Off the Beaten Gadfly – the Best Education Blog Pieces You Never Read in 2014

Wonderfull illusion art painting
So you’re interested in education.

You’ve read your Diane Ravich. You peruse Peter Greene’s blog with your morning coffee. You have a Badass Teachers Association jersey on under your button down work shirt and tie.

But you need something more.

Well, friend, have I got a treat for you!

Please to enjoy Gadflyonthewallblog! This is the site where all the cool intellectuals go – the folks who want an edge to fight corporate school reform.

You probably already read Gadfly’s Top 10 Posts of 2014. That wouldn’t get by a discerning customer like you. But have you seen this – Gadfly Deep Tracks?

That’s right! These are the five posts selected by the author that maybe didn’t get the page views of the popular articles but are really worth your time.

Take a look. There’s some really good stuff here!

So for your continued edification, elucidation and just plain old enjoyment, I present to you the Top 5 Gadfly Rarities:


5) RAIDERS OF YOUR LOST PENSION

Views: 50  shutterstock_pickpocket
Publication: July 22

Description: Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall and listen to a secret meeting of corporate education reformers to hear what they REALLY think? Well, here’s your chance. I came across a conservative think tank paper that outlines ways to manipulate school boards to reduce teachers pension benefits. It’s all right here: Teach for America, Disaster Capitalism, Reducing School Budgets, etc. This is a smoking gun.

Fun Facts: My first post. It’s where I got the name for my blog. I thought this was really important, but not many people saw it. Here’s my attempt to change that.


4) FORGET CORPORATIONS… UNIONS REALLY ARE PEOPLE

Views: 152  Labor-Unions
Publication: Nov. 1

Description: Why do some people hate labor unions so much? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand them. In this article I outline the philosophy behind unions and debunk many common criticisms.

Fun Facts: Strong union folks loved this. Randi Weingarten was a fan. But it never gained the audience I feel it deserves. This is important. At best, it’s a way to convince reasonable people that unions are relevant and in fact indispensable to our economy. At worst, it’s at least a good tool to use to help explain your support of unions. It’s worth noting that this article is about unions in general – not any particular union.


3) THE MULTIPLE CHOICE MIND

Views: 356  Scanning of a human brain by X-rays
Publication: July 29

Description: What’s the problem with standardized tests? What do they do to growing minds? This article answers those questions and more. The basic thesis is that bubble tests are horrible ways to help create thinkers, but excellent for creating consumers.

Fun Facts: Standardized testing is central to all corporate education reform. But few people question its purpose. I think it’s important the public understand that none of this is about education. It’s about creating a permanent underclass just smart enough to be customers at Walmart but not smart enough to question the status quo.


2) A CURRICULUM OF COMPASSION

Views: 623  05_A1CP_t400
Publication: Nov. 8

Description: This is just a simple story about a poor, damaged student who entered my class needing so much more than just an education. I got her to smile. That’s it.

Fun Facts: This girl was in my class about a third of the time last year, and only two days this year. I hope she returns someday soon. It just breaks my heart. Wherever she is I send this article out to her as a virtual hug so my readers might love her as much as I do. Sometimes that’s more important than lesson plans, etc.


1) FRANZ KAFKA AND THE METAMORPHOSIS OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS  kafka-drawing-251x300

Views: 775
Publication: Aug. 30

Description: Value-Added Measures of teachers are absurd. So I mixed them up with the master of absurdity – Franz Kafka. Thrill as a teacher wakes up in class transformed into a giant insect about to be evaluated by a reformy principal.

Fun Facts: This is one of my own personal favorites. I think if more people actually saw it, they’d feel the same. I hope you enjoy it, too.


P.S. – I stole the idea for this Top 5 list from the excellent blogger Russ Walsh. He came up with the concept of writing a list of hidden gems – not a typical Top 10 list. His Russ on Reading is well worth your time.


P.S.S. – Diane Ravich gave this article a shout out on her blog.

Franz Kafka and the Metamorphosis of Teacher Evaluations

kafka-drawing-251x300

One morning, when Mr. K woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his classroom into a horrible insect.

 

He lay on his segmented brown belly propped against his teachers desk. He had fallen asleep trying to grade English papers again.

 

His armor-like back ached and wiry thin antennae kept bobbing into view like stray hairs. If he lifted his head a little, he could see his many tiny legs waving about helplessly each holding a pen or pencil.

 

“What’s happened to me?” he thought.

 

It wasn’t a dream.

 

“Oh well.” he shrugged, “I have papers to grade,” and he began to attack the pile of high school essays on literary surrealism.

 

But before he could even finish the first one, the Commandant sauntered in. At least she liked to call herself that. She was really just a first year principal. Last year she had taught in a classroom right down the hall.

 

“Mr. K! What is this!?” she demanded.

 

“You used to call me Franz…”

 

He was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognized as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there was a painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with it. Mr. K had wanted to give a full answer and explain everything, but before he could finish, the Commandant said, “You haven’t turned in your pre-observation report for your value-added evaluation.”

 

“Um, yes, I did. I emailed it to you yesterday.”

 

“You haven’t made references to Danielson’s framework or which Common Core State Standards you’ll be teaching to… How am I going to fairly evaluate your teaching if you don’t make explicit reference to pedagogues like Danielson… and Gates?”

 

“Half of my evaluation is supposed to come from observation. Couldn’t you just observe me? I told you what I was going to be teaching. Isn’t that enough? I have papers to grade.”

 

“Of course not, Mr. K! This is a teaching evaluation! Not a grading evaluation!”

 

“But my students worked all week on these papers. I need to make comments so they can revise them.”

 

“Do students get a chance to revise their essays on our state mandated standardized writing test?”

 

“Not really…”

 

“Then just give them an Advanced, Proficient, Basic or Below Basic and move on to the important work – your evaluation.”

 

“I thought teaching was the important work.”

 

“Certainly not. We’re in the evaluation business. We evaluate the students work on their standardized tests so we can tell how well their teachers are performing. That’s the other half of your evaluation, Mr. K – your students’ test scores.”

 

“But that doesn’t make sense. You can’t evaluate teachers based on a test made to evaluate students. That’s like judging the sturdiness of your shoes based on the sturdiness of your socks.”

 

“Sure we can! It’s a practice championed by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, himself!”

 

“But he has no education background. He’s just a CEO. And even he said schools could put the brakes on it for another year.”

 

“Time is money, Mr. K.”

 

“No it isn’t. Look. Most VAM studies have shown that teachers account for only about 1% to 14% of variability in test scores.”

 

“Come, come, Mr. K! You sell yourself short. Having an effective teacher is the most important factor in a child’s academic success!”

 

“Yes, having a good teacher is the most important factor IN THE SCHOOL BUILDING. But variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, resources, class size, motivation, attendance, health… Shall I go on?”

 

“Nonsense!”

 

“Really? You want to evaluate me based on test scores for students some of whom I may not even teach?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I teach the lower level Language Arts students. I have more children with disabilities and English Language Learners so my students scores – even their progress – will be lower than their peers because they face greater learning challenges. That’s fair?”

 

“Maybe next year we’ll give you the gifted classes.”

 

“That’s worse! How can you judge me on progress when the gifted children have already reached an academic ceiling?”

 

“You’ve got nothing but excuses, Mr. K, and as they say at my old alma mater, Teach for America, ‘There are no shortcuts. There are no excuses.’”

 

“That’s rich coming from an organization that trains teachers in 5 weeks. Let me ask you a question, Ms. Commandant. Has VAM ever been shown to accurately evaluate teacher performance?”

 

“Uh. No, but…”

 

“Has its use ever been shown to increase student learning?”

 

“No, but…”

 

“Is it endorsed by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations like, say, The American Statistical Association?”

 

“No, I think the words ‘junk science’ were even thrown about…”

 

“And you think that you can determine whether I get to keep my job or not based on this deeply flawed methodology? Do you want to be sued for wrongful termination?”

 

“Sued!? Oh goodie! We get to hold a trial!”

 

“What?”

 

“All done. Let’s bring in the machine from the penal colony.”

 

“Wait, but… What did I do wrong?”

 

“You’ll see. The nature of your crime will be slowly carved into your back over a period of 12 hours.”

 

“Won’t that be excruciatingly painful?”

 

“Blame tenure. If it wasn’t for due process rights I wouldn’t even have to do that much.”

 

“Great. Didn’t you notice I’ve turned into a giant insect and have a thick layer of chitin across my shoulders?”

 

“Mr. K, I’m an administrator! I notice everything!”

 

And the moral of the story is… No one knows. Common Core requires us to read more nonfiction texts.

 

(rim shot)

 

FIN