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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Teaching, Time, and Twitter

My latest post takes its inspiration from the recent news of New York City's Department of Education release of teacher ratings, about 18,000 total.  The reverberations from this past Friday's discharge of this information has sent shockwaves across the education community.  These Teacher Data Reports (TDR) covered three school years ending in 2010 and were intended to show how much value individual teachers add.  This was measured  by determining how much their students’ test scores exceeded or fell short of expectations based on demographics and prior performance. 

These "value added assessments" are being used in increasing numbers in teacher evaluation but they are an imprecise science.  The New York Times reports that "the the margin of error is so wide that the average confidence interval around each rating spanned 35 percentiles in math and 53 in English."  Also in some instances, some teachers were judged on as few as 10 students. The article has a quote from the city's number 2 education official, Shael Polakow-Suransky who commented "The purpose of these reports is not to look at any individual score in isolation, ever."  However, I believe that's what will happen with the distribution of these reports.  Parents will now have some form of evaluation for the teachers of their children regardless of the flaws inherent in such a  large scale effort as rating teachers over three years.  I won't review the entire article but if it interest you please follow the link below.

Times report on Teacher Ratings

It's clear to me that this news serves some political agenda.  Mayor Bloomberg has put forth many education "reforms" during his tenure as Mayor.  From Mayoral control of schools to Cathy Black.  Now Governor Cuomo seeks to have some form of evaluation of teachers statewide put in place.  Is there a "one size fits all solution" to this madness.  Sadly, there is not.  Just as there is no one way to teach a child, there is no fair way to evaluate the hard work, effort, sacrafice and intrinsic value of a teacher. 

I became a teacher after working for several years as a cog for a cold corporation.  I sought this path because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children who will be inheirting the mess we've made of our world.  However, it seems my timing is not the greatest.  Since I began my studies towards my Master's Degree and graduation, encompassing the years 2006-2010, we have experienced one of the worst economic implosions since the Great Depression.  At the same time, corporate reformers have set their sights on the public funding of education.  As Willy Sutton said about banks, the same is true of education.  To paraphrase Sutton, the corporate reformers go where the money is and it is there in public education.  Also the emphasis on standardized testing is just plain idiotic.  Our future leaders needs to learn critical thinking skills, to problem solve, collaborate, and be creative.  How do you learn these skills?  Not from a standardized test.

To be sure the effect on me has been one of  limited opportunities for me to enter a field I know I can make a difference.  Could it be due to lack of teacher turnover as teachers nearing retirement hang on a year or two more?  Have cutbacks in school districts due to shrinking school budgets impacted my chances of being hired as a teacher?  Sure there is always a cause and effect and as I reflected earlier my timing has never been great.  Thank you economy and real estate bubble.

Where do we go from here?  Well I believe the solution is quite clear and it's harnessing the power of social media via Twitter.  The dissemination of information and exchange of ideas via social media was instrumental in  toppling despots in the Middle East during the Arab Spring last year.  Now it can be employed to organize and rebut the corporate reformers and politicos who seek to turn education into a passionless, clinical, numbers first kids second enterprise.

Since I began using Twitter and through last year, I have followed many caring, knowledgeable educators and individuals from other fields.  I have also been fortunate to have several of them follow me as well.  First, thank you for all that you do and for the perspectives you share.  The professional development I have found via Twitter has been wonderful.  The following individuals, in my opinion, should be followed on Twitter for their knowledgeable views on education:

DianeRavitch - @DianeRavitch - Noted education historian, ed policy analyst, and Former Assistant Secretary of Education.

leoniehaimson - @leoniehaimson - Parent Advocate Ex Director of Class Size Matters.


I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

John Steinbeck


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Boss

As the winter days keep getting longer, heralding the upcoming season of spring, I have had some difficulty coming up with something to write about for the blog.  I wanted to move away from commenting about events in the news despite the fact that there's been so much to discuss.  So to catch up with the last few weeks, I will offer a brief, first thing that comes to mind comment.

NY Giants win the Super Bowl - Nice job G-men against the Pats.
No snow this winter, at least here in New York/Long Island - No complaints here.
New York Basketball - Jeremy Lin, Linsanity continues Go Knicks.
Gary Carter -  Thanks for the 86 season and World Series Kid.
Whitney Houston - So sad, so talented, unfortunately an all too familiar script.

For the remainder of my post I have decided to discuss a musician that has maintained a professional career for 40 years.  He and his band opened this year's Grammy Awards.  He needs little introduction other than his instantly recognizable nickname: The Boss.

I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen.  I have been a fan for quite some time and growing up as one of 12 children, I was surrounded by many musical influences from my older brothers and sisters.  Bruce Springsteen was one of the artists popular with my oldest brother.  I remember listening to his vinyl copy of Born to Run, an album that was a make or break album for Springsteen when it was released.  Born to Run is one of those albums that you need to listen to in its entirety once in your life as you take the long drive, down the Jersey Turnpike or ramble down some other long highway. 

I love Darkness on the Edge of Town.  This album packs a wallop with songs of  intensity such as Adam Raised a Cain and Prove It All Night and in my opinion this album showcases some of Bruce's best lyrics.  In his song The Promised Land, Bruce sings,

"I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode."

How many of us are the everyman embodied by this song.  We get up, we work and live our lives with no fanfare.  Springsteen is singing for the everyman, who lives and works for no other reason than that was what was expected of him.

1980's The River was a double album release.  In it Springsteen backed by the E-Street Band claim the mantel of best band with a straightforward rollocking "rock and roll" album.  Beyond the fun songs like Out in The Streets, Sherry Darling and Hungry Heart, Bruce takes on mature themes of relationships and marriage.  In the title song "The River"  Springsteen paints the picture of a young couple who marry young and begin their lives together but then hard times hit and as Springsteen puts it best

"I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember
Mary acts like she don't care."

Bruce followed up The River by releasing an album of demos he meant to flesh out with the E-Street Band but changed his mind.  Nebraska is just Bruce, his guitar and songs of desperate men and women and situations out of their control.  In Johnny 99, Bruce sings about Ralph who lost his job at the auto plant, couldn't find a job, got drunk one night, got a gun and shot a night clerk.  Johnny 99 when arrested and facing the judge makes the following statement,

"Now judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin' my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away
Now I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent man
But it was more 'n all this that put that gun in my hand."

For his next release, in 1984, Bruce gathered the E-Street Band and released Born in the USA.  The song Born in the USA was misundertood at the time and appropriated by Ronald Regan seeking reelection that year.  Bruce refuted the vision of Regan's America pointing out that the song's protagonist, a Vietnam Veteran, has trouble integrating back into life in Reagan's America.

The album is so solid with other standout tracks being:  Cover Me, I'm On Fire, No Surrender, Glory Days and My HometownMy Hometown has particular resonance 28 years later as the vacant stores and whitewashed windows mentioned in the song are found in hometowns across 2012 America.  In the song, the textile mill closes down and those jobs are never coming back. 

Springsteen got married in the late 80's and he followed up Born in the USA with the personal 1987's Tunnel of Love.  In the album the songs center on the doubts and fears Bruce had in his short marriage to actress Julianne Phillips.   This album is intimate, quiet and an exploration of the four letter word l-o-v-e.  My favorites on this album include One Step Up and Brilliant Disguise.

Human Touch and Lucky Town, were released simulatneously in 1992.  Perhaps Bruce should have released one cohesive album, but hey he could do whatever he wanted at the time.  Also, these albums found Bruce working with other muscians and not the entire E-Street Band.  I saw him on tour in 1993 in Phoenix and though it was a good show, it was not as as good as the show I saw at Madison Square Garden in 2000 with the E-Street Band. 

Springsteen reunited with the E-Street Band on his Greatest Hits release of 1995 and later for an original album 2002's  The RisingThe Rising is notable for Springsteen's response to the loss and trauma following the 9-11 attacks. 

Fast forward to 2008 and Springsteen's endorsement of Barack Obama.  Following his election, Springsteen released 2009's Working on a Dream.  In the title song he sings,

"Now the cards I've drawn's a rough hand, darling
I straighten my back and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream
I know it will be mine someday."

Next month will see the release of Bruce's new album Wrecking Ball.  Already a single has been released, We Take Care of our Own.  It's a catchy song and I read the lyrics as a call to Americans to take care of those who have been hit by tough times as we are all Americans and we should take care of our own.  Reading the track listings, I'm curious to hear and read the lyrics to Death to My Hometown and The Depression.  I'm sure these songs will capture the mood of the current state of economic uncertainty perfectly. 

Bruce Springsteen is the Boss everyone would love to have.  One that stands up for the average man.   The Boss who inspires others to work together for the greater good.  As a fan and a listener to Bruce Springsteen, I want to thank him for the great music he and the E-Street Band has made for all his fans.  Most importantly, I thank him for the efforts he has made for local charities and to organizations like Amnesty International to raise awareness of inhumane conditions and support for political prisoners throughout the world.  Perhaps Bruce's new release will inspire all of us to "take care of our own" and make our hometowns a better place for all. 

Thanks Bruce.