TFT Interviews Dr. Kevin Foster on 2-21-2012

Kevin Michael Foster is an educational anthropologist and a graduate faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin. He holds appointments in African and African Diaspora Studies, Curriculum & Instruction, and Educational Administration.

He currently directs ICUSP (The Institute for Community, University and School Partnerships) and splits his time between campus and the central Texas community.

He is the founder of COBRA (the Community of Brothers in Revolutionary Alliance) and co-founder of VOICES (Verbally Outspoken Individuals Creating Empowered Sistas). These programs serve black, brown and other students in low-income schools and have a near 100% college going rate among members.

Dr. Foster has received numerous awards for his work, but received greatest professional satisfaction from an invitation to serve as an Executive Branch Policy Fellow in Washington DC. He served at the National Science Foundation from 2009-2010 before returning to Austin to be with his family and local community.

Kevin's Twitter: @kevmfos
Kevin's blog: http://fosteringthefuture.blogspot.com

Song Of The Day: Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City (Bob Weir, Heaven Help The Fool)

It was a paradise for lizards when young Brigham saw it first
He said "I've seen some nasty deserts, lord, but this one here's the worst"
Then the lord called down to Brigham, said "I got a great idea --
I want a mighty city and I think I want it here"

Salt Lake City that town of righteousness and fame
Salt Lake City don't sound like much but hell, what's in a name
Nobody ever sings about it But lord I be goin' there just the same
Salt Lake City where it's so easy keepin' straight
Salt Lake City just really makes Des Moines look second-rate
Ain't makin' no big deal about it
But I hear the Mormon girls are really great

Salt Lake City hey dig that Tabernacle choir
Salt Lake City yea they be bound to take you higher
There just ain't no two ways about it
Yes lord, they really light fire

Well, Brigham kicked a prairie dog and muttered in his beard
Said "you've put me through some changes, lord, but this one's really weird
The lord just laughed at Brigham, said "you'd better get to work --
The next time I check in here, I want paradise on earth

Salt Lake City where Brigham made the desert bloom
Salt Lake City put a color TV in every room
And they got them crazy Mormon chicks
Yes I'll be goin' there real soon

Salt Lake City hey feel that magic in the air ...


Wednesday Cartoon Fun: But Seriously Edition


Dump Arne Duncan Petition

Petition Text

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned, a cross section of the nation’s teachers and their supporters, wish to express our extreme displeasure with the policies implemented during your administration by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although many of us campaigned enthusiastically for you in 2008, it is unlikely that you will receive continued support unless the following three dimensions of your administration’s education initiatives are changed:
  1. The exclusion of teachers from policy discussions in the US Department of Education and from Education Summits called under your leadership.
  2. The use of rhetoric which blames failing schools on “bad teachers” rather than poverty and neighborhood distress.
  3. The use of federal funds to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores in the evaluation of teachers and as the basis for closing low performing schools.
Because of these policies, teachers throughout the nation have become discouraged and demoralized, undermining your own stated goals of improving teacher quality, upgrading the nation’s educational performance, and encouraging creative pedagogy rather than “teaching to the test.”

We therefore submit the following measures to put your administration’s education policy back on the right track and to bring teachers in as full partners in this effort:
  1. The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.
  2. The incorporation of parents, teachers, and school administrators in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.
  3. An immediate end to the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores as a basis for evaluating teachers, preferring charter schools to existing public schools, and requiring closure of low performing schools.
  4. Create a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of America’s schools.
We believe such policies will create an outpouring of good will on the part of teachers, parents and students which will promote creative teaching and educational innovation, leading to far greater improvements in the nation’s schools than policies which encourage a proliferation of student testing could ever hope to do.


The Undersigned
Sign here.


You Burn Me Out

Education 2011: A case study in seniority—and burn-out

Graduating from Buffalo State College in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in math, Sara has a burning desire to teach. She’s grateful to land a position fresh out of college, even in a troubled high school at low starting pay. It’s been four years since the task report A Nation at Risk sounded the rallying call for change, and Sara is ready for the challenge. Unmarried, childless, and full of youthful vigor, she devotes lots of extra time to her job, even as she pursues her master’s degree during the evenings. Students identify with Sara, who is young and cute, and Principal Bell makes sure the new teacher isn’t assigned many “problem” kids. He urges Sara to take on extra volunteer work: chaperoning dances, serving on committees. For untenured teachers, these are offers you can’t refuse.

In her first year, Sara is introduced to Madeline Hunter’s Instructional Theory into Practice, a highly touted teaching model the ambitious neophyte welcomes. Sara’s eagerness is noted, and the following year, she’s asked to join a massive shared decision-making team developing a district-wide ten-year strategic plan. It takes two arduous years, but the committee is justifiably proud of its work, and mission statements are posted in all schools with great fanfare.

Sara can’t help but notice that many older teachers show little interest in the new initiative, but she’s committed to developing the alternative and authentic assessments called for in the plan. Subsequently the staff is required to create “assessment rubrics,” and they’re introduced to “cooperative learning,” both vital in addressing the upcoming new state assessments. Sara’s head spins sometimes with information overload. Most of her energy is focused on day-to-day survival—preparing lesson plans, covering course material, avoiding politics, completing paperwork, and grading stacks of student papers—but she also works hard at incorporating new educational ideas into her teaching. Her glowing evaluations pave an easy path to tenure.

Sara reads letters to the editor in the local paper attacking teachers for various perceived offences, so she isn’t surprised when parents blame her when their children misbehave. She is surprised, however, when Principal Bell takes an impartial position in such matters, labeling the behavior “personality conflicts” between teacher and student. Eight years into teaching, the strategic plan and the related initiatives Sara worked so hard on are now gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. Despite everyone’s efforts, student achievement has not improved. Sara joins the new school-based management team—part of Albany’s Compact for Learning—though the open joke among the staff is that shared decision-making is when the principal makes decisions and shares them with the team.

A new superintendent arrives, bringing with him a revolutionary new reform movement—Mastery Learning—as the district prepares for the new learning standards from Albany that will replace the performance indicators Sara and others agonizingly developed two summers earlier. It’s becoming harder for Sara to process all the new reform movements, all of which—multiple intelligences, learning styles, critical thinking—are heralded as critical advancements. Outcomes-based education (renamed “standards-based education” after Rush Limbaugh attacks the word “outcomes”) is the widely adopted response to the new Educate America Act (Goals 2000). Superintendent Tucker announces that the district requires a mission statement, and Sara wonders aloud what happened to the one her committee wrote years ago. “It’s in a drawer with Madeline Hunter,” another teacher quips sardonically. Principal Bell leaves for greener pastures. Sara begins Lamaze classes.

Principal Power announces her plan to make hers a Quality School. “William Glasser is revolutionizing education,” she says. When Power asks for volunteers to lead the Total Quality Education program, Sara is quiet. She wants to spend more time with her own children, attend their school’s open house, help with their homework. She invested so much time and energy already on programs that were later discarded. The high school is lambasted in Business First’s annual school ranking, further demoralizing Sara who has tried everything to improve student achievement without success. “Data” is the new buzzword and Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works is a data-driven program. Sara gets another workbook. This time she waits until she’s instructed to read it.

A seasoned teacher now, Sara gets many of the school’s “problem” kids. No longer the perky young teacher students once identified with, Sara cracks down on the growing discipline problems, and students resent it. After one particularly difficult class she tearfully turns to the principal for help, but is rebuked for not having control of her class. Her test scores drop. Her marriage unravels.

Now the district has a major new program. The ASSETS Project identifies forty developmental characteristics students need for success. According to student surveys, the ones they most severely lack revolve around home life. But with the introduction of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, school accountability is the new catchphrase. When Principal Power assigns Sara additional duties in blatant violation of the collective bargaining contract, she files a grievance. Administration isn’t happy.

Asked to peer-coach younger teachers, the newly single mother feels renewed optimism. This latest educational trend is the closest she will ever come to advancement. Sara commits, but the program is never properly funded and gradually dies. Assistant Superintendent Moody however, has a new program—Essential Elements of Learning—which will revolutionize education. Teachers learn to identify the essential element of a lesson and put it into a concept map. Education expert Max Thompson arrives in a concerted push to introduce his Learning Focused Schools program district-wide. A new lesson plan format with the catchy title, Understanding by Design, is adopted. All these initiatives gradually fade away.

The following year teachers are required to “map” curriculums, a long process with no apparent functional use. Teaching for Understanding and Cross Curriculum Literacy are two trendy new programs promoting the latest hot topic. Everyone reads Active Literacy before author Heidi Hayes Jacobs arrives amidst great fanfare to promote her comprehensive program, which administrators cherry-pick, then forget. By 2008 the latest buzz-phrase is Professional Learning Communities. The high school adopts this concept at considerable cost and strife. Three years later Principal Power moves on, and PLCs fizzle. With each new initiative Sara’s enthusiasm diminishes. She has twenty-two years of books, binders, and workshop folders stacked in a file drawer, representing hundreds of hours of abandoned work. Sara digs through the strata like a scientist noting geologic eras. She ponders the energy spent on each new program, technological advance, and philosophical shift, and decides the only way she’ll make it to retirement is to stop caring so much. President Obama introduces the Race to the Top Fund, and by 2010 New York has successfully secured its slice of the cash cow. Common Core Standards are developed in 2011, and a system is put into place to rate teachers based on student test scores.


In 2013 the anti-union movement hits NY State and teacher unions lose the right to collectively bargain. With the help of key Assembly members, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo push through legislation they had endorsed for years eliminating the time-honored practice of laying-off teachers by seniority—“last hired, first fired.” A new math teacher is hired at Sara’s school. Being young and unattached, Bob impresses the new principal, who sees to it that he is not assigned the “problem” kids. Sara remains a competent and dedicated teacher, but the fire is out. She is asked to mentor Bob, but feels no motivation to train the competition. Bob can’t help but notice that Sara shows little interest in the newest reform initiatives. In 2014 a math position is cut due to budget constraints. At half the pay, Bob is clearly the better choice. Sara is laid off, and at age fifty, with a son in college, she joins the unemployed.

Artist, educator, and writer Bruce Adams is Spree’s art critic. He taught in a public high school for thirty years.

Obama & Duncan Think Teachers Are Just Too Stupid

When the "Best and the Brightest" Don't Have the Answers- President Obama's Approach to School Reform

“The Best And the Brightest”- President Obama’s Approach to School Reform

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced modifications to the No Child Left Behind program on Thursday at the White House., Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo
When Barack Obama ascended to the Presidency, he was fired up with a desire to improve America’s schools, which he felt were falling behind those of other advanced countries. He decided to bring “the best minds in the country” in to help them with this task- CEO’s of successful businesses, heads of major foundations, young executives from management consulting firms- to figure out a strategy to transform America’s schools, especially those in low performing districts. He promised them full support of his Administration when they finally came up with effective strategies including the use of federal funding to persuade, and if necessary, compel local districts to implement them.

Notably missing in this brain trust were representatives of America’s teachers and school administrators, but their absence was not accidental. Because the President and his chief education adviser, Arne Duncan, believed that a key problem in America’s schools was the low quality of the people working in them, they felt no need to include principals and teachers in the Administrations education planning, especially since those plans involved putting pressure on them to perform and then removing those who couldn’t meet the new standards.

From a management standpoint the reforms developed, which including promoting competition, universalizing teacher evaluation based on student test scores, introducing merit pay, made perfect sense. However, since none of the people developing the reforms had spent much time in a classroom, or were willing to spend a significant part of their lives performing the jobs they were reshaping, they had little idea what their reforms meant “on the ground,” and even less evidence that, when implemented, they would be effective.

Now three years later, after all of these new policies have been put into effect, from New York to Chicago, to Philadelphia to Buffalo, there is no evidence than America’s schools are performing better than when the President entered office, or that the test score gap between wealthy and poor districts is being reduced. But evidence and experience doesn’t seem to matter when you bring “the best minds in the country” together to develop a strategy. Come on, how can Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and the Ivy League gurus from Teach for America be wrong, and graduates of state teachers colleges and teacher education programs be right?

But reality has a way of intruding even on “the best and the brightest” when the fundamental assumptions that guide policy are wrong. This happened during the Vietnam War, when an indigenous nationalist revolution was treated as an arm of a global Communist conspiracy, and it is happening now when school failures due to poverty and inequality are being blamed on incompetent teachers and administrators.

So as in Vietnam, we will invest hundreds of billions, maybe trillions of dollars in a cause, which, at the end of the day, will turn into a Fool’s Errand, undermining the careers and demeaning the efforts of the nation’s teachers, dividing communities against themselves, while fattening the pockets of consulting form, test companies and on line learning firms.

And ten years down the road, when all the damage is done, policy makers will wake up and call America’s teachers back in to ask “What do you think we should do?” And they will say that teaching has to be a life time calling, and that when dealing with children, there are no miracles- opening minds, and changing lives, requires hard work, persistence, imagination, and a love for the young people you are working with. And those are tasks that cannot be performed by computers or “managed” by people who have never worked with children themselves.

Mark Naison
February 12, 1012


“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible. As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.”

Carl Jung
I felt this way as a kid, and often still feel this way.

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