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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dennis Hong: Teaching Is The Toughest Job

The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do

By , September 13, 2010 6:30 am
Image by doug88888 via Flickr
This piece was inspired by a heated discussion I had with a man who believes that teachers have an easy job. Please feel free to share it with others if you agree with the message.
I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail.
Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”
And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills….
Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class.
Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?”
And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….
I realize now how little respect teachers get. Teaching is the toughest job everyone who’s never done it thinks they can do. I admit, I was guilty of these delusions myself. When I decided to make the switch from “doing” science to “teaching” science, I found out that I had to go back to school to get a teaching credential.
“What the f—?!?,” I screamed to any friends willing to put up with my griping. “I have a Ph.D.! Why do I need to go back to get a lousy teaching credential?!?”
I was baffled. How could I, with my advanced degree in biology, not be qualified to teach biology?!
Well, those school administrators were a stubborn bunch. I simply couldn’t get a job without a credential. And so, I begrudgingly enrolled in a secondary teaching credential program.
And boy, were my eyes opened. I understand now.
Teaching isn’t just “making it fun” for the kids. Teaching isn’t just academic content.
Teaching is understanding how the human brain processes information and preparing lessons with this understanding in mind.
Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work.
Teaching is understanding both the psychology and the physiology behind the changes the adolescent mind goes through.
Teaching is convincing a defiant teenager that the work he sees no value in does serve a greater purpose in preparing him for the rest of his life.
Teaching is offering a sympathetic ear while maintaining a stern voice.
Teaching is being both a role model and a mentor to someone who may have neither at home, and may not be looking for either.
Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not intuitive. Teaching is not something that anyone can figure out on their own. Education researchers spend lifetimes developing effective new teaching methods. Teaching takes hard work and constant training. I understand now.
Have you ever watched professional athletes and gawked at how easy they make it look? Kobe Bryant weaves through five opposing players, sinking the ball into the basket without even glancing in its direction. Brett Favre spirals a football 100 feet through the air, landing it in the arms of a teammate running at full speed. Does anyone have any delusions that they can do what Kobe and Brett do?
Yet, people have delusions that anyone can do what the typical teacher does on a typical day.
Maybe the problem is tangibility. Shooting a basketball isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at shooting a basketball. Throwing a football isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at throwing a football. Similarly, diagnosing illnesses isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Winning court cases isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Creating and designing technology isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure.
Inspiring kids? Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.
Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.
So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.
And, yes, we make it fun, too.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Anti-Teaching Testing Standards Gone Wrong

Another Casualty of Excessive Testing: Great Teachers

Posted: 06/17/2013 2:10 pm
Elaine Weiss
Signs that standardized tests are overused and misused continue to emerge. State and local affiliates of Parents Across America host webinars on the ills of testing and "zombie" rallies, and parent members are opting increasing numbers of their children out of the tests. FairTest's National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has garnered over 11,000 individual and 400 organizational signatures.

Those on the front lines of the testing battles, however, have had a hard time being heard. Teachers who object to being judged on the basis of their students' test scores are labeled as weak or unwilling to be held accountable. Their assertions that test-based evaluations are inaccurate and unreliable are countered with suggestions that there is no better alternative. A pattern has emerged recently, however, that makes it harder to dismiss them. Across the country, strong teachers are sacrificing their jobs -- their life's work -- to protect themselves and their students from reforms gone terribly wrong.
In April 2013, history teacher Gerald Conti publicly resigned after 27 years at Westhill High School through a letter to the District superintendent and a YouTube video in which he read the letter. Conti blames "establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian." His fellow teachers, whose work is driven by data production and devoid of creativity, have lost trust and morale. He paints a dismal picture for students, who have been robbed of diverse approaches to subject matter, and time for in-depth discussion with their teachers, and for teachers, whose collaborative planning with colleagues and independent research is no longer deemed valuable.
While perhaps the most highly publicized, Conti's is just one of the latest in a string of such resignations. Adam Kirk Edgerton, a high school English teacher, quit in September 2012 after just three years in his urban school. "I quit not because I am jaded... I quit not because of my students, who were wonderful, bright, capable, eager-to-learn, and deserving of a better educational system ... I quit teaching because I was tired of feeling powerless. Tired of watching would-be professionals treated as children, infantilized into silence. Tired of the machine that turns art into artifice for the sake of test scores."
The following month, Kris Nielsen quit his job as a Union County, North Carolina math teacher. "I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know ... I'm tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don't meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills. I refuse to hear any more how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad."
In December, Providence, Rhode Island second-grade teacher Stephen Round said "I've had it, I quit" in a resignation video that he posted to YouTube. Excessive testing and the inability tailor his teaching to his students' needs led Round to declare that ""I would rather leave my secure, $70,000 job, with benefits, and tutor in Connecticut for free than be part of a system that is diametrically opposed to everything I believe education should be."
Twenty-five year veteran teacher Abby Breaux wrote in March that "I feel that we as Teachers have really had enough, and that someone needs to finally speak up ... I have been teaching for 25 years in Lafayette Parish, yet no one [on the School Board] knows me because no one here has ever come to the schools in which I've taught and just asked me, 'What do you as a teacher think?'" Breaux is tired of being told that only ineffective teachers leave, that the others are lazy, non-professionals who work only some of year, of having new programs and reforms forced on her every year, of a system that holds teachers, but not students or parents, responsible for learning, and that tries to make all teachers the same, and uses Value-Added measures to measure that sameness, rather than prizing their individuality.
In May, Brockport, New York teacher Deborah Howard tendered her public resignation letter, expressing frustration at her inability to provide her students with the inspiring, nourishing, life-key-opening sorts of experiences that inspired her to follow in her own teachers' footsteps. "You see, over the past few years, I have seen young children filled with anxiety, not enthusiasm, over school. When I began teaching in the 1990s, educational stress in my students was virtually non-existent. Since the mid 2000s (think No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top era) a gradual shift has been taking place in the makeup of many children. It seems as if our youngest students, who were once eager to come to school, have been showing signs of depression, anxiety, fear, and humiliation" as testing has taken over.
Just last week, Albany teacher Jeremy Dudley contributed to a rally with his rap, "Stop this Madness." Foreseeing even more tests and higher stakes as Common Core rolls out, Dudley sings:
I am a frontline passionate true student advocate,
dedicated educator that's not having this
habit w/ the testing turning states into some addicts quick,
resulting in a system growing more and more inadequate.
These can no longer be considered isolated incidents, nor dismissed as weak novices or teachers who are burned-out. Let's just hope that the madness does stop before more teachers are sacrificed to the testing pyre.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Whistleblower Edward Snowden: "I have No Regrets"

Meet the defense contractor turned whistleblower on the federal government’s massive surveillance scheme 

Edward Snowden provided key information to The Guardian. He sacrificed a $200,000 job, a girlfriend and a house in Hawaii and is now hiding out in Hong Kong.

Comments (10)
Edward Snowden, a defense contractor, has fled to Hong Kong to avoid being caught for blowing the whistle on U.S. surveillance.


Edward Snowden, a defense contractor, has fled to Hong Kong to avoid being caught for blowing the whistle on U.S. surveillance.

Are you ok with the government's phone network surveillance program?
The whistleblower behind the leaks of top secret National Security Agency documents is a 29-year-old defense contractor now holed up in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden left behind a $200,000 gig with Booz Allen Hamilton, a girlfriend and a home in Hawaii to alert the world to what he sees as government run amok.


“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," Snowden told the Guardian.
The British newspaper broke the story last week with the revelation that the U.S. government had ordered Verizon to hand over data about all the phone calls made on its network. Follow-up reports revealed that other carriers were providing such information to the government.

Snowden said he chose Hong Kong because it has a “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”


Snowden said he chose Hong Kong because it has a “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”

And a subsequent Snowden leak revealed a program dubbed Prism, which allows the NSA direct access to the servers of nine major Internet companies.
Another leak revealed the stunning scale of NSA surveillance — the agency processed 3 billion pieces of intelligence in a one-month period this year.


Snowden, who was raised in Elizabeth City, N.C., said he took refuge in Hong Kong in the hope that the government there will be sympathetic to his cause. He seals the doors of his hotel room with pillows, hoping to prevent eavesdropping.
He worries that the CIA could capture him and take him back to the U.S. to face charges. Other than the stress his decision will cause his family, he said he has no regrets.


"I don't see myself as a hero because what I'm doing is self-interested," he said. "I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

Peggy Noonan: The IRS Targeted Conservatives And Violated Their Rights

by Peggy Noonan
Quickly: Everyone agrees the Internal Revenue 
Service is, under current governmental structures, 
the proper agency to determine the legitimacy of 
applications for tax-exempt status. Everyone agrees 
the IRS has the duty to scrutinize each request, 
making sure that the organization meets relevant
criteria. Everyone agrees groups requesting 
tax-exempt status must back up their requests with 
truthful answers and honest information.
Peggy Noonan

Some ask, "Don't conservatives know they have to 
be questioned like anyone else?" Yes, they do. Their 
grievance centers on the fact they have not been. 
They were targeted, and their rights violated.

The most compelling evidence of that is what happened 
to the National Organization for Marriage. Its chairman, 
John Eastman, testified before the House Ways and 
Means Committee, and the tale he told was different 
from the now-familiar stories of harassment and abuse.

In March 2012, the organization, which argues the case 
for traditional marriage, found out its confidential tax information had been obtained by the Human Rights 
Campaign, one of its primary opponents in the marriage debate. The HRC put the leaked information on its 
website—including the names of NOM donors. The
NOM not only has the legal right to keep its donors' 
names private, it has to, because when contributors' 
names have been revealed in the past they have
been harassed, boycotted and threatened. This is a 
free speech right, one the Supreme Court upheld in 
1958 after the state of Alabama tried to compel the
NAACP to surrender its membership list.

The NOM did a computer forensic investigation and 
determined that its leaked IRS information had come 
from within the IRS itself. If it was leaked by a worker
or workers within the IRS it would be a federal crime, 
with penalties including up to five years in prison.

In April 2012, the NOM asked the IRS for an investigation. 
The inspector general's office gave them a complaint 
number. Soon they were in touch. Even though the leaked document bore internal IRS markings, the inspector 
general decided that maybe the document came from 
within the NOM. The NOM demonstrated that
was not true.
Associated Press
John Eastman, National Organization for Marriage chairman, testifying before Congress about the IRS's political targeting of his group, June 4.

For the next 14 months 
they heard nothing about 
an investigation. By 
August 2012, the 
NOM was filing 
Freedom of Information 
Act requests trying to 
find out if there was 

The IRS stonewalled. Their "latest nonresponse 
response," said Mr. Eastman, claimed that the 
law prohibiting the disclosure of confidential tax 
returns also prevents disclosure of information
about who disclosed them. Mr. Eastman called 
this "Orwellian."
He said that what the NOM experienced "suggests 
that problems at the IRS are potentially far more 
serious" than the targeting of conservative 
organizations for scrutiny.
In hearings Thursday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a 
Maryland Democrat who disagrees with the basic 
stand of the NOM, said that what had happened 
to the organization was nonetheless particularly 
offensive to him. The new IRS director agreed he 
would look into it.
Almost a month after the IRS story broke—a month 
after the high-profile scandal started to unravel after 
botched spin operation that was meant to make the 
story go away—no one has been able to produce a 
liberal or progressive group that was targeted and 
thwarted by the agency's tax-exemption arm in the 
years leading up to the 2012 election. The House 
Ways and Means Committee this week held hearings 
featuring witnesses from six of the targeted groups. 
Before the hearing, Republicans invited Democrats to 
include witnesses from the other side. The Democrats 
didn't produce one. The McClatchy news service also 
looked for nonconservative targets. 
"Virtually no organizations perceived to be liberal or 
nonpartisan have come forward to say they were 
unfairly targeted," it reported. Liberal groups told 
McClatchy "they thought the scrutiny they got was 
Some sophisticated Democrats who've worked in 
executive agencies have suggested to me that the 
story is simpler than it seems—that the targeting 
wasn't a political operation, an expression of political preference enforced by an increasingly partisan agency, 
its union and assorted higher-ups. A former senior White 
House official, and a very bright man, said this week 
he didn't believe it was mischief but incompetence. But 
why did all the incompetent workers misunderstand their 
jobs and their mission in exactly the same way? Wouldn't general incompetence suggest both liberal and 
conservative groups would be abused more or less 
equally, or in proportion to the number of their 
applications? Wouldn't a lot of left-wing groups have 
been caught in the incompetence net? Wouldn't we now 
be hearing honest and aggrieved statements from 
indignant progressives who expected better from their government?
Some person or persons made the decision to target, 
harass, delay and abuse. Some person or persons communicated the decision. Some persons executed 
them. Maybe we're getting closer. John McKinnon and 
Dionne Searcey of The Wall Street Journal reported this 
week that IRS employees in the Cincinnati office—those 
are the ones that tax-exempt unit chief Lois Lerner accused 
of going rogue and attempted to throw under the bus—
have told congressional investigators that agency officials 
in Washington helped direct the probe of the tea-party 
groups. Mr. McKinnon and Ms. Searcey reported that 
one of the workers told investigators an IRS lawyer in Washington, Carter Hull, "closely oversaw her work and suggested some of the questions asked applicants."
"The IRS didn't respond to a request for comment," they 
wrote. There really is an air about the IRS that they think 
they are The Untouchables.
Some have said the IRS didn't have enough money to do 
its job well. But a lack of money isn't what makes you 
target political groups—a directive is what makes you 
do that. In any case, this week's bombshell makes it 
clear the IRS,  from 2010 to 2012, the years of prime targeting, did have money to improve its processes. 
During those years they spent $49 million on themselves—
on conferences and gatherings, on $1,500 hotel rooms 
and self-esteem presentations. "Maliciously self-indulgent," 
said Chairman Darrell Issa at Thursday's House Oversight 
and Government Reform Committee hearings.
What a culture of entitlement, and what confusion it 
reveals about what motivates people. You want to increase 
the morale, cohesion and self-respect of IRS workers? 
Allow them to work in an agency that is famous for 
integrity, fairness and professionalism. That gives people 
spirit and guts, not "Star Trek" parody videos.
Finally, this week Russell George, the inspector general 
whose audit confirmed the targeting of conservative groups, mentioned, as we all do these days, Richard Nixon's attempt 
to use the agency to target his enemies. But part of that Watergate story is that Nixon failed. Last week David Dykes 
of the Greenville (S.C.) News wrote of meeting with 
93-year-old Johnnie Mac Walters, head of the IRS almost 
40 years ago, in the Nixon era. Mr. Dykes quoted Tim 
Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library 
and Museum, who told him the IRS wouldn't do what Nixon
asked: "It didn't happen, not because the White House 
didn't want it to happen, but because people like Johnnie Walters said 'no.' "

That was the IRS doing its job—attempting to be above politics, refusing to act as
the muscle for a political agenda.
Man—those were the days.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Hot, Impossible Learning Environment of NY Public Schools

Schools Are Not Cool

As temperatures rise, life will become more unpleasant for teachers and students in New York City schools, which remain open through June 26, and many of which do not have air-conditioning. In New York roughly a third of public school classrooms lack this basic amenity; in other major cities, especially in poorer districts, the figures are comparable or worse.
My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan’s P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June’s end — roughly 17 percent of the school year — the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.
Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day’s end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.
It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It’s absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.
Yet, when teachers or parents complain about a lack of air-conditioning, they often get back the Grumpy Grandpa Defense, which sounds something like this, “Grandpa went to school during the Great Depression. Grandpa didn’t have air-conditioning. Grandpa did fine. So why are all these spoiled kids complaining?”
This is essentially the argument Mayor Michael Bloomberg made last June, when a seasonal heat wave — funny how they arrive like clockwork — led to complaints about sweltering classrooms just as children were taking all-important end-of-year exams. When asked by a reporter about the stifling conditions, the mayor testily replied, “I suspect if you talk to everyone in this room, not one of them went to a school where they had air-conditioning.”
Meanwhile, city officials advised the young and elderly to seek cool shelter or face health consequences.
Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. As Stan Cox wrote in “Losing Our Cool,” his book on our global dependence on air-conditioning, “The American office is, by definition, a refrigerated workplace.” A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.
Air-conditioning is, in fact, so pervasive in American offices that a common complaint among workers is not that cubicles are too hot but that they are too cold. It isn’t just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can’t seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.
Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.
We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won’t be effective if schools are ovens.
There is one rationale, however, for resisting cooling our nation’s classrooms. As Mr. Cox wrote, air-conditioning is a global environmental disaster that contributes mightily to greenhouse gases and climate change. Some scientists theorize that it may even be contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic. So, how do we balance the needs of Mother Earth with those of her children?
It’s time we introduced not just a Race to the Top but also a Race for the Cool. Let’s create financial incentives to reward schools that find new green solutions for keeping classrooms in the temperate zone. Schools are natural incubators of reform, and the resulting experimentation could become a continuing lesson for children, even part of the national science curriculum.
We have the Intel Science Talent Search, in which private laboratories, nonprofits and leading universities work hand in hand with the nation’s top students. Why not harness this same energy for a nationwide Science Fair devoted to helping schools chill?
Schools that designed alternative energy solutions — wind-powered classrooms or grassy roof gardens that naturally lower building temperatures — would receive the financing to upgrade their facilities.
This would not only spur innovation but also generate jobs, all the while helping to save the planet and foster environments where more children can learn.