Saturday, December 20, 2008

Remembering Joe Kincheloe

This morning I awoke to read that my friend and mentor, Joe Kincheloe, died of a heart attack late last night. Joe was one of the lions of critical pedagogy. Born and raised in Tennessee, his slow and gentle drawl comes to mind, even as I remember the complex ideas he would share with me.

Joe was a humble man, a musician, a writer, a thinker, and a teacher. I never felt small in his presence. I always felt welcomed and loved. My heart is broken, for his wife, Shirley, his children and grandchildren, his friends, colleagues, and students, and for all the people who will never get to know a wonderful man.

I would write more, but I don't yet have the words.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education

When the list was initially floated around, names like Duncan, Rhee, Vallas, Klein, and Darling-Hammond were present, as were those of a number of governors. On the one hand, I was shocked at the number of pro-privatization, anti-union, pro-business front-runners. On the other hand, it didn't, given the US's love-affair with most things market-driven (only now are we beginning to see how misplaced that love was). Nor was I surprised, then or now, at the union-bashing that occurred. It never ceases to amaze me how quick the US public is to blame teachers' unions (and there are TWO prominent ones at the national level-- the NEA and the AFT). The public seems to forget that when administrators do their jobs regarding ineffective teachers, tenure is no protection. It's easier to blame teachers and unions than understand the complex ways in which schools function. In fact, it's easier to blame unions for anything, especially if it turns attention away from poor management.

I was dismayed at how the NYT jumped to characterize Darling-Hammond as anti-reform. She does not agree with the punitive measures of NCLB, nor does she view standardized tests and attendance rates as appropriate ways of assessing student learning. That does not mean she is anti-assessment, however. Her research into teacher preparation and student achievement indicates that many factors connect the two, and yet, the focus has remained on her criticisms of Teach For America. To present Darling-Hammond as anti-reform because she is critical of business market-applied models of accountability implies that only those who believe in testing and accountability (as it is narrowly defined in NCLB) have the cache to cal the shots. That is a very narrow understanding how what successful reform entails.

The reality is that schools and teachers cannot do what they are charged without support from society. It's easy to blame teachers and schools because it absolves the community of its responsibility. Yes, schools need to be held accountable for student learning, growth, and development. But, they also need adequate support to be able to do that. Part of that support is understanding how challenging teaching can be, even in the most ideal of settings. It's no surprise to me that people would choose not to teach when teachers get so much of the blame for what is wrong with the US and so little credit or thanks for what is right.

Ultimately, NCLB needs to be altered, and the new Secretary of Education needs to work with all stake-holders, not just those with the most power. I will withhold judgment on Arne Duncan until I learn more about him. But, I hope he is more effective than what this nation has endured for the last eight years.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

if you do nothing else today, read this.

I was doing me usual hanging out on the internet while waiting for the washer to finish its cycle, and came across this. It reminded me just how crucial compassionate and kind teachers are:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Please consider signing! Obama Appointment for Sec. of Ed.

I admit it, I have a lot of issues with No Child Left Behind, the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the past 6 years, testing has become the only focus of public education, with student success in learning being reduced to nothing more than a test score. "Proven teaching methods" have become little more than test prep, skill and drill, and a list of strategies that have little to do with how children really learn.

On top of that, the sanctions for failing schools ultimately put public school monies into the hands of private tutoring groups, charter schools, and private school hands. While there is much improvement needed in public education, the solution should not be to end public education.

Today I received two alerts from colleagues about the short list of people Obama is looking at. One of them is Commissioner Joel Klein of NYC and the other is Chicago CEO Arne Duncan. Both have records of being anti-teacher, anti-union, and anti-democratic. While I understand the Department of Education needs a forward-looking steward, I am not sure installing a leader who wants to further undermine public education should be our only choice.

Please consider reading and signing the two petitions below.


The Petition to oppose the appointment of Joel Klein.

We, the undersigned, devoted thousands of hours of volunteer time to the election of Barack Obama as President. As Professional educators we were encouraged by the promise to have an open and respectful dialogue within the educational community about NCLB, its limits, and its failures.

Now, a trial balloon has been advanced in the media for Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in an Obama Administration. ( It is quite possible that Klein himself promoted the trial balloon.) Trial balloons are trials. They are floated to see how people will react.

This petition is a reaction.

The administration of Joel Klein as Chancellor of Schools in New York City is representative of a particular rigid approach to school change promoted by NCLB which we oppose. Rather than take the advice of educators, Chancellor Klein repeatedly championed and implemented policies that support corporate interests as opposed to children. The NY City Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. And little thought has been devoted to how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to the children and their futures.

Citizens, educators, and future educators, read the entire petition and sign it at:

And, the second.

Say YES to public education. Say NO to privatization.

Dear supporters of public education,
Many of you have by now heard the rumors of Obama's potential appointees to the position of Secretary of Education. This list includes several people whose records show a history of dismantling democratic public education in the name of private interests. As people committed to public education, this strikes a hard and fast blow in the euphoria that we have felt since Tuesday, November 4th. But it's not too late to make our voices heard once again. Let's build on the sense of representation and democracy we have just experienced to send a clear message to the Obama Administration.

Please visit in order to sign the following statement that voices our concerns about the kind of Education Secretary that we want. Additionally, please FORWARD this message to your friends and colleagues who are also concerned about the future of public education.

Thank you!
The National Network of Teacher Activist Groups

Statement on the selection of the U.S. Secretary of Education

Today, we celebrate Barack Obama?s momentous election as President of the United States. We recognize it as a historic culmination of the centuries-long effort for dignity and justice, human and civil rights, and enfranchisement of the U.S. people, and we pay particular tribute to the African American freedom struggle, which played a decisive role in bringing the first Black man to the presidency.

We look forward, as educators, parents and students, to participating in the opportunities for change afforded by this moment. We are excited about the possibilities for improving educational opportunities for all students. Our vision of educational justice, access, opportunity, and equity includes having a Department of Education whose officials embrace the idea of a quality education as part of the common good. We wish to turn away from a corporate model of education that claims that teaching and learning can only improve by imposing market perspectives and processes onto our public education system. Education should be a fundamental human right, not subject to privatization by firms whose primary concern is a profit motive and the bottom line. We have all witnessed the failures of this free market system in recent months and do not support this model for our public schools.

Toward these ends, we urge President-elect Obama and his transition team to choose a Secretary of Education who is committed to the full development of human beings who are prepared to actively participate in civil society. We strongly encourage the selection of someone dedicated to equity and the education of all children with a proven track record in these areas, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, a key member of Mr. Obama?s education team. We want a person who is a professional, experienced, and knowledgeable educator, not a corporate executive such as New York City?s Education Chancellor Joel Klein or Chicago CEO Arne Duncan, who have demonstrated their vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools.

Over the last 20 years in the U.S., education is becoming the business of education, and we emphatically reject that model. We call upon the President-elect to choose someone who will embrace the ideas of civic involvement and public participation. We look forward to collaborating with that person, as well as with students, parents, and the broader public, in developing a truly meaningful and just education for all students in the U.S.

Endorse this statement by visiting

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted today

Truth be told, I think that voting is the smallest thing that we do that is part of participating in democracy. The reality is that elections happen on the first Tuesday in November, in some cases in April or June. But, it's an isolated act. To me there are far more important things that we do as citizens. Being a democratic citizen doesn't just happen a few times a year, or when there is a Presidential election. It happens every day, in very small but significant ways.

We pick up trash, help neighbors clean up their yard after a big storm, take care of each other, and hold each other accountable for the well-being of the community. We dig deeper to understand the bigger issues that are out there and work with others to solve the roots of problems, not just put Band-Aids on them.

I have to admit, though, this election is exciting in a very different way. Regardless of who one votes for, taking part in the election has taken on a life of its own. In some cases the days leading up to the election have brought out the best and worst in us. But what really got me was the number of people who were at my polling place this morning.

I vote at a school that is up the hill from me. In the last six years when I have gone to vote, there are usually more poll workers and observers than there are voters. This morning there was a short line. I went at 10 AM, and there were two people in front of me who I don't think had ever voted before. When I asked one of the poll workers how the morning was, she said it was really, really busy. As she leafed through the signature book, I saw many signatures... so many signatures. Usually, I vote at the end of the day after work, but I was afraid I would have to wait in a long line and I had some things at home that were almost as important as voting (It's Mr. Edubabbler's birthday. When I asked him what her wanted, he said, "chocolate cake and for [his candidate] to win the election." I told him I could take care of the first, but the second was beyond my control). At 10AM, it looked like more people had voted than there were the last time that I voted in the evening. Amazing.

But what really struck me were the people walking TO the polls. When I left, I was struck about the number of people who were walking and driving to the school (it's more or less on a dead end-- it's a pretty easy guess which way people are going). On the one hand were the many older individuals... long standing members of the community. Most of them were white (the town where I live used to be Italian, Polish, and Dutch, depending on which part of the city you were in), and came in by themselves or with a companion (in some cases, they brought THEIR parents with them). In contrast were the young families, many of whom have moved out from New York City in the last few years. Predominantly Latino, African American, and of Middle Eastern descent, they have revitalized the neighborhood in which I live. Many had their kids with them, and it was such an interesting contrast. But they all had to things in common. They held their heads high as they walked and they voted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My nephew, the grass eater

Yeah, it's in his genes.

Note to self: Always check for your keys BEFORE you leave the house...

With the doors locked.

While I don't do it often, I engage in what David Letterman refers to as a "stupid human trick." No, I am not talking about plugging my nose and blowing my eyeballs out of their sockets. Nor am I talking about the middle of the night fall-bounce while running with the dogs tied to my waist. No, this was a repeat performance.

Yes, I locked myself out of the house, only I didn't know it until much, much later.

It started out as a very quiet, morning. The dogs and I rolled out of bed (actually it was more like Kehli sticking her huge nose in my ear to wake me up, while Siddha and Marley had my arms pinned to my sides, but details shmeetails), went downstairs, made the coffee, and sat down to the morning ritual of email and news. A couple hours later, after editing a colleague's piece, I took a shower and headed to campus for fun and meetings.

Because I can be so absent-minded, I more or less have a "leaving the house" ritual. It involves checking that the dogs have food and water and been outside, making sure I have all the books and work-related stuff, and most importantly, I checked to make sure I knew where my keys were. Saw the keys to the house. Check. Grabbed the jacket, the helmet, the gloves, and the keys to the bike, said goodbye to the beasties, and walked out the door.

Four hours later, after several meetings, I went to my office to get a few things and do a "switch out," that is, drop off the stuff I finished with yesterday and this morning, and pick up what I needed for tonight and tomorrow morning. Only, I didn't have my keys. Crap. So, I went to my final meeting, called Mr. Eduabbler, only to find out that he wouldn't be home until after 7PM.

I was stuck.

I had to break into the house.

The first time I did this, I got stuck in the window because it was a small window over the counter in the back of the kitchen. I actually thought I was going to have to call 911 to get me unstuck, only I had left my cell phone in my bag, which was on the ground. I also had the thought that some neighbor would see me trying to break into the back of MY house and call the cops. What a trip that would be. I unstuck myself, and got into the house.

I swore that I would hide a spare key.

The second time I got locked out, I borrowed a neighbor's ladder and climbed into the front porch of the house. That was a lot less stressful in terms of the getting stuck part, but this time I had to then break into the inner door or, figure out how to open one of the windows. Lucky for me, the window to the living room was open.

I went out and had spare keys made and bought one of those hide-a-key things.

This time I borrowed a different neighbor's ladders, sliced the screen on the bathroom window, smashed my hand taking the window apart, and got in the house. I am now sitting on the couch with the dogs sleeping next to me. I am wrapped in a blanket and glad to be home.

This time I will actually put out the damn key and hide-a-key thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

When students are punished for the incompetence of adults

While engaging in my usual internet procrastination this afternoon (actually, I was searching for some updated info on how the latest economic debacle with affect public education), I ran across a sad story. 375 teachers were fired in Dallas on Friday.

On the one hand, it comes as no surprise to me that public schools are starting to suffer under the economic pinch. In fact, the story itself, is part of a much, much larger story. For one thing, what the city of Dallas is suffering from is what many large cities also suffer: underprepared, and sometimes less that honest leadership. Let me be clear here. I am not saying that all city school district leaders (and I am talking upper-level management specifically here) are unprepared and dishonest. However, Dallas schools suffered from the type of leadership that is seen as the stereotypical norm.

What is truly sad about this is that teachers were the ones who really suffered, as did students. Well, especially the students. And, students will be victimized again when there are no full-time teachers hired to take the place of those who were let go. In fact, students will be subjected to a revolving-door of substitutes. When it comes time for testing, students will not make the growth expected, and teachers and students will be blamed (as usual). Only, in this case, the blame is off its mark. You can say substitutes are under-prepared, even unqualified to teach a subject area. But, they do not choose where they are placed; nor did they choose to fire 375 teachers (to make up for a gap in the budget grown under another leader's rule). But they will be blamed regardless.

The winner in all of this? Those who want to strip the public schools of even more money, those who want to privatize, and those who hate the public schools. The losers? Why, the students, as usual.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Too much on my mind

At 4AM this morning when the sky started to lighten, I was more than a little upset with myself. I just couldn't sleep. Honestly, I tried. But I think I just had too much on my mind. If I'd been smart I would have gotten my butt out of bed and gone downstairs to write. Instead I watched some stupid show about cakes. Not the best use of my time.

Here's the short list that's been flowing around...

After paying the mortgage, insurance, utilities, car payment, etc., I have about $400 a month left. That's before food and fun. This time last year I had close to $1000. I am not a big spender. It's kind of scary.

Hmmm.... I am introducing the students today to No Child Left Behind. Do I want to do the historical piece, or just jump into the last 10 years?

Oh, yeah, I can't forget the difference between compulsory and compensatory education.

Should I use the NCLB video?

I really need to find my copy of the Bruner text.

Crap I haven't read the student essays.

Two weeks left for the deadline for the Citizenship piece.

The MWPSA conference call was extended to Friday. Should I send in a piece? Will MSU fund the travel if I get accepted?

I need to get the fall planting done.

Crap, I'm running out of socks. Time to do laundry.

Is public education a right or a privilege? What are the implications for learning depending on your answer?

I wonder if I use the springform pan, Will the chocolate cake turn out better?

Giants game on Sunday. It better not rain. I do not like football enough to go sit in the rain for 3 hours.

I need to write that forward for the book.

It's a relief that Teacher Ed Admissions are done. I couldn't handle another week of that.

Yeah, what goes on in my head is not a pretty thing. And that's just what I remember from last night.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For those of you who think racism is a thing of the past...

Watch this. And this. And no, this is not some old guy who is expressing his own sad and sick point of view. There are many others around him who are laughing and encouraging him.

I'd like to say that I am shocked, but sad to say, I'm not.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The DOW is below 9000 and I am really scared

Let's admit it, the dramatic side of me is one prone to hyperbolic statements. But, I think it's safe to say that I am not alone given the recent turn of events in the US market. I've found it fascinating that the talking heads have been on television saying things like, "Now is not the time to assign blame" and the like regarding the fact that we are now facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But when the Dow Jones closed at 8579, I thought I was going to be sick (remember when it hit 14,000?). So much for the 850 billion bailout (or rescue, depending on the speaker).

When I think about what this means for public education, I shudder (OK, I am trembling at many things right now, but I have to stop panicking about paying my bills). Budgets are going to be stripped even more than they already have. The feds are going to cut education spending, even though they will most likely NOT lessen the NCLB stranglehold. Things are going to get a lot worse.

But it's not just about education spending, folks. Families have been struggling for a while, and it is getting much, much worse. Too many families are losing their home to foreclosure. And it's not just people who own their homes. Families who rent are also being slapped with evictions because their landlords have been foreclosed upon as well. I am not sympathizing with the property owners here. People who are renting are paying like good tenants. And they are getting screwed.

People being evicted means more kids homeless. And this is not just an urban phenomenon. It's happening everywhere, and it's going to make learning more difficult than usual. But even for families who are staying in their homes, life is going to stay pretty tough. Parents are going to make hard choices between food, utilities, insurance, etc. It's a scary thought.

For those who believe children are oblivious to this, trust me, they aren't. Many of them pick up on parental stress, and it makes them incredible anxious as well. And it's hard to be a kid who is stressed about things that are hard to understand.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman died over the weekend

It's a sad day for goodness. Paul Newman died from cancer over the weekend. For many people, Newman was one of the great movie actors. I didn't get to know his body of work until I was an adult. However, what I really know about Newman is all of the great work he has done as a community activist. He started an educational program about drugs after his son died from an overdose. He opened the Hole in the Wall Gang camps for seriously ill children. He worked tirelessly as a philanthropist because he believed that you had to leave the world a better place.

I'm going to miss his voice on the national stage.

And I need to go watch some his movies.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Check out this other post

For those of you in Public Purposes, check out this post. It's the one I mentioned that you can use as a guide for your own writing. Clearly, it's a lot longer than 250 words. The other site, where you can find the aforementioned post will also be our landing spot for all of us. I will be entering your blogs tomorrow.

Tally ho!

OK, I don't want to quit anymore.

Today was a great day. I LOVE going into the K-12 schools, especially the school I was in today. I find so much life there. And, I have to admit that I find high school students a trip... and in a good way.

On a completely unrelated note, I got my bike fixed, too! I was really upset yesterday when she wouldn't start. Needed to charge the battery and will have to take her back to the shop to fix a short in the brake light (actually, not a short--the darn thing won't go out until I hit the kill switch), but she's on the road again. Wahoo! Which, until I start running again, is one of the only things that keeps me calm, and pleasant, and almost fun to be around.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There are days that I want to quit...

like today. I won't get into today's specifics, but I am glad the weekend is almost here. I need the time to get some perspective. In the meantime...

Teaching is incredibly personal business, especially if you take it seriously. I think I take it too seriously. Today was one of those days that included a series of interactions that felt like I got a knife in my gut. It left me doubting myself, my teaching, and who I am as a person. As a matter of fact, I am still so close to it and upset by it, that I can't write about it. I may never be able to. I can, however, give you some idea of the type of pain it is causing me.

When I taught public school, I was told that I couldn't fail a group of students because they met the attendance requirement. Didn't matter that they had averages below 60. I threw a fit and didn't get tenure.

I now teach at a public university. My second year, I gave a grad student a B+. It was a gift. She failed the final paper. She spent the first 8 pages of a ten page paper talking about how wonderful her childhood was. The purpose of the paper was to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of public education. When she didn't get her A, she went to the University Pres. and demanded that I be fired because I was clearly incompetent. I was forced to give her an A-.

I had a student cheat. I mean really cheat. Hand in the paper of another one of my students from the previous semester. Too bad he didn't bother to check that the midterm was a different test question. When I wanted to get him kicked out of school, the kid basically threatened me and I was told not to fight because the student was a star athlete. The coach could make my life a living hell.

I work really hard to challenge my students. I prepare them to be teachers. You would not believe the crap they give me when I make them read and then apply what they read. I teach them how to assess students. They learn how to write tests, construct essay prompts, etc., and how to effectively grade those assessments. And then they say things like I didn't teach them anything. I guess the hours and hours of out-of-class help and extensive feedback and comments was mental masturbation.

Of course I do a lot of other things with my students, and I have a lot of success with them. But it's days like today that overshadow the good, and make me forget why I became a teacher in the first place. And, it's days like today that make me question whether it is really worth it.

Like I said, today was a really bad day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

50 million spent to certify 200 teachers

OK, I haven't written a diary here in a while. I've been teaching nonstop, maintaining 3 other blogs for my classes each semester, trying to be a radical researcher in a not-so-radical world, and engaging in the joys of administrivia as a Summer Chair. But I had to write here. Tonight. NOW.

Like I said above, the Federal Government has wasted FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS to certify 200 teachers. In a day and age when I work with teachers who have to bring their own paper, pencils, and other supplies, I am out of words (almost) after reading this little piece of news.

The Background...

In case you didn't know, Congress passed its latest reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, called the (H.R. 4137). You can read more about it here. I've been following debates surrounding the new HEA for a number of reasons, but mostly because of David Horowitz's attacks on higher education as bastions of liberal thought. OK, so maybe some of them are more liberal, say, when we compare the New School to the University of Chicago, but on the whole, Horowitz's work fails to stand up to scrutiny. However, that is not the purpose of my diary.

I have been particularly concerned as of late about whether Secretary Margaret Spellings would win her way and mirror the HEA after NCLB. In fact, I was convinced that the HEA would be no more than an extension of NCLB. However, Congress surprised me, and instead focused on larger issues than just accountability. This, of course, made the Bush Administration and Margaret Spellings, pom pom girl extraordinaire... I mean Secretary of Education, very mad. They are completely against spending federal dollars without accountability. Their disdain was most clear in a Spellings Op-Ed from earlier this year.

So imagine my surprise when I did a little more digging tonight (as part of my research on a piece responding to the Highly Qualified Teacher Provisions under Title Two of the HEA), when I read the following:

The Federal government has spent more than $50 million on one program, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, that has licensed a total of 200 teachers and is accepted in five states. (p. 6)


The Bush Administration has authorized the Department of Education to develop a certification exam that states could use. No shocker there. After all, NCLB is proof that they like tests. But while reading testimony before the Subcommittee on Higher Education entitled, Preparing Teachers for the Classroom: The Role of the Higher Education Act and No Child Left Behind, I actually had to stop for a minute, put down the mac, and walk away. When I came back a few minutes later, the numbers were still there.

$50 million.

I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. All politicians spend lots of taxpayer money on pet projects. I think I was shocked more because of what I had heard from a buddy of mine about the test itself. He was actually hired by the feds to do some standards setting and norm the test (he has a PhD in this stuff). The first time my buddy called me about it, he was shocked at the paucity of questions regarding learning, child and adolescent development, and student learning needs. The only questions asked, he noted, focused on content area issues. The second time he called he was outraged that there were no questions about pedagogy, that is, about issues related to how to teach students so they could learn. It reminded him, he said, of all the college profs we had at No Name University who were really smart but couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag. He could not see how this exam would improve the quality of teachers, no matter how "good" the test was, because it focused on the wrong things.

And then I read about the $50 million dollars. Here, in the state of New Jersey, where I live and work, our state colleges and universities have been called to task for "wasteful spending." On the one hand, I agree that we need to be more responsible for our spending. And yet, NJ has one of the worst spending records for supporting higher education. And they have cut state college and university budgets by 20% over the last three years. Tuition is spiking even higher, my GRADUATE seminar courses have 30 students in them (unless I scare them off the first week of class--I am a demanding teacher), and we are told to "do more with less."

Do you know what we could do with $50 million? We could hire more than 1,200 teachers at $41,000 a year, which is about the median national teacher salary. While that doesn't seem like much, in my mind, it's a great start to remedying the many cuts that districts have had to make in their staffing to meet budget cuts (and increasing gas costs, etc.).

Done ranting.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Teaching is like gardening

The picture of the calla lily above is from my garden. I have always loved to garden. When I was a child I used to take care of the rose bushes around the dog pen. I loved twining the roses in between the posts, and I looked forward to seeing the fruits of my labor.

Now, as an adult with my own home, I am gardening again. I grow your usual food: tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, spinach, collards, pak choi, carrots, radishes... etc. Sometimes things go really well; other times I deal with vermin, like Kehli who loves to slurp the centers out of just ripe tomatoes that she has harvested. As a result, I have put up fences around some of the beds, and have moved several of the planters out of the main yard.

But, my pride and joy are my flowers. I am not one of those people who loves perfectly landscaped gardens. Instead I inspire to a riot of colors and plants. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not.

Last year was the first year I put in the back bed. I was so proud of myself. While I didn't put in the wall, I did pick, lay out and put in all the plants. It was a very pretty garden, and I had a number of plants that simply thrived. Still, I had others that failed to do well, and they had to be replaced this year. Even so, my first efforts were very pretty, and oh-so-neat.

Of course this year, the garden is out of control. I LOVE IT. It is a riot of plants, colors, and scents. I am very happy with it, and am planning to do a lot more work with it this summer. Of course, there is the usual work that needs to be done: weeding, trimming, hacking back, pinching, deadheading, fertilizing... it's a never ending process. But it's the daily, small stuff that makes the garden beautiful. It's also these daily chores that help the garden to thrive. Without this daily maintenance, the plants crowd each other, fighting for sun, the weeds choke emerging plants, and it just looks bad. You can never let it get away from you.

Teaching, in this respect, is much like gardening. It takes a lot of preparation beforehand to have a successful classroom. Just like you have to prep the soil, you need to set up a strong foundation for your students. You need to follow planting directions and meet the soil quality, water, and sun needs of each plant. You need to leave adequate room for the plant to spread. It's the same with students. They each have their own strengths and needs, and teachers must know what they are and meet them if their students are to thrive. And like gardens, there is a routine of things that must be done. In classrooms we need to reinforce new learning and ensure that the foundation remains strong.

Ultimately though, we need to decide what type of classroom we want. Do we need absolute order and try to bend Mother Nature to our will? Do we enjoy watching Mother Nature do what she does best? As teachers, we need to make the same decisions. We can quash children's curiosity and make them walk on the lines, sit in rows and never speak until spoken to. Or, we can encourage them to be who they are in all their messy glory. Some children will be quiet and understated like my ornamental bamboo, and others will be bigger than life like my climbing rose. Either way, we need to nurture our students. That's what teaching is all about.

Who is failing whom?

Take a look at this:

You can see this chart in context and read the entire document here.

Do ya get it? Statewide, schools are not meeting AYP. We could look at this in a number of ways: NJ schools, teachers, administrators, and students are really as bad as the public wants to believe. On the one hand, these stats mask the truly dangerous and academically lacking schools in a sea of other schools. This is not what NCLB wanted to have happen. The ED wanted to be able to highlight the schools that were doing amazing things and pressure schools that were not to do a better job of educating their students. And let's be real, there are some schools that need to do a better job.

On the other hand, I have to ask what AYP is not taking into consideration. What the chart above doesn't talk show is that some of the best schools in the state and in the nation are having trouble making AYP. This leads me to wonder if how they determine AYP is more of a problem than the schools themselves.

OK, so that was a facetious question/statement. I have real issues with how AYP is determined. As I talked about before, I just spent three days visiting amazing schools in an urban center close to my home. There were amazing schools, and not all of them met AYP. Because of that, all the amazing stuff they do get lost in the fact that they don't meet AYP.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When good schools fail

My students (undergraduate and graduate teacher education students) have spent the last three days visiting several different schools in a nearby urban community. We were guests of these schools as part of the Urban Educators' Institute, an initiative to introduce university students to the schools, teachers, students, and communities that make urban education so amazing and challenging. The theme of this year's institute was What is right about urban education? The short ending to a long story is the schools, the teachers, the students, and the administrators are right with urban education.

The schools were different in many ways. Some had strong administrators who were responsible for creating a professional learning community. In other schools, the culture of the schools themselves guided the school environment, so that the administrators could let things flow on their own. Some of the schools were older than 75 years. Others were built as recently this year. All of these schools housed amazing programs that provided rich, rigorous, and wonderful learning experiences for their students. The evidence was every where, on the streets outside the buildings where we watched parents talking with teachers as the dropped off or picked up their children, in the halls which we decorated with students' projects, in the classrooms where we got to see students and teachers learning together, and most importantly, we heard about it from the students themselves. They told us what they were learning, why it was important, and there were even some tears as they related to the audience the importance of the teachers and administrators who challenged and nurtured them.

The teachers exhibited everything that we (at the university which employs me) hope to instill in our teacher education students; they all have the content knowledge, the pedagogical content knowledge, the skills, and the dispositions of successful teachers. And the students were amazing. And yet, these young men and women that we met were also members of the larger urban community that the schools served. And when we had the chance to talk to them, we were able to take away new ways to engage our own students.

Which brings me to a poignant issue about these schools and the expectations that have been placed on them by the state and the federal government. If I had children (or ever decide that I am bored of the child-free environment in which I live), these are the types of schools where I would want to send them. The programs are strong. The teachers are amazing. The administrators are dedicated. And many of them are identified as schools in need of improvement.

It's the new rhetoric they use today. Before they were called failing schools. Now they simply need to improve. Of course the irony of this is that these schools are outstanding centers for learning. And yet, when most people hear they did not make AYP (adequate yearly progress), they assume these schools must be homes to lazy students, teachers who have checked out, and incompetent administrators. The stark reality is that AYP fails to consider what is right with schools. It focuses on what is wrong. And it's not just urban schools who are in trouble.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Another "What not to Wear" Moment Brought to you by Kehli

This has nothing to do with education. It has to do with one of my three beasties (aka dogs), Kehli. You can see her lying on my bed here, and she's actually being quite agreeable. That's only because she is asleep.

Kehli is not a bad dog; she just has separation issues. I think that is because she was taken from her mother when she was very young. Sometimes the damage done is pretty mild... like when she chews up a box of Kleenex. Other times, it can be a little annoying, like when she chewed up my copy of David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005: Oxford University Press).

Needless to say, I was a little annoyed. But what she has done in the last two weeks is downright tragic. It's not that I don't empathize. After all, she and her two partners in crime have been alone up to twelve hours a day. I thought they would be OK with the back door open and all. I was wrong. The first to go were my favorite glasses.

This, for lack of a better word, sucked. And it's not like I could yell at her, because I didn't catch her in the act. It was a good reminder of the fact that I need to be a little bit neater around the house. But of course, I didn't learn my lesson. I came home today to another new and lovely act of eyewear desecration; this time the victims were my fave Smith sun/snowboarding glasses.

I'm just thankful they weren't the brand new ones I bought while up visiting my brother, his wife, and my brand new nephew. Kinda cute, huh?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When students organize to protest

I gotta admit, I am proud of the kids in the Bronx who refused to that the practice in social studies the other day. For those of you who don't know, a group of 8th graders in the Bronx refused to take an social studies practice exam. Along with the blank test forms they returned to the proctors, they included petitions signed by students. Among the statements on the petitions were critiques about too much testing, practice tests that had nothing to do with their grades, and testing instead of teaching. You can read about it here.

This is so exciting. Talk about students learning what it means to organize and protest. They are living and engaging in democracy. The downside is that students are going to be punished (banning them from graduation is being mentioned as a penalty) and the social studies teacher who, from all accounts, told the kids the protest might backfire (even though he supported their budding critical thinking skills), has been yanked from the classroom. Apparently engaging kids in reading history, engaging in critical thinking, and asking questions is not welcome in this school.

The sad thing is that this is going to be a teachable moment that will inevitably be lost. Instead of opening up the discussion with students to come to a compromise, the students are going to be punished for finding and using their collective voice (they defined those in power), and the teacher who nurtured them will most likely lose his job because he, too, failed to know and stay in his place.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Framing Teachers: No Child Left Behind, the media, and teachers and teaching

Note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Midwestern Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, 2008

As an urban teacher educator who is very interested in how education policy shapes the lived experiences of students and teachers in schools, the above moments intrigued me. After all, it’s been standard practice for some time now to employ lobbyists to get one’s interests supported in government. In the public sphere, we call it advertising (sometimes pandering), but the effect can often be the same. What I found so interesting about this was the fact that it leads me to wonder what, if anything, the public can believe in the media. For years now, conservatives have been critiquing the media in the United States for what they perceive to be a liberal bias. Liberals have shot back that the media, is in fact not liberal, but under the thumb of conservative pundits. And so it goes. While it might be nice to engage with this discussion, I have a different goal: to explore how the media frames No Child Left Behind.

Let me be clear. I am not a scholar in media studies. I am a teacher educator who is deeply committed to the promise of public education. Given the longstanding ambivalent relationship that the polity has with its public schools, investigating the political discourse surrounding NCLB has been of great interest to me. Debates over what schools should teach and to what end serve as a backdrop for much of the educational reform efforts we have seen, for a large part of the history of public education in the United States. Further, the pressure for public schools to perform for political and economic reasons have had an impact. From the first news that the Soviet Union won the space race and the initial approval of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to its latest reauthorization as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), public education has been viewed as the means to effect change (moral, social, cultural, and economic) in all of society in the United States even though the schools themselves are not independent of the communities and society they serve. And, as Arthur Lippman pointed out so long ago people can be manipulated in multiple ways to hold certain beliefs about the state of the nation, and the MSM plays a role in this.

When I poll my undergraduate teacher education students at the beginning of each semester to explore what they believe to be true about teaching, learning, and public schools, they express a number of beliefs about public schools that are firmly rooted in the American psyche: parents don’t care, the schools are failing students, teachers are lazy, teachers don’t care, progressive education is too soft, we need to go back to basics, money to fund schools isn’t important, understanding education theory isn’t as important as practical experience, etc. The list goes on. When I prod further to explore the origins of these beliefs, many students reference what we expect; they just know it, it was their personal experience, their parents told them, they have read/heard about it in the media, and most recently, because “we have NCLB.” It is important to note that the course in which I informally poll my undergraduate students is a required course they must complete BEFORE they apply to the teachers education program at the university at which I teach. And yet, their list is eerily similar to the one that Shaker & Heilman (2004) note has become the accepted view of public education today. Thus, while the above anecdote cannot and should not serve as a statement of truth about college students’ beliefs regarding the public schools, it does serve, on a number of levels, as the inspiration for this paper because it reflects the larger trends regarding perceptions of education.

If one were to take a closer look at the lists above, much of what is there reflects deeper held ideas, beliefs, and values that Americans express and hold about the purposes and functions of the public schools. In fact, many of these deep-held beliefs serve to organize people’s understandings about the world around them. This is what George Lakoff talked about in his work on metaphor, politics, and language. Lakoff illustrates how two contradictory metaphors, the strict parent and nurturant parent, can be utilized to explain the differing political worldviews of conservatives and liberals, and that these metaphors are intricately tied to the process of framing. At the same time, it is inappropriate to consider the media an independent entity that simply reports the news. Lippman (1922; 1997) wrote extensively during his lifetime on the ways in which the elite are able to harness venues like the mass media to shape the perceptions of the public. Herman & Chomsky (1985), building upon the notion of the “manufacture of consent” (e.g., the media serves to entertain, inform, and manipulate viewers based upon the interests of the powerful and the elite, so that viewers’ beliefs and values are shaped by the media), remind the reader that media outlets, after all, are not nonprofit organizations that function simply to serve the public good. Indeed, media outlets are businesses. Because they are subject to the control of owners, the market, and profit margins, they are not just in the business of reporting the news; they are also in the business of producing the news. As evidenced by the GAO report and later news reports about the Department of Education (ED) and its role in paying Armstrong Williams, a prominent African American commentator to tout NCLB when asked to guest on any news program or print outlet, what the public is exposed to is, in fact, shaped by very explicit goals. The choice of visual imagery (e.g., photos, graphics, advertising, etc.) indeed, whether the article itself is cover story, front page, above-the-fold news, is not randomly chosen. Decisions are made to sell papers, and more importantly, to win supporters.

Capturing the imagination of the polity

Historically, the use of pictures on the covers of magazines and front pages of newspapers has served as a means to entice people to buy, but also to function as a means of knowledge production by tapping into people’s emotions. My father collected certain issues of Life Magazine and was crushed when he discovered they were destroyed by water damage in the basement of my childhood home. After my grandmother’s death, my mother and I found several newspapers from the day President Kennedy was assassinated. For my Irish Catholic grandmother it was a horrible day (she mourned the loss of the first Irish Catholic President of the US even though she abhorred his politics). Each of us probably has a similar story to share.

While the examples above derive from my own family narrative, there are other examples that derive from a more collective national narrative. Take for instance the iconic images of the “Little Red Schoolhouse” or the one-room schol house in the historical narrative of the United States. In 1921 a progressive school named the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School was founded. Begun as a progressive school, it persists today, in spite of the pressures of NCLB. Numerous other schools and a national curriculum share the same name. In contrast, the one-roomed schoolhouse is much more a rarity today. But what makes the notion of the one-roomed schoolhouse so iconic is the fact that the vision endures in spite of so many changes in society (transportation, population explosions, reform efforts, etc. The image of the little red school house or the one-room school house exists to this day because it harkens back to what people think of as being a simpler, less violent, more stable life. These images are so much part of US popular culture that one can find popular Clip Art capturing the iconic essence. Finally, the ED has also employed this imagery as part of the façade surrounding its entrance, including the words No Child Left Behind emblazened above the entryway.

Teachers unions

In the case of framing the state of public education, there are similar images available in the NYT and Time. And, some of these images literally leap from the papers and into larger than life icons because they can communicate on multiple levels in multiple ways (Mitchell & Weber, 1995). While recently attending the 2008 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in New York City, a colleague asked me if I had seen a 70 foot billboard that was located across the street (see Figure 5). This billboard was a replica of a full-page add taken out in the NYT by the Center for Union Facts (see Figure 6) and part of a recently launched campaign to draw attention to incompetent teachers and the unions that supposedy protect them. Other ads like this one from the NYT and other media outlets had been brought to my attention by my graduate students. Particularly in the last few weeks. On the billboard and in the ad was a picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it with a worm sticking out. The text above the apple read, “Vote for the WORST unionized TEACHERS (who can’t be fired)” (font size, etc., approximated). While standing in front of the billboard, my colleague and I watched two women stop to read the text. As they walked away, one of them laughed, and said “How funny is that! There really are so many bad teachers.” Another person walking by said, “You can read that because of a teacher.”

The irony that such a billboard was positioned outside an educational conference was not lost on me. Nor was the use of the iconic apple, often associated with teachers. The fact that there was a worm sticking out of a spot where a person had taken a bite was a great example of visual imagery. But what makes this billboard and the NYT ad important to this discussion is that the women I mentioned completed missed or overlooked the word “unionized” on the billboard. In fact, when one looks at the billboard and the NYT ad, the term “unionized” is in a font size much smaller and finer text than the rest of the text. If one were to glance, one might mistakenly read vote for the worst teachers. When exporing the background of this ad at, there is no mention of from where their support comes other than a mention of the Center on Union Facts. Richard Berman, a Washington, DC lobbyist who has worked for the tobacco industry and other large-scale political interests for years founded the Center on Union Facts. This information is not immediately available to the public, unless one digs much deeper.

In addition to their general critique of teachers unions, the Center has also launched attacks on particular communities, including Newark, NJ, a high-needs district with which my home university partners. Upon exploring the website, the reader learns that they (the designers of the site) are not against teachers; they are against unions, union corruption, and union abuse. However, this message may not seem clear to the viewer of the ad. Indeed, by asking people to vote for the worst teachers, the focus is off any role the unions may or may not play in teacher employment. One’s attention is drawn to the teachers themselves. No mention is made of the conditions in which teachers work, particularly those who work in urban communities. And, these are the teachers whom are the focus of the Center for Union Facts attack. As a result, the critique of a collective, in this case teachers unions is reduced to an attack on individual teachers themselves.

The Labor Movement in the US itself has long been viewed in complex ways. On the one hand, its history of fighting for the rights of workers in terms of a living wage, safe work conditions, and the right to organize is well-known among some circles. In addition, unions also were a site of educational and intellectual development among the working class (Aronowitz & Giroux, 2004). This is not necessarily the image of unions, teachers unions in particular, the media has focused on, historically or today. A second ad by framed teachers unions as bullies in schools. The photo is that of a young, blue-eyed, white boy with light brown hair. He is hung by the back of his coat over a coat hook hung on a brick wall. The image draws upon many-an-adults’ memories of the kid who was always bullied: hung up on hooks, shoved in lockers, lunch money or homework stolen. Instead of the bully being the bigger kid, however, the bully this ad points to is the teachers union. The text above the photo reads, “The Biggest Bully in Schools?” Below, it reads, “Teacher Unions.” The subtext reads, “Teacher unions bully principals into keeping bad teachers, scare politicians who support school reform, and block efforts to pay great teachers higher pay. It’s time to stand up to the bully.”

Indeed, groups like the Education Policy Institute (, and others have presented teachers unions as the primary obstacle to reforming education. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, blamed the unions for the problems in public education in February of 2007 at an invited talk at a conference on technology and education w. Rod Paige’s new book, The War Against Hope is subtitled How Teachers’ Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education (2007). To present teachers’ unions as bullies, not only ignores the long standing struggles for access, equity, and justice in which the unions have participated; it also frames them as an obstacle to justice. In doing so, the media frames school reform (and justice) as a process that must occur outside the realm of teachers and unions. They cannot be trusted to do what is just and right. They must be told what to do because if left to their own devices, they will cut a swath of destruction through their students, because they are lazy, incompetent, abusive, and above all, a threat to the American public.

The coverage of former Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s claim that the National Education Association (NEA) was a terrorist group is a case in point. On Tuesday, February 24, 2004, several US media outlets carried the story that Secretary of Education Roderick Paige called the National Education Association “a terrorist organization” the day before. The next day, Secretary Paige issued a written apology:

"It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics the NEA’s Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind’s historic educational reforms. I also said, as I have repeatedly, that our nation’s teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA’s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live. But, as one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better." (Secretary Paige Issues apology for the comment about the NEA, February 23, 2004)

Understandably, teacher organizations (and teachers themselves) responded to these statements with fury and disappointment, given that the Secretary of Education discursively situated the nation’s largest teachers’ association at the heated center of political violence and intimidation. Granted, he was most likely responding to the NEA’s resistance to NCLB, which critics consider to be poorly conceived. However, in claiming his comments were nothing more than a poor choice of words, Paige dismissed the reaction of the NEA and teachers as them being overly sensitive and naïve about the fact that NCLB was good for students and society.

The NYT carried no front-page coverage of this event. The Opinion section hosted five commentaries: two editorials, one op-ed, and two letters to the editor. While all five pieces were scathing of Paige’s remark, the fact that they were located in the Opinion section framed their content as clearly partisan. In contrast, the Education section hosted nine articles that referred to Secretary Paige’s comment. The first was an article reporting on the initial discursive act (2/24/2004). In the first article, Robert Pear, NYT reporter, noted that Paige said the NEA “was like ''a terrorist organization'' because of the way it was resisting many provisions of a school improvement law pushed through Congress by President Bush in 2001”. In further reporting of Paige’s apology, Pear noted that Paige stood by the intent of his words, noted that he (Paige) still had great respect for individual teachers (not teachers as a collective), but that he had merely made a “poor choice of words.” The remainder of the articles addressed calls for removing Secretary Paige from his position. All of these articles focused on the unions, individual teachers, some politicians and their reactions to the statement, not its implications for teachers, their work, or public perception of teachers. There was no mention of knowledge of or reaction to Paige’s comments from the wider public.

On one hand, it’s politics as usual; it is a classical rhetorical device to “demonize” what one perceives to be a threat. In this case, Secretary Paige saw the NEA as a threat to implementing NCLB, and therefore a threat to the Bush Administration’s perception of how to achieve justice for all children in the US (through testing, accountability, and choice). On the other hand, to call the teachers unions in general “bullies,” let alone the nation’s largest teachers’ association a “terrorist organization” politically detracts from the work in which unions and teachers engage, especially when the American public is already concerned about teachers and teaching on the national level. To only report the reactions of those who were victims of the attack, serves to further minimize the initial attack (the terrorist comment) and marginalizes the object of that attack (the NEA in particular, teachers unions in a broader sense, and teachers in general) because it is framed as a localized and individual concern, not one of larger social, political, and economic concerns.

Still other images available in the media play upon assumptions about teachers. Mitchell and Weber (1995) note that there are several images about teachers that permeate US society. One of the most enduring, according to Mitchell and Weber (1995) is that of the prim and proper, white teacher. Both Time and the NYT utilize this image in their discussion of NCLB. Take, for instance, the February 5, 2008 cover of Time (Figure 8), which includes a picture of a young white female teacher with long brown hair, in a blue button down shirt and grey slacks. She is sitting in a student’s desk with an open math book and other books are visible underneath the desk. The phrases “How to make better teachers” and “Who would be the education President?” flank her on either side. The cover story itself, however, includes a photo of a young white male in white shirt, tie, and khakies. His arms are crossed, and he is flanked by blurred shapes of students (see Figure 9). The caption reads, “Ben Van Dyk fled public school to teach at parochial Servite High. Pay isn't great, but there's more support and freedom to teach creatively.” These and other visual images employed by both Time and the NYT present the image of teacher as predominately young, white, and conservative.

Visually, these two images play upon a number of assumptions about teachers and teaching. On the one hand, both publications presents “better teachers” as being young and fresh. The new teachers are presumably better than current teachers who are more experienced, older, resistant ot NCLB, and presumably part of the union. In this respect, NCLB and its focus on the Highly Qualified Teacher frames youth as something that is desirable because new teachers have not yet been jaded by those who would oppose the requirements of NCLB (see Cochran-Smith & Lyttle, 2006; Weiner, 2005).

The text of the article, however, is not about the age, skills, knowledge, or dispositions of talented teachers, nor is it about what challenges teachers face in the classroom. Instead, the focus is on merit pay, and how merit pay might widen the pool of potential teachers, reward teachers, and motivate teachers in general. Analysis reveals that the Time article, like others addressing issues related to the Highly Qualified Teachers Act, prestents recruiting new teachers and learning to teach, as independent of larger social issues. If one is motivated to teach, has the appropriate bachelors degree, and the desire to be successful (evidenced through raising test scores, etc.) then one can become the type of teacher the nation, under the geies of NCLB needs and want. Better teachers don’t need better preparation, more mentoring, a more stable school environment, better leadership, more resources. They simply need more pay to improve. Connecting the preparation of better teachers to issues of pay and the market reflects a wider public belief that if one is better at something, one will be payed more, because one is worth more. Those who do not perform as well, get paid less, or are fired.

My point here is not that teachers don’t deserve better pay, better working conditions, and more respect. Many teachers work second (and third) jobs to make up the difference between their salaries and the cost of living. Many teachers have to wait to go to the bathroom, have to buy their own supplies, and work in classrooms with inadequate desks (too few or the wrong size), lighting, and heating (too little or too much). Too many hard working educators are told they are “just teachers,” not nearly as important as the doctors, lawyers, and engineers who were once their students (some of homw also belong ot unions—which coincidentally, are rarely critiqued. One has to wonder why only teachers unions are subjects of such derision). The point is that the media frames issues related to justice as a matter of economic justice, as if pay, competition, and the market (in the form of merit pay, vouchers and school choice), will level the playing field for students and prepare them for the competitive workplace in a privatized world by incetivizing public education as a competitive workplace for teachers (McCluskey, 2007; Giroux, 2008; Hursh, 2008; Saltman, 2007). Problematic in this view, of course, is the notion that all school districts, students, and communities are the same, and therefore need and get the same.

In fact, those who are critical of NCLB are excluded from the discussion simply because they challenge the prevailing view of those in power (van Dijk, 1998), and therefore are part of the problem, not the solution. In a speech to the Greater Huston Partnership, Secretary Paige reflected this sentiment.

"Now I know…they [teachers unions, those opposed to NCLB] will fight it anyway they can. If those who fear change defeat national reform, then division, exclusion, racism, and callousness win. This is a debate with profound consequences. If we lose this debate, millions of children will be harmed by being excluded, ignored, disrespected, and under-educated, and then sent out into a world for which they are educationally unprepared and uncompetitive. Who among us would wish that on any child?" (12/15/03)

The discourse here constructs anyone who challenges NCLB bitter and unreasonable. They are not doing so based upon reasonable arguments; they are instead irrational obstructionists who don’t believe in the full potential of all children. Those who challenge NCLB don’t believe in equality, they want to divide the nation and maintain the current status quo of inequitable educational experience, no choice and no opportunity. In this sense, they oppose social justice for students, particularly those from poor or minority communities.

It is significant that this view of justice is so able to capitalize upon what is collectively understood as core American values of equality and opportunity (Feinberg, 1999; Parker, 2003; Sehr, 1997). While this discourse has not silenced the dissension of NCLB, it has effectively de-legitimized much of it, relegated that dissension to the margins, and is so powerful that it has been able to shape the common understanding of public education and where fault for its shortcomings lies (with schools and teachers, not with larger institutions, see for instance, Cochran-Smith & Lyttle, 2006). And, the media, in its discussion of NCLB, still frames its policies and practices as a viable means for achieving justice (in the form of economic access) even when it presents a critique of aspects of or actions surrounding the legislation (for instance, budget cuts, issues related to state standards, etc.).

Take for instance, the October 13, 2004 NYT article about the 2004 US Commission of Civil Rights report about the Bush Administration. According to Janofsky, President Bush,
“neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues nor taken actions that matched his words."

The draft, prepared by the commission staff, accuses Mr. Bush of civil rights failures in education, voting, gay and lesbian issues, affirmative action, housing, environmental justice, racial profiling and hate crimes and concludes by saying, "Failing to build on common ground, the Bush administration missed opportunities to build consensus on key civil rights issues and has instead adopted policies that divide Americans." (2004)
Instead of continuing to report the findings of the Commission and providing details of the report, the article instead focused on the timing of the report’s release (right before the 2004 Presidential elections) and the fact that a number of Republican voting members of the commission were disturbed by its timing. Janofsky reported that, “Republicans were clearly concerned that politics were trumping fairness. Mr. Kirsanow [the Commissioner] said that the draft "evinces a bias and political slant unacceptable from an allegedly nonpartisan agency." Thus, the focus of the article was more about the individual political concerns of members of the Commission and the timing of the report draft (which was well-known given the process) rather than the content of the report. Instead of digging into the deeper, and more complex issues at stake, the NYT here, and in other places simply presented opposing viewpoints (about the timing of the report) rather than addressing or engaging in a critique of the content of the report (and whether, or not, President Bush’s record merited the critique—see, for instance, Gerstl-Pepin, 1998 on “thin” public, and Gerstl-Pepin, 2002).

The above article illustrates how what some might consider the real news (a report detailing President Bush’s record on civil rights, particularly in relation to education), is not nearly as important as the politics surrounding the release of that report. Instead of focusing on the content of the report, the concerns of individual Republican members of the Commission are deemed more news-worthy (and of more value) than the polity’s right to information prior to an election, whether about an administration in general, or public education specifically. Instead, the issues are framed in terms of the idea that “it’s politics as usual” and therefore not news of a serious issue.

The point is that the media, in the images it produces (whether in the form of advertisements, or journalist photos), in what it reports, where and how, frames issues related to NCLB and education in general in ways that do little to transcend what people’s current beliefs about them are. It simply “reports the news.” As a result, the message is left unchecked. In the case of how the media frames issues of justice as it relates to NCLB, the connection is not necessarily a direct one in the MSM. Indeed, as this discussion illustrated, media representations of unions and teachers frame the discussion more in terms of what and who impede justice, not in terms of what was necessary to achieve it.

Conclusions: Imaging unions and teachers as anti-justice

The discussion here is by no means an exhaustive one. It is a first foray into interrogating how the media contributes to the framing of NCLB within the wider community. It is interesting to note that while many people in the United States are suspicious of the main stream media, they still engage in consuming it and repeating what it reports. In this respect, the media then wields a great deal of power in terms of how it frames different issues, particularly those related to NCLB. In his discussion of television and the media, Bourdieu noted,

"The political dangers inherent in the ordinary use of television have to do with the fact that images have peculiar capacity to produce what critics call a reality effect [italics original]. They show things and make people believe in what they show. This power to show is also a power to mobilize. It can give a life to ideas or images, but also to groups. The news, the incidents and accidents of everyday life, can be loaded with political or ethnic significance liable to unleash strong, often negative feeings, such as racism, chauvinism, the fear-hatred of the foreigner or, xenophobia. The simple report, the very fact of reporting, of putting on record as a reporter, always implies a social constructions of reality that can mobilize (or demobilze) individuals or groups." (1996, p. 21)

When the media continues to simply “present” the story or report the facts, it fails to take responsibility for the fact that it is complicit in how people interpret those news reports. People bring assumptions and beliefs to every text with which they engage and the media is no different. At the same time, however, the media also has the power to give to or take away voice from different groups, depending upon how it presents the content of the story.

In the next few months, NCLB will be (hopefully) hotly debated: in homes, in schools, in coffee houses, at the local burger joint, just as it will be in state and federal governments. As the nation moves forward to reauthorize the legislation, hopefully, there will be serious changes beyond the current discussion. Media outlets like the NYT and Time can play a role in not only reporting the news, they can and should engage in a deeper critique about what they consequences might be for schools, teachers, and most importantly, students, as the ED moves forward. If the only changes are to be relieving suburban districts of some of their requirements—what Secretary Spellings has called “triage”—or requiring states to report graduation rates using a set equation, which will undoubtably heighten concerns about a long-standing problem—one that Fine, 1991 and others discussed extensively before the recent reports about dropouts in the the NYT and Time—then little will change in terms of the educational experiences of students. They and their teachers will still be held responsible for achieving their own justice without any real support from those who are making demands for equality, execellence, and justice form them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's all about the budget, or where the money goes reflects one's priorities

The President has announced his budget for the coming year, and surprise! Education spending is flat, healthcare (medicare and medicaid) is cut by $200b and defense spending is up $200b. While I understand we are in a war (much as I hate it), what this Administration is doing to public education and students is killing me. More and more schools are "under corrective action" and they are not getting the support they need to effect the changes that NCLB calls for.

I really have to ask (tongue-in-cheek, of course), where the nation's priorities lie? Test scores don't really tell us what students are learning, and they certainly don't reflect their ability to think critically or not. So many people are on the standards and testing bandwagon, but no one is talking about how students learn, the conditions in which teaching and learning occurs, etc. And few people want to acknowledge the fact that the schools cannot work independently of the larger social and economic realities that are out there. It's what Lawrence Cremin talked about in the 1980's: schools do not operate in a vacuum. They cannot be expected to ameliorate the ills of society alone.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Let the fun begin! aka Spring 2008

Sigh. It's the first day of the spring semester. Where did the break go? I got no writing done this break (I was shooting for two manuscripts), but I did get out of town, which was nice. I got to spend four days looking at this. What a great time!

But, I digress. The first week of the semester is always a whirlwind. Meeting new students, making sure the syllable are done, copies to post on Blackboard, trying to take care on Incompletes from the semester before... it never ends. But it's exciting, I have to admit. With the beginning of each semester comes the chance to learn something new. I think that's the thing I love the most about teaching. No day is every the same, nor is any group of students.

And off we go!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

T minus two weeks

The spring semester starts in two weeks. Somehow, it feels like I have had no break at all. Well, actually, I haven't. The holidays are never relaxing. Last minute shopping (well, all my shopping), spending time with family, spending time with other people's families, the New Year, getting sick, finishing grades, returning presents... Add onto that gutting a kitchen, taking a quick trip out of town, and trying to meet with students, and suddenly the new semester is here.

On the one hand, I need another month to get my head together. On the other hand, getting into the spring swing of things is great. The days are getting longer, I can run with the dogs, ride my bike. I also find that I much more efficient and focused in the spring. It's got to be the angle of the earth or something.

Needless to say, it's time to start getting things set up for the spring. I think I've come up with some interesting new visions for my classes, and I am excited to set everything up so everyone is all set to hit the ground running for class.

Two weeks... can I get it all done?