‘Adequate’ Isn’t Good Enough: The NETP Roadmap to Higher Expectations

By Tina Rooks

Imagine the impact on consumer sales if “adequate” replaced words like “ultimate,” “good,” or “best” in the taglines of top selling brands. Now consider the widely publicized expectation of our public education system that all schools must attain “adequate yearly progress.” By definition, adequate is average or acceptable. Certainly neither is the most aspiring adjective.

Successful Fortune 500 companies do not include “acceptable” in their mission statements. Coaches do not encourage a team to be “average” before the big game. Instead, to promote a message of quality that is not conveyed with the lackluster “adequate,” they use phrases such as “exceed expectations” and “set the bar high.”

When did adequate become good enough for our educational system? What impact is this mindset having? And most importantly, how do we break free from this low expectation? Continue reading

Arne and Michelle vs. Larry: The Statistical Battle

By Robert Plants
Editor, Schools for the 21st Century

I opened my newspaper this morning to an article titled “ACT Scores Dropping but More Students Are Prepared for College.” I asked myself how is this possible when other reports say that schools and teachers are not preparing students for future learning.

But I’m getting off my topic, which is the research-based finding that “more than 90% of the variation in student gain scores is due to the variation in student-level factors that are not under the control of the teacher.”

Another interesting note from those who have evaluated value-added methods and particularly the one used in LA is that there is opportunity for as much as 26% error in teacher ratings. If you want to put it another way, 26% is a large labeling error to make regarding someone’s chosen vocation. It sort of opens one to litigation in my mind.

Continue reading

Assuming That Teachers Aren’t the Primary Obstacle to Change . . .

encounters80Introduction: This encounter began with a comment posted by Lynn Zimmerman to Tom Preskett‘s latest article (“Blackboard Reinforces the Status Quo“). ETC has published variations on this theme in the past, but it seems to be a zimmerman40problem that defies the collective wisdom of educators at all levels. Could it be that we’re barking up the wrong tree? If we assume, for a moment, that teachers aren’t the primary obstacle to change, then who or what is? Why? And what can we do to overcome this obstacle? -Jim S

steve_eskow40Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 10:38 am:

I’m trying to recall a period of my professional life when “teacher resistance to change” wasn’t used as the master explanation for the failure to improve education. Education seems almost equally divided between insisters on change and resisters to change.

So: some random, hypertextual questions and thoughts for Lisa, Tom, Lynn–and me.

If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

Education budgets are in shock. Institutions have already moved to drastic economies, including the increasing use of poorly paid adjuncts to do most of the teaching. Will adjuncts using Web 2.0 pedagogies be able to instruct more students, fewer students, the same number?

If an institution using the old organizational structures offers 25 sections of English 101 to Freshman, should those sections teach from a common syllabus, or does each instructor set her own goals and choose her own Web 2.0 pedagogy?

Michael SandelA Harvard prof named Michael Sandel–you’ll find him on YouTube–teaches a course called “Justice” that attracts as many as a thousand students: so many that Harvard has to commandeer its theater building for the course. Apparently the students as well as the prof thinks the course generates “active learning,” despite these numbers. Can a lecture really generate “active learning”? (Sandel is now in the process of putting his course online.)

It’s been said before–by me among others–that it’s more useful to think of the system as eliciting the resistance rather than any one element of the system, like the teacher.

Churchill, you remember, started with the building. “We shape our building,” he said, “and then our buildings shape us.” Lecture halls, classrooms, offices, dorms: those structures resist change at least as insistently as teachers.

When teachers leave the existing system–when campus faculty become part of an all-distance learning initiative, for example–their “resistance to change” often ends.

We need to consider changing our explanations for teacher behavior. And that might require overcoming our own resistance to change.

jims40Jim Shimabukuro, 21 Oct. 2009, 12:49 pm:

Steve Eskow: If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

Good question, Steve. The answer’s yes and no. The underlying issue in online learning seems to be ease of use. On the one hand, CMSs (Course Management Systems) such as Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai are responses to the problem of learning how to move courses online, either fully or partially. The assumption is that an integrated system, or a CMS, is the best method. It’s the Swiss Army knife approach, the all-in-one. Learn one system, and you have all the functions that you’ll need to teach and learn online.

The problem with this all-in-one approach is that users are locked in to a limited set of features. If we compare teaching to building a house, then a CMS is a closed construction system that provides basic tools and materials. The instructor, as carpenter, quickly discovers the limits of her/his tools and resources. After a while, it’s obvious that the house can take on only a limited number of shapes — and it ends up as a little box in a virtual landscape of boxes that all look just the same.

Teachers are, if anything, fiercely independent. They want to own their courses, and they do so by selecting their own required textbooks and resources and developing their own syllabi and learning activities. They demand the freedom to set up their own schedules, assignments, learning activities, and grading systems. They often demand a specific room in a specific time slot. This is what makes teaching an art and so personally fulfilling. The CMSs, for all their purported simplicity, run counter to this independent spirit.

On the other hand, a completely open system such as Web 2.0 is, at least for the novice, bewildering. Where to begin to build a course? How? In comparison, a CMS is a haven of order and simplicity.

From the perspective of an administrator, a CMS is a simple and logical way to move classes online. The alternative is, apparently, chaos.

But is this true?

I’d argue that it’s not. A quick exploration will reveal that all the functions available in a CMS are also available on the web. The difference is that they are not roofed under a single CMS. In a very real sense, the world’s largest, most flexible, most open, and most powerful CMS is the web itself. Instead of just one format for discussions, you have scores; instead of just one format for submitting or presenting papers and projects, you have countless; instead of just a handful of ways to present course material, you have a nearly infinite number.

The point is that once you’ve seen what’s available in the world’s market place, there’s no going back to the single store in your neighborhood.

From the perspective of IT folks who are assigned the task of guiding neophytes into the brave new e-world, the prospect of putting all their effort into a single closed system versus a nearly infinite variety in an open system is very attractive.

But looked at another way, this one-answer approach is shortsighted and ultimately noneducative. If learning is empowering, then this approach stifles learning. In the end, you have instructors and students using a very limited subset of what the web has to offer, and the transfer of learning from the single CMS to the worldwide web is nil. The web remains a scary, chaotic place, and the users are back at square one when it comes to web proficiency.

Returning to your question, Steve: Yes, the students taking five online classes in a web-wide or open CMS (OCMS) would have to learn five different OCMSs. But the critical difference is that all of the parts of the different OCMSs are on the web and the student will quickly learn how to categorize and use them. It’s like getting your bearings in a strange city or highway system. You learn that they all have the same features, and it’s just a matter of adapting to slight variations.

In the end, the student and teachers learn to be at home on the web rather than in the limited confines of a single, closed CMS (CCMS). It’s the difference between being at home in the world and being at home in your neighborhood. Opportunities for creativity and development are unlimited. The outcome is empowerment of the student and the teacher.

Are there problems in guiding faculty in the use of this open approach? There are, but they are far from being insurmountable. In fact, the process can be quite simple. It’s the same ones we use to teach general skills that need to be applied in different ways for different settings. But that’s for another discussion.

Are there other problems, such as security? Yes, of course, but, again, solutions aren’t all that difficult to develop.

When it comes to technology, freedom of choice is a critical factor. Examples abound. All we need to do is look at our choices of cars, cell phones, entertainment, travel, computers, software, etc. The movement is always toward more options than less. We can expect no less in education, in teaching and learning.

Steve, I was planning to respond to some of your other points, but I’ll need to do that some other time.

bbracey40Bonnie Bracey Sutton, 21 Oct. 2009, 12:55 pm:

I enjoyed the GAID Global Forum in Monterrey, Mexico, because every time a person blamed it on teachers. I queried:

Who decides what the curriculum is that teachers use and what flexibility is there in your system?

Who creates the infrastructure for teaching and learning in digital ways and what is the way, the method of teacher professional development?

Is it like a vaccinatioin — one shot and that’s it, or is it sustained and supported?

Access to information: Is it there? What speeds are there? So many teachers don’t have broadband at home.

What access do teachers have (in the US, too) to broadband and the rich resources on the web? Do they have it in school and at home?

What time is allowed to update practice and to learn new media?


The professors from Latin America were saying that the computer should not replace the teacher. I asked how would that be possible or do you mean you have a problem with elearning initiatives while you are being webcast? Why one technology and not the other?

Infrastructure, content, community of practice and support, sustained support for devices and programs, use of tools like T Pack, understanding of Bloom’s taxonomy, digital understanding of cyberbullying and resources — who makes these decisions and are they known?

There is a lot more. What really gets my goat is that other people tell us how to teach and then when it does not work we get the blame. For example, the last 8 years of no science and all of the groups that have gone to Washington complaining about it.

Ms. Spelling killed the teaching of science with NCLB. Example: the teachers in Washington, DC, following the practices that DC accepted have now been weighed by Ms Rhee and found wanting. So who is to blame when schools don’t have a website or teachers don’t have email. Hello?

Bonnie Bracey Sutton, 21 Oct. 2009, 1:08 pm:

Great questions. I even get bewildered from time to time with so much on my plate. I was single and so time was not a problem. These days I don’t have the time, though I am an eager advocate of what works. Some things are not to my liking, but in a K-12 school system we usually don’t get to make those kinds of decisions.

Some informed practice requires teacher involvement, reflection, and understanding. Everyone tells me teachers can’t program. That is not true, but programing takes an investment of time and support.

Here is an interesting take from an Edutopia Blog: “Let’s Get Real About Innovation in Our Schools,” by Suzie Boss 10/12/09.

Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 1:40 pm:

I have to brood some about your provocative comments, Jim.

One question occurs immediately.

Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine.

Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize?

On the other hand. . .and there’s always another hand:

The system is professional, tested, flexible. . .and allows you and the rest of us to concentrate on ideas rather than systems and technology.

Jim Shimabukuro, 21 Oct. 2009, 2:28 pm:

Steve Eskow: Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine. Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize?

Good question, Steve. Yes, I think my choice of WordPress (WP) for ETC fits with my views on using the web as an open CMS. ETC uses WP as part of the web — not part of a closed CMS. WP, as used by ETC, is available and accessible to everyone. Anyone can use it to set up a blog for an endless number of purposes. Use it in ETC and become proficient, and the tool is also yours to use for your own purposes. Transfer of learning? Yes, definitely. And it’s free.

I explored four different blogs before deciding on WP. Two were part of packaged systems, a social network (Ning) and a closed CMS (Sakai). The fourth was freely available on the web, Blogger, which is easier to use but not as stable or powerful as WP.

There are other blog programs, but for me, it came down to Blogger and WP. I chose the latter. If there are better open web, free blog platforms, I’d like to explore them.

Is it perfect? Definitely not. But improvements keep coming, and in time, it ought to address many of its shortcomings.

WP doesn’t have the feature you want — email notification of a reply or post — but it probably will someday.

We could shift ETC into the Ning social network (SN), and that would give us the feature you want, I think. I’m not sure how powerful Ning’s blog is. My first impression wasn’t very good. Or we could pour ETC into a Ning discussion forum setup to get the feature you want. But in my mind, we win a battle but lose the war. There are so many more advantages to ETC in the WP environment than in Ning.

This is not to say that WP doesn’t need to beef up its discussion features. It does. But my guess is that WP isn’t fully aware of the potential of discussion in blogs. In time, though, hopefully it’ll learn and turn the discussion feature into a powerful tool that surpasses that found in Ning.

WP’s discussion feature is on a par with most open web blogs that feature posts by selected writers. If a reader comments on an article, he/she doesn’t usually receive notification of comments from other writers. This notification feature seems to be standard for SNs, but not for blogs. But this could change.

I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question, Steve, but if I haven’t, please let me know.

keller40Harry Keller, 21 Oct. 2009, 2:48 pm: In public schools in this country, teachers are the problem and the solution. Because so many classroom decisions are left to the teachers, they can stymie reform and innovation. These days they are underpaid and overworked. When your school sits in a difficult neighborhood and your class size has ballooned, you are a miracle worker if you can have any learning take place. It’s not particularly surprising that they resist new ideas. Besides, many new things get funded for just a year or two. The teachers put in the time to learn about these things and then find that they’ve wasted their time when they disappear.

Teachers are the solution for plenty of reasons that I don’t have time to explore now.

I’m getting ready for CSTA (California Science Teachers Association) and have lots more to do before I leave.


claude40Claude Almansi, 23 Oct. 2009 12:05 am:

[Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 10:38 PM:] If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

[James N Shimabukuro, 22 Oct. 2009, 12:49 AM:] Returning to your question, Steve: Yes, the students taking five online classes in a web-wide or open CMS (OCMS) would have to learn five different OCMSs. But the critical difference is that all of the parts of the different OCMSs are on the web and the student will quickly learn how to categorize and use them. It’s like getting your bearings in a strange city or highway system. You learn that they all have the same features, and it’s just a matter of adapting to slight variations.

Personal experience: in 2007 Università della Svizzera Italiana foresaw an “intensive French module” for their Master course in Intercultural communication, but they have re-used the same URL for the 2008-10 course), to be given in French and English. I was put in charge of this module (which took place Apr. 16-20) rather late, and with indications about number of participants varying from 3 to 15 until the day before it began. Actually, there were four participants, all already inserted in professional life.

When I asked for access to the Master’s Moodle CMS to store info so that students could concentrate on oral activities without having to take notes all the time, the organizers told me I couldn’t because training in the use of the CMS was only foreseen for after the language modules. I thought it was odd to have to train folks in using (managing maybe, but using?) Moodle, but there was no time to argue, so I made a wiki instead (click here to see what it looked like when we started).

When I showed the wiki to the students, their first reaction was, “Why not the Moodle CMS?” I explained, they raised their eyes to the ceiling, then went at the wiki. None of them had ever actively used one before, but it took them under 5 minutes to get the hang of this one. They liked the idea of not having to take notes all the time, particularly the two (a grand 50%) who had broken their writing arm.

I guess nowadays, a new web app is no problem either for younger students who grew up with Web 2.0 things that are all similar due to their XML basis – see Michael Wesch’s classic video “Web 2.0 . . . The Machine is Us/ing Us” (1).

[Steve Eskow, 22 Oct. 2009, 1:40 AM:] I have to brood some about your provocative comments, Jim. One question occurs immediately. Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine.

(en passant: apart from the RSS solutions I mentioned in the thread about notifications, another work around is to make a comment yourself and check the box for “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.”)

Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize? On the other hand . . . and there’s always another hand: The system is professional, tested, flexible . . . and allows you and the rest of us to concentrate on ideas rather than systems and technology.

Blogs can be used as LMS, but wikis – which nowadays are just as easy to use – are definitely more adapted, because they don’t have the linear constrictions of blogs (2). Moreover, wikis keep the history of changes, so if you or a student bungle/s, you can always revert to the former version – most free wiki platforms enable download as a zipped file in 3 clicks of the latest version of the whole thing, some even of all the history. Fewer bloging platforms offer this possibility.


(1) If you’re already using intranets in your work: re “The Machine is Us/ing Us” video (also see the thread in this list about folks annotating stuff “on” one’s page with tools like Sidewiki and Diigo): there are several Diigo annotations on the video page, collectible in 2 clicks – including one by Wesch himself about adding the video to Mojiti (where the video actually disappeared under several layers of comments, which you could fortunately disable if you wanted to see the video).

(2) These linear constrictions can be bypassed: in 2005, I made a mirror of a Tunisian Human Rights site that was being blocked by censorship in Tunisia, in a blogger.com blog: I made a “table of content” entry I dated something like 2100 so that it’d stay on top, then linked in it to the other entries where I copied the pages of the site. But a blog is short for web log, and logs are intrinsically linear, because they are time-based, like diaries. Wikis *offer the possibility* of a time-based reading, through the history feature, but they don’t impose it.

The President’s Town Hall Meeting Could Have Been Entitled ‘No Teacher Left Behind’

bbracey80By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

[Note: The following article was originally posted by Bonnie Bracey Sutton in a WWWEDU (The Web and Education Discussion Group) discussion thread on “The State of Education in the Nation. Uneven But the President is on task,” on 26 March 2009. It has been revised for ETC. -js]

One of the advantages or disadvantages that I have is that I live in Washington, DC. That means I get to go to the hill and hear what President Obama actually says as well as reports from the different groups and sources on the latest in education.

I just attended an online Town Hall Meeting at White House.gov. You may want to review this presentation and or listen to the President, in his own words, share his perspective on education in the nation. I have heard the pleas from Compete.org, The Convocation on the Gathering Storm, the Innovation Proclamation, and the MIT PiTAC groups. It was like going to the hill with the cheerleaders for change in education. But today, the President talked directly about teachers, early childhood education, charter schools and evaluation, and innovation.

What was so interesting to me was that he talked about the support that is needed for teachers. Unlike Michelle Rhee, he did not play the blame game. He acknowledged that he had the best of education but that education is delivered unevenly in the US. He said that teachers need professional development, first, and then we can talk about measurement and merit pay. He must have been reading the local DC papers. How refreshing to see that he gets it..

Here in Washington there is a school where students are throwing books at teachers when they turn their backs. It’s not about technology. It’s about classroom management and attitudes. The President said that not only do teachers need to know curriculum, but they also need to know how to manage the classroom.


I attended a STEM initiative yesterday that was presented by the National Center for Technological Literacy, NSTA, and NCTM. It was a briefing of the House STEM Education Caucus. I also attended two STEM workshops yesterday. One was excellent. The various groups talked about science, math, technology, and engineering, and gave references, links to websites, and resources. The participants at the STEM advocacy meeting were encouraged to network. There were plentiful materials for all, and even a handout of all of the powerpoints. This was organized by Sharon Robinson and the STEM Alliance, The House STEM Education Caucus, and Innovative STEM Teacher Preparation Programs. It was worth getting up to go to.

At the Education of Science Teachers in Pre-Service for college teachers, in a powerpoint on Science Teacher Education, the focus was on content knowledge and content courses in programs. There was mention of the pressures from NCLB and other mandates. They actually said that in many states science in elementary schools had become a nonentity because it has not been tested and relegated to 20 minutes a week, if taught at all. There was discussion of the disconnect between “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants,” but the group acknowledged that there were some who were digitally disconnected and barack-obamatherefore not in either category. Discussion revolved around a holistic approach to educating pre-service teachers. This was the point made by Jon Pederson from the Association for Science Teacher Education.

Often people teach teachers how to use technology without explaining how that technology changes the classroom and the ways in which we must work.

In Mathematics Teacher Preparation, Dr. Francis Fennell discussed teacher education programs, emphasizing mathematical and pedagogical content knowledge needed for teaching math. Based on evidence from the 2009 National Mathematics Advisory Panel, he said that a substantial part of the variability in student achievement gains is due to the teacher’s ability and knowledge of math.

He discussed the critical shortage in most states of high school and middle school teachers. He talked about the various pathways into teaching and said that we must improve teacher mentoring, professional development, and retention. He was clear that the National Math Panel supported the idea of elementary math specialists. He predicted that there might be mathematics specialists at every level.

The only disconcerting thing for me was that he did not seem to know what computational math is and why it should be included in his road map to math excellence. See http://www.shodor.org

There was handout from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It stated that every student has the right to be taught mathematics by a highly qualified teacher — a teacher who knows mathematics well and who can guide students toward understanding and learning. A highly qualified teacher understands how students learn mathematics, employs a wide range of teaching strategies, and is committed to lifelong professional development.

An interesting variation and new discussion centered on the Atlas Program, Advancing the Technological Literacy and Skills of Elementary Educators, sponsored by the Museum of Science, Boston (http://www.mos.org/eie/atlas). They shared a rationale for engineering technology in elementary grades and discussed the needs, goals and outcomes, and a plan for distribution of this program to community colleges and four years institutions. This program and its highlights are available on the web.

Then I went to the NEA building to the 21st Century STEM initiatives presentation. Chris Dede began the talk in maybe ’92, and we discussed the 21st Century Initiatives. I actually worked for the first initiative, doing outreach to teachers after I finished my work on the NIIAC, and shared resources, ideas, and philosophy on the use of technology in the US. There were many players who had ideas at that time who were collaborating with the 21st Century Initiative. Sadly, I learned yesterday that the group is stll wedded to Margaret Spellings and the original NCLB talk.

There was no mention at all of science, geography, and the innovative part of STEM that we have come to know about from Compete.org. The innovation seemed to come from INTEL, and there was little mention of UDL, but Ken Kay never mentioned science, engineering, and/or technology as a complete subject. Maybe they need to retool and re-educate themselves on the new direction in which the President is going. Instead they wanted states to sign up for more standards. Maybe Ken Kay has not heard the Secretary of Education’s speech at the NSTA conference.

Arnie Duncan and the President mentioned SCIENCE and Technology. The difference between what the President actually says and what others SAY he says is huge. It is significant that the President and the Secretary of Education pay particular attention to the STEM work. Governors are also on board. There are special STEM academies and Project Lead the Way. Robotics First and other initiatives are being shared, as well as the results of ITEST NSF grants as ways of working. The vocational science issues that are addressing workforce readiness and the Perkins initiative were also important additions to the discussion by the President and Duncan.

The 21st Century Initiative seems to be more a membership initiative that is looking for state buy in. If they are not really going to include real science, real math, computational math, and science and engineering, they should not call their work STEM initiatives.

Geography (http://mywonderfulworld.org)? No one mentioned it.

Michelle Rhee Has a Broom: Should She Use It to Sweep Out Experienced Teachers?

bbracey80By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

If you want to start a heated discussion in the District of Columbia, just mention the name “Michelle Rhee.” We who live here don’t have a real political vote or a real senator, and now we have one more injustice to suffer. Ms. Rhee is the chancellor of education in DC with unlimited powers granted to her by Mayor Fenty. And one of those powers is to fire and hire.

Ms. Rhee doesn’t want citizens, parents, or teachers involved in her decisions about DC public schools. My concern is that many of us, DC educators, who have given our lives — our time, our money, and our dedication — to help bring up the race without special funding or fanfare, may be out of the picture. With Ms. Rhee in charge, we’re viewed as too old and unfit.

Seeing the ads in the help wanted pages, I initially intended to work with Ms. Rhee’s  program. I had worked with Teach for America informally in Arlington schools. I used to stay three hours after school to allow my students to use technology, and the Teach for America volunteers learned my software and used my resources to teach. I still had to put in time because it was important for me to know what the students learned or did not learn. But I changed my mind about applying after hearing Ms. Rhee’s comments about “seasoned” teachers. She felt that older teachers were not up to the job.

I am the teacher who was the technology director for the 21st Century Project when it was new. I am not a newbie. I know teaching, and I know curriculum. But given Ms. Rhee’s attitude toward “old” teachers, I simply decided not to apply.

As many of my “seasoned” colleagues and I disengage from the DC public school system, we take with us valuable knowledge and years of experience as well as an understanding and love for students that can’t be measured by test scores and dollars.

I am not a stranger to urban schools. I thought that my expertise and experience would be a good match. But I decided to keep doing outreach on my own. Ms. Rhee does not want interference in her plan. She knows it all.

For three years I worked in Anthony Bowen Elementary School in Southwest Washington, DC, before NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was even a policy. It was difficult work, but I loved it. I left when we were reduced to teaching on benches in the gym while renovations were taking place during the school year.

I had a foundation and funding to work with the school. But it was like flushing money down the toilet to see what happened and not fun to bonnie01bmonitor. We never had enough for regular school supplies, field trips, books, art materials, and other things we take for granted in other schools. Still, I made a difference in the lives of some of the children. The school was and is a ghetto school, and it was located across from a high rise in which kids fell to their death in the elevator shafts at least once a month.That facility has, thankfully, been shut down. It was about as ghetto as you could get. The little girls sometimes traded sex for sandwiches from the men working the food trucks. Drugs were a problem in the neighborhood. The school was ancient, and on the first day of heat the smell of ancient urine would choke in your throat and make tears come to your eyes. Then you would get used to it. Well, you can get used to it. As the children must.

I worked in Ballou High School, the one with the marching band that went to the Rose Bowl parade. Nearly 80 per cent of the students are so poor they qualify for a government-paid-for lunch. The school had many people trying to help. But not much has improved. Crime and student behavior were always a problem. A rape took place on my first day of work. Getting to the school was also difficult unless one drove. Cabs would not take you there.

Teachers who teach in urban schools suffer a very different set of circumstances. Children come to us with a variety of problems. I won’t detail them all, but often the biggest is the lack of involvement of the parents and community, as well as poorly chosen resources for students. Some of the children live in environments where being out after dark is dangerous. Still, some children try to do after school programs.

When I taught in DC schools, children would follow me home and sleep in front of my door if I didn’t know they were there, and once I found a child sleeping under my car. When they came to my home, I would feed them and walk them back home. I did not keep students overnight in my home. I was asked to move from an apartment because the children followed me there to sleep in the lobby or in the halls. It was a safe haven for them when they could not get into their own homes. I was called the pied piper of Southwest, but I could not care for all of the children.

I doubt if anyone monitored those kinds of problems, the drug problems, the kids who were being mistreated in foster care. We met them all in the classroom, but we were judged in the same way as those schools where the problems are less severe.

Every set of schools has its own unique problems. Read the DC news for a while and you will see what I mean. Once a child brought me a still breathing aborted child. Life is not easy in very poor urban schools. You have to think about much more than the basics. In fact, you learn the skills of a social worker if you can.

Substituting is a good way to get a picture of the reality of the schools. I recommend it for a reality check.

In DC schools, the nurse only came once a week. So my friends who were medical doctors did duty for me by treating the students with permission from the parents.

The non-textbook equipment that I shared in school was mine, paid for out of my own pocket. I couldn’t leave my resources in the schools because they would disappear. I know that they made a difference. I worked in Arlington schools and DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents Schools) in 22 countries. There was a tremendous difference in terms of equipment. In surburban schools and DoDDS there were supplies and budgets for special resources. In DC, most of the funding went elsewhere. There was no budget for field trips. We only had $40 worth of supplies so I spent a lot of my own money at the teacher’s store, the book store, and the museum for material to enhance the learning environment.

I fed the children with government cheese, crackers, and peanut butter or foods that were available, but until breakfast was started in the schools, bonnie01abubblegum was the smell of the classroom in the early hours of the day. It was strong enough to make one nauseous. The lunch was nothing special, but it was food. Some children’s parents were missing often from their homes. Here in the DC area we have had students killed and put in freezers, stabbed by their parents, and otherwise mistreated. The social network is hard to improve with those in need. People care, but there are so many problems.

Often I went to service establishments to find coats, shoes, socks, and hats for children without proper clothing. You have probably heard of the glove tree, or the coat collection, or the backpack that children now are given so that they will have food over the weekend. I even know how to find old eyeglasses when there is no other way. The Optimist group. Welfare does not take care of everything especially when parents are not involved or knowledgeable. A teenage group helped me teach students to go to the mall and to the museums, but we quickly found that they were not welcome unless we were there.

We had rats in the school that ventured out in the daytime. No fear. If the rats ate the graham crackers that were provided for students, the teacher had to pay for them. It was not unusual to find a tunnel through those crackers. The vermin were everywhere.

When I taught in DC schools, the library sent us a box of books for a month. They did not want the kids in the library. So I made them let the kids sign out the books by taking them there and complaining loudly.

Then there is the matter of science. There wasn’t anything to teach with. Science was  in a book, but a set of books had to be shared with four classes. Therefore most teachers did not teach science. We lived within walking distance of the national museums, yet most children had never been there. I was able to change that, but I found that the children were not welcome in the programs because of the logistics involved. They had to be picked up after a three or four hour session at the museum. Most parents did not drive and transportation was a problem even just to the mall.

My students could make money in drugs, prostitution, and with a five finger discount as well as the underground economy if you know what I mean. It really isn’t fun to teach where everything is a problem, but you do it for lots of reasons but certainly NOT the money.

Have you ever heard anyone say that teaching is lucrative? I have never. I also doubt that people enter teaching to bore the heck out of children. I doubt that people in DC, having been through so many changes, know what the pulse of education is. NCLB has created some problems in that teachers felt bound to teach to the test, but truthfully, DC schools have always been a problem for many reasons. Congress funds DC schools if it feels like it. Some special initiatives are poised for DC schools whether or not the schools really want them. The school board meetings can be a challenge. Ms. Rhee remarked that she did not have to put up with that “crap” (her word).

The technology in DC schools is wanting. Just take a look at the schools’ website. Sadly, I was working to create change in technology. It proved impossible at that time. Some groups make changes in a school, but the district is lacking in technology resources. Even Ms. Rhee will admit that. When ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has its conference in DC this summer, Virginia teachers will man the technology.

Later in my life, when I worked for President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we tried to change schools in DC, too. We deliberately picked those that needed the most help. I worked with the vice president on the CyberED Initiative that had us traveling the country in empowerment and enterprise zones. We worked in Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Clinton, Tennesee, Oakland, and other sites. Our job was to demonstrate, share, and let teachers, parents, and the community try out the new technologies. It was a wonderful job. It was a sharing of possibilities. We worked with community members, teachers, administrators, and parents.

Schools are communities made up of students, parents, and educators, not just a woman posing as a witch with a broom. Ms. Rhee should take that broom and sweep out the problem of thinking that the community is her enemy and that she alone can bring about change. She should use the resources available in the community, and that includes the layer of accomplished and experienced teachers.

[Editor’s note: For related articles, see Two Ambivalent Views of Michelle Rhee’s Efforts
and Michelle Rhee – What’s Really at Stake? Here’s a tip from Jim Morrison: For an update on Michelle Rhee, see Bill Turque’s 5 Jan. 2009 article, “Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training,” at washingtonpost.com.]