Connecting Jersey Jazzman and Diane Ravitch’s posts today

OK-  I think I misnamed my blog.  Maybe I should have gone with “connecting dots” vs. “seeing shades of gray.”

Earlier today I read an analysis of  a Michelle Rhee speech, found in a tweet from Diane Ravitch.   I was impressed by the analysis, but mostly I was scared by the propaganda Rhee spins.  As stated by Joanna Bujes, “A constant refrain — explicit or implicit — in all of Rhee’s talk of education, turns on the notion that the interests of children and that of adults are diametrically opposed, and that educational policy is needed to reconcile them. According to this view, teachers care about benefits, retirement, and protection against their own incompetence; therefore they do not care about children.”

Bujes continues, stating in one or her five summary points, “The core of [Rhee’s] argument is that the interests of children and teachers (adults) are opposed. Therefore, limiting the pay of most teachers, taking away tenure or collective bargaining rights, or firing teachers when they become too expensive can only benefit children.”

I sat back after reading that post and thought, boy, do we have work to do.  It is imperative we get the public to understand that the interests of children and teachers are not opposed.  In fact, they are largely aligned.

So then, an hour or two later I return to Twitter, this time following a post by Jersey Jazzman, where he dissects an article about Chris Cerf, the acting New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner, and, lo and behold!  The message is exactly the same.   The article shares this quote by Cerf: ” I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey, pure and simple. When there is a conflict between interests, and you would be amazed at how many issues come my way where you actually have to make a call between one interest and the other, I’m with the children. And I make that clear.” (emphasis Jersey Jazzman’s)

Yep.  Same message.

Same dangerous spin.

Same untruth.

So going back to Bujes’ post, I think she is right in her end remarks:

“We cannot help our children unless we ourselves can breathe; but StudentsFirst would have us believe that the more tenuous, the more stressed the position of the teacher, the more benefit accrues to their students. Apparently for StudentsFirst, there are never enough oxygen masks. This is the most important frame for us to use in teaching people and teachers how to think about the current situation…

The core of our story must be that a good education is the result of an enduring relationship of student to teacher, and that the commitment of the educational system to the teacher — to her training, evaluation, and job satisfaction — will translate into her effective commitment to the education of her students. It is because this relationship is so essential to education that education cannot be industrialized. Neither the teacher nor the student are interchangeable parts.” (emphasis mine)

The Wisconsin State Journal angers me again…

First, you may want to read the Ben Feller AP story as published in the Wisconsin State Journal.    When I first read the story on Friday, I was angry.  When my anger did not abate Saturday, I wrote a letter…


Dear Wisconsin State Journal,

Your February 10, 2012 choice of articles concerning the ten states “freed from No Child Left Behind” showed editorial intent, a lack of knowledge, or both.

Ben Feller’s AP article was unnecessarily harsh and judgmental on education and remarkably uncritical of No Child Left Behind.  He glorified NCLB, saying the “goal was lofty: get all children up to par in reading and math by 2014,” and denigrated schools, saying “but the nation isn’t getting there, and now some states are getting out.”

Multiple other news venues pointed out the deficits of NCLB and the bi-partisan support for a revamp in their leads.

Compare your front-page story to the LA Times’, “The Obama administration has given 10 states a waiver from the federal law known as No Child Left Behind — once a bipartisan hope to raise education standards, but now generally regarded as too cumbersome and draconian.”   Or consider The Washington Post’s, “The Obama administration is freeing 10 states from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, responding to complaints from teachers and school administrators across the country that the nation’s main education law is outdated and punitive.”

Was your choice of Feller’s article in any way related to the anti-education rhetoric that surrounds opposition to the Recall Walker movement?  And was this news of ten non-Wisconsin states receiving a NCLB waiver more important than Governor Walker’s clear move to further fragment Wisconsin public education by refusing to have charter and private schools follow the same accountability standards as public schools, a story you placed on page 8 rather than page 1?

Your choice of Ben Feller shows a dreadful lack of NCLB knowledge, a clear editorial intent to put public education in a negative light, or both.


Originally, I thought my assertion that the choice of this AP version is due to Wisconsin politics was going a step too far, but as I read versions of this story online, I started to get even more rankled by the way the Wisconsin Journal edited the story.

For instance, WSJ left out this chunk, but the Christian Science Monitor included it: “As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that’s because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it’s also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass.”  Why is this an important omission?  Because it puts NCLB into a context.  Not only do states compete against very different marks, but there is absolutely no consideration of each school’s population.  A school with high poverty or high immigrant population gets no special considerations.  A school undergoing dramatic demographic changes or challenges will be punitively punished rather than strategically supported.

What else did the Wisconsin State Journal leave out?  This section, again as found in the Christian Science Monitor:

For example, Georgia will replace the law’s pass-or-fail with a five-star rating system and will use end-of-course tests and Advanced Placement performance in its measure of students.

In Oklahoma, schools are to be taken over by the state if they consistently fail to meet standards.

Kentucky — the first state to formally ask the federal government to be excused from some requirements when Gov. Steve Beshear sent a letter to Washington last summer — will use ACT college-entrance exams and other assessments by that company in its measures.

The schools still have to focus on the subgroups of students outlined in the federal law, such as English language learners and students with disabilities.

Why is this an important omission?  Because the Wisconsin State Journal’s version leaves it open for readers to assume that schools are simply giving up on NCLB (and student success) rather than making other plans.  Because the Wisconsin State Journal’s versions propagates the view that there is a lack of accountability in education, it skirts the harder issues and questions embedded in states requesting waivers from No Child Left Behind.

What is the bottom line?

NCLB had some positives (shades of gray): It asked schools to examine data differently and highlighted students who were not succeeding, showing pockets of deficit in outwardly successful schools. It was important to ask schools to look at each group of students and evaluate each group’s separate success.

But mostly NCLB has led to a testing regime that has narrowed the curriculum, spawned a powerful testing and data-recording industry, and eliminated teacher voice.  It set up the current media message that schools are failing, a message that discounts the fact that today’s schools are more successful than in any past decade. This media message demoralizes teachers like me on a daily basis.

NCLB set up education and educators to be the fall guy, and if I had more words available to me in my letter, I would have also commented on the fifth paragraph in the story, which read, “civil rights groups questioned if schools would be getting a pass on aggressively helping poor and minority children—the kids the 2002 law was primarily designed to help.”  This smacks of the education reformers’ message that schools have “a soft bigotry of low expectations,” a rallying cry that has been part of the impetus of Teach for America and their unproven foray into schools.  This is a message that places blame on educators and ignores the facts of poverty, a key aspect in the further demoralization of teachers.

The Wisconsin State Journal has continually irked me both in how it covered (or didn’t cover) the Wisconsin protests and how it covers education.   The fact that ten states were granted waivers from NCLB was indeed news, but WSJ had choices on which story to run and how to edit that story.  The fact that they also put the other educational story of the day, the one where Governor Walker ignores State Superintendent Evers’ request to have all schools equally accountable, on page 8, rankles me as well.

All their choices seemed to put education in a negative light.   And the fact that they made these choices in Wisconsin- amidst the current recall fights and slants against public workers, including teachers- is no small thing.


My Inaugural Post

This blog comes about for a few reasons:

I am requiring students in American Voices, an elective class I teach, to design and implement a semester-long project.  This is my project.   Through it I can model what I teach, like using CreativeCommons to find my current header’s photograph, (thanks Sherri Thai).   Through it, I can know better what I am asking of them.

But then there is the question…why pick this project?  Why not the collection of six-word essays I thought about?  Why this?

Because there is so much to say about education that my normal 180-character posts and links are now insufficient.

Because I believe, as a writing teacher, that the only way I know my thoughts is to write, and I need to know my thoughts now more than ever before.

Because education is under attack.  Because those who believe and love education must speak up. 

 So this is me, speaking up.

Why now?  Beyond the fact this is the start of a semester, so I better do it now, it is also February 10, 2012 today… the start of a week here in Wisconsin to reflect back on last year’s Wisconsin protests.  This week last year started my journey to becoming an activist.  Yes, an activist.  I now own the word as true.

Why this title?  Why Seeing Shades of Grey?   This summer I started to feel hypocritical.   Dealing with data is essential in part of my job, and holes in the data leave me frustrated.  When students opt out of our schools EPAS (ACT’s Explore and Plan test suite) tests, I get frustrated, yet I was completely ready to join the Opt Out movement.  How could I hold both positions, valuing test data and yet opting out of tests?

I also felt hypocritical for spending my entire spring devoted to protesting Scott Walker and the GOP effort in Wisconsin for destroying teachers and public worker unions, when I have also felt deeply critical of aspects of the teachers’ unions.

Want more?  How could I spend my spring protesting the GOP-held Wisconsin capitol and then my summer protesting the Democratic-held national capitol?   How could I value and cherish the guidance of the Common Core Standards and abhor what they will and are doing to education?

Hypocrisy?  Some who read my posts will likely comment that yes, I am hypocritical.

Increasingly, however, I think I simply see shades of grey.

So this blog will be devoted to the shades of grey in education—and also, of course, a few side journeys into politics and family life.

It should be an interesting journey.