Thursday, August 26, 2010


Three pieces about teachers came my way today. There was an editorial in the SF Chronicle blaming teacher's unions for California not getting Race To The Top funding. I read Alfie Kohn's piece called Turning Children Into Data in Education Week ( and then I listened to an American Radioworks program called Testing Teachers (

The good news is that all three agree on the importance of good teachers.

But there is discouraging news too. The Chronicle editorial continues the straw man of blaming unions for the sad mess in our inner city schools. It lauds the LA Times for their plan to link teachers' names to test score results. I can't imagine a worse incentive for creative teaching than that. What young teacher would take the chance of not teaching to the test with that stick looming? How many experienced teachers would choose a low performing school knowing they will be compared in that way to teachers in wealthy districts? What union would allow their members to be treated so simplistically? The Chronicle's editorial writers seem to think that embarrassment makes people perform. hmmmm.

The American Radioworks program was more of a mixed bag. It began with a focus on the work of economist Eric Hanushek, who uses data from standardized tests to prove that some teachers uniformly get better results than others. Hanushek's analysis was also used in the film Waiting for Superman. He believes that "teachers are born, not made," so the emphasis should be on removing "bad" teachers. Also as in Waiting for Superman, Michelle Rhee's slash and burn approach to the Washington DC schools was portrayed sympathetically. But as the program goes on, it mentions that even Hanushek thinks the weight given to test scores is misguided.

In the second half of the program they feature the changes made in the Chattanooga city schools by offering "sustained long term training and support" to all teachers by mentor teachers who were still active in the classroom. In the process they discussed the importance of focusing on the needs of individual children! Yes. Now we're getting somewhere. But in my view they left out major pieces: the range of basic training we offer teachers and the importance of enlisting parents as partners.

It seems so hard to get people to realize how little is learned from test scores. Alfie Kohn's article, which is subtitled "A Skeptic's Guide to Assessment Programs" makes that point as well as several other salient ones about who is profiting from the so-called "reform movement." I would feel much better about the possibility of recruiting and retaining good teachers if the folks in the Obama administration, Public Radio, and The Chronicle were reading Kohn!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The site is up! I've sent messages to my Facebook folks, and received lots of positive responses, plus some very helpful critiques. Only two misspelled words!! My daughter Keja, who teaches college level English composition gave my writing style a brutal once over. I was attached to some of my phrases, so it isn't her fault if there are still too many gerunds and a few misplaced commas!

Hopefully some of the work I did for the website will be transferable to my next project--designing the DVD package. Once again a former student is coming to my rescue. Reuben Raffael, a wonderful graphic artist with many projects to his credit, has volunteered his expertise. His one caveat: that I come with all "the nuts and bolts" in working order. So on Wednesday, when we come back from a brief (but well deserved!) backpacking trip, I will start getting nuts and bolts in order!

And then there are two upcoming fund raising house parties, figuring out how we will debut the film and celebrate with the school community, plus lots more outreach work ahead of us. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 16, 2010


After weeks of work we are about to put on line our new website. I worked closely with our web designer, Brindl Markle, who I have known since she was two years old! Her sister Kendra was our daughter's playmate, and Brindl attended the Open Classroom as did her two brothers and Kendra. So it was easy to explain what I wanted to get across with the new site: something upbeat, stressing the kids and their creativity.

The tables were turned and Brindl became the teacher. Her first assignment to me was that I look at other sites and tell her what I liked. Whenever something is on your mind, you know how it is, everything seems related to it. Not only when I was on the computer scanning websites, but everywhere I went I saw design elements, and how they were put together. Pretty quickly we decided on a basic framework, using some of the portraits that are integral to the film and creating a quilt effect with them.

Just as has been the case with every aspect of this project, there was more to learn, and details that force me to slow down and pay attention! Who knew there would be so many decisions simply around what we would include in the menu? But yesterday Brindl and I sat in front of the computer and she talked me through the process of adding and updating content. After she left I spent some hours using what she taught me so it would sink in. Even so, when I came back from a hiking break with my friend (and former classroom aide) Gabi, I had forgotten stuff.

Remember that, teachers. You can't stuff gobs of new information into the old brain (or the young one) and expect it will all stick! But I have tools!! I used almost all of them, and figured out most of what I needed to know. Then I sent an email to Brindl saying "HELP!" As soon as I sent it I figured out most of the rest:)

Today Brindle emailed me back. Like the good teacher that she is, she didn't just do it for me. She cheered me on for trying things, told me the book I need to get and read...and, after all, gave me some clues that would get me back in gear. By tomorrow the site will be ready for action!