Friday, December 21, 2012

New DEEL seeks proposals

New DEEL is an small educational leadership organization which shares many ideals of educators and scholars in the Deweyan tradition. I thought, in the spirit of cross-fertilization and collaboration, I would spread the word about their recent Call for Papers for their May 2013 conference. The proposals are due on Jan 7, 2013 (see details below).

According to Ning of the New DEEL organization,
"The mission of the New DEEL is to create an action-oriented partnership, dedicated to inquiry into the nature and practice of democratic, ethical educational leadership through sustained processes of open dialogue, right to voice, community inclusion, and responsible participation toward the common good. We strive to create an environment to facilitate democratic ethical decision-making in educational theory and practice which acts in the best interest of all students."
Currently, New DEEL is calling for proposals for their May 2013 conferenced which will be held at Temple University in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference is Creating and Sustaining Democratic Ethical Leadership: The Impact of the Political and Global Financial Crisis on Education.

Proposals for the 2013 conference are due Jan. 7, 2013. For more info and to see the 2013 Call for Proposals, visit this website

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The DEFCON project

Here's a super-geeky video of me talking about our DEFCON video game project at Congress 2012. It was produced by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which provided infrastructure support for the project. DEFCON is a violent nuclear war simulation, and (somewhat counterintuitively, perhaps), we're trying to see if it might have a positive educational impact. The video explains it all.

The DEFCON research has been conducted in  partnership with two other Concordia faculty members--Ann-Louise Davidson and Vivek Venkatesh. We've got some good initial results, and we're hopeful that we'll be sending off a journal article sometime soon.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A massive lobbyist-driven smartboard purchase gets erased

In a surprise victory for the technoskeptics of the world, the Québec government announced today that it is scrapping the previous government's plans to buy 40,000 smartboards for Québec public schools. Speaking to La Presse, Education Minister Marie Malavoy commented, "It was a comprehensive program that, after examining the evidence, didn't seem to be the best option." Malavoy further noted that school boards didn't actually want the smartboards--"The problem was that the smartboards didn't really line up with the needs of the school boards and the schools. They didn't ask for them. It wasn't a choice they made."

Interestingly, this development comes a few months after La Presse revealed that the company that makes smartboards (Smart Technologies) had, in 2011, hired Martin Daraiche,  a lobbyist who had previously worked as an advisor to both former Liberal Premier Jean Charest and former Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau. The mandate that M. Daraiche was given was to ensure that "a directive was established following the [government] budget which would confirm the mandate to furnish every classroom with an interactive blackboard in order to improve student success." Evidently, given the level of success that smartboards had under the Liberals, M. Daraiche's lobbying efforts met with some measure of success.

In Science in Action (1987), Bruno Latour talks about a popular (but, in his view, false) conception of technological progress that he calls the "diffusion model." In this model, worthy ideas and technologies seem to spread and multiply under their own steam, without human intervention. Latour comments at some length: seems that as people so easily agree to transmit the object, it is the object itself that forces them to assent. It then seems that the behavior of people is caused by the diffusion of facts and machines. It is forgotten that the obedient behaviour of people is what turns the claims into facts and machines; the careful strategies that give the object the contours that will provide assent are also forgotten...the model of diffusion invents a technical determinism, paralleled by a scientific determinism. Diesel's engine leaps with its own strength at the consumer's throat, irresistibly forcing itself into trucks and submarines, and as to the Curies' polonium, it freely pollinates the open minds of the academic world. (p. 33)
As Latour explains, people work very hard on behalf of both ideas and technologies to construct strategies that will make them "just catch on." If these strategies work well, no one will ever notice them--the machine will simply have been "built right" and will have "really caught on." Smart Technologies tried hard to do this in Québec classrooms and failed. But it is instructive to realize that it is the failures that we notice and not the successes, which are all around us. Cellphones are a great example of a technology where we have bought into the diffusion model wholeheartedly; we have forgotten all of the strategies that were pursued in order to make cellphones appear necessary.

Are some of you out there reading this teachers and professors that are struggling with technologies that are trying to inevitably diffuse their way into your classroom? Is a smartboard or clicker system that will revolutionize student success just around the corner for your little nook of the educational realm. Tell us about it in the comments.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Killer Robots Bite Back (with a helpful educational website)

Some years ago, back in grad school, I asked one of my fellow students what he was working on. "I'm working on building robots," he told me, "Robots that fly around and can bite people." At the time, I was a bit taken aback by this, and I took some consolation from the fact that educational theory, my own subject, had somewhat less direct destructive potential.

As it turned out, however, my colleague had picked an excellent dissertation topic--as of 2012, the robots that bite (and that do rather more than bite) have been proliferating. One might say, in fact, that we are well into the era of the killer robot. Naturally, not everyone is overjoyed about this. What with this business of unmanned aircraft wiping people out left and right, people are starting to see these 21st century engineering marvels as harbingers of the surveillance society. As a result, drones have a bit of a PR problem.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Conscientious objectors to the testing regime

This post comes from guest blogger, Carolyn Browder, a masters degree candidate at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University:

I recently read an article in The New York Time which profiles a movement of Brooklyn parents who are boycotting the standardized testing at their children's schools. Their complaint is not with the content or style of the tests--they concede that the tests may be worth while for measuring content knowledge as their children progress through school. They are instructing their children to sit out the tests out of fear that standardized tests are being overvalued in teacher evaluation. Many school districts are evaluating teacher performance based primarily on student test scores, and these parents fear that this will produce unhappy, unsuccessful teachers. First, placing such a tremendous value on the tests strips teaching of any artfulness or creativity. Second, teachers who believe they are successful because they train their students to perform well on a multiple-choice test might have an inaccurate perception of what successful teaching really looks like. For both of these reasons, Brooklyn parents and other around the country are showing concern that not only are standardized tests potentially disenfranchising students but they may also be causing harm to good teachers and reinforcing undesirable attitudes in bad teachers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama’s Re-election: What Can We Anticipate for Education?

On the day after the election, many of us in education may be wondering what might have been and what will be when it comes to the presidential impact on schooling.  Mr. Romney’s election may likely have ushered in increases in school choice programs (especially vouchers and for-profit charter schools) and decreases in school spending (at least if Mr. Ryan’s budget would have held out).  With those changes on the loosing end of the ballot, should we anticipate more of the same from a second four years of President Obama?  In some ways, yes, I believe we will see more of the same—for better or worse. 

Given Mr. Obama’s emphasis on the need to keep America competitive in an increasingly technological and knowledge-based global economy, we will likely see more focus on recruiting and (hopefully) preparing math and science teachers, which will be backed with government funds.  We will likely see continued efforts to alleviating bullying and the achievement gap in schools, but we will likely see less federal funding to aid in doing so, especially as the last of the stimulus money dries up, putting Obama’s major first-term project, Race to the Top, at risk.  And while Race to the Top funding may cover some of the performance pay plans that the president desires, others will go unfunded by struggling local districts. 

Money may be sought from other sources, however, as I believe President Obama will continue to celebrate philanthropists and foundations that sponsor educational innovations.  Relatedly, I think President Obama will continue to applaud the efforts of organizations leading the charter school movement.  If his pattern from the first term holds, he will likely do so without enough careful scrutiny of the practices of those schools, especially in terms of how they use public dollars or meet the needs of poor and minority children with pedagogical styles that sometimes jeopardize other educational opportunities, like the development of good citizenship. 

I suspect we will also continue to see Secretary Duncan offering NCLB waivers, despite the fact that these have angered many political opponents who see them as circumventing the good intentions of the original law, which had Democratic roots, bipartisan support at the time of signing, and a Republican legacy.  Hopefully this situation might provoke positive changes and a reauthorization of the overdue ESEA law during Obama’s second term.  Additionally, I anticipate that Republicans at the state level will continue to push school voucher and tax credit legislation despite Mr. Obama’s position against it, as demonstrated by his stance on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Finally, the next four years will begin to show us the usefulness and effectiveness of the new Common Core State Standards, an endeavor that Obama’s administration has supported, sometimes dangling funds in front of leery states in order to get them on board.

This is what I anticipate.  I welcome hearing from you regarding what you suspect we will see in the next four years.

Photo credit: Romeo Area Tea Party

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just came across Ushahidi and am wondering how this "crowdsourcing" tool might support the kind of communication and community-building (read education) that Dewey -- and Jane Addams and others -- locate at the heart of democracy.  Remember, the cure for democracy is more democracy!   Anybody have ideas on how this came be used educationally?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Signal and the Noise in Ed Reform

Saw this in Leonard Mlodinow's review of Nate Silver's new book The Signal and the Noise (New York Times on-line this morning):
Healthily peppered throughout the book are answers to its subtitle, “Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t”: we are fooled into thinking that random patterns are meaningful; we build models that are far more sensitive to our initial assumptions than we realize; we make approximations that are cruder than we realize; we focus on what is easiest to measure rather than on what is important; we are overconfident; we build models that rely too heavily on statistics, without enough theoretical understanding; and we unconsciously let biases based on expectation or self-interest affect our analysis.
It struck me that this is a pretty good description of the "science" of education (and teacher) evaluation espoused by contemporary "reformers" (those who Debbie Meier calls "deformers"): models sensitive to assumptions, crude approximations, measuring what can be measured rather than what is important, basing models on self-interest. Silver's point is that it is very, very difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise. A little humility is in order ...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Parents Know Best—But Does That Mean Their Curriculum Conscience or Their School Choice is Better?

 Over the past year (1/14/12, 2/11/12, and 9/9/12), I’ve offered several posts about the role of parents, their rights, and their desire for school choice. Even though these topics were not something that interested me in the past, my developing interest should come as no surprise given the dramatic increases we’ve seen in discussions of school choice and parental rights, especially in the context of the election and in light of a slew of school choice related bills being introduced in states throughout the country.

In one of my earlier posts, I discussed a bill recently passed in NH (HB 542) that allows parents to remove their child from any teaching or curriculum they find objectionable to their conscience and to demand an alternative course of study. Related bills or practices are in place in other states like Missouri and Kentucky. I want to share with you here an intriguing analysis that stems from the work of law professor Robert Vischer that shows how calls to protect parents’ rights of conscience—while seemingly aligned with the rise in calls for wider school choice—may actually pose an interesting predicament for the two parental desires.

Many parents may support wider and publicly-financed forms of school choice in hopes that it will allow them to enact their conscience by selecting a school whose views are already more aligned with that of the parent. Interestingly, professor of law Robert Vischer remarks on the implications of parental conscience in relation to school choice: “As school choice bolsters the ability of a school to create its own identity, the ability to maintain and defend that identity presupposes a reduced authority for the individual consciences of the school’s prospective constituents” because “to the extent that the implementation of a school’s mission creates tension with a dissenting student’s conscience, the student’s exit option gives the school a stronger claim to maintain its mission” (2010, p 207). In other words, while school choice may enable parents to more thoroughly enact their conscience by selecting a school more closely aligned with their views, those parents lose the ability to flex their conscience by demanding curricular changes within the chosen school because parents have the ability to remove their child from that school at any point. In a setting of substantial school choice, the child is not a captive audience to a curriculum to which the parent objects and the parent has less grounds on which to dictate it.

I’ll be curious to see how parents reconcile their claims for school choice with the right to parental conscience in control over what is taught to their children.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

University of Phoenix 3-year Default Rate: 26.4%

The U.S. Department of Education has started publishing student loan default rates, and the University of Phoenix is, as usual, at the back of the pack. 26.4% of University of Phoenix students default on their student loans within 3 years.

Americans, that's a lot of your tax money down the drain (and lining the pockets of the giant corporations that run these schools). You can go here to browse the figures on some of the other proprietary schools (e.g. Ashford, Kaplan), many of which aren't doing a whole lot better. Should you wish to search conventional public and private universities, go here.

Naturally, the for-profit schools aren't going to take this default rate problem lying down! As Salon's Andrew Leonard explains in a great article, the colleges are now providing counseling to students to help them avoid default:
Lauren Asher, president of the higher education research and advocacy think tank the Institute for College Access and Success, questioned whether Corinthian’s sharp drop in default rates actually served the interests of students. She pointed to a May 3 conference call Corinthian held with investors, in which company executives acknowledged that much of the improvement resulted from “deferment and forbearance. “In other words, Corinthian students were being counseled on how to delay paying back their student loans, in order to avoid defaulting during the three-year window tracked by state and federal governments." 
Of course, this regime of counseling isn't simply out of the goodness of the proprietary schools' hearts--the threat of federal and state sanctions is motivating them to bring default rates down. Interestingly, as Leonard points out, this counseling may actually be harmful for some students who would default anyway, since delaying default simply adds to the balance of the loan.

Social Issues has lots more coverage on University of Phoenix and its brethren--here, here, and here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Looking for a Job? You Could Become the Canadian "Oil Sands" Professor of Early Mathematics Education

The University of Calgary's Faculty of Education is looking to fill a new job. Here's the description:
The Faculty of Education, invites applications for the position of Director, Early Mathematics Initiative. This is a 5-year Contingent Term academic position at the rank of Assistant Professor, requiring professional practice and research expertise in the area of Early Mathematics Education. The position involves teaching in the graduate and undergraduate programs in the area of Mathematics and particular responsibilities for coordination of activities associated with the Canadian Oil Sands - Early Mathematics Initiative (COS-EMI) initiative, located in the Faculty. 
The usual verbiage follows.

If the individual who eventually accepts this job is looking to be an ethical person, I'd advise them to focus their research on the development of addition and multiplication skills. That way, future generations of Albertans will be better able to calculate the additional greenhouse gases that the Tar Sands produce.

All joking aside, as academics working in education, I think it's time to start asking some hard questions about who we're really working for.

Are we prepared to accept money from anyone who is willing to donate? Or would restrictions on donations be a violation of academic freedom? 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Charter schools? It's about politics ...

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, Bill Keller notes that the 1989 fatwa against author Salmon Rushdie was never about religion, but about political advantage.   Similarly, argues Keller, the present upheaval in the Middle East over a “cheesy anti-Muslim video” is neither spontaneous nor religiously-motivated, but political organized.

I have been thinking the same thing about the apparently bipartisan effort to “reform” the schools that seems to have begun with No Child Left Behind but that probably must be traced back to A Nation at Risk and even to Sputnik and the National Defense Education Act in the late 1950s.  It’s not about the schools; it’s about politics.   It’s not about lack of student achievement or about the need for choice; it’s about securing political dominance for a peculiar version of a conservative political position.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Congratulations, Alberta teachers! You've won an all-expenses-paid trip to...Fort McMurray!

During the recent Québec election, sovereigntist Amir Khadir was asked what his party offered to federalist voters. He replied, "For Anglophones we will offer them a choice. They can either go to Fort McMurray or to Guantanamo, with a lovely view of the beach!"

As it turns out, as long as you don't have to stay at the prison, Cuba's Guantanamo province is definitely the better choice (great beaches and music). Fort McMurray, on the other hand, is a tough industrial city in Northern Alberta. And "Fort Mac," as they call it out Alberta way, is where all of the Tar Sands oil extraction activity is happening.

Now, unless you have been living under a rock, you will probably have heard something about the environmentally destructive aspects of the Tar Sands (or, as the oil companies prefer, the "Oil Sands") project. Not only does it produce five times the greenhouse gases per barrel of conventional oil, it also requires ripping up the land. The photo that you see below is the outcome of tar sands mining activity.

As one might expect, the fact that Fort McMurray has now replaced Sudbury as Canada's man-made moonscape capital has not exactly made it a top tourist destination. But there is one demographic that can't wait to sign up for trips out to Fort Mac: Alberta teachers. That's because Inside Education, an oil-company sponsored educational outfit, has been offering them all-expenses-paid "professional development" Tar Sands tours.

An uncommon sense about education

My 6 am taxi ride to the Nashville airport included an early morning educational eye opener, delivered by a self-proclaimed Virginia mountain man (complete with just the right bearing and beard), named Josh.   As he drove, Josh sequed from a notably sophisticated treatise on the hypocrisy of some people's attitudes toward medical care (and euthanasia) for animals vs. humans to a trenchant historical critique of Andrew Jackson (the treatment of native Americans was the connector here) to a concise listing of the keys to education.  I thought I'd share the latter with you here.

There are just three keys, says Josh.   First, teach your kids to read at a young age.   Second,  teach them to enjoy reading.   (He seemed concerned that we didn't model reading for pleasure and personal growth and also that adults might over-correct a child reading and kill the inclination to pick up some text.) Third,  teach them what's worth reading.   (He sounded a bit like the Bill Bennett of The Book of Virtues days, suggesting that the Bible or Aesop's Fables or Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac might offer both interest and character development, but then he opened up the universe of reading suggesting that the what to read question had an infinite number of answers.)

Josh  is willing to leave the teaching of reading in the hands of school teachers, though he seemed to think that even teaching the mechanics of reading was a team sport.   He clearly believes that teaching kids to enjoy reading and teaching them  what is worth reading is the responsibility of all of a child's "teachers"  (including parents and others, older and wiser).

I was struck by the uncommon sense of Josh's formulation and wondered to myself how the "underperforming" school I was in yesterday might be transformed if we concentrated on Josh's keys.  

I hasten to add that Josh completed his dissertation on reading before  he knew that I was a professor of education at Vanderbilt University.   When I disclosed that information and asked whether I might share his views with others on this blog, he replied quickly in the affirmative.  As we parted at the terminal door,  I told him that my goal as an educator of teachers was to replicate his spirit among those who were and would be teachers.  Josh is himself an educated mountain of a man.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Québec Student Movement Has Won

Today, in the aftermath of Québec's dramatic recent election, Premier Pauline Marois announced that she was cancelling the Liberal government's planned tuition hike. As you may recall from earlier posts, this tuition hike had touched off half-million strong street protests on the part of students across the province.

Law 78, which had been enacted by the Liberal government in response to the strike and which had severely restricted the right to public protest, was cancelled as well.

Needless to say, Marois' action constitutes a stunning, historic victory for the Québec student movement and should be cause for reflection on the part of students across North America. Although the political context outside Québec is substantially different, the students' battle nonetheless shows that mass solidarity and activism can make a major difference.

You can read more details here and here.

I'd love to mix it up in the comments with readers of this blog who may also be reflecting on the end of the Québec student strike. I'm also happy to answer any questions you might have about the strike. Have at it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rick Santorum, Democracy and Education

This post comes from guest blogger Zach Fox, a masters degree candidate at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University.

In a season of disheartening and sometimes alarming political rhetoric, Rick Santorum’s recent speech to the conservative Values Voters Summit may be a new low for social studies educators following this fall’s presidential election race. Santorum’s speech included a number of ahistorical assertions. He also clearly dismissed attempts by economic conservatives to distance themselves from social conservatives, but these are not new positions from the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

More troubling is Santorum’s jarring claim that, “[social conservatives] will never have the elite smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do.” One wonders just who he means by “the elite smart people.” After all, Santorum has three post-secondary degrees, including an M.B.A. and a J.D. He served two terms as a U.S. Senator, and he emerged as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s chief rival in the Republican presidential primary contests. He apparently means elite, smart, socially liberal people, but conveniently omits that last qualifier.

Santorum's statements position socially conservative Americans, and the founts of their values (the church and the family), as opponents of anti-democratic forces, here vaguely labeled "elite smart people...[who] believe they should have the power to tell you what to do." These forces are closely tied to higher education, continues Santorum: “So our colleges and universities, they’re not going to be on our side.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Commerce, Choice and Poverty (and the Chicago Teacher's Strike!)

This post comes from guest blogger Luke Freeman, a masters candidate at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College.

Last week, I heard a presentation at a conference in which the speaker pointed out that at the heart of the school choice movement lies a basic redefinition of the relationship between schools and students. As part of a much larger argument, the speaker, Michael Gunzenhauser, said that the relationship between schools and students is now more like commerce than it is like education. Of course, most parents, students, and teachers do not experience school in a commercial way, nor do they conceive of it as such. However, the point stands: funding is tied to enrollment, and charter schools draw students from schools city-wide. Thus, even traditional schools are now notionally bound to their students in a commercial role.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Note to my Alderman about the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

Even though I’m one of the many working parents inconvenienced by childcare this week, I spent most mornings out on the picket lines supporting the teachers strike. Yesterday I called my alderman’s office to voice my opinion, and when I mentioned that the job I’m trying to attend to this week is professor of education, the staff on the other end of the line had some questions. “Air conditioners?” she asked. “It seems like this strike is over air conditioners, but surely it can’t be that . . . ?” After we talked over the issues, she asked me to put them in an email for the Alderman. Here's what I wrote:

Beneath all the particular items on the negotiation table – the pay, class size, evaluation mechanisms – is a struggle over the deprofessionalization of teaching. In Chicago, teachers are standing up for their profession as a genuine profession worthy of respect. If our school system is to attract and retain good teachers (which is harder than the “lay the bums off!” crowd realizes), teaching needs to appeal to smart young people as a profession worthy of their ambitions. Whatever the reforms’ short-term impact, in the long term such reforms contribute to the growing problem of attracting and retaining qualified workers in an increasingly demonized profession.

Over the past twenty years, and most intensely since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2003, there has been a move to hold teachers accountable for problems in the public school system, without providing the money that would make this high expectation achievable. Neoliberal reformers like Rahm Emanuel argue that the path to improving schools is better teachers and that the way to improve teaching is to weed out the bad teachers. Good teachers are essential, but this does not mean that bad teachers are the real problem, nor is teacher accountability (including the new evaluation system) likely to improve the teaching force.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Conflicting goals, caring parents

This post comes from guest blogger Shara Bellamy, a masters degree candidate at Vanderbilt University

"I've given up on her. I'm just waiting for her to be arrested so jail can straighten her up." It was my second year of working in an urban school and despite having had many conversations with parents, this was something I had never expected to hear a parent say. I had hoped her mother could give me some insight or guidance, but instead I was speaking with a mother who I thought didn't care at all. More than once, she claimed that jail would be the thing to correct her daughter’s behavior.

I had heard people stereotype poor minorities before, saying many of them didn't care about their kids’ futures. It was easy for those I grew up around, in the comfort of an upper-middle class suburb that was well over 90% white, to make such generalizations. I found that for many of them, the only minorities with whom they had actually conversed were my dad, my sister, and/or me. When people with so little experience and knowledge of the lives of others make such statements, they are easy to ignore, but what about when I am faced with the truth myself? I had met people who thought school was unimportant before, in fact, I am related to quite a few people who believe that, but I had never seen this kind of. . . apathy?

How to Be a Teacher

The Chicago Teachers Union is on strike.

The strike is about more than wages: issues on the table include class size, teacher evaluation, and other matters directly related to pedagogy and how schools are managed.  The contract dispute is the latest front in the battle between teacher professionalism and neo-liberal reforms that aim to replace professional teaching with technocratic management.  This year's Chicago Public Schools budget shifted funds away from neighborhood public schools and towards charters. Against teachers' objections, CPS would link teachers' pay to student test scores.  In his press conference tonight, Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel used the word "accountability" over and over (including the curious usage ". . . give the principals the accountability they need," as if perhaps the chance to be held to task had been the unanswered dream on their bucket lists for years).  And so forth.

There will be more to say as the strike and continuing contract negotiations unfold, but in preparation for the strike, the CPS has prepared 144 holding pens for CPS students.  These sites will provide breakfast and lunch and 4 hours of "supervision."  (Officially, CPS is calling the program "Children First," but my inner George Orwell refuses to use that phrase, so I'll stick with holding pens.  If that sounds ideological, it's a step back from "POW camps," as I've also heard them called.)

On Friday, CPS released a brochure to be made available to supervisors at these sites.  Because neo-liberal reform tends towards the replacement of professional training of teachers with quick "how to be a teacher" crash courses, I thought the brochure might offer a perspective on what lies in store.  If anyone with a college degree can teach, and no special training in pedagogy, child development, the needs of children with disabilities, the needs of English Language Learners, and classroom management is necessary, it ought to be possible to boil down teaching to a brochure like this one.  It was, therefore, fascinating to see what the brochure lists in its bullet point provision of information.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

School Choice, Parents, and the Republican & Democratic National Conventions

While education was clearly not the central focus of either party’s national convention this year, both did note it within speeches and party platforms. Interestingly, education is one of the few areas in which President Obama’s vision shares many similarities with those of the Republicans, particularly in regard to accountability, performance-based pay for teachers, relatively low U.S. scores on international rankings, and proliferation of charter schools. But one area in which they are starkly different was central to the Republican speeches (especially that of Jeb Bush) and will likely become a major focus of Republican initiatives if they win control the White House: school choice. The Republican party platform declares choice “as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.” Certainly we have already begun to see increasing numbers of states considering Republican-proposed school choice legislation in the past year.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Revisiting The Public and its Problems: A Call for Paper Proposals

The John Dewey Society invites submissions for a special panel of papers revisiting Dewey’s most comprehensive work of political theory and democratic politics, The Public and its Problems (1927). Dewey wrote the book as a response to the deeply embedded skepticism of participatory democracy and public life expressed by democratic realists of the era like Walter Lippmann, author of The Phantom Public (1925). In response to Lippmann, Dewey (1927) offered a thorough analysis of early 20th century democracy and some of his best thinking on both the challenges of, and hopes for public life in democratic societies. The book remains a key text for pragmatists but particularly for pragmatists working in education, as the challenges and threats to the ideals of democracy in education — as it relates to curriculum, pedagogy, educational policy and politics, for example — abound today as never before. Indeed, we live in an era in which at times it seems the language of public ideals, public purposes, and public education itself seems naïve and hopelessly outdated. This, then, is a productive time for educational philosophers to revisit this key text in Dewey’s opus, one of his most important statements on democratic ideals, processes, and problems. We invite educators, philosophers, and educational theorists to engage the arguments, multiple interpretations, and contemporary implications of The Public and its Problems.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Québec is in shock after a possible assassination attempt on its new Premier

It was a tumultuous and ultimately tragic election night here in Québec. After an intense campaign marked by strident rhetoric on the part of all the major party leaders, Pauline Marois, leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québecois, won a minority government. This victory, however, was overshadowed by the fact that someone may have tried to assassinate Marois during her victory speech. The photo on the right shows her being pulled off the stage by her bodyguards.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Call for Papers from the Journal of Educational Controversy

VOL. 8 NO. 1 Fall 2013

Theme: Who Defines the Public in Public Education?

Controversy Addressed:

Our journal published an article recently on the banning of the Mexican-American curriculum in Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District. The incident raises many larger questions about what knowledge is of most worth, whose perspective gains ascendency in the curriculum, and what public is represented in the public schools. Controversies have emerged not only over what should be included in specific areas like the literary canon, historical interpretations, science curriculum, etc., but also in the larger arena of ideological frameworks over what it means to be human, what it means to be an educated person, and what social values should frame a public education in a society that embeds a fundamental tension between its capitalist economic system and its democratic egalitarian ideals. Even the tension between the secular and the religious continues to defy easy answers in a society that values separation between church and state. As Warren Nord says about the typical study of economics, it assumes that “economics is a science, people are essentially self-interested utility-maximizers, the economic realm is one of competition for scarce resources, values are personal preferences and value judgments are matters of cost-benefit analysis.” (Warren A. Nord, “The Relevance of Religion to the Curriculum,” The School Administrator, January 1999.) In effect, the so-called secular study of economics makes a number of assumptions about human nature, society, and values. What is left out of this study of the economic domain of life is the theologian’s questions of social justice, stewardship, poverty and wealth, human dignity and the meaningfulness of work. To what degree do students understand or are even aware of these hidden assumptions in their study of economics and other subjects? To what degree should other perspectives be included? We invite authors to shed some light on these questions.



Authors can find the journal at:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Apparently we still have confidence in public school teachers

This post comes from guest blogger Melissa Martens, a masters degree student at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University.

Reading through the vast blogosphere of articles relating to educational policies and opinions can be a rollercoaster ride. Someone portrayed as a mighty hero in one article is the greatest villain in another. Often, I find that “bad teachers” get the attention and “good teachers” are forgotten (their stories are much less juicy and stir up less controversy and interest). As politicians, committee members, and news outlets debate and criticize the teaching profession, they highlight failures to prescribe personal ideas of the illusive panacea.

With all this bad press and criticism, I can’t help but wonder when we stopped respecting teachers. During the year and a half that I taught in South Korea, one of the things that I found most striking about the educational system was the admiration their society had for teachers. Teachers were valued and esteemed for their hard work and dedication to students. From what I observed, parents supported them and their decisions instead of questioning or undermining them.

Could I say the same about public opinion of teachers in the United States? I questioned if my society saw teachers this way or if they viewed them as problems. The way some education reformers, politicians, and authors speak, teachers sometimes look like selfish, horned creatures that only cared about raises and tenure (and would rather eat children than teach them). However, I knew this could not be the case. Why would someone enter the teaching profession with that mindset? It’s not a glamorous, six-figure job; it’s hard work! I had to believe that people who went into teaching had the best interests of students at heart. Did anyone else agree?

I saw an interesting article on Education Week by John Wilson entitled “New Poll Shows Public Confidence in Teachers.” I hate to say that I was a bit surprised to read this headline in light of recent news, but most of all, I was encouraged. The article talks about the 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” and quoted that “For the third year in a row, three out of four Americans say they have trust and confidence in the men and women who teach in the public schools.” Although they did not necessarily think that public schools nationally were doing a great job, they had more positive perceptions of their local schools and reported faith in teachers. This is a very interesting societal perception. It also mentioned that the public was split about using student test data to determine teacher effectiveness and thought that schools should be involved in the discipline of bullies, even if they are bullying others on the Internet or outside of the school day.

In the midst of education reform and political elections, it seems easy to blame teachers for the problems in education. We certainly hear powerful people criticizing them, but it gives me courage that most of the American people still have confidence in public school teachers. Do you?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Whatever happened to those Québec student protests?

It's been a while since the rest of the world heard much about the Québec student protests. After a spring filled with hundred-thousand strong marches, things have died down considerably. There are very few protests in the streets, and hardly anyone is banging on pots.

Given this relative tranquillity, one would think that the issue had been resolved. This, however, is far from being the case. The government and the students never managed to negotiate an agreement, and the legal challenges to Law 78 (which severely restricted the right to protest) are ongoing. So if the disagreements are still outstanding, why is everything so quiet?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"What Really Matters is the Quality of Teaching": Gender Balance and Primary Education

Over on the IOE London blog, Director Chis Husbands has recently contributed an account of some of the economic and historical reasons why the number of male primary teachers in some European countries is so low. He also explains why we have good reason to think that this number will improve into the future.

As a former primary school teacher, I found his analysis pretty spot on - I fell into primary school teaching after training to be a high school teacher. We were always told that high school teaching was "serious" business, while primary work is an extension of daycare. I see that this is no longer the case, of course, and in many respects my primary teaching years have comprised some of the best and most fulfilling work I have had the opportunity to engage in. I only wish I had gotten that message earlier in my teaching career.

The comment that seemed to have gotten the most attention, however, is Husband's concluding remark:

There is a recurring concern about the absence of men in primary schools, and the claimed lack of role models for boys. The evidence on the importance of gender role models in primary school is mixed. It’s important, for all sorts of reasons, that public service professions are not gendered. But in the classroom, what really matters is the quality of teaching.

Is the quality of a teacher's practice and the role modelling of gender entirety separable issues? Even if gender does in fact have little demonstrable impact on individual educational attainment, might an educational environment defined by great gender balance contribute to the educational process in other important ways?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Penn State? Who created the darkness?

If someone commits evil under cover of darkness, whom shall we punish? The one who commits the evil or the ones who create the darkness?

(The above is a "remembered quote" rattling around in my head. However, I can remember neither the source of the quote nor the exact wording. I apologize for my failing memory, but the point is still worth a bit of meditation.)

It occurs to me that this thought applies equally well to the Sandusky/Paterno/Penn State saga as it does to the Aurora massacre. That there were small children present for the premier of "The Dark Knight Rises" and that we put guns in the hands of a young man who is clearly mentally ill (perhaps sent over the cliff into insanity by the last iteration of the Dark Knight -- think Heath Ledger) implicates all of us in a tragedy beyond measure. We created the darkness that covered James Holmes.

But this morning as talk radio (not just sports radio) is bloated with bloviation about the NCAA sanctions, my mind is on the multiple layers of darkness with a common epicenter in Happy Valley. I have been concerned for months that the legal and institutional responses to this travesty render a clear judgment that the behavior of Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, et al. (including Jay Paterno and Mrs. Paterno and Mrs. Sandusky) was not in any way acceptable. I have also been concerned that those responses be constructive: making the victims whole by acknowledging the complexity of their experience for which they were and are not responsible, and ensuring that this could not happen again. In other words, I have been concerned that we would lift the multiple veils of darkness.

The Freeh Commission began the process.
1) Joe Paterno was only human. He was gloriously talented and accomplished and so very sadly flawed. (He was also aging. Does anybody seriously think that his judgment was not compromised as other problems -- players in legal trouble remaining on the team, for example -- emerged in a program that had once been squeaky clean? Who is responsible for failing to level with Mr. Paterno about his own failings? His son, Jay, perhaps? The Board of Trustees, unquestionably. The PSU alumni? You bet. By the way, Graham Spanier is not responsible for this layer of darkness .... He tried to save Joe from himself.)
2) The Board of Trustees supported the deification of one man, failing to fulfill their own responsibility to the well-being of all young people.
3) The administration of the university owed their jobs to Joe. They could not or would not challenge him.
4) Major college athletics dominates decision-making in universities around the country.

But there are more layers of darkness that have to be exposed:

5) Penn State fans pass their season tickets down from generation to generation constructing and legitimizing a cult that is impenetrable. This is why the university could announce a hike in football ticket prices this week in advance of the NCAA's announced sanctions.
6) The legislature in Pennsylvania (and legislatures throughout the country) have been cutting state aid to public and publicly-supported higher education for decades. Penn State, a land grant institution, has had subsidies cut to the bone. At the same time, there is significant political pressure to keep tuition affordable. In that fiscal stranglehold, the Board of Trustees understandably supports the care and feeding of the "golden calf" that at Penn State really did subsidize the academic side of the ledger. (So when Governor Tom Corbett gets up and says that no taxpayer money will go into paying the $60 million dollar fine the NCAA has levied, he is either terribly stupid or wildly hypocritical -- and frankly, the evidence suggests both. If it's football ticket money that pays for this, then there will be less football money to subsidize academics ... and tuition will rise and/or program quality be cut. The citizens of Pennsylvania will pay.)
7) As a community, writ large and writ local, we have failed to understand the meaning of responsibility. A Penn State employee told me that "insurance" would pay for law suit settlements, etc. Anybody who ever claimed insurance compensation knows that this is nonsense. A claim (whether to an insurance trust or a self-insurance fund) has to be recouped and replenished. There is no free ride. But the point of responsibility is not retrospective punishment -- as emotionally satisfying as that may seem in the moment. The point of responsibility is prospective. Who are we going forward? What does "We are Penn State!" mean? What will it mean tomorrow and tomorrow?

For the most part, the University has been remarkably good about taking responsibility for its role in creating the darkness that gave Jerry Sandusky cover and that allowed Paterno et al. to keep the lights off. But others are not. I just heard Franco Harris on the radio (Franco Harris whom I have always admired as an athlete) saying that this hasn't played out yet and the Freeh report is just one source of evidence. Oh, please, Franco ...

The NCAA has come up with a ridiculous set of sanctions that will allow all the other NCAA Division I schools where all sorts of "evil" (sexual harassment, rape, academic corner-cutting, misuse of young athletes) are being covered up under cover of a related darkness. And I suspect they have done so in order to label Penn State as the source of the evil and to cloak themselves in a cover of "light."

They didn't have to take away fourteen years worth of victories ... just two victories would have cleared the way for Grambling's Eddie Robinson. (Or do they truly have a gallows sense of humor, establishing Mike McQueary as the last successful Penn State quarterback??)

I am more concerned about what the NCAA did not do. Yes, they have punished Penn State severely, making it likely that education will cost more. But in the process of punishing just Penn State, they have made it seem that only they are the transgressors ... when it is we who have created the darkness.

[Postscript: If I were the Queen, I would have required that a statement be read at the start of every NCAA event (and printed on all tickets) at every school for a period of three years minimum saying something like: "We in the NCAA are committed to the prevention of child sexual abuse and every other kind of human abuse and harassment (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological) and we pledge to bring such abuse and harassment to light. What happened at Penn State and Syracuse and -- we acknowledge -- in other forms in other NCAA institutions, will not happen again." And then I would leave the financial and juridical consequences of all this to the courts.]

[Post- postscript: Would somebody please tell Jay Paterno to stop whining?]

Saturday, July 14, 2012

John Dewey and His Continued Relevance

I have a new book out this month and after having the manuscript out of my hands with the publisher for a while now, I sat down to flip through it. The book is about how to develop good citizenship skills in school children, especially the ability to speak out in political dissent, given recent shifts in American democratic practice following open protests in our streets promoted most notably by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. When looking back at the book, I was reminded at the outset of chapter 1 of a debate I had with myself about John Dewey and his relevance today.

Like many other authors, I decided to start the book with a quote. I had an array of suitable lines at the ready, most by political leaders. Yet I found myself coming back again and again to a quote by Dewey. Despite being from 1922, I was surprised at its continued pertinence to life in US schools and society. Ringing in the back of my mind were words spoken partially in jest and partially in sincerity by a dear member of my doctoral committee when I decided to write my dissertation on Dewey several years ago: “get over Dewey.” While herself enamored with many of Dewey’s ideas, I had wondered if perhaps she was right; maybe it was time to move on to someone new or different. Yet I just can’t seem to do it. I continue to find such rich insight in Dewey, such careful assessment of context that, though many things have changed in our contemporary age, still serves as a model for how to analyze educational contexts today and still rings true in many cases. So, like many others, Dewey opens my book and I’m sure that many others in the future will use his words as well.

And for those who are wondering what those words might be:

“What will happen if teachers become sufficiently courageous and emancipated to insist that education means the creation of a discriminating mind, a mind that prefers not to dupe itself or to be the dupe of others? Clearly they will have to cultivate the habit of suspended judgment, of scepticism, of desire for evidence, of appeal to observation rather than sentiment, discussion rather than bias, inquiry rather than conventional idealizations. When this happens schools will be the dangerous outposts of a humane civilization. But they will also begin to be supremely interesting places. For it will then have come about that education and politics are one and the same thing because politics will have to be in fact what it now pretends to be, the intelligent management of social affairs.” Education as Politics, 1922, p. 141

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Democratic Culture and the Culture of Fear

I have just published a new op/ed style essay, Democratic Culture and the Culture of Fear, on the recent protests in Québec. It's part of the second volume of a special rush issue of the Journal of Mobile Media. It's available here, along with many other interesting articles on the same theme.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Making an Educational Statement!

Many individuals in and outside the educational profession are aware of the rising drop-out rate of students. We have heard and discussed educational reform, but do we really "see" the importance/need for finding ways to reach students in our ever-changing society? One such organization, SS&K, has taken the initiative to visually demonstrate what 857 students dropping out of high school every single hour, every single school day in the United States looks like. As Adam Hollander, the person responsible for the desk display stated, "We now live in a very visual culture. Now, you have to see it to believe it. Everybody hears that 857 number, but it doesn't really mean anything until you're able to see it." The visual statement was made with the goal of calling attention to the urgency for educational change in our society. Will 857 desks on the National Mall make a difference? Yes, no, maybe so . . . While such a demonstration may not give steps/directions for movement, it definitely calls attention to how fast our high school students are fleeing classrooms.  

857 Empty Desks

What’s in a Zero? Policy-Borrowing and Bad Ideas?

The 'no-zero' policy - the idea that teacher's cannot assign students a zero for incomplete assignments - has just celebrated it's first anniversary in Newfoundland and Labrador's Eastern School District. Along with some recent controversies in Western Canada over the suspension of teachers that have allegedly refuse to follow a similar policy has come some renewed media attention on the policy.

You can hear a short audio report of how the policy has been received in Newfoundland by students, teachers and parents here. Some think that the policy ensures that the assessment of learning is treated separately from discipline. Other feels that the policy teaches children that there are few consequences for not meeting deadlines.

The topic is an interesting one in it's own right, but as a recent editorial in the Evening Telegram points out, this is also a good example of ‘policy-borrowing’ or policy-exporting - the spread of educational polices from large centers to small ones. The no-zero policy in the Eastern School District is thought to be at least partly inspired by an Ontario policy directive that “teachers separate their evaluation of students’ work from their evaluation of students’ behaviour“. Smaller school districts do not have the same resources as larger centers. Perhaps policy-borrowing represent an attempt to 'keep-up' or appear 'cutting edge'?

I’m sure there are other influences. But it’s worth wondering about how districts decide what polices are worth importing, and equally, what assumptions about teaching and learning are underwriting the policies that are brought in. Like introducing and foreign species, or bad fashion trends, policy-borrowing can have unintended consequences.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What was he thinking?! Montreal teacher shows murder video to his students

Some of you may have heard that Montreal was recently gripped by the horrifying killing of a Chinese student, Jun Lin. This person, the notoriety of whom we do not need to increase by mentionning his name, filmed the whole thing, and the video somehow became available on the web.

Normally, I wouldn't write about this, since it has nothing to do with education. But in a bizarre development, a Montreal 10th grade History and Citizenship teacher apparently decided to show this murder video to his students! He was, not surprisingly, suspended on the spot. Patrick Lagace has broken the story in La Presse, and CBC now has the full story (in English) here.

Interestingly, CBC tells us that the teacher asked the students to vote on whether they wanted to see the video, and they decided (via secret ballot) that they wanted to see it. This was, to say the least, a major error in classroom democracy.

This is probably the strangest education story that I've come upon in a long time. Right now, we have few details, but I will keep you updated as it develops.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Check out this special issue dedicated to the Québec protests...

One of my colleagues at Concordia, Kim Sawchuk, edits Wi, a journal of mobile media. The journal has just published a special issue on the Québec protests (and the repressive Bill 78) that can be found here. There are a number of interesting contributions by students and faculty from Concordia, Mcgill, and Université de Montréal--check them out!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Make them wallow in their grief!" More tales from the for-profit college wasteland

It's time for yet another round with one of my personal bete noires, for-profit colleges.

In a previous post, I explained one of the softer sides of the for-profit sales pitch, which is basically "Go to college the EZ way." Go to school in your PJs, in your house, on your computer, in your car (this is America, after all)--anywhere but in the good ol' classroom. Education Connection, a sales lead generating agency for the for-profit colleges, has enlisted Shannen Doherty to make this pitch, but unknown fluorescently-white-toothed American actresses are on the payroll as well (see video below).

Yet beyond the twilit realm of pyjamas advertising, there is a mean, sharp edge to the sales pitch, and we have found out a bit more about it thanks to a recent lawsuit against Everest College, one of Corinthian Colleges' (a giant for-profit university chain) outlets in Utah.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Advertising in Schools to a Poor and Captive Audience

I was struck this week by the juxtaposition of reading a recent news story about the growth of advertising in large and impoverished school districts who are desperate for funding (USA today) and an article from February about districts near Santa Monica where wealthy parents are lavishing private donations on their schools to provide for extra resources and enrichment activities (LA Times). Not long ago I also read a news story about one of the many creative spaces proposed for advertising in some large districts in Florida (and already in place elsewhere) which were identified for their great potential as a massive and untapped market: school buses (Orlando). This reminded me of other reports I’ve read of advertising on grade cards and in bathroom stalls—a place I’ve always thought of as a private refuge from the world. When I talk with my college students in my preservice teacher education course about school advertising they are often quick to say that advertising is no big deal and it’s everywhere. But it’s not everywhere equally. And that fact may be part of the reason why it’s a big deal.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Molleindustria: radical video games you can play in your browser

As some regular readers of this blog already know, I have an interest in using video games as civic education tools. One especially radical and interesting possibility in this regard is to use video games to highlight critical social questions, and this has been the path taken by Molleindustria, an Italian collective that "aims to reappropriate video games as a popular form of mass communication."

Molleindustria has released two flash-based games that I think you should go play RIGHT NOW (video gaming in the office is legit if it is for academic purposes, and I'm giving you a free pass)! The games are free to play, and you can run them in your internet browser.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clueless: Power-Speak on Public Schooling 1

Clueless: Power-Speak on Public Schooling 1
This blog entry starts an effort to critique neo-liberal programs of educational reform through a close reading and commentary on "U.S. Education Reform and National Security," recently released by the Council on Foreign Relations. The entire critique will comprise 6 to 9 installments, with the full text of each appearing roughly once a week on the blog, Formative Justice.

In mid April, the Council on Foreign Relations presented its Independent Task Force Report No. 68, the fruit of the Council's first assessment of American K-12 schooling —"U.S. Education Reform and National Security." The Council charged thirty private sector leaders from commerce, academe, advocacy groups, and officialdom to report on the repercussions for national security arising because "America's primary and secondary schools are widely seen as failing." So charged, the Task Force (henceforth TF68) further hyped the failure of the schools and reiterated favorite elite prescriptions, frequently intoned with minor variations since Sputnik went into orbit in 1957. The variant by TF68 is mindless verbiage, deeply irrelevant to the education of the young and to the experience of the adult.

Symptomatic inadequacies in the Report do not stem from failings peculiar to the members of TF68. Their acculturation to the power elite has embedded them in the mythologies of American meritocracy ever more deeply. Meritocratic myth impairs a believer's capacity to grasp the realities of living experience. Already over-committed, TF68 members were selected because each was an important person charged with substantial responsibilities, high and complex. Through long apprenticeship, they had become adept at accomplishing additional tasks by hewing to the path of least resistance within the community of their peers. Hence, they could do their work with dispatch.

In about a year, with a few meetings for deliberation, TF68 diagnosed and prescribed their remedies for an enterprise that rivals the national security state in scope and scale. They wrote their findings up in 60 pages, with a further ten for genteel caveats. The result reprises A Nation at Risk, Tough Choices or Tough Times, and other jeremiads. In view of the dire threat this iteration purports to address, its prescriptions are limited and stale. Let us recognize that this Report is less the original work of the Task Force and more an expression of pure "power-speak"—an example of the free-world dialect of conformism at work.

Read more. . . .