Jul 29, 2009
It’s no secret that if you don’t toe the philosophical line in many teacher education programs, you encounter hindrances that range from brick walls to ambushes to professional punji pits. Sometimes it’s the administration; sometimes professors; sometimes peers. And sometimes all three work together to make sure you get the message that freedom of thought is fine – as long as you think the same way as the School of Education.
It plays hell with one’s career in education.
Occasionally we hear about a student whose worldview isn’t as malleable as the EduWeenies would like.
Michele Kerr is a 40-something who applied to Stanford University’s Teacher Education Program and was admitted. After letting it be known that she wasn’t on board with every element of the Program’s ‘social justice’ tenets, the problems quickly mounted. She was threatened with having her offer of admission revoked, including planning legal action to see that through. She was railroaded into being an enemy of the program, with administrators citing that students even felt uncomfortable sitting near her in classes because of her anti-progressive stances. The final straw was when the Program demanded a login and password for the blog on which she wrote anonymously about her challenges both with the program and the school environment in which she was training.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE] – a champion of freedom in academia – stepped in. As they have so many times, they set the offenders straight and Kerr was guaranteed fair treatment. Adam Kissel of FIRE summarized the issue:
“Like STEP, too many education programs today are teaching by words and deeds that only one orthodoxy or ideology is acceptable in future teachers,” Kissel said. “This refusal to accept alternative views is no way to prepare teachers to cultivate effective citizens in our democracy. Fortunately, senior administrators stepped in to set things right for Michele Kerr.”
You can read FIRE’s press release about the case: Victory for Freedom of Speech at Stanford: Student Graduates Despite Ed School Efforts to Revoke Admission, Investigate Private Blog, and Declare Student Unfit for Teaching.
That an outfit even has to investigate an issue warranting a title like that should make you balk – and it’s more common than you think.
The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews should also be praised for swallowing that most bitter pill and highlighting Kerr’s case even though he’s on a different philosophical track. He gives a well-detailed account of Kerr’s saga in “They Messed With the Wrong Blogger.”
Too few people, both inside and outside of the education game, understand how common this is – and how pervasive social justice theories are in schools of education. But we’re not just talking about pointy-headed academics who regard 1968 as the high-water mark of American life; it shows up in everyday classes, too.
You know, like “frequently” discussing sexuality in your kid’s geometry/trigonometry class.
Taica Hsu is a 2006 alumnus of STEP. He teaches math at Mission High School, part of the San Francisco Unified School District, in the city’s Mission District. The setting:
“Mission High School has the distinction of being the first comprehensive high school in San Francisco and the first such school west of the Rocky Mountains. The first building was formally dedicated in 1897. Mission High School is proud of its rich history and we have our very own museum on campus which highlights the evolution of Mission High over the past 100+ years. Located in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco, Mission High is proud of its ethnic diversity and we try to instill positive social values, acceptance and tolerance in our students.”
And “in [Hsu's] world, trigonometry points to justice.”
A MissionLoc@l article about Hsu’s classroom offers an inside view into how STEP students/teachers – and those in similar programs – approach education:
“On one wall, of his purple-painted classroom, posters proclaim the ills of war and social stratification. On another, algebra students’ projects statistically break down the injustices of homeless, drugs and teen pregnancy.
“My ultimate goal is to make students aware of the inequities in society,” he says. “I want to make them want to change their place in society.””
I’d rather they just learned math, but such trivialities are increasingly displaced by the pet projects of the education game’s social engineers.
“And in his class, where a rainbow flag hangs in the back of the room and the teacher wears a “No on 8? pin more than a week after the measure has passed, sexuality also comes up.
Gilberto [a student] had never met an openly-gay person before coming to Hsu’s class, he says. He thought homosexuality was “weird,” and he balked at the idea of having Hsu as geometry teacher.”
I’m pleased that Gilberto is more accepting and tolerant than he was on day 1 – after all, he’ll encounter people of all sorts throughout the course of his life. But Hsu’s efforts impinge on the authority of parents to address these issues at home. Simply put, I’d rather talk to my child about the merits and drawbacks of Prop 8 than have it woven into a lesson about trigonometric proofs.
Extracurricular clubs and events provide opportunities for students to go beyond rigid academic disciplines – and for Hsu to extend a social justice program that includes fostering a ‘them vs. us’ strain of victimization:
““He knows what it’s like to be discriminated against, just like us,” Gilberto says, with “us” meaning all undocumented immigrants. “He relates to us. He understands. So even though it doesn’t look like it, we both have something in common.”
Discrimination is everywhere – perhaps Mr. Hsu would allow me to come in and talk to the kids about Southwest London’s contempt for American, George W. Bush-supporting Republicans who enjoy country music and operate with a decidedly-rural panache?
It’s not all serious, thoughtful curriculum, though – sometimes he and the kids just dress up in drag:
“Hsu encourages awareness of queer issues on campus. He is the faculty sponsor of the gay-straight alliance, which hosts a drag show to honor the Day of Silence in the spring.”"
Surely Mission High School has so much time and so many resources for these forays because they’ve outperformed every other school in the SFUSD, routinely topping the charts in academic performance?
No. Mission High is one of the lowest-performing schools in the District, having received a rating of 1 out of 10 – with 1 being the lowest possible score – in the 2008 Academic Performance Index Report from the California Department of Education. The June Jordan School for Equity competes with Mission High for that last rung on the SFUSD ladder. And the problem isn’t that Mission High has a large population of non-native English speakers and English Language Learners [ELL] – Moscone Elementary, which, according to Mission Loc@l, has a majority population of ELLs, scored a 9 out of 10.
It isn’t necessarily Hsu’s fault – we have no idea how his efforts contribute to those scores. What we do know is that STEP and its graduates would do well to re-evaluate their priorities if they want to institute the fairness and commitment to academic achievement that they purport to uphold.
Or they can marginalize the Michele Kerrs of the education world, mix homosexual marriage rights with Euclidean geometry, dress in drag and retreat from abysmal test scores. Our students won’t be prepared for college, but at least they’ll be ready for the Folsom Street Fair.
Nov 18, 2008
If you aren’t already following me on Twitter, you ought to start. I link to and comment on education stories ’round the clock.
And if you’re new to Twitter or aren’t sure how to get started, check out TwiTip’s 10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners. Give it a whirl!
Now for the Great Links… and some real stinkers that also deserve attention.
Via EIA, Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Rhee – two peas in a pod? Believe it or not, yes. I suppose even Sullivan gets to be sensible every once in a while. Blind squirrel, broken clock, etc. etc.
There aren’t too many men teaching K-12, reports Eduflack. In MA, fewer than 25% of K-12 teachers are men. And it’s everywhere, too – in April 2007 I wrote a post about male elementary teachers in NY dropping to 9%, a 40-year low. Some folks like MenTeach have been trying to raise awareness for a while now. Check them out and subscribe.
Ted Tedesco of Woodbury, Vermont is a hero. He’s worked to restore the Pledge of Allegiance in that small school district. The admins’ solution to his request is ridiculous, but at least everyone sees it. That, and a generation of kids in Woodbury knows how important it is to defend their country and their culture. As I wrote in the comments of the Core Knowledge post:
“A few months ago I attended a reunion banquet for a tiny, rural high school that closed shop during the consolidation efforts of the 1950s. Their meeting included the Pledge of Allegiance. When the Pledge came up in the agenda, all of the ~100 in attendance rose – and some with great difficulty, as they were in their 80s and 90s – to recite it.”
You know where I stand on this issue, and there’s a reason why I call the Green Mountain State “The People’s Republic of Vermont.” [Sorry, Jessie.]
Across the pond, here’s why I like the Tories. They’ve got a plan to re-introduce a bit of rigor to GCSEs and A-levels. The GCSEs in particular have been gutted – remember this physics teacher begging the government via petition to return mathematical rigor to secondary physics?
“Hot Boys”? I’d prefer that EdSector’s Quick and the Ed bloggers had a bit more self-respect. I already have trouble taking them seriously – these post titles don’t help.
Schools suing bloggers? You betcha. PRO on HCPS links to a libel case against an unhappy parent. Well, if “libel” means “a school district seething when held accountable by the public.” Guess who won? [UPDATE: PRO on HCPS gives us a better link for schools suing bloggers.]
Litigation is expensive when you’re trying to fire a teacher, administrator or school employee. In nearby Utica, NY, Craig Fehlhaber’s hearings have cost the Utica City Schools $250,000 – and counting. If Fehlhaber wins, the district will likely have to reimburse his attorney’s fees as well. We went through the same process in Cooperstown several years ago. If you ever wondered why schools tend not to dismiss bad employees, now you’ve got one reason.
Dave at ‘Friends of Dave’ – a very sharp blog, subscribe with all deliberate speed – highlights some recent irony in California. The California Association of School Business Officers have a conference at which they’ll discuss our tough economic times and how their districts can cope. And that conference is at a hotel/spa/golf course in Newport Beach. Dave has a sensible take on it all, but c’mon, CASBO. He says, “It is a bit ironic that the people who are typically the ones telling their co-workers that they can’t have an extra ream of paper are the ones having a really nice time at a Hotel and Spa on the beach.” Agreed.
Victory in Iraq Day – November 22, 2008. ZombieTime has declared 11/22/08 VI Day and I’m with him 100%. Read his post to see why it’s appropriate to declare VI Day and you’ll see why I support it, too.
“Building a GREAT teaching workforce,” described by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba. Saba/ABCTE sing the praises – rightly – of a new report on the effectiveness of alternative certification programs.
Sep 8, 2008
Liam Goldrick at the Education Optimists gave the education portion of John McCain’s speech a yawn. After McCain said, to paraphrase, that we should encourage easier routes for talented professionals to enter teaching – and make that route out for bad teachers more quickly and easily navigated, too – Goldrick wrote:
“The education portion of McCain’s speech served up the same boring, rehashed Republicanism as the rest of his speech. Basically, it’s all about choice and competition–and firing bad teachers. You always need an enemy.”
Yes, yes, we’re all belligerent warmongers, we stomp on the throats of the poor [how do you think they get downtrodden?], etc. etc. I sense a little bias, but I digress.
He’s right that this is “rehashed,” though I didn’t consider it boring. We have to rehash problems when we’ve failed to implement effective solutions. I considered all the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk hoopla to be rehashing as well because we still face many of the same issues and we’ve failed to implement properly many potential fixes.
So, I like reading solid analyses/solutions for some of the problems with our teacher corps. Enter ABCTE’s Dave Saba with a post today called “Fixing Teacher Quality”:
“There are 3.2 million teachers. Jack Welch, the brilliant CEO of GE, made his managers rank all staff so that they knew the top 20%, middle 70% and the bottom 10%. The top 20% were fast tracked into leadership positions and the bottom 10% got fired.
We would have to fire 320,000 teachers per year. That would double the number of teachers we need to hire each year and since we can’t find enough to fill our positions now, we will never have enough if we start to really push an aggressive approach towards eliminating mediocre teaching.”
Common sense stuff. Whereas it would be nice to cull the herd and instantly improve quality, it just isn’t realistic. What can we do, then?
To solve teacher quality we need to do the following:
- Fix recruitment – have enough candidates for each position so that the principal can hire the right teacher for his/her students – we need more routes to the classroom to increase the numbers
- Be Selective – less than 40% of our ABCTE candidates make it through the program and we are starting to see great results from our teachers
- Train principals in hiring – ensure they know how to match the teacher to the students
- Develop great performance evaluations for teachers – outcomes and observations based and ensure the evaluation is more than once a year
- Train principals on evaluations – ensure they know how to develop teachers
- Develop truly great professional development for teachers – develop efficacy measure for the professional development to ensure it meets minimum standards
- Train principals on how to assign prescriptive professional development from performance evaluations
Once that is in place, then you can start to move teachers who do not succeed with students out of the classroom. But we have a lot of work to do learning to walk before we can start running.
I’d add two more to that list:
8. Encourage the most talented high school and undergraduate students to enter teaching. Right now, they just aren’t interested.
9. Increase standards for content knowledge in education schools. We need our teachers to know math and English, at the very least, to a reasonably high degree.