Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The living history of my Declaration of Professional Conscience

Decades ago I wrote The Declaration of Professional Conscience  for Teachers.
It was , of course, a declaration of my own conscience in which I stated what I believed a truly professional teacher could agree with . I hoped it could be the basis for teachers sharing with colleagues, their students the parents of heir students, and their administrators. It was away of saying, "I am a professional. I know what I am doing and why I am doing it."

I believed then that in the North America and in many other parts of the world, including third world countries a generation of dedicated and extremely well prepared professional teachers was emerging who were capable of bringing their students to a higher level of literacy, knowledge and sell-confidence than ever before.

At the same time I have always been aware that there are strong forces in our societies that do not believe in public education They would like to control and limit access to literacy and they would prefer to deprofessionalize teachers. 

Over the years the declaration has been republished from time time. At one time every elementary teacher in Venezuela got a Spanish translation.

And recently with the support of Richard Owen it has been widely distributed and found  a place in the 
new political awareness of teachers and their response to the unprecedented attack on teachers and their unions in Wisconsin and other states. Hundreds of teachers have signed the decalration on Richard Owens's website,. http://www.change.org/petitions/a-declaration-of-professional-conscience-for-teachers
And several schools have declared themselves Professional Conscience Schools.

Bess Altwerger , with Rick Meyer, has done much to promote the declaration as a device for gaining respect for teachers in her remarkable work in organizing the Save our Schools march on Washington and the on-going movement that has resulted.

Perhaps some day we will have a secretary of education who understands that it is only through dedicated, professional teachers that American schools can achieve the goal of educating all of our children to the highest degree of their needs, abilities and aspirations. Then maybe the declaration will hang on the door or wall of the Secretary's office. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Global warming? Whose knowledge counts?

Cherry Blossoms are a month early in DC. In Tucson this morning it may have dropped below freezing. Our citrus are loaded with opening blossoms and I have delicate camelias in full bloom in my court yard. Not to mention two azalea bonsais ready to bloom.
All last week our high daily tempertures were above 80

And still there are decision makers who doubt that global warming is a proven phenomenon

Here is anther example of the disdain in the political world for knowledge, scholarship,or just plain truth.
I'm editing a book for the Reading Hall of Fame based on presentations at several professional conferences during 2011. The chapters document that the same disdain for authority in mandating reading policy is happening all over the world. The World Bank and USAID is funding the EGRA( Distarr) in African , Asian  and Latin American languages. Expensive testing in many countries shows that kids can't read nonsense either in colonial languages or in their own native tongue.Duh!

In France, Germany and Portugal the same pedagogy of the absurd as in the English speaking countries is being  being imposed as part of a widespread attempt to privatize education.

On the other hand perhaps the forces of absurdity may have over reached. They have come to believe their own lies to the point where they are making clear to teachers and and public workers all over  that they have to enter the political arena. Remember it was the Wisconsin teachers occupying their state capitol that precipitated the occupy movement across America.

As my sister used to quote Alice :the world is getting curiouser and curiouser

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Retention is a terrible punishment

March 7
Remember that big kid in fifth grade who was 12 years old and used to beat up all the 10 year olds? One of the many dumb ideas that keeps being reborn as the solution to the problems of schooling is that non-achieving kids should be retained in the same grade for an additional year or years.
The latest rendition is the law being perpetrated in Arizona and many other states which condemns children who  haven't met the criteria for reading achievement to repeat third grade until they do.
One of the earliest educational research studies done in 1909 by Ayres was called "Laggards in our Schools" . It grew out of concern for the cost of keeping children in the same grade sometimes for years. Since then many studies have shown that punishing non-achievers by making them stay in the same grade causes more problems than it solves.
Among the problems of retaining kids is the bullying by sullen, over-age over size kids who pick on little classmates in response to their own humiliation.

David Berliner pointed out in an interview on NPR this week that the retainees may do a bit better on tests because they are a year older but the money spent on keeping them in the same grade could be better spent on doing something different for them instead of having them repeat what didn't work the year before.
The dumb idea is often defended against the concept of social promotion- keeping students with their age group through school. We need to understand that as kids grow older their differences in every sense do not decrease they increase.
One misconception so common it is laughable is that all kids showed be "working at grade level". Grade level is an artifact of norm reference testing. It is the average score reached by all children in a given grade taking the test. So by definition half of all kids are above and half are below grade l.
Schools need to deal with this diversity.  Dewey said it clearly : we can make the kids adjust to school . Or we can adjust the school to them.  As a teacher I knew I couldn't win them all- some kids have real problems schools can't solve alone. But every failure was my failure too. What is the point of punishing kids for not learning? Even worse is punishing inner city kids who have never had one teacher for a whole year for the failures of their system. Or the smart kids who do ok on the tests but don't do the dumb work sheets and get failing grades.
 And retention is the a terrible punishment. It humiliates. A nine year old who reads at the level of some six year olds is still bigger, more physically developed, and with more mature interests. He or she will do better with age peers. The research has consistently shown that.
This is one more example of not honoring the knowledge of professionals and imposing political decisions on both professional teachers and unfortunate students.
Let's make the politicians wear the dunce caps for another bad old idea