All posts by history

George Counts

The best part of teaching a foundations course is that you get to return to old friends, old documents, every semester.

From George Counts, Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?

Society is never redeemed without effort, struggle, and sacrifice. Authentic leaders are never found breathing that rarefied atmosphere lying above the smoke and dust of battle.

Convention speeches

Here’s what Obama and McCain had to say about education during their convention speeches:

Obama

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Here’s McCain:

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.
When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

What I want to be when I grow up…

A historian capable of telling stories and explaining why those stories matter. Robert Caro’s brief editorial in yesterday’s Timeswas powerful stuff.

His conclusion:

“Abraham Lincoln struck off the chains of black Americans,” I have written, “but it was Lyndon Johnson who led them into voting booths, closed democracy’s sacred curtain behind them, placed their hands upon the lever that gave them a hold on their own destiny, made them, at last and forever, a true part of American political life.”

LOOK what has been wrought! Forty-three years ago, a mere blink in history’s eye, many black Americans were unable to vote. Tonight, a black American ascends a stage as nominee for president. “Just give Negroes the vote and many of these problems will get better,” Lyndon Johnson said. “Just give them the vote,” and they can do the rest for themselves.

All during this long primary campaign, after reading, first thing every morning, newspaper articles about Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency, I would turn, as part of the research for my next book, to newspaper articles from 1965 about Lyndon Johnson’s campaign to win for black people the right to vote.

And I would think about Johnson’s great speech, when he adopted the rallying cry of black protest as his own, when he joined his voice to the voices of all the men and women who had sung the mighty hymn of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King cried when he heard that speech. Since I am not black, I cannot know — cannot even imagine — Dr. King’s feelings. I know mine, however. To me, Barack Obama is the inheritor of Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legacy. As I sit listening to Mr. Obama tonight, I will be hearing other words as well. I will be hearing Lyndon Johnson saying, “We shall overcome.”

Barack Obama speaking last night:

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

Failure to communicate

There was an article in yesterday’s Times about a proposed testing program for kids in kindergarten. Kindergarten. The most telling lines:

Mr. Liebman also pointed out that kindergartners and first and second graders are already evaluated by their teachers. Most schools use a system called the Early Childhood Literacy Assessment System, which takes teachers a long time to administer because they must meet with every child individually.

The new testing methods combine results to create a single score for English and a single score for math for each child, he said, making comparisons across classrooms and over time easier.

Purposeful misunderstanding, I think. If you think that a standardized test is the same thing as a lengthy assessment conducted by a teacher on a one-to-one basis, then you have a total misunderstanding of early literacy.

no margin for error

I was at a meeting last night where someone declared that “we know what works in American education, “that research based best practices” are the answer.

There are 38,100 exact hits in google for this phrase. This phrase is embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act and occurs throughout the National Reading Panel’s work.

Despite the apparent consensus that these practices not only exist, but that they are the solution, do schools continue to fail because:

of improper implementation?

They (local school districts, teacher unions, communists) won’t let us do it?

Bizarre.

The Wire

I’ve ranted before about how the writers and creators of “The Wire” have as a good an understanding of urban life as I’ve encountered. We’re watching season five now and there’s a scene where Daquan (dookie) and Dennis are talking about what it means to live where they do.

Dookie asks, “How do you get from here to the rest of the world?”

Exactly right…

Movies (random)

So I’m re-reading Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels and I can’t quite think who I’d want to play Scudder in a film. It’s a futile exercise — they’d screw it up anyway — but I’m at a loss. What actor could make you believe that they spent their time in church basements drinking cruddy coffee?

I still believe that someday, someone will write the perfect Patrick O’Brian adaptation, and that Nick Nolte will play Aubrey and Ben Kingsley will play Maturin.

Teacher pay

There’s a silly article in today’s Washington Post describing the conflict over a potential salary schedule. One group — generally younger teachers is portrayed as in favor of it — while another — older teachers — is described as being against it. And the older teachers have a point that younger teachers, perhaps those who haven’t been there long enough to realize that they no longer can leave, don’t quite understand: without tenure, you can lose your job overnight. In an urban system where leadership turns over every three years, and where individual schools have a new principal every year, this is a scary prospect.

The article also offers the usual shots at union leadership — unresponsive, protective of senior members — which are undoubtedly true but seem somewhat gratuitous.

The problem is that there’s no description of how student success and therefore teacher success will be measured. Is it a complex value-added system? Is it purely based on test scores and how, then, will these scores be measured? Do current principals have an evaluative role, i.e., would principles be able to weigh in on a teacher’s performance?

I don’t envy Chancellor Rhee. Designing a system that’s both transparent and measures what it’s supposed to will be difficult.

Coherence

So I get the regular updates from TCR in my inbox and this morning there was a thoughtful essay addressing program coherence within teacher education. The structural elements preventing this are legion: faculty vs. adjuncts, program designs with multiple vestigial tails, theory vs. practice, foundations vs. methods… there are many reasons why teacher ed programs splinter.

I hope someday to be involved in a high school where teacher education takes place inside the building. Coherence would be provided by the daily rhythm of the building — what do you have to do to succeed as a teacher? How does your practice need to evolve in order to meet the needs of your students? How do the readings you’re doing with fellow faculty members and students help inform your practice?

It’d be an authentic kind of coherence, where students would see an immediate link between their coursework and their teaching.

Keep dreaming, I guess.