Will We Really?

The Forum for Education and Democracy is urging us to be part of moving forward from  the hopes of a new presidency to the hard work of creating change with their National Campaign for Public Education:

Sign their petition if you believe that:

  • Every Child Deserves as 21st Century Education
  • Every Community Deserves an Equal Chance
  • Every Child Deserves a Well Supported Teacher
  • Every Child Deserves High Quality Health Care

In Their Own Voices

Via a round-about route, I’ve come across this series of short movies created by Spanish speaking immigrant youth in California.

Created originally within a collaboration on Spanish language instruction between one of my favorite ed tech bloggers Ewan McIntosh and graduates of Marco Torres’ outstanding media program in the San Fernando Valley, these are remarkable, effective accounts of being a young immigrant in the U.S.

Besides all that I have to learn from these young people, there are many reasons that I like this project so much:  the production values are excellent, there is nothing like “first person” storytelling, and these stories are  readily disseminated to a broad audience (you can also subscribe via I-tunes).

I can think of multiple ways to use these in teaching: As examples of ways in which we learn much by listening, as examples of the power of effective video production, of the vital necessity of creating spaces for people to tell their own stories.

I want to find – -and to be part of — more projects like this.

The Tour de Test Scores

The Tour de France ended yesterday.  We’re huge Tour fans in my house.  We’re talking lycra-clad fans at 5:45 a.m., huddled around our TV to watch live.

So attribute this post to sleep deprivation and croissant overload.

Coming in last of the 145 finishers yesterday was Wim Vansevenant, a Belgian rider for the Silence- Lotto team.

And I assure you, gentle readers, that if 99.9% of you went out to test your meddle against the 145th ranked rider in this competition, he’d kick your butt.  Leave you in the dust.  Humble even the fittest of you.  Cause you deep pain.

And after 28 days of riding in one of the most grueling sporting events in the world, the distance between #1 and #145 was merely a matter of a few hours.  And Wim is and remains an incredibly talented cyclist.  And he’s ranked last today.

So I believe, deeply, that discourse about public education in the U.S. would be well-served if we moved far beyond the often dire ranking of the average kid in the U.S. with the average kid elsewhere, as in this PSA that’s getting a lot of press this week:

CEOs are not sitting around looking at the relative test scores of 15 year olds as they develop their strategic plans. Rankings tell us next to nothing.

But those CEOs may well be devising ways to increase profit margins by, say,  cutting employee medical benefits, leaving five year olds without medical care.

So speaking of Finland:  If we’re concerned about test scores, why are we not talking about high quality medical care for everyone; universal, high quality preschool; and a system of schooling that understands that a well prepared teacher with professional autonomy will take kids places that weeks and weeks  of testing every year never will?  Do we really believe that those things are inconsequential in the relatively high achievement of kids in Finland?

Good jobs moving to Finland, with a population lower than that of New York City?

Come on.

American “schools” are not failing our kids.   Poor kids in this country go to poor schools.   They go to school sick and hungry.  They go to school having been shut out of preschool that is the birthright of middle-class kids.

The Finns understood years ago that they couldn’t rely on schools to level playing fields rendered so uneven by  unemployment, illness, housing, and discrimination.

We think that we can get to #1 through school alone.

Wim Vansevenant only finished 145th, but he finished an unbelievably challenging race in no small measure because he had access to some of the best support available to professional athletes anywhere.  He had personalized medical care (just skip the doping smirks, ok?), a nutritionist,  a comfortable bed every night, sponsors who provided him with the very best equipment available regardless of his ability to pay for his bike himself.

You don’t finish the Tour on your own- even when you finish 145th.

So if we’re worried about the Finnish kids getting all the good jobs, we really shouldn’t expect poor five year olds in the U.S.  to navigate school essentially on their own either.  Because Finnish kids are enshrouded in layer upon layer of support as they make their way through school.

Much like professional cyclists.

Even the cyclists who come in dead last.

Because the rankings tell us next to nothing.

Know Your Place

I’m working on a collection of narratives written by education faculty from poor and working class backgrounds.    As I read these,  it’s impossible to miss the profound sense of place in many of the essays.

For the most part, we are not people who moved around a lot (from home to home, perhaps, but not from place to place), so in ways that may be unusual in these highly mobile times, most of us have grounded our experiences of class and education in particular geographies.

I was fascinated, then, to read of this Australian project in which literacy and architecture people in a university are working with poor and working class kids to “know their place” and to act within the spaces in which they live as they develop critical literacy skills.

As the authors of the book I’m editing and the authors of this project so vividly observe, critical pedagogies tied to  locality could be potent for poor and working class kids who may be uniquely immersed within particular social and physical spaces.

Thanks to the literacies log blog for the link to the project.

Bringing All That We Know to the Education of the Poor

There’s too little time for reading or writing during this hectic stretch that I’m in,  but I did sneak away with an iced tea last week to read a very good analysis of Ruby Payne’s work published by  Teachers College Record last November (Formal cite: 2008, Vol 100, Number 11. E access # 14591)

The article, Miseducating Teachers about the Poor:  A Critical Analysis of Ruby Payne’s Claims, by Randy Bomer, Joel Dworin, Laura May, and Peggy Semington is among the most carefully researched, thorough, and detailed analyses of Payne’s writing that I’ve found.

The authors systematically weigh the claims made by Payne against what can readily be found within peer-reviewed research about the causes of poverty and the lives of the poor (their reference list alone runs to five pages), and as others have already observed, Payne comes up very short.

They review research on the lifestyles, values, goals, language, and educational aspirations of the poor.  They find evidence for little of what Payne writes and teaches, and instead cite solid and respected research that directly contradicts much of what she claims.

As I’ve written before here, here, here, and here, this sort of analysis makes it very difficult to understand why schools settle for Payne’s work when there is so little support for her claims, and so little evidence that poor kids are well-served by teachers who have experienced her training.

I’d encourage folks who have dismissed  criticism of Payne’s work as “academic jealousy” (or other personal, rather than intellectual motives) to read this article.

And I’d welcome discussion here — not about the motives of the article authors, but about the research that they cite.

It would be a violation of Fair Use policies to attach the entire article here, but it’s worth the effort to track down a copy.  Readers with access to  academic libraries can find copies there, you can get a PDF (for a fee) from the publisher here , or you might email the lead author, Randy Bomer, at rbomer at mail dot utexas dot edu.

So, are we willing to get past questioning the motives of those who critique her work,  past the “but she seems to make sense” reasoning,  past  anecdotes about ones own family members, and down to the core questions of whether we’re simply settling for Payne rather than bringing all that we know to the education of poor children?

I have no doubt whatsoever that teachers exposed to solid, carefully done research such as that cited in this article can, together, formulate ways to better serve poor children in schools.  Given how this field is developing while Payne’s work stands still, I think that we should be well past the point that we depend so heavily on someone  who just hasn’t done her own homework  to tell us how to do this work.