Tag Archives: Teachers College

Dear Secretary Duncan: Stop the Rape of Social Studies in America

Dear Secretary Duncan:

(We’re not that formal here in the Neighborhood…is Arne okay?)

You may not know us, Arne, but we do know you.

We know how your corporate mentality, go-get’em attitude and boardroom smile have wowed the spastic, slightly deranged menagerie known as the education establishment.

The goofy minions at Teach for America, the boys who started those KIPP academies, the slack-jawed tweed-types at Teachers’ College all fell for your spell. Lucy Calkins must’ve soiled herself at the sight of you.

We know how as Secretary of Education, you’ve basically continued the half-brained policies of a certain Gentlemen’s C student that we need not mention.  Never mind that those policies have little theoretical or analytical basis, are unrealistic and create a permanent underclass—you’ve got to follow through, just like your jump shots in the vaunted Australian basketball league.

We also know that you’ve got a real hard-on for charter schools (I’m sorry, this is an education blog, we mean “erection”).  We don’t blame you—with little oversight, little control over curriculum and pedagogy, no kids with “special needs”  and no pesky unions to push adequate wages and whatnot, it’s practically a CEO job.  Just give “empowering” goals and let the rest run itself.  That certainly has worked in the past, right?

And speaking of goals, we also know how much you love that buzzword of the moment, “accountability.”  In your world, Arne, that means standardized tests and oodles of data.  Charts now show trends for every stage in a child’s development, in any subject, at any time of day.  Have enough kids fart in the wind or give swirlies to a fat kid in the boys’ room, and you better believe there’ll be documentation on it.   Of course, the teacher’s always to blame.

Finally, we know all about the Race to the Top.  We have to admit, it’s one heck of a devious plot there, Arne.  Only the truly misanthropic and soulless would devise a remake of Glengarry Glen Ross (the movie, not the play) where everyone is Levene and Ricky Roma is already on the board of directors.   So who gets the steak knives?  Does Mississippi get fired?

Yes, Arne, we know a whole hell of a lot about you…but we’re not bastards.  We’re willing to forgive.

In fact, we’re willing to turn the other way on a lot of this, and believe me; it’ll take a lot of effort to do so.

Just as long as you can help us with one little problem.

Arne, stop the systematic rape and persecution of social studies in this country.

I’m guessing you’re like so many of the twits of our educational universe that see social studies—history, geography, government, economics—as subjects best left for secondary school, or best, college where kids with “special needs” won’t have to worry about it.

Social studies is usually the first to be cut, the least of resources, the most crunched in terms of time—and most importantly, the least assessed.

Bet that last one got your attention, Arne, didn’t it.

Yes, social studies does not get the rigorous attention the other “better” subjects get when it comes to the old #2 pencil and scan-tron sheet.  In New York, until recently, there’s only been one state test in 5th grade, then one in 8th grade.  Even these can’t adequately prepare students for the exams in high school.

Now, thanks to our unelected New York Board of Regents, we cannot even administer those last two tests, either.

The Board of Regents voted to cancel testing in social studies in grades 5 and 8 as a cost-saving measure.  We won’t go into the details (you’re a busy man, gutting our public schools and whatnot) except that they saw this as the only alternative to saving testing in the “better” subjects.  Similar votes are probably being conducted in other states as well.

Normally, this would be a state problem, and we wouldn’t be bothering you or cutting into your goofy smiling time.  Yet the Board’s recent action doesn’t jive with a certain application for Phase II funds from a certain contest you’re running.

According to page 106 of New York’s RTTT Phase II application submitted earlier this month, it states that

“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as scores obtained on New York’s secondary-level Regents examinations (see Appendix C_1_2).”

How on Earth does this fit into the Board of Regents’ recent actions?  There’s only one response—they lied to you, Arne.  Because of these cuts in testing, New York State is no longer compliant under the ESEA.  We brought this up in an e-mail to your man James Butler, who’s the point person for RTTT, yet it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Here’s where you can help.

New York was recently named a finalist for Race to the Top.  Great.  We know you also have a bit of a stiffie over New York’s largest city, also named New York.  You love our Oompa-Loompa-like mayor that acts without any thought of popular opinion, and our Nosferatu-esque schools chancellor that dutifully administers policy and takes blame for its failures.

You wouldn’t want them to cut “better” subjects to the kiddies due to lack of funds, would you, Arne?

We think you should really look over New York’s application in this final round.  If New York is to be awarded this grant, it should be on the condition that ALL testing in ALL subjects be restored as soon as possible, preferably by the next school year.  Remember, Arne, that New York is not compliant anymore—hold their ass to the fire because of it.

They lied to you, buddy.  Don’t take that crap lying down.

Besides, pushing for more testing is a win-win for everybody.  You get the data you need to show our kids “progressing”, based on whatever formula your cellar-dwellers devise.  Social studies gets a fair share of time and resources once the fear of assessment is brought back.  Students will learn about their country and its great history—even if it kills them.

Finally, Arne, this action will stop the progressive dumbing-down of our students in terms of their own history , geography and government.  Social studies needs a prominent place at the table of education; don’t relegate it to the kiddie table.

We’ll even sweeten the deal for you.  We’ll get you a cup of coffee—whatever size, whatever blend—on us.

But this comes only after you help restore social studies testing.  After all, coffee is for closers.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Mr. D and the rest of the folks at Mr. D’s Neighborhood

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A Master’s Degree Can’t be This Easy! A Proposal to Improve Teacher Prestige

577736727_0ca0e96070Maybe I was the exception, but the easiest time I had at school was the two years when I earned my Masters Degree.

Coming out of an elite northeastern college, I had expected graduate education to be of the “Beautiful Mind” type: overcompetitive scientist/historian/scholar types with stuffy professors that smoke pot and screw their teaching assistants–oh, wait, that was college.  Well, grad school school was supposed to be more of the same: rigorous academic research, meticulous papers, brutal feedback, tweed jackets.

“Rigorous” would not describe my teaching degree program.  Papers that would have gotten belly laughs at the Georgetown sociology department were getting plaudits and “A’s.”  I coasted through many of the classes without reading any of the books.  By the last semester, I hadn’t bought a single book.  Classroom discussion descended into bitching sessions about students, administrators, parents–definitely important, but not entirely suitable for a graduate classroom.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem twenty years ago.  Yet today, with the insistence of higher teacher standards, accountability, and especially the inevitable demise of summer vacation, education has to take a hard look in the mirror.  We need to get our own house in order so that we can demand the concessions we deserve, such as commensurate pay and benefits.

I know I won’t make friends with this column, but it is necessary for the future of our profession.  Teaching, for all its rewards, has a severe image problem.  Teachers get into the profession because it is “easy.”  They only work 10 months a year.  If they were smarter, they’d make more money in a “real” job.  In short, teaching has very little respect in America.

Much, though not all, of the blame has to do with one aspect of this profession.  Getting an education degree is entirely too easy.

Historically, teacher education has gotten the shaft because of its evolution as a “woman’s” job.  Unlike other professions such as the law or medicine, teaching has not had a long history of focused professionalization.  The first teaching schools were called “normal schools” meant to teach women (and some men) the ins and outs of education and working with children.  As they developed into the first education schools, these institutions still carried the “stigma” associated with a female-oriented profession.  Thus their lack of resources, funding and respect.

This still exists today, and it revolves around two key issues.  The first is ease of entry: aside from a handful of select programs, such as Teachers’ College (TC) at Columbia University, education programs are not known to be particularly selective, at least from an academic standpoint.  This is why many people who have not found much success in other areas come to education.  If education is filled with the leftovers of economic progress, it is no wonder teachers lack respect in the wider community.

Once a person is in a graduate program, though, the experiences vary in terms of rigor, focus and utility.  Many of the older, more established programs such as TC have coupled the classical methods of theory and analysis with workshops of curriculum development and classroom management.  The vast majority of programs, however, are moving toward the workshop model.  This gives needed help to the rookie teacher, but it can’t be described as academically rigorous.

In fact, if there was a word that described education programs, it would be “tedious.” There is a lot of work, but none of it is truly of the hard-nosed, rigorous research that would merit an academic journal.  Take my final project, for example–a hodgepodge of papers, lesson plans, and “reflections” meant to show my “growth” as an educator.  This task of accumulation and cataloging was a pain in my ass, but not intellectually stimulating.  In fact, it was more of an exercise in bullshit, as many of my colleagues never even did their lesson plans, having students write out “work” hastily to show “evidence” of classroom instruction.

In any other setting, such work would merit expulsion.  That’s the problem.  If teachers want to argue for a pay on par with our academic credentials, then we should have academic credentials worth fighting for.  Our profession has more graduate degrees than almost any other, people like Harry Wong like to crow.  Yet degrees work on supply and demand as well; if everyone can get one, it isn’t worth anything.

Doctors, lawyers, even MBAs get more because society values their work more.  Its harder to enter these professional schools, and the work is often more rigorous.  Teachers work much harder, in many cases.  Yet they will never get the respect of these other professions if training is so easy to obtain and complete.  It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

One might argue that this will lead to severe teacher shortages.  This may be true, but ask yourself this: do you want to risk a classroom of children with someone who is underqualified and undereducated?  Believe me, if education programs become more rigorous and selective nationwide, all teachers will benefit.  Salaries will soar.  Opportunities will abound.  Our profession will enjoy a respect it has never had before.

All comments and critiques are welcome.

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