Archive for the ‘Diane Ravitch’ Category

Some Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

May 4, 2010

Bill Gates

Some Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Our society is just beginning to recover from a long spell of Magical Thinking. Instead of confronting our problems and dealing with them, Americans spent the better part of a decade hoping that great men on horses would ride into to town bearing sanctified sidearms which fire magic bullets—instead we got George W. Bush in a flightsuit. But after 9/11, most of us we’re too scared to acknowledge or even see The Emperor’s Clothes. We just pretended that there were new, bold serious solutions that would preternaturally eliminate serious issues. Decisive Federal Action would fix public education just as it would defeat Islamo-facism and unfetter the Titans of Finance. Those were some heady times.

Today, our institutions are just beginning to recover from the febrile dreams which have infected (and continue to threaten the very existence of) our body politic. Sadly, no one is yet bowing in obeisance to the heroes who were banished from the Punditocracy for the crime of premature wisdom (i.e., Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield and Robert Sheer). Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the people who advocated these asinine and self-destructive policies over the last decade are still running this country and they’re not about to begin pointing fingers at one another.

That’s why Diane Ravitch should be praised for speaking up about her recent recovery from Hedda Payness Disease:

I too was captivated by these ideas. They promised to end bureaucracy, to ensure that poor children were not neglected, to empower poor parents, to enable poor children to escape failing schools, and to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. Testing would shine a spotlight on low-performing schools and choice would create opportunities for poor kids to leave for better schools. All of this seemed to make sense, but there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope(3-4).

I remember seeing a documentary years ago about how hospital administrators in the Soviet Union (who obviously knew nothing about how hospitals actually work) used to do surprise inspections in hospitals in which they would randomly swab the walls looking for evidence of bacteria. Consequently, the medical staff wasted a good deal of time scrubbing the walls with bleach. Funny thing about big bureaucracies, they tend to replicate such madness:

Measure, then punish or reward. No education experience needed to administer such a program. Anyone who loved data could do it. The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education (16).

In our age of Magical Thinking, even really smart guys (because we all know that the billionaires are the best among us) like to dream of a simple world with simple solutions. For example, Bill Gates was blissfully “unaware of the disadvantages” of promoting smaller highs schools as a one-size-fits-all panacea for American education:

It was never obvious why the Gates Foundation decided that schools size was the one critical reform most needed to improve American education. Both state and national tests showed that large numbers of students were starting high schools without having mastered basic skills…the root cause of poor achievement lie not in the high schools, but in the earlier grades (205).

After pissing away a couple of billion bucks, the Foundation wised up, but it wasn’t about to admit any mistakes:

In late 2008 the Gates Foundation announced that it was changing course. The $2 billion investment in new small high schools had not been especially successful (although it was careful not to come right out and say it was unsuccessful) (211).

by Richard W. Bray

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Redundancy and An Amusing Teacher Story

March 30, 2010

George Carlin

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Redundancy

Use the list of redundancies from George Carlin’s wonderful book Braindroppings and The Redundant Little Short Story to teach a lesson on redundancies. Carlin’s list includes examples such as PIN number, safe haven, closed fist and linger on. (However, I would quibble with Carlin on the terms time clock and security guard. There’s a difference between a clock and a time clock just as there is a difference between a guard and a security guard.)


The Redundant Little Short Story

The two twins Ted and Ned lived in a teeny tiny little bungalow in the city of Chicago. The silly clown Fred Toolshed was Ted and Ned’s closest best friend. Fred lived in a small cottage near the University of UCLA. One day Ted, Ned, and Fred decided to go on a long journey in search of a famous celebrity or a royal queen. Ted said, “Fred, you would have to be a crazy maniac to travel through snowy blizzards and blustery tornadoes.”

“Ted,” said Ned, “only a stupid ignoramus or a cheap miser would pass up an opportunity to meet big giants, brilliant geniuses and dead mummies.”

So Ted, Ned and Fred had many exciting adventures in search of renowned luminaries and distinguished dignitaries. They also ate frozen popsicles with a young infant named Bed Wetter and an elderly octogenarian named Jed Sledder. The five of them met all kinds of living organisms, including a smelly skunk, a sleepy insomniac, a tiny microorganism, and a tall giraffe.

An Amusing Teacher Story

Sadly, due to the ill-conceived efforts of our current Education Secretary and his two immediate predecessors, frightened school administrators across the country are doing their best to eradicate all traces of art and humanity from the teaching profession (because, you know, teaching should only be about raising test scores).

But this sick, sad trend really has nothing to do with “accountability.” It’s just about power. (Accountability is a nice-sounding word, but in practice it means that schools are micromanaged by bureaucrats in Washington DC instead of being directly accountable to local school boards)

Back in the days before the federal government (a seven-percent stakeholder in education) made it so difficult for teachers to make even the smallest efforts to enrich the lives of their students, I used to show the kids gems like Donald O’Connor singing Make ‘em Laugh or the Nicholas Brother doing their thing in the movie Stormy Weather at the end of the day as we were preparing to go home.

Now, I’ve always been rather sympathetic to Freddy in My Fair Lady because I too find Audrey Hepburn to be irresistibly enchanting. So one day I was trying to explain why Freddy was so smitten with Eliza Doolittle before showing them the song On the Street Where You Live. I said that he had decided to sit in front of this woman’s house for days on end because he was in love with her but she was not in love with him.

One of my girls said, “I get it. He’s a stalker.”

I’m afraid she was right. (Kids really make you think sometimes.)

By Richard W. Bray