Archive for January, 2013

January 31, 2013

A lesson in fighting back

By Janet Bagnall | Published January 30, 2013 by the Montreal Gazette

In Quebec, three teachers have headed to court in the past few years to clear their names. All have won. One case is under appeal.

In 2007, Ariane Gagnon, a grade-school teacher in Shawinigan, launched a defamation suit against the parents of one of her pupils, a 9-year-old boy whose behaviour was described as “unruly” and whom teachers from kindergarten on had suggested to his mother was in need of specialized instruction. The boy’s mother, Louise Sinotte, and stepfather, Jacques Turenne, had given interviews to television, radio and print media denouncing Gagnon’s use of a “timeout space” for their son, accusing her of keeping the boy in a “cage” for 35 hours a week. The school was inundated with critical phone messages and emails, some threatening.

According to court testimony, the space was created with a trellis, with the goal of helping the boy concentrate on his individual work away from the distraction of other children for a maximum of 60 non-continuous minutes a day; the boy was free to leave the space to ask his teacher questions. This strategy, described as a “last resort,” was suggested by the school’s special-education teacher. In 2012, Superior Court Judge Pierre Ouellet ordered the parents to pay Gagnon $35,000 and an additional $35,000 to her lawyers. The judgment is currently under appeal by the parents.

In 2008, Mary Kanavaros, a Montreal elementary-school teacher, sued Kathryn Rosenstein and Hagop Artinian, the parents of one of her pupils, for defamation after they walked straight out of a courtroom where they had agreed to a confidential settlement, with no admission of fault, to where a group of reporters had gathered, and made comments that suggested they had won their case against Kanavaros. The dispute dated back to 2004, over the question of whether Kanavaros embarrassed the pupil by telling him that he, rather than his mother, should do his homework.

Superior Court Judge Danielle Richer described the parents’ post-settlement action, when they spoke to reporters, as “intentional, malicious and in bad faith.” She accused the parents of taking the law into their own hands, further stating that this behaviour was of a piece with the father’s history of defying court rulings, citing his refusal to pay court-ordered child support to his children from an earlier relationship. She also criticized the parents over their “disproportionate” reaction to the homework incident, suggesting they may have failed in their parental duty to inculcate a sense of responsibility in their son. In 2010, Richer ordered the parents to pay Kanavaros more than $234,000 in damages plus costs. The parents appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal and after losing there, appealed for leave to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. That appeal was rejected last year. Kanavaros, on sick leave since 2008, told The Gazette at the time, “I’ve waited a long, long time for justice.””
Read the entire article:

For more on the case of Mary Kanavaros, see: Un devoir d’école bâclé tourne au feuilleton judiciaire

January 29, 2013

Quebec Curriculum Reform A ‘Slow Simmering Disaster’

Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green discuss the underfunding of Quebec schools and the problems with Quebec’s curriculum reform with CJAD’s Tommy Shnurmacher:

Click here to listen

January 29, 2013

Teachers’ Charter rights T-shirts deemed too ‘political’ for Prince Rupert classrooms

Superintendent rules fundamental rights enshrined in Charter create improper attire

By Mike Hager | Published January 28, 2013 by The Vancouver Sun

After Yertle the Turtle’s battle cry for equality was infamously deemed too political for the classroom last year, the Prince Rupert school district has now banned several teachers from wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Charter.

Three teachers were told to remove or cover black shirts Monday amid a provincewide “dark day for education” organized by British Columbia’s teachers’ union to mark the 11th anniversary of Bills 27 and 28, which stripped their rights to bargain class size and composition.

“It’s unfair,” said Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union. “They’re stripping teachers from their rights in engaging students — it just seems to be a very top-down directive that doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose.

“There is nothing that kids need to be sheltered from with this shirt.”

Read more:

January 28, 2013

In North Carolina, Nation: School Resegregation by Charter?

by Sue Sturgis | Published January 27, 2013 by Facing South

North Carolina could soon see a dramatic increase in the number of charter schools, with as many as 150 of the public-private hybrids opening across the state next year.

But new research from Duke University suggests the charter school boom will result in greater racial imbalance in the state’s public education system — and that can have negative educational consequences for students.

North Carolina limited the number of charter schools that could operate in the state to 100 until 2011. That’s when the General Assembly — with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and embracing a school-choice agenda — lifted the cap.

Charter schools are K-12 schools that are publicly funded but privately run, are exempt from some regulations that traditional public institutions must follow, and are attended by choice rather than by assignment. Though operated as nonprofits, some are managed by for-profit corporations.

Since North Carolina lifted its cap, applications for new charter schools have soared, with one charter advocate recently telling The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. that the cap removal was “sort of like seeing a dam break.”

Charter school advocates, whose ranks include President Obama as well as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), tout them as bastions of educational innovation and excellence. But research raises questions about those claims.

An authoritative 2009 study by Stanford University researchers found that 37 percent of charter school students showed poorer academic gains than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Only 17 percent of charter school students experienced academic gains that were significantly better than their traditional public school students, while 46 percent showed no difference.

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January 23, 2013

Leading Educators Support Teacher Test Boycott

Published January 21, 2013 by rethinkingschoolsblog

In a public statement released today, more than sixty educators and researchers [UPDATE: now 130+], including some of the most well-respected figures in the field of education, pledged support for the boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test initiated by the teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, calling the action a “blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.” Among the signers of the statement are former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, author Jonathan Kozol and professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige. While the MAP test is used exclusively for rating teachers, “the test’s developers (the Northwest Evaluation Association) have noted the inappropriateness of using tests for such evaluations” the educators wrote.

“We’ve had more than a decade of standardized testing,” Ravitch said, “and now we need to admit that it’s not helping.” She added: “By signing this statement, I hope to amplify the voices of teachers who are saying ‘enough is enough’.”

“On Martin Luther King Day, we celebrate people who are willing to take personal risks to act according to their conscience,” Lewis said. “The teachers at Garfield High School are taking a stand for all of us.”

New York City public school teacher and doctoral student Brian Jones drafted the statement last week and received help with revisions and outreach from University of Washington professor Wayne Au. “I’m overwhelmed by the response to this statement,” Jones said, “I feel like this is the beginning of a real movement to challenge high stakes standardized testing.”

“We contacted leading scholars in the field of education,” Au said, “and nearly every single one said ‘Yes, I’ll sign.’ The emerging consensus among researchers is clear: high stakes standardized tests are highly problematic, to say the least.”

“When I look at this list of names, I see the people whose work helped to make me the teacher I am today,” Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School said. “Their support really means a lot to me, and I know that many teachers at Garfield High School feel the same way.”

The Statement: 

We Support the Teachers of Garfield High School

High-Stakes Standardized Tests are Overused and Overrated

The Use of Standardized Tests is Spreading

To fulfill the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools in all 50 states administer standardized tests to students, often beginning in third grade, in reading and math. Now, in response to the demands of Race to the Top and the trend toward greater “accountability” in education, states are developing even more tests for more subjects. Standardized tests, once used primarily to assess student learning, have now become the main instrument for the high-stakes evaluation of teachers, administrators, and even entire schools and school systems.
January 21, 2013

Video: Brian Jones discusses Real vs. Phony Education Reform

January 20, 2013

Op-ed: Why Garfield teachers boycotted the MAP test

By Jesse Hagopian | Published January 17, 2013 by The Seattle Times

WALKING the same halls once trod by Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Bruce Lee, Brandon Roy and Macklemore makes teaching at Garfield High School exhilarating.

When I look at the students in my history classes, I see young people who may be the next to turn the world inside out. Garfield has a long tradition of cultivating abstract thinking, lyrical innovation, trenchant debate, civic leadership, moral courage and myriad other qualities for which our society is desperate, yet which cannot be measured, or inspired, by bubbling answer choice “E.”

Garfield teachers voted last week, without a single “no” vote, to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test on ethical and professional grounds. Our student government and PTSA both voted to support us.

Why did we take this stand, now, against this test?

I graduated from Garfield in 1997, went to college, did Teach for America in Washington, D.C., came home, got my masters in teaching at the University of Washington and returned to teach in the “Dog House.”

The standardized tests I took as a student at Garfield were moments of great misery, because they made me feel unintelligent. I had talents, but there were no test questions on whether I could play piano, coach my little sister in pitching, or identify a problem in my community that needed action and write a letter to the editor about it.

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January 17, 2013

Pop quiz on standardized testing

By Lisa Guisbond | Published January 16, 2013 by Answer Sheet Blog

If you are surprised at the surge of support for Seattle’s Garfield High teachers’ boycott of district-mandated standardized tests, you probably haven’t been paying enough attention. Perhaps a pop quiz will help. In June, I constructed a pop quiz on our national obsession with testing that proved surprisingly popular. It included questions on subjects such as Florida’s decision to dramatically lower the passing score on its writing exam due to embarrassing scoring glitches, New York’s eighth grade test and its absurdly confusing reading comprehension questions, and who pays for and who profits from our national testing explosion. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with fast-moving developments in the national rebellion against high-stakes testing, so here’s another pop quiz to keep you on track:

1. What reasons did Garfield High School teachers give for boycotting the Measure of Academic Progress tests?

a)      “It is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress.”

b)      “There seems to be little overlap between what teachers are expected to teach (state and district standards) and what is measured on the test.”

c)      The district planned to use the test to evaluate teachers even though the test-maker itself said it is not accurate enough to be used to evaluate individual teachers.

d)     All of the above.

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January 15, 2013

Teacher: Why I won’t give students high-stakes standardized test

by Valerie Strauss | Published January 14, 2013 by The Answer Sheet

I received the following email from a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, where nearly all of the teachers are refusing to give students mandated standardized district tests called the Measures of Academy Progress.

The Garfield teachers say the tests are flawed and don’t evaluate learning. After their boycott was publicized last week, teachers at a second Seattle school, Ballard High, joined in. You can read my post about that here.

One of the reasons that there is growing opposition to high-stakes standardized tests is that increasingly states are requiring districts to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students, an assessment method that experts say is unreliable.

Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, a social studies teacher at Garfield, wrote the following email to me to explain her position about the boycott and standardized testing. Anybody who thinks the teachers did not give this serious thought or are trying to avoid being evaluated should read this.

Hi Ms. Strauss,

I’m a teacher at Garfield, and would like to offer some thoughts on what I think this MAP test refusal should lead to.  First, thank you for your coverage of the announcement the other day.  I’m heartened to see that the media are taking our resolution and our complaint seriously, and to see national media coverage confirms my judgment that this issue matters.

At the press conference, the teachers who spoke were careful to stress that this is about the MAP test’s flaws, and that we teachers are not afraid to be evaluated and not afraid of testing our students.  I’d like to elaborate on that.

Read more:

January 14, 2013

Bad Teacher, starring Chris Spence

By Rick Salutin | Published January 10, 2013 by the Toronto Star

The script at the Toronto school board this week runs like a remake of Bad Teacher, the 2011 film starring Cameron Diaz. Remakes get done quickly today. It stars (now former) board director Chris Spence, caught plagiarizing in several articles here in the Star. It lacks the redemptive elements of the original but retains some of its irony.

I try to see this mainly from the POV of kids in the public system, though others (board of ed trustees, parents, citizens) are welcome to a slice of the pain. But the kids have been through a rough school year, and a rough week. Premier McGuinty refused to take Yes from the teachers unions to a wage freeze and killed their bargaining rights anyway, then quit his post so he couldn’t do anything about the mess he created. Then teachers refused to work on extracurriculars, which is often the redemptive element in school life for students. Now comes Spence, in some ways the unkindest cut, especially for those who identified with him about sports programs, or for minority kids.

This is so especially since Spence put himself as a role model at the centre of his work as an educator. Early in his tenure, he staged a big pep rally at the Air Canada Centre for teachers, filled with inspirational speakers. I asked him afterward if he felt his teachers were depressed or unmotivated. He said, Not at all. Then why three hours of motivational speeches? “Because these are my people,” he said, “and I must lead them.” Though his own models include Martin Luther King, this contained a big dose of the cult of the CEO from the late 20th century, when figures like Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were lionized. It hasn’t been a good week for showy but underachieving CEO types in Toronto.

Read more:–salutin-bad-teacher-starring-chris-spence

January 13, 2013

Lessons in Social Justice Unionism: An Interview with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

By Jody Sokolower | Published in Volume 27 No.2 – Winter 2012-2013 of Rethinking Schools

Four years ago, Karen Lewis was a chemistry teacher, one of eight Chicago teachers who formed the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) to fight school closings (see “A Cauldron of Opposition in Duncan’s Hometown: Rank-and-File Teachers Score Huge Victory”). This September, as president of a transformed, democratic Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), she led the 30,000-member union in a successful strike in the city that has been a launch pad for the neoliberal education strategy. The collective and collaborative nature of the teachers’ union, and the breadth of parental, student, and community support for the strike, make understanding the CTU’s perspective and strategy critical for all of us interested in social justice unionism.

Jody Sokolower for RS: Set the scene for us: What were the issues that led to the Chicago teachers’ strike this fall?

Karen Lewis: The strike was a result of 15 to 25 years of anger about being blamed for conditions that are beyond our control. That’s part of it. The other part was a clear rebuke to the mayor and his friends about the top-down “reform” agenda and how it absolutely does not address the needs in the schools.

As soon as Rahm Emanuel [President Obama’s former chief of staff] came to town to run for mayor, he had as his education advisor the head of a charter school network, Juan Rangel. We knew from the very beginning this was going to be an ugly, bitter fight. Once Emanuel won the primary, before the general election, he was already heavily dabbling in Springfield and insisting that we not have the right to strike. Working hand in hand with Jonah Edelman from what I call “Stand on Children” [Stand for Children], he tried to raise the bar so high that we would have our right to strike theoretically, but wouldn’t have it in reality. They got legislation passed that meant we need 75 percent of our entire membership—not our voting membership—to authorize a strike.

Our membership was incensed; this was a law carved out just for Chicago. My response was: “Brothers and sisters, if we don’t have 75 percent of our members in favor of a strike, we shouldn’t strike. A strike is not something you do lightly.” Then we spent more than a year talking to members about the contract, getting them involved in the contract fight, getting their wishes and desires as part of the proposal that we presented to the board.

Once he was elected, Emanuel was so enamored of a longer school day that last year—in the middle of our contract—he went directly to schools to ask them to take a waiver and do the longer school day with no additional compensation, trying to bribe principals with $150,000 per school and teachers with free iPads. We had to go to the Education Labor Relations Board to enjoin them from doing that. Emanuel got 13 waivers before we clamped that down. That’s what happens when you have people running the school system who come from the business world. They think they can do whatever they want and do not understand how to deal with labor.

While parents liked the longer day, they also thought we should be compensated for it. They didn’t like the idea of forcing people to work longer without being paid for it. Parents are very clear about if you work, you get paid.

And the entire time, we were having conversations with our parents about what would make school better; we always had a different vision of what school should look like. We said, “You have the right to a longer day, but let’s make it a better day, because if you’re only elongating the day we have, everyone’s just going to get tired. There’s no evidence that a longer day in itself is better.” Parents wanted art, music, PE, world languages. They wanted classes that were not just reading and math all day long.

The parents understood that the mayor was bullying us. Parents also understood that we were being blamed and attacked for stuff that had nothing to do with how we managed our schools. They were clear about that. We have overwhelming support from parents whose children actually go to Chicago public schools. Sometimes when they do polls and ask parents, those parents don’t have kids in the schools.

Emanuel also took away the 4 percent raise that was already in our contract. What he really wanted was for us to open up the contract and go on strike last year so he could have imposed the longer school day. But we were adamant: We have a contract, we expect you to follow that contract.

Read more:

January 12, 2013

New Teachers’ Union Movement in the Making

By the editors of Rethinking Schools | Published in Volume 27 No.2 – Winter 2012-2013

The seven-day Chicago teacher strike last September was historic. It showed the importance of teachers using their collective power to demand that all children get the education they deserve. It demonstrated the necessity of an alliance among teachers and parents and community organizations. It exposed the bipartisan corporate “reform” agenda promoted by key sections of the Democratic and Republican parties.

It also signaled that a new teachers’ union movement is in the making.

In short, it was a wake-up call to anyone concerned with the future of public schools. (See our interview with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis)

The Chicago strike was a landmark, but it was not the first sign of a new activism. In the spring of 2011 many leaders and rank-and-file activists from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) traveled north to support the Wisconsin teacher uprising. Following on the inspiring events of Arab Spring, tens of thousands of Wisconsin teachers, public employees, and supporters surprised the nation with weeks of massive protests in the state capital. The chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” ultimately echoed off the capitol building in Madison to the streets of Chicago.

In both struggles, teachers and their allies defended public education. They stood against a pro-corporate, pro-privatization agenda. They stood against the scapegoating of teachers and the vilification of their unions. They stood their ground audaciously, refusing to compromise away their rights or their principles.

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January 11, 2013

Teachers of Garfield High School in Seattle Say No to Standardized Tests!

By Diane Ravitch | Published January 10, 2013  by Diane Ravitch’s blog

By unanimous vote, the entire faculty at Garfield High School in Seattle voted not to administer the MAP test of reading and mathematics.

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the faculty of an entire school refused to give mandated tests.

The action of the Garfield High School faculty could have national ramifications because it shows other teachers that there is strength in unity and that they do not have to endure unethical demands with passivity and resignation.

For their courage, their integrity, and their intelligence, I add the faculty of Garfield High School to the honor roll as champions of public education.

The teachers agreed that the tests are a waste of time and money. Students don’t take them seriously because they don’t count toward their grades. But teachers will be evaluated based on the results of these tests that students don’t take seriously. Even the organization that created the tests say they should not be used for teacher evaluation, but the district requires them anyway.

I hope that the example set by Garfield High School will resonate in school districts across the United States and around the world. High-stakes testing is bad for students, bad for teachers, and bad for education.

Read more:

January 9, 2013

Leading mathematician debunks ‘value-added’

By John Ewing | Published September 5 2011 by The Answer Sheet Blog

Mathematicians occasionally worry about the misuse of their subject. G. H. Hardy famously wrote about mathematics used for war in his autobiography, A Mathematician’s Apology (and solidified his reputation as a foe of applied mathematics in doing so). More recently, groups of mathematicians tried to organize a boycott of the Star Wars [missile defense] project on the grounds that it was an abuse of mathematics. And even more recently some fretted about the role of mathematics in the financial meltdown.

But the most common misuse of mathematics is simpler, more pervasive, and (alas) more insidious: mathematics employed as a rhetorical weapon—an intellectual credential to convince the public that an idea or a process is “objective” and hence better than other competing ideas or processes. This is mathematical intimidation. It is especially persuasive because so many people are awed by mathematics and yet do not understand it—a dangerous combination.

The latest instance of the phenomenon is valued-added modeling (VAM), used to interpret test data. Value-added modeling pops up everywhere today, from newspapers to television to political campaigns. VAM is heavily promoted with unbridled and uncritical enthusiasm by the press, by politicians, and even by (some) educational experts, and it is touted as the modern, “scientific” way to measure educational success in everything from charter schools to individual teachers.

Yet most of those promoting value-added modeling are ill-equipped to judge either its effectiveness or its limitations. Some of those who are equipped make extravagant claims without much detail, reassuring us that someone has checked into our concerns and we shouldn’t worry. Value-added modeling is promoted because it has the right pedigree — because it is based on “sophisticated mathematics.”As a consequence, mathematics that ought to be used to illuminate ends up being used to intimidate. When that happens, mathematicians have a responsibility to speak out.

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January 8, 2013

A tool to rebuild our teachers’ unions

By Brian Chidester | Published January 4th 2013 by

“WHAT IS the alternative to this divisive and failed framework? Clearly, teachers’ unions need to adopt a broader outlook, taking up not simply contract issues, but also questions of racism and poverty. This model is what many activists refer to as “social justice unionism,” and it has gained a growing audience in the past several years. Weiner, however, goes beyond this model, advocating for “social movement unionism” as the alternative that can lead teachers in the struggle.

She explains:

I use the term “social movement” union rather than ‘social justice’ union…because I think “social movement” union addresses the need for unions’ internal transformation, especially the need for union democracy. Social movement unionism gets at the relationship between the union’s organization and its vision of social justice.

Democracy–real democracy from below–is the common thread in “social movement unionism” that ties the union not just to social movements, but to a vision for the transformation of itself, of the public schools and of the entire society.”

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