Category Archives: Politics and Education

Climate Deniers Sending Sketchy Science to EVERY Public School Science Teacher in America

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about a book filled with sketchy science titled  Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming that showed up in my school mailbox.

My thinking was that the book had been dropped there by a parent, colleague or community member who was opposed to my argument that teaching science had become a form of political bloodsport.

But the truth is that my book came from a far scarier source: It was sent to me directly by the Heartland Institute — a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry that actively questions climate science.

And what’s even scarier is that the Heartland Institute has just started a campaign to send a copy of this book to EVERY science teacher America’s public schools.

The authors of the book and the leaders of the Heartland Institute want teachers to “consider the possibility” that climate science is not settled, which is simply not true.  They also argue that even if human activity is causing climate change, it “would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

#sheeshchat

Now I know what you are thinking:  Why are you still writing about this, Bill?  We want you to point us to some really great tech tools or to share a few free lessons with us.  We don’t want political mumbo-jumbo about climate science.

Here’s why I’m still writing about it:  If you are a teacher or a school leader in a public school in America, these books are going to start to roll through your schoolhouse doors en masse over the next few weeks.

Some of your teachers will see right through the title and chuck their copy straight into the trash where it belongs.  But some will fail to fact check the source and fall for the fake science that fills its pages.  Then, they will start pushing the flawed notion that the science around climate change really isn’t settled yet to the kids sitting in your classrooms.

That ought to concern everyone in Radical Nation.  As my buddy Joe Henderson — who has learned a ton on this issue from his colleague Randall Curran — pointed out to me recently:

“1. A sound climate science education is so basic for understanding the world we live in that students are entitled to it.

2. Such an education is also a fundamental aspect of civic education, because it is foundational to the most consequential collective decision humanity has ever faced.”

So what should your next steps be?  

If you are a principal, my argument is that these books should never make it into the mailboxes of your classroom teachers.  Find them and filter them out.  Can you REALLY defend a decision to place a piece of political propaganda from a group funded by the fossil fuel industry in front of the people who are supposed to be educating the kids in your classrooms?

If you are not comfortable with filtering mail sent to your teachers, AT LEAST point your teachers to this PBS article detailing the Heartland Institute’s efforts or to my recent bit teasing out the truth about just who Heartland is.  While teachers should do this leg work on their own whether you provide them with context or not, the truth is that we are flat slammed with tasks to complete in any given day, so falling for pseudo-science that lands in our mailboxes is more common than you might think.

And if you aren’t comfortable getting involved, AT LEAST make sure that the people in your district who are responsible for science instruction and curricular decisions are aware of what’s going on.  My guess is that they will want to send out some kind of “Heads Up” email that reminds teachers of just what your curricula says about teaching climate change and/or start a conversation with department chairs about how to address these new books popping up on campuses across your county.

Whatever you do, do something.  We can’t just ignore a paid political attempt to influence the thinking of thousands of teachers around the most important issue facing our planet.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

 

A Parent’s Reflection on School Letter Grades

Last week, I made the argument that North Carolina’s decision to assign letter grades to individual schools based on nothing more than test scores on final exams was a form of institutional racism that harms communities of poverty and strips support away from the public school system.  I was writing as an advocate for public schools and poor communities — two causes that I feel are under attack by our state’s super conservative legislature.

But I’m not JUST an advocate for public schools and poor communities any more.  I am also the parent of a second grade daughter who attends a public school.  So crappy choices made by our legislators hurt MY kid.  This issue is personal.

My daughter’s school is nothing short of a remarkable place.  EVERY time that I stop by, I feel a sense of happiness from everyone that I meet.  Students smile and skip and laugh and joke with each other and with their teachers.  Teachers are relaxed and joyful, invested in each other and in their students.  Provocative questions are being asked and answered, positive messages are being shared in conversations and in school-wide displays, and programs that concentrate on developing the whole child — from daily Spanish instruction for every student to rich music and art experiences that are valued equally alongside more traditional content-specific subjects — are a priority.

The community overwhelmingly supports my daughter’s school.  Thousands of parents and children turn out for after school events — whether they be teacher talent shows, campus beautification projects, or annual 5K run walks — to work, to play and to celebrate with one another.  Each of these events is a reminder that our school isn’t just a place of learning — it’s a place to belong.  Lots of schools like to talk about being a family.  My daughter’s school actually FEELS like a family.

#simpletruthchat

But they were rated a C — which means something akin to “decidedly average” — by the State of North Carolina last week.  And that has me worried.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I’m not worried about the current quality of the education that my daughter’s getting.  I’ve seen the impact that the people in her building have had on her.  She is LOVED by darn near everyone and she knows it.  She is learning the kinds of academic and social skills that I want her to learn in a place where learning really IS seen as a joyful act worthy of celebration.   She has role models to look up to who challenge her to be better than who she is — and I am convinced that those role models see her as something much more than just a test score.

What I am worried about is the consequences that a C rating will have on the choices that her teachers make.

My guess is that it has been a stressful beginning of the school year for everyone at my daughter’s school.  In a district that takes a lot of pride from having top “performing” students (read: really high test scores), being rated a C is guaranteed to leave everyone rattled and questioning their practices.  There have probably been some serious conversations about changes that have to be made to get those test scores up for next year — and there is probably external pressure coming from folks in the district office to find solutions so that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

And there’s NO doubt that those “solutions” are going to strip away some of what makes my daughter’s school such an unique place.  Questions will probably be asked about the value of daily Spanish instruction in a building with low test scores.  Wouldn’t that time or those dollars be better spent on another reading interventionist?  There will probably be more benchmark testing and more students pulled out of specials or out of the regular classroom in order to make sure that they are “progressing enough” to “produce better results” on next year’s end of grade exams.

Her teachers — particularly those with the lowest test scores — are less likely to run with moments of inspiration in the classroom.  After all, student curiosity is messy and time consuming.  Increasing test scores depends on efficiency and focus.  Worse yet, her teachers are more likely to see kids like my daughter — who ISN’T a strong reader — as a frustrating liability instead of as a quirky ball of happy energy.  Why would you celebrate uniqueness when standardized outcomes are the only outcomes valued by the people governing your schools?

There’s even a good chance that these changes — increased stress and pressure, fewer opportunities to celebrate curiosity, shifts away from valuing the whole child to valuing the parts of a child that actually impact a school’s “measurable results” — will drive some of the best teachers away from my daughter’s school. Once you’ve had the chance to work in a place where joyful learning is a priority, it’s hard to see that priority erased in favor of chasing higher test scores.

My only hope is that the teachers of my daughter’s school will realize just HOW important — and HOW valued — their work really is.

There is NOTHING “decidedly average” about the learning space that they have created.  Children feel loved, parents feel welcomed, and students are learning WAY more than a single C rating based on nothing more than standardized tests could ever possibly communicate.  In my book — filled with experiences as a teacher and a professional developer in probably close to 100 schools in dozens of states and several different countries — they are a solid A.  I’d work there in a minute.

But more importantly, I’d send my daughter there for the rest of her school career without any reservation, convinced that she’d be a better person as a result of the care and attention of the teachers that she had a chance to learn from.

#trudatchat

_____________________

Related Radical Reads:

Are School Letter Grades a Form of Institutional Racism?

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

Learning > Schooling

 

Are School Letter Grades a Form of Institutional Racism?

All y’all that know me have probably figured out that I find it darn near impossible to hide my disdain for North Carolina’s hard-right legislature.

Since rising to power over the past five to seven years, they’ve spent the majority of their time together pushing through hateful legislation targeting marginalized populations.  The best part:  Pretty darn close to all of their decisions — think banning same sex marriage, creating incredibly gerrymandered voting districts, or forcing transgender citizens to use bathrooms that mirror their biological gender — have been overturned by the court system.  So while simultaneously waving their pocket Constitutions around, they pass law after law that are ruled unconstitutional.

#sheeshchat

That same legislature has also made it their goal to gut public education.

Perhaps most notably, they’ve created a system of “opportunity scholarships” that allow parents to take public tax dollars to the charter schools and/or private schools of their choice.  The result are pretty darn amazing:  93 percent of voucher recipients are using public tax dollars to put their students in Christian, Islamic and other faith-based schools.

Worse yet, the bulk of that funding is going to schools that aren’t held accountable for performance at all.  As a parent of a second grader, I support the innovation potential and alternatives that school choice represent — but as a taxpayer I also expect a return on that investment, something that’s hard to prove when millions of dollars are channeled into schools with no real oversight or accountability and where teachers don’t have to be licensed or certified.

What drives me the craziest is that while simultaneously funneling monies into schools that are not held accountable for student performance, the SAME legislature passed a sweeping bill in 2013 — patriotically named the Excellent Public Schools Act — that is specifically designed to HOLD public schools accountable for student performance.

The law was odious all the way around, stripping tenure rights from teachers, putting all teachers on one year contracts, revamping the teacher pay scale to nudge veterans out of the classroom, and instituting rigorous retention policies for students in third grade.  Thankfully — like most of the legislation passed by our ham-handed politicians — much of the law has been reversed by our state court system in subsequent years.

One piece of that legislation remains in place, however:  An A-F grading system for public schools based on scores earned by students on standardized tests given at the end of every school year.

Here’s how it works:  Every public school — and remember, that DOESN’T include private schools taking public dollars — is given a single letter grade that is supposed to make it easy for parents to determine how their child’s school is performing.  Go to a school that is rated an A?  It’s time for a celebration!  Have a child in a school that is rated an F?  It’s time to abandon ship.  Apply for an opportunity scholarship and run to one of those private schools popping up all around you.  Never mind the fact that similar school accountability systems in other states have been abject failures, open to constant revision and manipulation by influential politicians and communities.  Let’s do this!

But it gets worse:  Here in North Carolina, 80 percent of a school’s letter grade is based strictly on performance and only 20 percent is based on actual student growth — and that’s an improvement over the original proposal that didn’t include student growth as a consideration for school ratings at all.

What’s the consequence of emphasizing performance over growth in school ratings?

Schools and systems serving high percentages of students living in poverty are at a real disadvantage.  Need proof?  Then check out this WRAL review of the 2015-2016 School Performance Grades:

“The data show school grades continue to correlate closely with the poverty levels of schools. Among all schools last year that received a D or F, 93 percent had enrollments with at least 50 percent of students from low-income families. Conversely, among schools that received at least a B, 75.7 percent had enrollments with less than 50 percent of students from low-income families, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.”

Simple translation:  Your child is WAY more likely to go to a school labeled as a failure if you live in a poor community than if you live in a middle to upper middle class community — even IF the kids in your child’s classes are moving forward faster than peers in wealthier schools.  After all, growth doesn’t matter much to North Carolina’s legislators.  Final performance does.

Think about the logical consequences of that simple truth.

Year after year, poor communities — which both nationally and here in North Carolina are often disproportionately populated by people of color — are told that their public schools are failing children.  That discourages investment in the community — what business is going to relocate to a region where every school is rated a D or an F — and depresses home values.  Finding high-paying jobs and building long-term wealth both become more difficult, making it even harder to advance as an individual OR as a community.

Then, here in North Carolina, parents from those same poor communities are offered “opportunity scholarships” to take their students to private schools that are NOT REQUIRED to report at all on their performance.  Worse yet, those private schools often spend less than half of what is spent on a student in a public school.  Teachers are underpaid and uncertified, programs like school lunches and athletics aren’t offered, and extra services for students with special needs are not always available.

That feels a heck of a lot like institutional racism to me.  Am I wrong?

_______________

Related Radical Reads:

Want to Fix Education?  Start Addressing Poverty.

Living a Silent War

What Parents Don’t Understand about High Poverty Schools

The Crappy Refrigerator Approach to Fixing Schools

 

 

 

 

Are YOU Standing Up for LGBT Students?

Blogger’s Note:  Last spring, I wrote a post here on the Radical asking a simple question – Are our schools safe places for gay, lesbian and transgender students.  Response to that post surprised me — no one read it!  

Given the recent developments in my home state — where the legislature recently passed a set of regressive, discriminatory laws that stripped basic rights and protections away from gay, lesbian and transgender citizens (see here and here) — I’ve decided to repost that entry today.  

The simple truth is that whether the old white men making laws in places like North Carolina like it or not, there ARE gay, lesbian and transgender people who are working to find their place in our communities.  More importantly for Radical Nation, there ARE gay, lesbian and transgender students who are working to find their place in our schools — and it’s OUR job to make sure that they feel safe and accepted no matter what.  

#trudatchat

————————————–

Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids Who are Different?

Originally posted April 25, 2015

Like many, I’ve been transfixed by the the story of Bruce Jenner.  

My hope is that his willingness to transparently share his experience as a transgendered person will make it safe for others to live openly and to be accepted for who they are.  Awareness is the first step towards acceptance — and if Bruce’s journey builds awareness in a respectful way, it has the potential to radically redefine the conversations that we have about gender identity in America.

#thatmatters

But what I’m wrestling with this morning is whether or not we have worked hard enough to make our schools safe places for students who are different.

To put it more simply, do the gay and lesbian and transgender students in our schools — who deserve the love and support of the important adults in their lives — feel like they belong in our buildings, too?  Or are they forced to live a lie, pretending to fit in because they are afraid of the consequences of standing out?

It’s impossible to underestimate the consequences of living that lie, y’all.

Need proof?

Then spend some time reading about Leelah Alcorn — a transgendered student in Ohio who committed suicide by walking in front of a semi on a Cincinatti highway in December after being rejected by her parents for not being “the perfect straight little Christian boy” that they wanted her to be.  Sadly, students like Leelah aren’t alone:  41 percent of transgendered people attempt suicide at some point in their lives — a number that is NINE times the national average.

Here’s another question I”m wrestling with:  Are the teachers in our buildings prepared to lead open conversations about gender and identity and sexuality that are based in facts?  Or are we, too, hiding from the truth — avoiding difficult conversations about a potentially controversial topic because we are afraid of the shade that will be thrown our way if we even suggest that the students in our building who are different have actually been normal all along?

I only ask because I know that I am afraid of the shade.  

After years of seeing teachers and schools eviscerated by Evangelicals for even suggesting that global warming might be real or that animals adapt to their environments or that homosexuality might be a part of who a person is instead of something that a person chooses to be, I often catch myself dancing around controversy instead of giving it the respectful space that it deserves.  I waver in my commitment to the truth — and to people who are counting on me to speak the truth for them — because I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I speak it.

Heck, if I’m REALLY being honest, this post has me sweating.

If the wrong person reads it, I’ll end up buried in accusations of pushing a liberal, left-leaning, gay loving, anti-family values agenda.  Ultra-conservative whacks and hacks will turn me into another example of the “brainwashing” that happens in public schools even though conversations about gender issues almost never surface in my middle school classroom.  Not kidding:  I’ve been torn apart on local talk radio — and called on the carpet for “being controversial” — for a LOT less than suggesting that gay, lesbian and transgendered students deserve respect.

#sheesh

What’s TRULY frightening, though, is that If I’m the norm rather than the exception to the rule, that means our schools remain anything BUT safe places for kids who don’t fit into the neat, clean boxes that we want to place them in.

Can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where no one openly talks about who YOU are?  Or worse yet, can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where the only open talk about who YOU are is filled with hate?  My guess is that’s all too often the truth for gay, lesbian and transgender students in our schools — and for that, we should be ashamed.

Our job as educators is to create safe spaces for every student to thrive — not to perpetuate a culture where some people win and other people lose based on nothing more than how closely their gender identity aligns with “traditional values.”  Just as importantly, our job as educators is to create learning spaces that are defined by respectful dialogue and critical thinking.  Our society becomes stronger when our students learn to see value in the thoughts and opinions and experiences of people who are different.

Hiding from the conversation helps no one.

#takeTHATchat

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

#ferguson

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?

Lesson: Would YOU Stand Up to Injustice?

Lesson: Learning about Collaborative Dialogue

How Much is Experience Worth?

After missing their budget deadline by nearly three full months, the North Carolina Legislature just released new salary schedules for the 2015-2016 school year.  I’ve been poking through them today — you can find them posted online here — and tinkering with the numbers.

Here are some general observations:

A first year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree will be paid $35,000 by the State of North Carolina this year*.  A teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and 25 years of experience will be paid $50,000 by the State of North Carolina this year.

Back-of-the-napkin math, then, makes one year of experience worth $600.

North Carolina provides a 10% stipend for earning a Master’s Degree and a 12% stipend for earning National Board Certification.  Both programs reward teachers for investing extra time into honing their craft and developing skills that can help them to become more effective instructors.  They are real opportunities for teachers to raise their own salaries.

North Carolina will pay teachers with 25 years of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification $61,000 this year.

Those numbers and a bit of back-of-the-napkin math makes one year of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification worth $1,040.

(*Note: The numbers cited here include only the portion of teacher salaries paid by the State of North Carolina.  Local municipalities can — and often do — add supplements on top of that base salary.  Those supplements vary greatly, however, from county to county.)

 

So what does this all mean?  I have no real idea.  Do other professionals see similar rates of salary growth over time?  Is making $15,000 more per year after spending 25 years in a field reasonable — or are people with significant experience in comparable professions (nurses, managers, police officers, firefighters) making significantly more at the end of their careers than they do on day one?

One of the things that I do know is that I’ve spent my entire career in North Carolina’s classrooms — and I’ve had my Master’s Degree and National Board Certification for 20 of my 23 years.  That has made it possible for me to say in the classroom — but I can’t say that I’m financially comfortable by any means.

In fact, I often wonder if I made the right choice when I decided to stay in the classroom.  I see the homes that the friends that I grew up with are living in, the salaries that they are making, and the cars that they are driving and I feel cheated because their families have opportunities that I cannot provide for my own.  I am — without exception — earning thousands of dollars less per year than everyone that I grew up with.  I’m also the only guy still working part-time jobs to make ends meet.

#sheeshchat

But here’s the thing:  None of those friends are filling the exact same role that they were filling on the first day of their careers.  They started as Sales Representatives and then began climbing the corporate ladder — moving steadily into Sales Manager, Regional Manager, and Corporate Trainer roles.  Or they moved from Associate to Partner positions.  Or they started as beat cops before becoming Sergeants and Detectives and Chiefs.

There is no corporate ladder for teachers, and while my experience is undeniably valuable — providing me with pedagogical expertise that makes it possible to effectively respond to the thousands of different circumstances that influence learning every day — my work is fundamentally no different than it was on the first day of my career.

My friends aren’t luckier than I am — and they sure as hell don’t work harder than I do.  They just pursued opportunities to advance in their professions — and each advancement came with a salary bump.  There ARE NO opportunities to advance available for classroom teachers.  You either teach and accept the stagnant salary growth that comes with that decision or you leave teaching.

#plainandsimple

So maybe my beef isn’t with the salary that I’m paid or the value placed on a year’s worth of experience in my state after all.  Maybe my beef is with the fact that education provides no real opportunities to remain a teacher while simultaneously accepting new professional responsibilities.

It’s education’s glass ceiling all over again — and it hasn’t changed in a hundred years.

#sheesh

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

Still Tired of Education’s Glass Ceiling

A Hapless Search for Organizational Juice

I Made $54,000 Last Year