Reflections on Day Two at the ASCD Conference



Overall, it was  a hectic day, with three sessions that I attended and blogged,  and a couple hours of live streaming conversations with various folks including Larry Ferlazzo, Bill Ferriter, and David Cohen. The conversations were great, and I’ll just point folks to the videos on UStream and my live blog. My take-away, when even great teachers like Bill, and David feel they are under attack, the level of rhetoric about our profession has gotten to a really bad place. Now to look at how it might have gotten there…

A Tale of Two Presentations…

Sunday morning I was planning on attending a panel on teacher evaluations, but left when the handout indicated it was about a specific product that was being promoted. not being in the mood to see another consultant created solution, rather than something created by teachers themselves, I punted and went to the Urban Education panel discussion. I’ve been avoiding most of these sessions because frankly, I don’t have a lot of belief in urban miracles.

It was a lively, dynamic panel (the moderator put in an amen at one point). Here were my own amen moments:

  • A call to make learning more child rather than adult centered
  • A call to not marginalize arts education
  • This is tempered by a recognition that students need to spend a lot of time catching up in math and language arts not to pass a test, but because these are a basic requirement to function in modern life
  • The need for a later school start time, which is more conducive to teens body clock
  • Having staff who are committed to the children
  • Giving the kids the time they need to meet the graduation requirements, and not abandoning them if it’s longer than four years
  • Having curriculum that is culturally appropriate and includes them and their history

Now, I’m gonna put aside my Sunday school manners and get real about how this session perpetuates some of the worst ills of so-called school reform. Two of the panelists repeatedly used the term “no excuses” and one even screened out potential teachers by making asking them if they thought every child could go to college. If they didn’t, they weren’t hired. Poverty is considered an excuse by Mr. King and Mr. Kafele, who even went as far to say that he felt he and his educators had the biggest influence on their students’ education. This flies in the face of studies, and does no one any favors because poverty is not an excuse, it’s a reality, and pretending that you can overcome it with will and hard work is cruel. Ms. Nathan seemed not to join in that part of the discussion, although instead she did talk candidly about the staff expectations she had, and the work she had to do to get there.

What is the reality? I was skeptical when I heard some of their claims. Mr. King’s claims of sending all his students off to college are true, but that’s because he lost a fair number betwixt 9th grade and graduation. While I love the fact that Linda Nathan keeps working with students even beyond four years, if at is what they need to graduate, there is an entrance requirement, an audition, for her school, which will result in a different student population than a comprehensive high school.

These folks have done some mighty impressive things, but when they say no excuses, and they don’t work with the same students and in the same conditions, it is glory on the backs of people who do. That’s not cool and needs to be called out.

I ended the day with Linda Darling-Hammond delivering the John Dewey lecture. She talked forthrightly and squarely about the effects that poverty has on our nation’s ability to educate our children comparing her observations of the systems in Finland and Singapore, and said plainly, anyone who says poverty doesn’t matter is wrong, and while she discussed schools like Ms. Nathan’s, Mr. Kafele and Mr. King’s as examples of excellence, poverty was clearly stated as the underlying problem in need of being addressed.

When she looked at the history of both test scores and college attendance, she showed how the racial gap was closing for a brief period during the 1970s when the anti-poverty programs of the Great Society was taking hold, and when that was abandoned, the gap widened. Her observations were that while Singapore had a high poverty rate, they have housing security through a public housing (estates), food security, and lots of programs to serve these populations and ameliorate the effects of poverty, a policy that the United States has clearly abandoned. This is sobering to think about.

My sense is that even with poverty being addressed, Ms. Darling-Hammond thinks there is a lot of work to be done to improve teaching and education for teacher preparation programs, school systems, and teachers themselves.  Ms. Darling-Hammond has been honing her presentation since I saw it at CABE last year.

Since she’s a former English teacher, I’m guessing the witty bon mot comes pretty easily. Here are a few of them from her talk:

  • You can’t fire your way to Finland
  • NCLB got straight to the periphery of the problem
  • Quote from a Singapore education official on their plan for teacher evaluation, “We’re not worried about firing teachers we’re worried about developing better ones.”

One other concern that I had with the Urban Education panel, and it was no fault of the panelist, the context presented was overwhelmingly African American, and folks were from the east. This leaves out the reality of urban education in California, where there is a large immigrant population among the urban poor that bring their own issues and challenges to bear, and they are not always the same as those in the African American community. I hope that ASCD will keep this in mind as they explore this topic further.

Here are some links:

Urban Education Panel:


The session link:

Chicago Urban Prep

Boston Arts Academy

Newark Technology High School

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“Reflections on Day Two at the ASCD Conference”


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