In the New School Reform Debate, Old Words Fail Us

Categories: Schutze

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The school reform debate has a way of flipping the words liberal and conservative around like pinballs, but somewhere running deep beneath the surface is a new orientation that needs new words. North of the line are people united in the belief that children from the most brutal circumstances are just as smart as kids from privilege and their lives can be saved with teaching. South of the line are all kinds of people who have all kinds of reasons why there's no point trying.

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History dumps something right in front of you. Now you've got a big decision.
The old words, liberal and conservative, just don't seem to work, and anyway they bring way more bad baggage with them than any value they may still carry. So we need new words, but I don't know what they are yet. Thoughts?

Yesterday, Dallas Morning News editorial writer William McKenzie had what I thought was a really interesting piece on the paper's op-ed page explaining what Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles' reform plan looks like and how it actually works in classrooms. McKenzie, as far as I can tell, spends more time out there in the schools than any other journalist in town.

I'm sure the News' education beat reporters would be out there in the classrooms more, too, if they didn't have such a big whip cracking over them to cover school headquarters all the time. I know I also would be out there more if I didn't have to spend so darned much time autographing photos of myself.

The thing about McKenzie's piece is that it really explained how and why the Miles reforms can work. That's what gets lost in all the bitter pay-scale battles between the teachers unions and school administration: There really is a way to turn the public schools around, and Miles' classroom reforms look like a better idea than anything else on the table at the moment.

The McKenzie piece also was a dramatic contrast with recent work by other editorialistos at the city's only daily newspaper, notably an essay by Tod Robberson about a month ago. He plunged gleefully into all the worst muck thrown at the superintendent by detractors, subscribing to the perverse doctrine that if the media publish enough bad stories about you, you must be bad, whether any of those stories is true or not.

But, wait, hit pause, help me pull that one apart. Media shmedia. Who cares about that? The McKenzie piece is about hope and faith in the innate potential of all human beings. The Robberson piece preaches failure -- the failure of this attempt at reform and our larger failure as a community to grasp the hands of tens of thousands of children who will drown in poverty without us.

Part of what the criticism of Miles has proven to me personally is that if you really try hard, if you work at it diligently and long enough, you can come up with an argument why anybody and everybody in the world sucks. On-line later today (go to our news page later) and in the newspaper tomorrow, I will have a column in which I examine arguments by critics who are skeptical of Miles' tenure in his last post as superintendent of a suburban school district on Colorado.

First of all, one of the lead proponents of the argument, retired Dallas school teacher Bill Betzen, makes the startling admission to me that his charges are based on second-hand allegations for which he admits he has no proof. In a perverse way, I guess Betzen deserves credit for candor. If I had made that much noise about it for this long, I think I'd go hide under a rock before I'd admit I had no proof for all my harping.

But more to the point: As far as I can tell or get them to tell me, Betzen and a University of Texas Education School associate professor named Juan Vasquez Heilig have offered tortured and unsubstantiated criticisms of Miles' tenure in Colorado without ever once consulting the basic state of Colorado school data on Miles' years there.

I did look at that data. It's remarkable. In the main, it shows that the school district he headed was a stunning success in teaching most categories of kids, especially minority kids, in both reading and math. Some categories lagged behind gains by kids statewide in Colorado in the same category, but many were dramatically ahead of the state averages.

The state test data is not utterly definitive -- there's always more to the story -- but it is primary. You have to start there, even if you want to disprove it. Everything else is derivative of that data. It's astonishing that an associate professor at an internationally distinguished university could simply skip that stage and rush ahead to publicly endorse criticisms by a local gadfly who admits he has no proof. I have to wonder if tenured faculty can get away with stuff like that anywhere else at UT but in the ed school.

The real data on Miles in Colorado, like the window McKenzie gives us on reform in the classroom, offer hope. The real evidence shows it can be done. Of course, then the heavy lifting begins.

If it can be done, then we must do it. I wonder if that may be the new divide, the one replacing liberal and conservative in the school reform debate. We all look at that big honking suitcase. Half of us can think of 100 reasons why there's no point in trying to lift it. The other half call home late for supper and roll up their sleeves. I think the word for that is will. Maybe we should call the other side won't.

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46 comments
MrGlen
MrGlen

Jim, I have questions for you:  What reforms of Miles do you think could work?  Please tell everyone, especially teachers, you know, the people who actually do all of the heavy lifting in our schools.

As a teacher, the following Miles reforms of the classroom are these:  MRS ( multiple response system ),  DOL ( demonstrations of learning ), LO ( learning objectives), open doors.

As a teacher in DISD, I had no problem with LO's. The reason I didn't and most other teachers didn't have problems with LO's is that we already used them, long before MM came to Dallas. MRS-- This I have a problem with.  As a teacher, you are supposed to drop what you are doing with your class anytime the IPad comes into the room. It is disruptive and it is not a proven way to teach children. MRS is LOW LEVEL cognition at best. MRS is more related to indoctrination and brainwashing. 

DOL-- demonstrations of learning- in DISD it is more of how you word the DOL of the day than what you do in the classroom as a teacher that is important to the IPad. DOL's if implemented the way Miles wants teachers to, is very low level thinking as well.  Really complex, deep thinking, critical thinking takes more than a classroom to grasp.  A demonstration of learning a complex idea may take weeks to accomplish.

Open doors-- this is so stupid, that it is a waste of time to even talk about it. I shut my doors because I want to keep the noise out from distracting my students, not because I want to "hide" from the IPad's.

So Jim, please tell me what academic place that Miles has been before, where all of these "reforms" of his have been proven successful.

Miles' reforms have nothing to do with actual change in the classroom.  His reforms are used for the sole purpose of gaining compliancy from teachers who know more than he does about educating children.  Miles is a rookie in education and an unsuccessful rookie at that.  Miles is good at disruption, but anyone could do what he has done so far in DISD. 

Did DISD need fixing before his arrival.  I would say hell YES!.  But the people in charge of this current "reform" are not here to fix the district. They are here to dismantle it and you know it... I think.

What would be refreshing for everyone is this:  Rawlings and those who are the real agents behind the change in DISD should come clean about the real motives, the real plans they have for DISD.

bbetzen
bbetzen

“First of all, one of the lead proponents of the argument, retired Dallas school teacher Bill Betzen, makes the startling admission to me that his charges are based on second-hand allegations for which he admits he has no proof. In a perverse way, I guess Betzen deserves credit for candor. If I had made that much noise about it for this long, I think I'd go hide under a rock before I'd admit I had no proof for all my harping.”

Jim, you have confused this story so much that I hardly recognize it.There is data that is easily located online and only requires cautious compilation to clearly demonstrate that wherever Mike Miles has been superintendent since 2006 the senior enrollment goes down.Seniors leave!That happened in Colorado, going down 33% during 6 years, and is now happening in Dallas going down 5.5% as he begins his second year here.This drop in DISD senior class enrollment follows 7 years of record growth. These are not allegations.They are facts.

In Colorado it was alleged he was pushing out low scoring students.If he had a hard requirement for students passing grade to grade, as it is claimed, it is certain the low scoring students were leaving.Harrison School District Two High school enrollment going down 26% during Mike Miles time as superintendent is not an allegation.It is a fact.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

State testing data is notoriously unreliable. (It's a poorly kept secret among educators that the Texas tests are much easier in years with an upcoming statewide election. I personally saw this in the difficulty levels of the writing prompts on the ELA tests.) That's one of the reasons the feds are pushing common core and ultimately want national tests.

I'm not familiar enough with the Colorado tests to make a determination one way or the other but I do know that most reputable educational studies put very little stock in state tests. Also keep in mind that while Betzen may be working on some hidden agenda, Schutze is clearly a propagandist for Miles and has written hundreds of articles and posts in blind support of him.  

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

Jim, are you one of those "libtard creationists" who believes in evolution and simultaneously believes that all "population groups" (formerly known as "races" before the current reign of Politically Correct Newspeak) evolved equally in every way?

ruddski
ruddski

Got to admit it's tough - change entire cultures to fit in with the demands of the modern world, while denying the cultural issues exist because to do otherwise is racist.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

Actually, the words are still applicable.

Social liberals are often at odds with fiscal liberals.
And social conservatives are often at odds with fiscal conservatives.

When one dumbs these complex issues down into single-word descriptions one often reaches a state of logical fallacy called "reductum ad absurdum" - oversimplifying something to the point of absurdity.

It's a problem that plagues the Libertarian fringe of the Republican party.

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

Jim, what do you think about the ethnic differences in frequency of the 2-repeat and 3-repeat MAOA alelles?

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

"Evolution is real, God does not exist, but all groups evolved exactly equally! Celebrate Diversity since we are all the same!"

#ProgressiveLogic

#LibtardCreationism

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

What an amazing piece of writing. Imagine the possibility that politically charged words like "liberal" and "conservative" can be used so poorly--and ubiquitously--that they lose any resemblance to the ideas that they represent. Mr. Orwell, you are ahead of your time. By the way, why don't you just trust people to read the arguments and then make up their own labels for the situation?

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

I think it is possible ti help the poor students learn and achieve. I just don't think it can be done solely in the schools. We have to change the culture of the communities they come from. Make it where they see the best way to improve their lives is education, not sports, fame, or crime. Improving the schools and teachers is a good start. It will just take more than that to have a significant impact.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

No matter what the editor tells you Jim, getting fingerprinted and having a mugshot taken does not equate to "autographing pictures of yourself".

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

The 'reform' debate is about how to get better results without spending more money. But that's not possible. We already know how to fix schools: Scale Harlem Children Zone up to serve 160,000 kids in Dallas. Feed them, keep them in schools more hours and more days. Fewer kids per teacher. More extracurriculars. More counseling services. What would that cost? 3 times as much? 30 times as much?

We aren't going to do that (we should, we aren't). Too many people have an invested interest in the status quo. We are a nation without social mobility and Dallas is one of the top places of calcified incomes. If we let poor kids have social mobility that means by definition that some current winners kids will end up losers. Those people do not want that. And they are the ones who have the money to make it possible. Do I sound like Nuttall? Okay, I'll stop.

CitzenKim
CitzenKim

"Dedication School"?  I would certainly like to sign up to learn more dedication :)

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Jim, it is that age old question.  What is the agenda that Betzen and Heilig are advocating and why?  If we go with the basic assumption that it is corruption and mismanagement that Miles is attempting to root out in addition to improving student performance would then Betzen and Heilg then be merely the front for those that want to maintain the status quo with their main tactic being: "If you tell a lie often enough, people will think that it is the truth."?


I do have one very serious question for you.  Why did not any reporters do any fact checking on the statements made by Heilig and Betzen until now?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 I have to wonder if tenured faculty can get away with stuff like that anywhere else at UT but in the ed school.

FWIW, the Ed school in pretty much any college is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to SAT scores and comparative GPA (where they are taking shared core classes with other majors.)  The worst students in college are the ones that are planning to teach our children in Establishment Schools as soon as they get out.

That's a factor that gets glossed over in most educational exposes.  Teaching Schools tend to be full of mediocre students being taught by mediocre professors.

bbetzen
bbetzen

Are these the type of manipulative and misleading reports the Dallas public wants to be receiving from DISD administration without clarifications?

How long will Dallas tolerate student attrition suddenly growing in DISD for the first time in years?

Back in 2010 I was popular with DISD as I was bragging about DISD setting the highest graduation rates in 20 years: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.htmlAt that time I warned DISD PR director, Jon Dahlander, that the day may come when the data pointed the other direction.That day has come.I do not like it one bit either!

Jim, who convinced you to write this stuff?Why did you do it? Over 95% of the stuff Mike Miles is doing is wonderful and must be done, but he did not invent it or start it! Yes, he did put some of his own names on some of it, but he did not invent it!But somewhere in the mix is deadly poison that is killing teacher morale and student motivation.Both seniors and teachers are leaving!Too many of the teachers leaving are our most talented. How can you ignore these parts of story?Can you dig out that poison and identify it?

I know it is not easy digging data out of DISD, especially when you are following a story they do not want told.But that is your profession, correct?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Saying stuff like state tests are unreliable but offering not a single study or shred of evidence to show the tests in Colorado are unreliable is just easy greasy blather. If there were something that wrong with them, it should be easy enough to find. By the way, counting up the times I have reported that Miles is right does not amount to bias. It amounts to the number of times Miles has been right and you have been wrong. If I were you, I wouldn't advertise.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@bvckvs  

"reductum ad absurdum"?

It is reductio ad absurdum.  Reductio is a feminine noun.  In the phrase it is used in the nominative.  If Reductio were a neuter noun, the genitive plural would be reductum.  In the genitive plural, the phrase would not make any sense.

Now write it 100 times on the board

ruddski
ruddski

And the leftist wing of the democrat party, which is the sole wing, which is why you birds fly in a circle.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Tim.Covington 

Agreed. About the best schools can do to have some sort of positive effect on students is maybe make sure that they have adequate nutrition so that that at least they are not nursing an empty stomach when they should be concentrating on learning.

We've tried the whole schools-as-social engineers for some time now, and all it seems to do is water down the core mission of schools - teaching children.


everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @Los_Politico Money has nothing to do with it.  The states that spend the most per pupil have the worst results.  This is not a problem that "throw money at it" works on.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Los_Politico 

Money is just an excuse for inaction:

Of 118 studies to calculate impact on student achievement of increasing teacher pay, 20 percent found a positive effect, 7 percent negative, 73 percent no impact. Of 91 estimates of effect of increased spending on facilities, 9 percent were positive, 5 percent negative, 86 percent no effect. Of 163 studies of impact of increasing per pupil expenditure overall, 27 percent were positive, 7 percent negative, 66 percent no impact.  (Hanushek, "Impact of Differential Expenditures,"  Educational Researcher, 1986.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@everlastingphelps

If you look at this dude's blog ( http://cloakinginequity.com/ ) there is a very strong anti-reform propaganda line with ties to Diane Ravitch and other people nationally. The tone and content make me wonder if some ed schools may not be bastions of teachers union resistance, serving either as headquarters for the entire failed public school establishment in America or at least as their retirement home. 

gabe48
gabe48

@ruddskiDo you have any idea how backwards your thinking is, you partisan hack? American leftists are viewed as being pretty damned right-leaning in the rest of the world. Seriously, do a tiny shred of research.  You should be able to provide evidence to back your claim that leftists are the sole members of the democrat party.

Here, I'll even do a little research for you: http://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2

You are parroting a corporatist agenda paid, in part, by the Koch brothers, and you don't even realize it.  An argument can even be made that you are backing a neoliberal agenda.  As a reference to this, (I use sources, you should try it, too) see: Taylor C. Boas and Jordan Gans-Morse, Neoliberalism: From New Liberal Philosophy to Anti-Liberal Slogan, Studies in Comparative International Development (SCID), Volume 44, Number 2, 137–161  

You are a patriot, correct?  Nope, you are a shill being used in this ridiculous bipartisan drama.

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

Yuk yuk yuk. No. In fact you (and I mean you, not anyone else) might joke that they are the opposite of the "small dick gene" (if you actually knew what they were, and since you make such stupid jokes). Yuk yuk yuk.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Los_Politico 

Similar findings, by the way, for decreasing class size.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @JimSX @everlastingphelps That's because it is very much in their interest to continue the "teaching degree" fetish that we have.  The Walter White "chemist who starts teaching" is all but gone from our schools (and he's probably out cooking meth instead of teaching.)  We don't hire scientists to teach science, or English majors to teach English, or math majors to teach math.  We hire "education" majors. 

People who become teachers fall into two categories -- they either have done something with their lives, and want to take a different path and give back to the community (like Mike McDaniels, look his blog up) getting into teaching relatively late in the game, or they get to college, decide they never want to leave school, figure out quickly that they aren't cut out for tenure at a college, and pick teaching grade school, knowing that once they are in, it is nearly impossible to fire them.

(On an unrelated note, I've been friends with a few teachers of both types, and the latter were the most depraved and libertine people I've ever dealt with, indulging in every drug and carnal act they thought they could get away with.  And that's coming from a rabid libertarian who used to work at a hip-hop record label.  With the talent.)

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

@JimSX and I agree with that. I support Miles. I just find your dividing line disingenuous, though clever.

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

@JimSX @Los_Politicoa 1986 study does not include HCZ. I'm not saying pay the teachers more. I'm saying increase resources. 

HP doesn't pay more than DISD. Most private schools pay less. They get better results because parents pick up the slack and teach the kids how to read and take them to the Perot Museum. 


Summer vacation hurts poor kids: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/07/summer_learning_loss_summer_vacation_hurts_kids_in_school_and_is_especially.html

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@everlastingphelps @uptownguy1 @JimSX I suggest you take a look at what DISD teachers receive to purchase supplies. At the school I worked at I we received $100 per year. That doesn't go far when you teach 150 students. 

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@everlastingphelps @JimSX People who have such disdain and hatred for teachers obviously have some issues with teachers or authority or had a teacher at one time that didn't think he/she was the most special person on the planet.  

My business associates are more hungover from drugs and drink and "phone it in" the next day, whereas a teacher has to be "on point" all day each day!

Get over it!

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @everlastingphelps Teachers buy supplies when they use more than they were issued, or when they want different supplies.  There are plenty of teachers that don't buy supplies.  Even a plumber that is employed and not self-employed keeps his own tools.  It's part of the job.

Sure, discuss it with your employer.  I know what the schools say -- the same thing my employer would say.  "This is what we provide.  If you want something different, try Walmart."

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@everlastingphelps  

I disagree on teachers having to buy their supplies.  My employer does not make me buy the copy paper, pens and pencils that I use.  Nor did I require my employees to do so.

Sure plumbers buy their own tools and the rates that they charge reflect the cost of capital invested in those tools.

If you are working at home and your have to purchase your own office supplies you best discuss this with your employer, especially if you are an employee and not a contractor or independent.

bill.holston1
bill.holston1

@everlastingphelps there is a difference between a person who is self employed and as part of capital purchases supplies (with which they will generate a profit hopefully)  and a public school teacher paying for those out of her pocket. No, that is not her job. But she does it because she loves the kids. I'm not complaining, i'm responding to your statement that there are only two kinds of teachers. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bill.holston1 @everlastingphelps @JimSX I always love when people bitch about how hard teachers work because they do their jobs.  "Whaa, I have to buy school supplies!" Plumbers buy their own tools.  My wife has to use her own printer paper for her home office.  Everyone has expenses associated with their job.

Ditto on working at home.  I answer emails and phone calls from home.  Do does everyone.  I have hard deadlines that require me to work sick.  BFD.

They are teachers, not Dukes and Duchesses.  I'm not impressed with "teachers have it hard because they have to actually work."

bill.holston1
bill.holston1

@everlastingphelps @JimSX That's entirely wrong. My mother was a teacher. My wife is a teacher. They are teachers because they wanted to teach children to read. It's why they spend hundreds of dollars of their own money every year on their classes. It's why they take school uniforms home to wash them; call the parents who are not reading the homework that the teacher spend weekends and evenings grading. It's why they wind up leaving medical procedures to go back to work to finish for the day and teach through pneumonia. I get there are slackers, but I've never met one with the people my esposa teaches with. 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @JimSX  

"...  and the latter were the most depraved and libertine people I've ever dealt with, indulging in every drug and carnal act they thought they could get away with...."

To which I reply:

"One time at band camp ..."

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

@everlastingphelps @JimSX DISD actually makes it easy (compared to the rest of the nation) for people to come to teaching through 'alternative certification'. Think of it as TFA for all.

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