April 15, 2014

Teachers: A Call to Battle for Reluctant Warriors

We just wanted to teach.

When I was drawn to teach in Oakland, I saw a chance to give students the chance to do hands-on experiments, to answer their own questions, and explore the natural world. On field trips to the tide pools I found out some had never even been to the Pacific Ocean, an hour’s drive from their homes.  I did not enter teaching to prepare students for tests. I wanted my students to think and reason for themselves.

We teach the children of the middle class, the wealthy and the poor. We teach the damaged and disabled, the whole and the gifted. We teach the immigrants and the dispossessed natives, the transients and even the incarcerated.

In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students.  The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

Read more: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/04/teachers_a_call_to_battle_for_.html

April 12, 2014

Teaching the History of Quebec to English-speaking Children: A Teacher’s Journey

The following article was written by Perspectives II High School teacher John Commins following his participation in the Comité Elargi (2003-2007) that was responsible for vetting the most recent changes to Quebec’s History curriculum.

Pour lire la version originale écrite en français, cliquez ici.

First thanks for this opportunity and the thematic of the ENJEUX. My assumption is that the vast majority of you who will read this article are members of the French origin majority community, so I will be writing to you. I will try to describe what its like to teach history to English speaking kids in Quebec specifically and broadly what it is like being an English speaker who enjoys teaching Quebec history. Be aware that this work is my own; it comes from my personal journey and perspective. Keep reading and I guarantee this article will have a happy ending.

First lets talk about language, yes we have to this is Quebec! In Quebec I am referred to as an Anglophone. I hope that I am among the last generation that will be referred to as Anglophone. When English speakers are together they rarely if ever identify themselves as Anglophone, it is usually when the interlocutory is part of the French origin majority community that that designation is made. It is more striking amongst allophones, “ I am a what….. an allophone?”

diversityWhen identity is searched for amongst English speakers it’s usually ethnic. Irish, Greek, Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, sometimes Montrealer, Quebecer or Canadian and very rarely….English. This is the nature of the English speaking community in 2012. The English speaking community of Montreal is as diverse as any in urban Canada. When I am at my school the staffroom is comprised of teachers of Greek, Italian, German, Eastern European, Sri Lankan and Irish backgrounds, except for our Principal, Jacques Monfette, he is from Shawinigan and is French origin.

The turn to linguistic designations to describe what I would argue are concerns that are ethnic in nature, provides us with non-racial language that is becoming less and less productive. Lets be honest using linguistic terms to discuss ethnicity has become a way to avoid talking about ethnicity, and specifically the French origin community’s ethnic insecurities. After all at the end of the day I am also a francophone, and proud of it. I am also hoping the children of Law 101, after completing twelve years of scholarity in French would be considered francophone, if not what do these linguistic designations mean, do they only change with assimilation? If that is the case why won’t people say it?

When the PQ was elected in 1976, it was a necessary electro-shock for the English speaking community, including my 15-year-old self. It was a rupture with the past that would require English speakers to start recognizing that not speaking French was not only counter productive, but bordering on insulting. To be a full partner in the Quebec state, speaking French was now key, to be a full citizen of the Quebec state speaking French was necessary. The idea of what language you spoke at home was not, that’s been a more recent and troubling change amongst a small fringe in the nationalist community. Along with the new reference to Quebec’s “ historic” English speaking community, which is obviously an attempt to marginalize the English speaking community. With 94% of Quebecers now able to speak French, French is our common language.

There is an English speaking community in Quebec it has existed here for 250 years, it is a community that will continue to exist, a community tied to institutions like Concordia, and to neighborhoods like N.D.G.. It has always has been a community in transition and I believe a community that can make a positive contribution to this state, culturally, socially, politically, especially our kids. Now who am I? Continue reading

April 9, 2014

Why Are Teachers and Students Opting Out of Standardized Testing?

by Michelle Chen | Published April 7, 2014 by The Nation

After years of drilling, assessing and scoring youth to exhaustion, more than 25,000 kids in New York have defied the educational establishment in a test of wills. The “opt out” movement has exploded in schools across the state and other regions of the country, as students, parents and teachers resist the standardized testing regime that has fueled a free-market assault on public education.

Some New York teachers have placed themselves at the vanguard of test resisters, alongside student and parent activists, and are now using their professional leverage to deepen the battle lines in the ideological conflict over education reform.

The rebellion stirring in city classrooms was presented recently to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in an open letter from a group of “Teachers of Conscience” at the Earth School, an elementary school in Manhattan. Accompanied by a philosophical position paper detailing principles of a progressive education, the teachers declared their opposition to English language exams for third-to-eight graders:

We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

And there’s something to hate for everyone in these standardized tests. Students become miserable and bored with constant test-prep; parents and caregivers grow frustrated with curricula that seem to be failing their children (inspiring them to organize likeminded families to facilitate their children’s test resistance); and teachers have raged against the imposition of formulaic, stress-inducing reading and math drills on their classes. The latest batch of English tests left educators and students feeling “outraged,” “defeated” and “devalued,” according to reviews on an online teacher forum. (At several schools, including the Earth School, the majority of students refused the exams.)

Read more: http://www.thenation.com/blog/179214/teachers-and-students-opt-out-defy-testing-machine#

April 3, 2014

PQ pushes history rewrite

By CATHERINE SOLYOM | Published April 2, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette

Excerpt:

Education Minister Marie Malavoy, who had famously remarked that the 2006 history course “drowned (or evaded) the whole issue of sovereignty,” tried to put anxieties to rest.

“Anglophones can’t be excluded, they are part of the national narrative,” said Malavoy, who is not running for re-election. “It’s an inclusive approach.”

Not everyone is convinced. Robert Green, who teaches history at Westmount High, welcomed some aspects of the

Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette

Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette

new course, particularly the return to the chronological approach to the two-year course, divided at the 1840 mark (the creation of one Canada). The “dysfunctional” thematic approach in Grade 10 – which included discussion of three kinds of liberalism – was despised by teachers and students alike, he said.

But the new course will probably exacerbate the biases already found in the curriculum, Green said. For example, the role of the Irish during the Patriotes rebellion in 1837 is hardly mentioned, and discussion of the Second World War centres on how francophones didn’t want to participate. There’s almost nothing on the Holocaust.

Then there’s the depiction of First Nations, during the Oka crisis, for example, with no mention of how both federal and provincial governments negotiated in bad faith with the Mohawks, or of the racist riots on the LaSalle side of the Mercier Bridge.

“Yes, it’s disturbing, but it needs to be talked about,” Green said.

Read more:http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/pushes+history+rewrite/9688918/story.html

April 2, 2014

A Response to Gilles Duceppe

Since the group of teachers and students from Westmount High released our video “A Lesson in Values for Madame Marois” the response has been overwhelming. In the first 72 hours the video was posted it was viewed nearly 27,000 times. The teachers involved and Westmount’s principal have been flooded with messages from former Westmount students saying how proud the video made them to be graduates of Westmount High.

westmount-high-video-against-secular-charter-of-valuesPerhaps most satisfying was seeing how the release of this video put the Parti Quebecois into damage control mode. Many of the newscasts on the video featured a very uncomfortable looking Pauline Marois having to state that her Party was not against cultural diversity, religious freedom or freedom of expression. How she squares this with Bill 60 which clearly infringes on these fundamental freedoms is beyond me, but I was glad she had to answer this question nonetheless.

The other element of the PQ’s damage control strategy has been to have Gilles Duceppe write two columns (here and here) in the Peladeau-owned Journal de Montreal questioning the professional integrity of the teachers involved in this video and suggesting that it was inappropriate for Westmount High to take a political position on this issue.

Apparently Mr Duceppe had not watched the video to the end where it clearly states that this video was not produced by Westmount High but by a group of concerned teachers and students from Westmount High.

Nor did Mr Duceppe bother to investigate how the students in the video came to be involved. Had he done so, he would have learned that this was not an activity done in class, but something done outside of class time with a group of students participating voluntarily with the explicit written consent of their parents.

But more importantly, I find it very interesting that in neither of his two columns on the matter does Mr Duceppe address the substance of the video’s message. I would like to know exactly which political statement Mr Duceppe feels was inappropriate for students in the video to read. Was it students reading a direct quote from the Quebec Charter of Rights & Freedoms? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on Human Rights? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child? Continue reading

March 26, 2014

‘A Lesson in Values for Madame Marois’: The Video and the Press Coverage

The video:

The Press Coverage:

Global  – Westmount High tries to teach Marois a lesson in values

CTV – Westmount High’s anti-Charter lesson

The Montreal Gazette – Student video takes aim at charter of values

CBC – Westmount High produces video against charter of ‘values’

CBC Daybreak – Westmount High students offer Marois a lesson in values

CJAD – Westmount High make video to teach Marois lessons

MTL Blog – Montreal Women & Minorities Finally Speak Out Against Pauline Marois

Yahoo Quebec – Des élèves donnent une petite leçon sur les droits et libertés à Pauline Marois

Gilles Duceppe’s response in the Journal de Montreal – Une école doit-elle faire de la politique?

Gilles Duceppe’s second response in the Journal de Montreal – Déformer la réalité

My response to Gilles Duceppe

 

March 17, 2014

The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools

By Bill Bigelow | Published March 16, 2014 by Zinn Education Project

To support the famine relief effort, British tax policy required landlords to pay the local taxes of their poorest tenant farmers, leading many landlords to forcibly evict struggling farmers and destroy their cottages in order to save money. From Hunger on Trial Teaching Activity.

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Yet there is no shortage of material that can bring these dramatic events to life in the classroom. In my own high school social studies classes, I begin with Sinead O’Connor’s haunting rendition of “Skibbereen,” which includes the verse:

… Oh it’s well I do remember, that bleak
December day,
The landlord and the sheriff came, to drive
Us all away
They set my roof on fire, with their cursed
English spleen
And that’s another reason why I left old
Skibbereen.

By contrast, Holt McDougal’s U.S. history textbook The Americans, devotes a flat two sentences to “The Great Potato Famine.” Prentice Hall’s America: Pathways to the Present fails to offer a single quote from the time. The text calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake. And in an awful single paragraph, Houghton Mifflin’s The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People blames the “ravages of famine” simply on “a blight,” and the only contemporaneous quote comes, inappropriately, from a landlord, who describes the surviving tenants as “famished and ghastly skeletons.” Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.

Read more: http://zinnedproject.org/2012/03/the-real-irish-american-story-not-taught-in-schools/

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March 16, 2014

Alfie Kohn at Regina Teachers Convention 2014

Alfie Kohn speaks about the many dangers of data-driven education reform focused on standardized test results at the 2014 Regina Teachers Convention.

March 15, 2014

B.C. teachers’ math lesson: workers + labour rights = stability

By H.G. Watson | Published March 14, 2014 by Rabble.ca

Excerpt:

Unions have been fighting PR wars against governments for most of their existence. But in 2014, after years of people getting used to austerity measures in the name of stability, unions constantly bare the brunt of blame for any work disruption they take as part of trying to negotiate a collective agreement.

But when provincial and federal legislators are hacking away at democratic rights or threatening extended contracts with no ability to arbitrate, what choice is left for labour unions?

BCTF certainly see this as not just a labour issue, but a democratic issue. “The [B.C.] government believe that they can just violate constitution of the country,” said Iker. “And I think the public expects government to uphold the law not break the law.”

The irony, of course, is that if governments did actually come to the table in good faith and did what they were supposed to do, we would avoid uncertainty. Collective bargaining, as demonstrated in many instances over the years, does work if both sides can come to the table ready to talk.

Read more: http://rabble.ca/news/2014/03/bc-teachers-math-lesson-workers-labour-rights-stability

March 13, 2014

Understanding the Propaganda Campaign Against Public Education

By Diane Ravitch | Published Mar 11 by the Huffington Post

A few years ago, when I was blogging at Education Week with Deborah Meier, a reader introduced the term FUD. I had never heard of it. It is a marketing technique used in business and politics to harm your competition. The term and its history can be found on Wikipedia. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The reader said that those who were trying to create a market-based system to replace public education were using FUD to undermine public confidence in public education. They were selling the false narrative that our public schools are obsolete and failing.

This insight inspired me to write Reign of Error to show that the “reform” narrative is a fraud. Test scores on NAEP are at their highest point in history for white students, black students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. Graduation rates are the highest in history for these groups. The dropout rate is at an historic low point.

Why the FUD campaign against one of our nation’s most treasured democratic institutions? It helps the competition. It makes people so desperate that they will seek out unproven alternatives. It makes the public gullible when they hear phony claims about miracle schools, where everyone graduates and everyone gets high test scores, and everyone goes to a four-year college. No such school exists. The “miracle school” usually has a high suspension rate, a high expulsion rate, a high attrition rate, and such schools usually do not replace the kids they somehow got rid of. Some “miracle schools” have never graduated anyone because they have only elementary schools, but that doesn’t stop the claims and boasting.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/public-education_b_4941678.html

March 5, 2014

Problem? Ask a CEO (That’s Chief Expert Officer to You, Buddy!)

By Erika Shaker | Published March 3 by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Parents, take note! Your search for clarity in the education debates is finally over.  The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) commissioned a report a few weeks ago that set out a fairly bleak picture of general dissatisfaction with public schools and then concluded with a series of recommendations about how to “fix” the problem.

You know, by measuring teacher quality through student outcomes, in addition to having students and other “impartial” parties judge a teacher’s performance through more frequent (possibly surprise) evaluations…and then assigning bonuses to those educators deemed worthy. Because: incentives!

Not the “finally! Enough resources for field trips and extracurricular activities” kind of incentives—I’m talking cold, hard cash, people. After all, what teacher won’t be incentivized to find an hour or two out of their day in which to be extra fabulous—in addition to coaching, tutoring kids after class, and scrounging for change to buy lunch or find bus fare for another student—if it means a little sumpin’-sumpin’ on their paycheque?

Don’t get me wrong. Asking CEOs how to improve pedagogy and student engagement makes total sense. I mean, just look at the stellar, kid-and-community-friendly corporate track record: their commitment to health promotion (evidenced by a range of fluorescent-coloured, high quality after-school snacks); their recognition of the dangers of socioeconomic inequality (surely we’re only moments away from having workers and community members help set CEO bonuses and stock options in the interests of, you know, fairness); their demonstrated transparency, public accountability and adherence to public safety regulations (in rail transport, for example); their clear commitment to gender pay equality and a deliberate and systematic rejection of the “Old Boys’ Club” stereotype; their ongoing desire to give back to the community in tax rates that are indicative of the degree to which they too benefit from and are responsible for public infrastructure.

Read more: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2014/03/03/problem-ask-a-ceo-thats-chief-expert-officer-to-you-buddy/

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February 26, 2014

Stalled negotiations driving teacher strike vote in BC

By Katie Hyslop | Published February 25, 2014 by The Hook

The province’s 40,000 plus public teachers will take a strike vote on March 4 to 6 after over a year of negotiations with government that have gone nowhere.

In a press conference held at the BC Teachers’ Federation Vancouver headquarters this morning, President Jim Iker said negotiations with the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) went downhill last summer when government removed BCPSEA’s board and replaced it with Peter Cameron as director and negotiator.

“Up until this point, the 10-year deal was only a media sound bite,” Iker said, recalling Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender’s vocal support for a 10-year negotiated contract with teachers.

That summer the union held a membership vote on the prospect of a 10-year deal, and 96 per cent of teachers voted against it. But that fall the government tabled a 10-year deal anyway.

“Since the fall, Christy Clark’s government, through their appointed leaders at BCPSEA, is again trying to strip teachers working conditions and freeze wages,” said Iker.

“They propose nothing that teachers can agree to: not a single incentive for any deal, never mind a longer term deal. Every meeting we’ve had since December has seen the parties drive further and further apart as the government goes after unreasonable concessions.”

Read more: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2014/02/25/Stalled-negotiations-driving-teacher-strike-vote-union/#sthash.qxsELaOV.dpuf

February 25, 2014

The Myth Behind Public School Failure

by Dean Paton | Published February 21, 2014 by Yes! Magazine

Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally respected because they helped most kids learn to read, write and successfully join society. Such teachers made possible at least the idea of a vibrant democracy.

Since then, what a turnaround: We’re now told, relentlessly, that bad-apple schoolteachers have wrecked K-12 education; that their unions keep legions of incompetent educators in classrooms; that part of the solution is more private charter schools; and that teachers as well as entire schools lack accountability, which can best be remedied by more and more standardized “bubble” tests.

What led to such an ignoble fall for teachers and schools? Did public education really become so irreversibly terrible in three decades? Is there so little that’s redeemable in today’s schoolhouses?

Read more: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/education-uprising/the-myth-behind-public-school-failure

February 23, 2014

Citizen activism is the best way to defeat Bill 60

By Robert Green | Published Saturday Feb 22, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette

There is a conversation about the Parti Québécois government’s proposed charter of Quebec values that I keep having. I’ve had this conversation with both anglophones and francophones, sovereignists and federalists, and politicos and people who hardly follow politics at all.

The conversation is about how this is a political issue unlike any other in recent memory.

People are deeply disturbed by Bill 60.

There is something particularly vile about a government that would so forcefully act to further exclude and alienate groups that are already marginalized in Quebec society. The English Montreal School Board’s parliamentary brief that describes Bill 60 as giving “a government endorsement to bullying” captures well the sentiments of many who oppose the charter.

1381478_605737996132239_2074558526_nWhile most opponents of the charter are extremely clear about the various reasons why they oppose this legislation, they are far less so about how we as citizens should react. There are a range of reactions being proposed, some of which do not seem to me to be very well thought out.

At the extreme end is the threat to leave Quebec.

I can certainly understand why someone might have this impulse. Rejecting things we don’t agree with is a natural instinct. But the reality is that the more opponents of xenophobic politics leave Quebec, the easier it will be for xenophobes to have their way; marginalized groups will become even more vulnerable.

Another common reaction is to trust that the charter will be defeated through the courts.

While it does seem that the vast majority of constitutional experts believe the charter will not withstand a court challenge, nothing is ever sure. We also have to acknowledge that the legal route presents certain risks. If the charter is not struck down in its entirety, such a ruling could provide it another level of political legitimacy. The spectre of a confrontation with the federal Supreme Court, with all of the political implications that entails, also looms. There is therefore a real possibility that even if the PQ loses in the courts it will gain politically, thus entrenching its turn toward the politics of xenophobia.

The option which is not being discussed enough is the citizens of Quebec themselves taking action. Continue reading

February 20, 2014

First Nations group taking Tories’ aboriginal education plan to court

Published  Feb. 19 2014 by The Canadian Press

The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador is requesting a judicial review of the Conservative government’s reworked plan for aboriginal education.

The group is asking the Federal Court to prevent the legislation from going ahead without its endorsement.

The assembly’s chief, Ghislain Picard, and Kitigan Zibi Chief Gilbert Whiteduck are scheduled to hold a news conference tomorrow in Montreal.

Read more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/first-nations-group-taking-tories-aboriginal-education-plan-to-court/article16975930/