Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the letter-to-the-editor effect

Rick Posner alerted me to Thomas Friedman's article in the Nov 21 NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/opinion/21friedman.html It's a mixed bag. On the one hand he quotes Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” saying "...the three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate." and he note that parents need to be part of the solution. But then he agrees with Arne Duncan that "...using student achievement data in calculating salaries, ...increasing competition through innovation and charters — is not anti-teacher. It’s taking the profession much more seriously and elevating it to where it should be." Hmm...critical thinking that is measured exactly HOW from the data garnered from standardized tests?

What is most interesting to me is that a week later the Nov 28 Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/opinion/l28friedman.html printed an assortment of letters all of which addressed concerns I had when reading his piece, and not a single letter expressing confidence that Duncan was on the right track. The letters were written by a former teacher (Connecticut parent of two teens), the principal and assistant principal of NYC's East Side Middle School, an associate professor of English at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and a professor emeritus from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education (Stephen Krashen, the only name I knew): a nice range of backgrounds and experiences.

Whether anyone in positions of power is listening or not, more voices are joining the Stephen Krashens, Alfie Kohns and Deb Meiers of the world. We need to keep our eye out each time there is an article about so called "reform" in a major news source, so that the names attached to the letters are varied, and the depth of the dissatisfaction with the current assembly-line solutions can be seen. Even if just the 340 folks who like AUGUST TO JUNE's Facebook page agreed to write one letter every 6 months we could have an effect. What do you think?

Monday, November 15, 2010

thinking talking thinking doing

We have had such a full piece of time. The Coalition of Essential Schools had a conference in SF this past weekend. While we were unable to attend the conference, we did go to San Francisco on Friday evening for a free talk given by Rick Posner and the staff of IDEA, and brushed up against some other exciting educators.

I met Rick through my meanderings online googling things like "open classroom" and "holistic education." His book "Lives of Passion, School of Hope" about the Jefferson County Open School in Colorado, and the repercussions it has had in the lives of the graduates, is fascinating reading. Some of those graduates were at the gathering, and we got to talk to several. I had wondered how the school was able to do all the complex trips to places like the Middle East and New Orleans, and now I know. Colorado gives all its high schools a good amount of money to fund sports programs. The open School uses the $50,000 it gets for travel instead, and their students who want to play sports either play at other schools or informally at Open. They still have to raise money for the trips, but the costs are not insurmountable.

If you haven't looked at IDEA yet, I think you will find it uplifting. With so many of the progressive educators I meet at retirement age, it fills my heart to find a younger generation ready to take the torch. Scott Nine, who leads the group, is dynamic and thoughtful. I loved their presentation...and of course afterward the networking was dizzying! My favorite conversation was with a young IDEA intern named David Loitz,who was full of...ideas!

The next day Rick, and his former student Corinne, who is now a video journalist, came out by ferry to meet some parents and teachers for an informal chat at my favorite local cafe. The concerns and ideas were flying every which way! Two parents who are also teachers talked about their dismay at how easily parents seemed to willingly accept a more traditional mindset when they left our open elementary school for middle school--tied in again to grades and standardized testing. A high school teacher who teaches in a very interesting 9-10 program talked about her wishes to go further. She feels encouraged by how successful the program has become, but its very success has led to the school becoming more fixated on high tests scores! When Rick talked about his high school not ever having given grades, Mary expressed her wish that she could make that change, while others at the table were skeptical it could happen where she teaches, as there are so many parents fixated on getting their kids into Harvard.

On Sunday I went to a Move-On meeting that will probably lead to a stronger progressive political presence in our community! This just gives you a taste, but you can see how stimulating things have been beyond the film work, and the film work continues in high gear! I made a to-do list today that will take me a Looong time to accomplish. But I head into it feeling great about our finances as a result of the latest round of fundraisers. We may not have buckets of cash, but we have enough.