When Public Money Goes Private: Charter Schools, Privatization, & Pipelines

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Image Credit: Rob Pongsajapan

In a few weeks, Massachusetts will vote on lifting the cap on its number of charter schools. Naturally, this has led to a feud rivaling Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets—minus the star crossed lovers who will admit to liking someone from the other side.

Wherever you live, you’ve likely come across charter school debates. You’ve probably even heard phrases like corporate interests, privatization, and for-profit schools thrown around. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve scratched your head as to what these phrases actually mean.

Recently, a friend of mine asked, Does anyone actually understand the model behind the “for profit” charter schools? Aren’t publicly funded schools non-profit by nature? How are charter schools creating a revenue stream?

My questions exactly….

Charter schools don’t charge tuition, so it’s easy to think they wouldn’t create any “profit” system anyone would be interested in.

But that’s where we’d be wrong.

When Public Money Goes Private

Before anyone gets excited, I’m not going to talk about whether individual charter schools are good/bad/amazing/evil/etc. For that argument, please see every other article about charter schools ever. Here, I hope to explore the relationship of charter schools to profit, land, and privatization.  Continue reading

No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement

Just. Say. Sit Down—his voice buzzed into my earpiece—Stop saying ‘Please.’

No, I was never in the secret service. This was a teacher training program. From the back of my classroom, my “real-time coach” whispered into a microphone, a notebook covering his face so students couldn’t hear. If it sounds like a bizarre setup, it was. While it’s always helpful to have another set of eyes on the room, this coaching was directed at reforming my language. Yes, I suffered from a particular linguistic afflictionone that was ostensibly leading to noncompliance in my classroom: my propensity for “permission seeking language.” I asked too many questions, made requests instead of commands, and had the gall to say “please” and “thank you” to the students in my classroom.

No-Nonsense Teaching

A recent NPR article outlined the increasingly popular “No-Nonsense” teaching method. In this approach, teachers manage their classrooms through explicit directives, minimal praise, and 100% compliance. To. The. Letter.

“Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you’re following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper.”

The piece calls the approach a “unique teaching method [that] empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.”

But last week, the NYTimes released footage of a teacher at Success Academy, a No-Nonsense charter network, berating a 1st grade classroom for struggling with math. Continue reading

Why Technology is No Quick “Fix” for Education

Flickr Image via frankieleon

Flickr Image via frankieleon

Many speak of technology’s potential to “fix” education. But if it can, the question is–why hasn’t it yet?

The tools for a digital revolution are there, and have been for quite some time. Twenty years ago, the possibility of a TV set in every classroom was supposed to utterly transform education, unite the world, and even replace teachers. (As children of the 90’s will attest, nothing made you happier than walking into the classroom and seeing that beautiful TV cart—Bill Nye and no homework!). And this was all before near-ubiquitous internet, Skype, and online courses put the world at our fingertips.

So why has there been so little, actual change? Last week, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kentaro Toyama discussed what calls technology’s Law of Amplification: In his experience, technology’s impact has a built-in limit: how well a system functions already. According to Toyama, “While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.”

Take the example of open online courses, available free of charge to Continue reading

High Stakes Testing and Critical Thinking: Is Balance Possible?

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Note: This post was part of a larger conversation between nine educators on C.M. Rubin’s Global Search For Education Blog on The Huffington Post.

 Can teachers balance high stakes test prep with critical thinking?

Let me first say that I don’t have a magical answer; anyone who says he does is trying to sell something. Let me also say that, for this post, I’m going to set aside the (utterly imperative) question of whether or not schools should engage in high stakes testing, and instead focus on how teachers—within our current reality—can balance test prep alongside deep, critical learning.

Like many, I’ve struggled with this balance, particularly while teaching in South Korea where “high stakes” takes on a whole new meaning: Though Korea boasts some of the world’s highest test scores, this comes at the expense of untenable student stress, staggering rates of teen suicide, and an education system largely geared toward cramming for tests. Fortunately, my employer understood that critical thinking can actually boost test scores, and we engaged students in collaborative learning, tackling real world issues through interactive “critical thinking projects.” Students worked hard, improved their English, and actually had some fun in the process.

And oh yeah: They passed exams, often with flying colors.

As a high school English teacher in the U.S., I’ve seen a school-as-test-prep mentality increasingly Continue reading

“Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here

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Note: This post was co-written with two student teachers, who wished to keep their names and institutions anonymous.

Dear Veteran Teacher,

You may not remember, but earlier today, your new student teacher asked you how to make her lessons more accessible to diverse learners.

You dismissed that as largely unnecessary – at such a high-performing school as yours – and told her, “You’re fortunate, we have no English Language Learners here.”

You probably weren’t aware of what you said. Or what it meant.

I’m sure you’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students of color here,” though you have very few.

You’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students with special needs here,” though I don’t see them either.

So I’m wondering, how did such an unfortunate comment could roll so effortlessly and unabashedly off your tongue? Continue reading

Test Makers and Oil Companies: Business Model Bedfellows?

“It has often struck me that a conflict of interest exists across education systems, state or private, where the awarding bodies of high stakes examinations are also owned by the very same companies who sell the content, that must be learned, to pass the test….

“Imagine if automotive companies were owned by the oil industry. We would still be driving around in cars that did 5 miles to the gallon with no sign of a real commitment to clean, sustainable energy in sight. End to end business models, cartels and monopolies tend to be bad for innovation and progress.”

Thus begins a thought-provoking article on “The Education Economy,” posted by Graham Brown-Martin for Learning {Re}imagined. It includes this video interview with Sir Ken Robinson (who once delivered the most viewed TED talk in history) discussing resemblances between “Big Education” and “Big Pharma/Tobacco.”

 

What do you think? Is there a “conflict of interest” at work here? Is Robinson on to something about the dangers of an ever-growing “Education Economy?”

~C.B.

Feel free to comment below or on the blog’s Facebook Page.

Shape Up – There’s an Ed-Talent Scout on Campus!

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Well, it’s clear that someone at the New York Times read my last post on bringing more men to the teaching profession. While I focused on gender, the conclusion asked how we could make teaching more appealing across the board, and the Times kindly dedicated an entire “Room for Debate” segment to answering me.

So here you have it: Six educationists chimed to ask “What can be done to make a career in education more attractive to men and people of color?”

You may, of course, read the columns in their entirety, but here’s a quick tally of the most prominent suggestions:

Continue reading