Maybe it’s time to start weeding again

“And the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students,” Gates said.

Well if that isn’t the problem, what could be? [Hat tip Tom Hoffman.]

Ignoring what most schools don’t teach

In case you missed it, and companies’ [sic] “Hour of Code” blitz descends on non-resistant K-12 classrooms this week. I’d have ignored the whole thing but a former colleague pointed out my old school’s involvement and soon thereafter, I received this sad notice of another organization’s bandwagon riding:

NWP exhorts, “Teachers of all disciplines: please set aside one hour to expose your students to these critical skills.” And in case focusing on silo-ed disciplines like English or history or art or Mandarin or whatever has kept teachers dumb about what they and their schools are failing to teach, here’s a handy YouTube exposition: Learn what most schools don’t teach.

Since it’s so obviously easy to replace any discipline’s regular curriculum plans for important Computer Science content, I’d suggest finding more unneeded hours of class time to improve other “critical skills.” How about students learning to de-code carefully programmed materials by looking for rhetorical fallacies?

  • Red herring:  Are STEM employment opportunities “tremendous”? – SKrashen: “For example, Rutgers University professor Hal Salzman has concluded that there are approximately three qualified graduates annually for each science or technology opening and according to the Atlantic (Feb, 2013), the United States is producing more Ph.D.s in science than the market can absorb.  Also, about 1/3 of college-bound high-school students take calculus, and only abour 5% of jobs require this much math.”
  • False need: DOZENS OF LA UNIFIED SCHOOLS LACK STAFF NEEDED TO RUN LIBRARIES – 4LAKids: “The district has 457 elementary schools, but only 380 schools have at least a part time library aide, according to statistics provided by L.A. Unified. That translates into about one in five schools that can’t open their libraries… According to the California Department of Education, only about half of elementary and middle schools students in L.A. Unified can read at grade level.”
  • Moral equivalence: Invisible Child – NYTimes: “One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.” Nearly Half of All U.S. Schoolchildren Live in Low-Income Households – Pacific Standard: “…And things are only getting worse.”
Not that we would want to question the motivation of bandwagon builders behind this national effort at improving public education:
  • Wants Children’s Data, Control Over Teachers – Slashdot: “‘Details of a $1 million plan to give 33% more money to CS instructors who teach more girls their K-8 Intro to CS course disappeared from the website after a Slashdot discussion called attention to it, so teachers and parents might want to check out’s Example District Contract while it remains on the site. The sample contract, which covers partnership agreements between and school districts, not only calls for collecting children’s data for (‘’s ongoing studies review longitudinal student achievement data for the current year, the preceding four (4) to six (6) academic years, until the end of the student’s academic history in the district’), but also locks teachers into a 2+ year commitment on behalf of (‘Each teacher selected to participate in the Program shall commit to teaching in the Program for a minimum of two school years through a letter of intent administered by the district’).”
  • …Tech immigration reform… an initiative that’s also near-and-dear to many of same players behind Hour of Code… – Slashdot: “Then again, tech immigration reform is back on the front burner, an initiative that’s also near-and-dear to many of same players behind Hour of Code, including Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith who, during the Hour of Code kickoff press conference, boasted that Microsoft’s more-high-tech-visas-for-U.S.-kids-computer-science-education deal found its way into the Senate Immigration Bill, but minutes later joined his fellow panelists to dismiss a questioner’s suggestion that Hour of Code might somehow be part of a larger self-serving tech industry interest.'”
  • Google gave money to conservative firebrand Heritage Action: “A spokeswoman for the tech giant declined to comment on the size of the grant or whether it will continue to support Heritage Action.”
  • How Apple, Google, Cisco are competing for the $5 billion K-12 ed-tech market – Silicon Valley Business Journal: “Next year, K-12 schools across the United States will begin implementing Common Core State Standards, an education initiative that will drive schools to adopt technology in the classroom as never before. That’s prompting a scramble among Silicon Valley’s hardware, software and networking providers to grab as much of the $5.4 billion K-12 learning market as possible. Apple, Google, Cisco and a swarm of startups are elbowing in to secure market share. The sector is expected to more than double in size to $13.4 billion by 2017, according to GSV Advisors, a publicly traded venture capital firm.”

I’m in the growlery with our canary

“This, you must know, is the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.

As Bleak House’s Mr. Jarndyce was wont to note, the wind these days is, indeed, in the east.

Detroit Ruling on Bankruptcy Lifts Pension Protections – “Bruce Babiarz, a spokesman for the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System, was blunt in his assessment. ‘This is one of the strongest protected pension obligations in the country here in Michigan,’ he said. ‘If this ruling is upheld, this is the canary in a coal mine for protected pension benefits across the country. They’re gone.’”

Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System – “The compromise reached in Illinois, a staunchly blue state with a strong labor movement that had successfully resisted previous efforts to trim pensions, could provide a template for agreements elsewhere.”

Fred Klonsky nails it to a map including more than Illinois: “…Yesterday’s vote wasn’t just about our pensions. This was a vote about our future and the future of our kids and grandkids if you work for a living…”

Coming to a state near you soon

As noted earlier, the theft of pension guarantees is spreading:

The #pension theft now goes to court. | Fred Klonsky: “Minutes ago the Illinois House and Senate, like synchronized swimmers, passed [the pension-busting] SB1.”

Coming to a CA state proposition near you in 2014.

Update: Just so I’m not accused of Cassandra-like hysteria, this from the paper of record:

Illinois Legislature Approves Retiree Benefit Cuts in Troubled Pension System – “The compromise reached in Illinois, a staunchly blue state with a strong labor movement that had successfully resisted previous efforts to trim pensions, could provide a template for agreements elsewhere.”

Son of a bitch

Detroit city workers’ pensions can be cut, judge rules: “The Michigan Constitution protects public pensions as a ‘contractual obligation’ that cannot be ‘diminished or impaired.’ But the U.S. government allows contract cuts in bankruptcy, and Rhodes ruled that federal law preempts the state Constitution.”

Entirely predictable. And watch it spread.

Dirty wars – The world is a battlefield by Jeremy Scahill

The book is a long read, well worth it, but for the full-time employed among us the film will work. (It’s on Netflix streaming.) There’s no spoiler in this excerpt from the epilogue:

In late 2012, the ACLU and the NY Times sought information on the legal rationale for the kill program, specifically the strikes that had killed three US citizens – among them 16 year old Abdulrahman Awlaki. In January 2013, a federal judge ruled on the request. In her decision, Judge Colleen McMahon appeared frustrated with the White House’s lack of transparency, writing that the Freedom of Information Act requests raised “serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and about whether we are indeed a natio of laws, not of men.” She charged that the Obama administration “has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing to any statute or court decision that justifies its conclusions.” She added, “More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including US citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that [like torture before it] remains hotly debated. It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly every-growing exercise.” … Ultimately, Judge McMahon blocked the release of the documents. Citing her legal concerns about the state of transparency with regard to the kill program, she wrote: “The Court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situate in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules – a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reason from their conclusion a secret.”

Speaking of that CCSS devil

From a teacher in Delaware, commenting at the WaPo’s Answer Sheet, a concrete example of the recent topic, “… compliance with delivery of [CCSS] curriculum as a significant part of the data that will be used to monitor and control teachers.”

“Teacher slams scripted Common Core lessons that must be taught ‘word for word’”:

…What has changed is Common Core State Standards.  I was given a curriculum and told by my administration to teach it “word-for-word.”  In a meeting with my administration, I was reprimanded with “Don’t forget, standards drive our instruction.”

Judging the effectiveness of a teacher on only quantifiable data reduces the art of teaching children to a mathematical algorithm can that be performed more effectively by a hologram projected on the Smart board than by an old-fashioned, caring, humanly flawed teacher.

Retiree watching teachers being watched

With the guarantee of repeating myself while repeating Ian Welsh:

“High surveillance societies produce conformity, because we are what we do… If you are constantly under your boss’s thumb, you learn to reflexively act in ways that will satisfy your boss.”

It was the kiss-ass, go-along-to-get-along attitude of some co-workers that enraged me during my three pre-retirement years as union rep in a large urban high school. Union members regularly accused me of making labor-management mountains out of personality quirk molehills. (Molehill example: So the principal suddenly requires on-the-dot morning sign in, then starts highlighting the names of the not completely compliant: what’s the big deal? People should arrive to work on time, right? Well, most people. The counseling staff gets cut some slack. After all, they stay late sometimes. ((Yeah, yeah, teachers stay late too, but teachers have students waiting at their doors when the bell rings. Counselors don’t.)) And of course teachers with childcare issues should be given a pass if they make a special deal with the principal. And sport team coaches. And assistant principals. And deans. Special deals can be worked out on a one-to-one, non-contractual basis, espeically if you’re someone who has a friendly relationship with the boss. And yeah, sometimes the wrong classroom teacher name is highlighted as “not signed in” due to clerical error, but if you know you didn’t do anything wrong, and you and the boss are friends, why worry about being publicly reprimanded for doing something wrong?) I was told to chill out.

I am much cooler in retirement.

That admitted, I didn’t, IMO, overreact in recognizing and calling out the signs of a new regime of patrician administrators and their toadies monitoring and punishing teachers into plebeian compliance.

Last week, Anthony Cody offered a concise take-down of CCSS here: Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors – Living in Dialogue – Education Week Teacher. Error #8:

 “The Common Core is associated with an attempt to collect more student and teacher data than ever before.”

Cody focused on student data in his description of error #8 and didn’t describe the possible results of teacher data collection. With the dawning realization that Common Core is indeed common curriculum (see Common Core Is Curriculum, Contrary to Advocates’ Claims), it’s not much of a stretch to foresee compliance with delivery of that curriculum as a significant part of the data that will be used to monitor and control teachers. The freedom of craft and artistry that made teaching such a rewarding career will diminish for most.

Stubborn, independent types might be able to preserve some autonomy. If I was in a humanities high school classroom these days, I’d focus on debate and make rational skepticism the goal of everything I taught.

Happy to have retired

Common Core and data-driven education and VAM and SchoolLoop gizmos are not about learning. This is what they are all about:

“The workforce has in some respects also become worse.  The sort of micro-control that is commonplace in Amazon warehouses, with a supervisor electronically watching you every second, was almost impossible in the past.  The sort of micro-measurement of productivity was also impossible in most jobs, though certainly, assembly lines were hell.  In most jobs, your boss had to give you the work and check in later to see if it was done and how well.  As long as it got done, you were fine … technology has made it possible to micro-supervise the sort of work which simply could not be supervised then … High surveillance societies produce conformity, because we are what we do. What we do forms our habits, our habits form our character. If you are constantly under your boss’s thumb, you learn to reflexively act in ways that will satisfy your boss. Of course we all rebel where we can, but the margins for that grow smaller and smaller.” – Ian Welsh, How Our Everyday Life Creates Our Character and Our Destiny

11th. hour of the 11th. day of the 11th. month

Adam Hochschild in Tom Dispatch:

In some countries for years afterward, on November 11th, traffic, assembly lines, even underground mining machinery came to a halt at 11 a.m. for two minutes of silence, a silence often broken, witnesses from the 1920s reported, by the sound of women sobbing.

Take some of the holiday and read David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers or Thank You for Your Service.