Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Dropping the Curtain on the Coalition of Essential Schools

For the past few months I've been working part time with Jill Davidson to put on the final Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum -- their annual national conference. It is also the end of CES as an independent organization, more or less. It was Jill's conference; I was just assisting her vision. There are a bunch of reasons to gracefully wind up the organization at this point: structurally it has always been too loose and decentralized for the current funding climate, and the expanded reach of many of its principles has come through new organizations like Expeditionary Learning, Big Picture Learning, High Tech High, and Deeper Learning.

So we held the conference last week in Providence at the Omni to give everyone a chance for one last "conversation among friends." I suppose it is not my place to say so, but it went really well. We had between 400 and 500 people, which was enough for our financial requirements and enough to make the venue feel full -- but still small enough for Jill and I and a few other volunteers to give everyone quick and personal service. I could easily keep an eye on the 15 or so session rooms myself. The Omni staff was great; food was tasty; A/V support way beyond what teachers are used to.

The goal was to still have the same working conference for classroom teachers from Coalition schools that Fall Forum has always been, with a strong thread of reflection, nostalgia, and opportunity for closure as a community.

The emotional center of the conference -- at this point you might consider how many conferences you've attended that had an emotional center -- was its grand-matriarchs, Deborah Meier and Nancy Faust Sizer. Debbie's eyesight is failing so I (and I am sure many others) made it my mission to scurry around making her path as smooth as possible. Debbie and Nancy were in the middle of everything all weekend. Nancy Sizer's closing words were emotionally raw but perfect for the moment, and wrapping everything up with some second-line tunes from the Extraordinary Rendition Band worked better than I could have hoped.

From my point of view, even the screw-ups were kind of amazing. I'd sent out invitations for participating authors to do book signings, but the actual implementation was a bit ad hoc. I ducked into the main ballroom to finally get a bite to eat on the first full day of the conference and when I came out, Linda Darling-Hammond, Dennis Littky (of Big Picture), Debbie Meier, and George Wood (president of CES) were all sitting around a little table wedged in between the bookseller and another vendor table, having a grand chat. The only problem is that without a proper sign, etc., even if other people had realized it was supposed to be a book signing, it was a rather intimidating conversation to interrupt for a signature. It was a satisfying moment to stand back and observe, and maybe grab a young person and whisper, "Do you know who those people are!?!".

CES is kind of like an American labor union -- full participation is mostly based on where you happen to work -- and since I've never worked at a CES school, I've never been an active member. But CES and Ted Sizer's work at Brown is what brought me to Providence in the first place, and I have always thought of my educational philosophy first and foremost as a "CES-style progressive," so it was an honor to contribute to its legacy and do something for those who built it over the past three decades.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

I *still* leave comments...

Erika Sanzi has a post on her personal blog which has also been picked up by Citizen Ed and Fordham celebrating the addition of a middle school gifted program in our neighborhood middle school. Of course, from Sanzi's point of view, this is a foreign, benighted realm into which she rarely, if ever sets foot, except perhaps while slumming for good Cambodian food or visiting a charter school, so the whole thing is a bit annoying, and I left some comments!

It is nice that in a couple years, my child may be able to walk to Roger Williams instead of getting on a bus to Greene or Bishop to get a more challenging middle school experience, but it is not as if those programs exclude students from south Providence. This is similar to the error in your post about Rhode Island’s PARCC scores that forgot that Classical High School has 63% of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch and is majority minority. Clearly low-income and minority students have been challenged and succeeded in Providence Public Schools for a long time.

It is also not accurate to assume that this side of town has not had other innovative, challenging programs in its public schools. They just usually haven’t been called “gifted” programs and had selective enrollment, and they haven’t had much political or public relations muscle. The advent of No Child Left Behind wiped out a whole swath of programs — for example Fortes Elementary was known nationally for both its very early laptop initiative and their in-school local history museum, until NCLB hit, and the same school that was a model yesterday was “failing” today, and promptly gutted.

Of course, middle schools are and pretty much always have been a huge issue all over the city, so creating an additional magnetic island is probably not a bad thing, even if it doesn’t help the rest of the middle school problem much.

Finally I would question what seems to be an implicit assumption that people from other parts of the city won’t be sending their kids down here to the Roger Williams advanced academics program if it becomes successful. It is right off 95!

And...

Also, can we mention the demographics of Nathanael Greene Middle School, the school which has hosted the district middle school gifted program for decades? It has 72% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch and is 92% non-white. The elementary school in that neighborhood — which is NOT the East Side — is 93% free or reduced lunch and 91% non-white. So the entire premise that bringing a gifted program to a low income neighborhood is new for Providence is false.

The fact of the matter is that adding a new, unproven "advanced academics" program to the neighborhood middle school which doesn't exactly have a great track record presents a real dilemma. It would certainly be convenient, and we would prefer to support such an effort through the participation of our children, but at this point who knows if it is going to take, and by the time you get to middle school, the cultural isolation of a neighborhood like this becomes a bit more of a concern. If students in the new Roger Williams program end up being isolated from the rest of the gifted streams of students from the rest of the city, that's a serious risk.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

QOTD: Goal setting

Rita Rathbone:

How, exactly, does creating a goal in any way help you accomplish it? What is the point other than to establish an artificial sense of accomplishment by achieving some arbitrarily defined thing?

Apparently when I think that way it is my working class side showing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Britain's Next Choice

Ian Welsh:

I have little patience for all the Brits who are wringing their hands about Labour and parking their votes in the Conservative party. This is a good, non-radical plan that will work. It is a plan of a government that wants to be good to the poor and the young. Corbyn is entirely credible on all of it since he stuck by these principles all thru the Thatcher and Blairite years.

If you’re planning to vote Conservative in the UK, when this is on offer, you’re just an asshole, a “I”ve got mine, fuck you Jack”, or someone who has bought so far into neo-liberal ideology that your political actions make you indistinguishable from an asshole, whether or not you think they “work”. (Especially as all the evidence is that the only work for a minority, presumably a minority which you belong to.)

Brits have something which most of the rest of us don’t in most of the Western world: the opportunity to vote for a government which is not the lesser evil, but which is actually good. If they blow it, as far as I’m concerned, the majority blame will be on Brits, not on Corbyn. This is a character test: do enough Brits still want government which tries to take care of everyone or not?

Remember, the Conservative government, among other policies, cut a program which gave disabled people things like wheelchairs. That resulted, literally, wheelchairs being taken away from cripples. That’s what you’re voting for if you vote Conservative, and yes, you should be judged on that.

Monday, August 08, 2016

QOTD: What (Danish) politicians want

William Frederiksen:

And that’s what politicians want! They want kids out of their rooms, away from screens, out there doing shit – basically what skateboarding’s all about.

Also:

This is why architects always photoshop some fucking skateboarder in the 3D plans when they propose them.

And...

Yeah. This for instance is the headquarters of one of the largest banks in northern Europe. I called them up, told them “there’s going to be an event, we’re going to have some music, some drinking and it’s a skateboard event” – “oh we love the skaters, they hang out here all the time, yeah of course”.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Terminology Check

Like most Americans, I didn't understand this until I looked it up shortly before going to Scotland, and the "Brexit" discussion does not help because as usual, actual usage is inconsistent.

Anyhow:

  • Great Britain is the big island containing England, Wales, and Scotland.
  • England is a nation made up of the part of Great Britain that is not Scotland or Wales.
  • The British Isles includes Great Britain, technically Ireland and thousands of other smaller islands.
  • The United Kingdom is made up of the nations of Great Britain, plus Northern Ireland.

Strictly speaking, saying "Britain" was voting on the EU exit yesterday doesn't really make sense. It was a UK vote. Most of the time when people talk about "Britain" in terms of politics, they mean the UK. In terms of culture, "British" generally means Great Britain (not Irish).

Who will take away the punch bowl?

So, Brexit won. As far as I can think of, this is the first time in recent memory that the populist right has cost the neo-liberal status quo a lot of money. It will be interesting to see what reaction this causes on both sides of the pond.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Let us praise Sly Stone, while he's still alive

Noah Berlatsky:

Stone may not be much thought about, but his music still sounds startlingly current. More than George Clinton, more than James Brown, more even perhaps than Prince, Sly and the Family Stone’s hits foreshadow the bricolage construction and magpie eclecticism of hip-hop. The first track on Sly Stone’s first album, 1967’s A Whole New Thing, opens with what is effectively a proto-sample: a horn riff from, of all things, Frère Jacques. ...

Maybe Stone would be a little more discussed or acknowledged if his message wasn’t so insistently political and uncomfortable. Still, the real reason there aren’t a bazillion Sly Stone think-pieces whooshing through the net isn’t because of that. It’s just a marketing failure. “Ain’t nobody got the thing I can hear / But if I have to I will yell in your ear,” he sang in one of his 70s tracks, Time for Livin’, but he’s been singularly bad at shouting in anyone’s ear for decades. The media needs a news peg, and when an artist isn’t releasing music, or performing, or maintaining the brand, it’s difficult to generate interest.

The one exception, of course, is that final news peg, death. If you’re not in the spotlight, nobody looks at you – until you die, at which point think piece writers are all given one last chance to consider your legacy. “You only funky as your last cut / You focus on the past your ass’ll be a has-what”, as Sly-and-Prince-disciple Andre 3000 said, back when he was still relevant and people wrote think pieces about him. Time and the media chug ahead, and Stevie Wonder’s career is less important at the moment than whatever Justin Bieber happened to say yesterday on Twitter. That’s pop, and there’s not much point in being bitter about it. Still, it’s worthwhile to take a moment now and then to think about the legends while they’re here, rather than waiting for that arbitrary online instant when everybody all at once will be allowed to remember, after Sly’s left, how important it was for him to have been here all along.

One thing I like about Sirius XM (satellite radio) in the car is that when someone like Bowie or Prince dies they dedicate a channel to his or her music for several weeks playing deep cuts and allowing me to go through the appropriate stages of semi-grieving for a great artist I've never much cared for: indifference, questioning of one's taste, guilt, remembering that 90% of the artist's work is not your thing and the rest mostly sounds dated outside of the handful of cuts you started thinking of in phase 2, smug reassurance.

Anyhow, point is the article in the Guardian is right on -- Sly Stone sounds as current and as perfect as ever. Sign me up for the Praising Sly Before He's Dead movement.