back into the 19th century.” In fact, your relatives “…were among the 1st black teachers in the East Bay public schools.” You have also said that your parents “…had professional degrees for over 2 generations.” Your family assets also included living in a home in El Cerrito that was “nicer and more expensive” and higher on the hill than those of the blue collar whites living nearby. It also sounds like you have a successful extended family since you have revealed that you have “several relatives working in the banking & medical industries.”

Undoubtedly, those many generational and familial assets contributed to your success. How might that contrast with the experiences of the descendants of African Americans who arrived in the Bay Area later than yours, who were poor and uneducated and had few assets, or none at all? Are you saying that their current predicament is simply because of their low IQ’s?

A 14-year-old boy today may have had intelligent and hard-working great-grandparents (b. circa 1919) who moved to Oakland in 1943 from Louisiana to work in the shipyards. Unfortunately, their son, the boy’s grandfather (b. circa 1944), would have had a much more difficult time finding work upon graduating from high school in 1962. Despite difficulties finding regular, adequate employment, he might have still produced a son (b. circa 1969).

That son would have been 18 years old in 1987 at the height of the Crack Epidemic which lasted from about 1984 to 1990. Having experienced weak mentoring from his father and with few prospects for legitimate employment in sight, we can speculate how that young man may have been tempted to make money, or to feel better for a time. And when he was 25 years old, he may have produced a son of his own – thus the existence of the 14 year old boy of today.

So, by the time the great-grandson of a couple from Louisiana was born in Oakland in 1994, no male in his family had been steadily employed for at least three generations. Because the unemployment has been so widespread for so many years, it’s very likely that few men in his neighborhood have ever held a legitimate job, either.

This situation is why a "street" culture developed and has taken hold. It is also why the Underground Economy, simply an alternative system of producing income, thrives so vigorously in these neighborhoods. Guns are just a tool of the trade for the men who work in this non-mainstream economy.

It took about four decades of societal neglect for life skills that have been traditionally transmitted by fathers to sons — about being a steady mate and a good provider — to float away from these family groups. Those vestiges of a bygone era that were perpetuated for many generations are now nearly absent from the bodies of knowledge held by families today.

As for the traditional family unit, the short term effect of long-term unemployment on a marriage is always intense stress for the family. Eventually, the idea of marriage would be rendered completely irrelevant for a social group experiencing multi-generational unemployment. Isn't this exactly what has happened? 

Despite their dabbling in the Underground Economy, I would also imagine that today's men who have little knowledge about how to go about being productive members of mainstream society may feel a level of despair and lack of purpose that contributes to substance abuse, pathological levels of anger, carelessness about life, etc. These feelings provide nourishment to the “street” culture.
During the ten years of the Great Depression, unemployment climbed from 3.2% at the beginning of 1930 to 24.9% in 1933. It only took four years for our nation to muster the political will to create the Public Works Administration and other programs. What would have happened to mainstream American society if high, widespread unemployment had been sustained for over fifty years?

According to a 2006 New York Times article, “The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.”*

With one subgroup suffering from such high levels of unemployment for decades, and with such incredibly disastrous social consequences affecting us all, why has there been such meager Federal response? And how realistic is it to now expect our public schools to bear the burden of rectifying the effects of such immense damage to this current generation?

*Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn, Erik Eckholm, March 20, 2006,

Wednesday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Too Big To Fail, Too Small To Succeed

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Red Or Blue? Edition: Updated

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