Saturday, June 28, 2008

Switching Languages May = Switching Personalities

Fascinating study:
People who are bicultural and speak two languages may actually shift their personalities when they switch from one language to another, according to new research. . . .

The authors studied groups of Hispanic women, all of whom were bilingual, but with varying degrees of cultural identification. They found significant levels of "frame-shifting" (changes in self perception) in bicultural participants--those who participate in both Latino and Anglo culture. . . .

In one of the studies, a group of bilingual U.S. Hispanic women viewed ads that featured women in different scenarios. The participants saw the ads in one language (English or Spanish) and then, six months later, they viewed the same ads in the other language. Their perceptions of themselves and the women in the ads shifted depending on the language. "One respondent, for example, saw an ad's main character as a risk-taking, independent woman in the Spanish version of the ad, but as a hopeless, lonely, confused woman in the English version," write the authors.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life purpose and "moral education"

This has been cross-posted at Smart and Good.

The most recent issue of Education Week included a piece highlighting Bill Damon’s new book, The Path to Purpose:  Helping our Children Find Their Calling in Life.   Damon is a Stanford psychologist and long-time moral development researcher whose earlier work, The Moral Child, sets out a worthwhile vision of what makes a child good.

Damon’s work is a hermeneutically-enriched form of survey research.   He is asking large numbers of young people aged 12 through 26, through paper and pencil surveys and selected in-depth interviews, about their lack of direction in life.    The work, still in progress, has a comparative dimension in that Damon and his colleagues are trying to determine whether the youth of today differ from past generations in their ability to frame meaning and purpose in their lives.

Damon’s preliminary answer is that more than a quarter of young people are “disengaged” and about a fifth have actually found something meaningful to which they wanted to dedicate their lives.   The vast numbers in between have not given up on meaningfulness but haven’t found a way to make sense of their lives either.    Damon calls on schools and communities to address this “malaise.”

Damon’s on target here in my estimation, and this may be one of the premier ways that “moral education” can – and must – be integrated with academic purposes in schooling.   When a young person (in high school or college) learns biology, the purpose is not that he will know the difference between mitosis and meiosis.   One purpose is that he will understand himself in the world as a form of life, as a walking miraculous process, as a complex system, as an atomic unit in a much larger complex system, and so forth.   Another purpose is that she will possess the resources (knowledge, analytic skills, skills of appreciation/communication) to respond in a fitting way to the day’s practical issues re health, innovation, nourishment, etc.   And if he finds himself fascinated with either the mechanisms of biology or the issues that biological understanding illuminates, he may find a pursuit (of employment or leisure) to which he can commit large amounts of time and energy.   Each of these purposes is about life meaning, about one’s way of being in the world, and about the actions that turn meaning into meaningfulness.   This is moral education (as Damon’s background and life purpose would portend)  -- without the direct weight of  moralizing or evangelization or indoctrination.  

These are unquestionably educational issues though perhaps not narrowly academic ones.   Are our school structures, schedules and curricula designed to make it likely that this work is being done?  Are teachers willing and/or able to take up these issues even when time – and administrative fiat -- “permits”?  I’d answer no.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A different approach to schools - what we can learn from Minnesota

This is also posted at Daily Kos

As the Federal government has delayed reauthorization of the basic law affecting public schools, the Elementary And Secondary Education Act, the most recent version of which is (unfortunately and inaccurately) as No Child Left Behind, perhaps now might be a good time to explore alternative approaches to public education. Since public education is primarily the responsibility of the states, and since the Federal government provides less than 8% of the cost of public education, perhaps rather than Federally imposed mandates we can explore what states have done to address some of the needs of public education. And if we are willing to go down that path (as I certainly am), perhaps the first state at which we would look would be Minnesota.

Had I any doubts of the wisdom of such an examination, they would have been removed after reading a May 4 column in the Providence Journal by Julia Steiny entitled Columnist Julia Steiny looks at Minnesota’s plan to save money and improve schools. Let me begin by discussing what in that column caught my attention.

Steiny begins her column with an argument about reducing the number of school divisions in Rhode Island from its current 36. That holds little interest for me, but in the process of looking for different examples, she had a discussion with Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, about whom she notes that
Nathan had a hand in writing several of the Minnesota school-choice bills, including the nation’s first charter school legislation. He was also an author of the 1991 Open Enrollment legislation that offered public-school choice to all families.
While I have never met nor spoken with Nathan, we have overlapped on various educational lists for more than a decade and I have been well aware of his work. He was gracious enough to help me in obtaining information I needed in order to write about the Minnesota approach.

Let me return to Steiny's column, in which she wrote of MN that
Its technique was to pass a series of laws allowing all children, K-12, to attend whatever school the family chooses, provided there is room. The money followed the students. The parents were thrilled, and the bureaucracies had no choice but to adjust.

Unappealing or incompetent districts lost students, so rather than run astronomically expensive programs for the remaining students, they merged with stronger districts. Good schools filled to capacity, which is the most cost-efficient way to run them. Bad ones closed, which also saves money. Kids generally got better, more efficient schools.

And there wasn’t so much to fight about. Consolidations took place. Tax money flowed more directly to good schools and away from bureaucratic waste.

Steiny quotes Nathan as saying that because the power was placed in the hands of parents, districts might have consolidated, but also might have found ways to cooperate to increase the options offered to parents for their children, options that might attract those parents. According to 2005 survey run by the Center, 80% of respondents said that parents should have some voice in selecting the schools their children attend. And while Nathan properly warned that no single approach is a panacea to solve the problems faced by our schools, he also noted that the approach in MN allowed teachers greater voice in designing the alternatives of schooling offered to parents. This has resulted in a great variety of options from which parents can choose.

Before I explore those options in more detail, allow me to quote what Nathan said about himself:
“I entered this issue in the 1970s for social justice reasons. All kids need options. Not crummy options, good options. Some kids flourish in core knowledge, Montessori, or two-way bilingual. Others need a multiple-intelligence school, international baccalaureate, or one that teaches how to repair computers. Every kid should have transportation and no admissions test. Families have options for daycare, nursery school, college, so why not public school?”
Minnesota may not yet have fully implement the sweep of this kind of vision, but as a state it has probably gone further than any other, and certainly it has done enough to warrant anyone interested in public education policy taking a closer look.

An examination of the website of the state's Department of Education will take you to this page, which lists all the options of school choice (of which I will only examine those relating to public school choice). Allow me to quote the text with which the page begins:
Minnesota is a place where all parents have meaningful public school choices for their children. Minnesota is, after all, the state that brought the nation the charter school movement. It is also a state where students may “open enroll” into schools that are part of school districts where the families do not reside. It’s a place where Minneapolis students encounter a wealth of choices not only within their district, but also in nearby suburbs, with transportation provided free. And it’s a state where the borders of a classroom can be as broad as the global connections of the worldwide web. With this wide range of learning options, Minnesota families are often able to find a school that meets their child’s individual needs.

The website provides information on five different aspects of public school choice. These are

Charter schools, which have existed in MN since 1992, and of which there are currently 158 in operation. The Department notes of charter schools that they
employ licensed teachers, offer services to special needs students and require students to take state and national tests to assure academic accountability. They do not charge tuition, and there are no admission requirements to enroll students in charter schools. New charter schools with exciting programs open their doors to students every year in Minnesota. Parents may contact charter schools directly to find out about the type of programs and enrollment options.

Alternative Education provides more than 150 programs at over 600 sites for students under 21 at risk of not graduating who meet ANY of the following criteria:
(1) are performing substantially below grade level; (2) at least one year behind in credits for graduation; (3) are pregnant or parents; (4) have experienced physical or sexual abuse; (5) are chemically dependent; (6) have mental health problems; (7) have been homeless recently; (8) have withdrawn from school or been chronically truant; or (9) speak English as a second language or have limited English proficiency.

Online Learning gives students the ability to take such courses either as supplementals in place of a regular class during the school day, or as the sole means of obtaining a public education. The state maintains a clearinghouse of approved programs, and all those certified by the state
are taught by Minnesota licensed teachers, meet or exceed state academic standards, transfer to other public school districts and apply to high school graduation. The documents linked below contain information about online learning programs, student enrollment and certification of public providers.

The Choice is Yours is a special program for families receiving free or reduced lunch benefits in the city of Minneapolis, giving them priority in placement in the schools they choose, whether for magnet programs in the city or schools in the suburbs. For those going to suburban schools the state provides the cost of transportation. The city is split into Northern and Southern sections, with the choice of suburban districts being limited by proximity.

Finally, there is Open Enrollment which
allows all Minnesota’s public school students the opportunity to apply to attend school outside of the school district where they live. More than 30,000 Minnesota students did just that last year.
While in this program parents do not have to pay tuition, they are responsible for providing the transportation for their children.

I contacted Joe Nathan to ask some specific questions, and he was kind enough to respond in detail, and to reach out to people in the State Department of Education to verify the figures. Let me note that his Center for School Change offers a great deal of information at their website, and for those interested in knowing more I encourage you to explore there as well as at the State website.

Let me offer some of Joe's concluding words from one of our earlier exchanges, because I believe this provides some appropriate context (and PSEO = Post Secondary Enrollment Options, which enables secondary students to take college courses on a part- or full-time basis while still enrolled in HS):
The broad coalition that supports the public school choice programs above (plus inclusion of private college and universities in PSEO) has NOT supported vouchers. Moreover, statewide polls show Minnesotans do not support vouchers unless private and parochial schools are open to all, with no admissions tests. Many private and parochial schools in Mn want the power to decide who is admitted. that has helped mean vouchers went no-where.

Public school choice has received strong bi-partisan support here. PSEO,
open enrollment and the charter movement all were first proposed by
Democrats who saw it as expansion of opportunity.

In other words, even though there are SOME aspects of the MN approach that do allow some limited enrollment in non-public schooling situations, the program has been implemented in a fashion that does not move in the direction of privatization of public schooling. As to vouchers, I will reiterate something I have noted on multiple previous occasions: in every case were vouchers have been placed on the ballot for the voters they have been defeated. Those voucher programs which exist have been imposed by legislative bodies without the direct voice of the voters included. MN clearly demonstrates that it is possible to offer a wide variety of options of public school education without resorting to vouchers.

In my examination, I became interested in seeing how widespread participation in the various programs of choice were in Minnesota. Joe Nathan was kind enough to contact a variety of people in the State, and he and I went back and forth several times with the data we were able to obtain. In fairness, since he understands the meaning of the numbers better than I do, I am going to present the numbers by quoting his suggested presentation:

* In 2007-2008 About 145,000 of Minnesota's 836,672 public school students used Minnesota's cross district, public school choice laws
(includes open enrollment, 2nd chance laws, charter law and Post-Secondary Enrollment Options) That's about 17%.

* In addition, Mpls and St. Paul (two different districts) do not assign students to a particular school, k-12. They have dozens of magnets, schools within schools, and other options. Those kids and families are actively selecting from within district options. So if you add the 38,000 from St .Paul and 34,000 from Mpls you are up to more than 210,000 kids. (Again, there is some double counting because of Post-Secondary Options - but that is only 7400 kids. Mpls and ST Paul also have a few thousand kids attending contract alternative schools so that is why I did not add 72,000 and 145,000 call it 217,000). 210/836 is 25%.

* Many other districts including Rochester and Duluth offer schools within schools, magnets and other options. At this point is not possible to figure out exactly how many kids involved.

Beyond the numbers, I raised several other issues about the program in order to understand it better. Joe was kind enough to offer detailed responses to these questions.

I live in Arlington VA which spends more than 19,000 per student. There are other districts nearby which spend substantially less. The district in which I teach, Prince George's County MD, spends significantly less than does the neighboring district of Montgomery County. The differentials come from local taxes. Joe's response on this was
In Minnesota, the state provides more than 2/3 of the funding for the students. So the issue you describe for Maryland and Virginia is less of an issue here. To be fair, in states such as yours, my sense is that all or a portion of local property taxes should follow students.
That is one thing that could represent a stumbling block to expanding the MN approach to other states.

I asked about the chartering of schools, and how that affected their enrollment, given the state's open enrollment approach. Joe responded that
The original charter idea was that the state legislature would give at least one other group the power to authorize, or "charter" groups of educators, parents and others to create new public schools, open to all. Thus, a law such as you have in Virginia that limits this power only to local districts is not really a charter law. In Minnesota, the following groups are allowed to authorize a new chartered school: Local districts, regional groups of districts, higher education institutions, social service agencies or foundations that are registered with the Mn Attorney General and have a bank account of at least $2 million.

Students attending Mn charter schools may move across district lines, just
like students attending district public schools. However, charters may NOT
have any form of admissions tests for their students.

I also asked if receiving schools or districts had any ability to limit the number of students coming in by open enrollment. Joe responded as follows:
The legislation gives receiving districts the ability to limit cross district enrollment, but no specific % is included in the
legislation. So a receiving district has complete flexibility in terms of
numbers of students it can accept, and has complete flexibility at each
grade, and if it has more than one school, at each school. The receiving
district may NOT limit incoming enrollment to just students of one race,
and may not use an admissions test for the school (unless it already uses
an admission test for students in its own district).

I have often written that I believe the entire structure of American public schooling is flawed, and were it up to me I would blow it up and redesign it from the bottom up. Unfortunately that does not seem a viable option. Because of our ongoing responsibility to those currently enrolled in our schools, we have to see what salutary improvements are possible within the reality in which we currently find ourselves. Merely attempting to drive performance by analyzing test scores and graduation rates has not as yet demonstrated that its effects are positive, and in fact may be proving the contrary case.

Further, we know that not all children learn alike, and that parents have different aspirations for how they want their children instructed. Because we know that the education of any child is improved when the parents are involved and committed to that education, involving the parents in the process of selecting the environment in which their children are instructed seems to warrant giving those parents some say in how their children are educated. It is often difficult for one school or even one district to provide the full range of options that parents might seek or students might need. Allowing a wide range of options within a public school framework seems a reasonable method of attempting to meet such aspirations.

I encourage those with interest in educational policy to take the time to explore more completely than I can within this posting the approach that Minnesota is taking. It may not be completely transferable to other states, but there is much than can be learned from their experience, which now extends more than a decade and a half since their implementation of the nation's first charter school program.

I will be interested in your responses to what I have presented. So will Joe Nathan and those people in the Minnesota Department of Education who were kind enough to help me with information: Glory Kibbel, Bondo Nyembwe, Cindy Jackson, and Marceline Dubose. They are rightly proud of what they have accomplished in MN, even as they seek to find better ways to serve the people of their state.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting to Class

For June's monthly forum, I'm interested in conversation about ways in which we might complicate questions of class and social mobility in teacher education, in part by complicating teacher ed students' understanding of their own class backgrounds.

I’ve spent my 20+ years as a teacher educator on campuses that serve large numbers of students from working class backgrounds, so I’ve always done a bit of a mental lurch when hearing frequent references in the literature and in casual conversation among colleagues to the teaching force being “white and middle class”.

I’ve nodded in agreement at the “white” part but have been puzzled by the casual but common references to most teachers being from middle-class backgrounds, in part because the students with whom I’ve worked have not fit this profile, in part because I’ve looked in vain for any actual data on the class background of people who go into teacher education (it doesn’t seem to actually exist), and in part because it’s rare for researchers to even collect data on the actual class backgrounds of teachers in critical studies of schooling, as if teacher identities were formed independently from backgrounds of relative deprivation or privilege.

But beyond frustration with casual uses of language about class, I’ve wondered if we aren’t missing the pedagogical possibilities of opening richer conversations about class with students who do occupy a distinctive social space -- students who, while in teacher education, may be poised at the very point of crossing formidable class borders because they have methodically, if not consciously, constructed new social identities through school to enable their social mobility.

So I’ve wondered if, rather than dismissing upwardly-mobile students as “tokens”, who have been “allowed” to succeed to placate gullible others into faith in fairness (or worse, just seeing classed identities of White working- class students as something that needs to be “fixed” as a condition of academic success) , there wouldn’t be potential in interrogating the “complex social trajectory” (Reay, 1997, p. 19) of class border crossing as they progress through teacher education.

I do want to be clear about what I mean when I speak of class. I draw on the theoretical work of Pierre Bourdieu, and I’m challenged by feminist scholars writing about class at the intersections of gender and race (e.g. Adair, 2002; Furman, Kelly and Nelson, 2005; Reay, 1997a; 1997b; 2004; Walkerdine, 2003; Lucey, Melody, and Walkerdine; 2003; Skeggs, 1997, 2005) who understand class boundaries to be constructed and maintained not only in occupational hierarchies but also in the dailiness of social life. Sayer (2005, p. 1) elaborates:

Class matters to us not only because of differences in material wealth and economic security, but also because it affects our access to things, relationships, experiences and practices which we have reason to value, and hence our chances of living a fulfilling life. … Condescension, deference, shame, guilt, envy, resentment, arrogance, contempt, fear and mistrust, or simply mutual incomprehension and avoidance typify relations between people of different classes.

Success in school has delivered first-generation teacher education students to the contested social spaces at the very borderlands of class, and they likely come with baggage that not even they can fully recognize. As Renny Christopher (2004) notes, class borders are essentially invisible to upwardly-mobile students until they stand ready to step across them. They’re likely encountering these (previously) invisible borders at the very time that they’re becoming teachers, yet the field seems to assume that most teachers have lived their entire lives on the privileged side of those class divides and have little to say about deprivation or exclusion.

So, my challenge in thinking about teaching these students is how to both honor the experiences of the White, working-class students but also “to encourage students from working-class families to form new political relationships with that experience” (Lindquist, 2004, p. 191).

My questions about this work, then, are about how we might attain two goals: a) to draw upon the distinctive perspectives of these class border-crossers to illuminate their “complex social positioning as a complicated amalgam of current privilege interlaced with historic disadvantage” (Reay, 1997, p. 25) and b) to complicate what Adair and Dahlberg (2001 p. 174) have termed a cultural “impulse to frame class mobility as a narrative of moral progress” .

Both goals, I think, could serve our work as teacher educators well, and perhaps could help to get us past the “resistance” that we sometimes see in teacher education when we try to teach critical perspectives on schooling.

Might there be potential in more explicit reflective/autobiographical work on class and social mobility in teacher education? Or at least in moving beyond our casual depictions of teachers as "white and middle class" when many may be facing formidable barriers to class mobility at the very time that they hear themselves described as middle class (and therefore ill-informed about social struggles) in our courses?

Do many of us actually know the class backgrounds of the teachers and teachers-to- be with whom we work, since identity is complicated upwardly-mobile students likely learned long ago that they have to "pass" as middle class to make it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Good News for the National Board

The National Research Council released a report today--a meta-analysis of the research on National Board Certification and teacher effectiveness:

WASHINGTON -- Advanced certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is an effective way to identify highly skilled teachers, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council. Students taught by NBPTS-certified teachers make greater gains on achievement tests than students taught by teachers who are not board-certified, says the report. However, it is unclear whether the certification process itself leads to higher quality teaching.

"Earning NBPTS certification is a useful 'signal' that a teacher is effective in the classroom," said Milton Hakel, Ohio Board of Regents' Eminent Scholar in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Bowling Green State University, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

"But we don't know whether the certification process itself makes teachers more effective -- as they become familiar with the standards and complete the assessment -- or if high-quality teachers are attracted to the certification process."

The report recommends further research to investigate that question, as well as to determine whether NBPTS certification is having broader effects on the educational system, beyond individual classrooms. Studies so far suggest that many school systems are not supporting or making the best use of their board-certified teachers.

Link to the press release and the full report.

Full disclosure: I am a National Board Certified Teacher and worked, for two years, as a Teacher in Residence at NBPTS. I am fully conversant with the range of research on National Board Certification--both positive and less than glowing--and have noticed a trend, lately, toward a shorthand, knee-jerk opinion that there is no "proof" that National Board Certification is a signal of anything except a willingness to put oneself through the assessment wringer for a year (which, in itself, represents a huge break from business as usual). It's gratifying to see a highly respected entity take a, well, scientifically based look and come out with some qualified positives.

And not just from a research/editorial/scholarly standpoint, either. Most National Board Certified Teachers (over 90%, in fact) will tell you that the process changes them and their teaching. They know, in their gut, that it's been good for their practice--especially being required to articulate what, precisely, their students have learned and how they know that learning is real. It's enormously frustrating for a teacher who's clear about the benefits to their own professional learning to be told the research on National Board Certification is murky or negative, negating their first-hand experience.

I'm sure they're celebrating at the National Board, but the real winners are National Board Certified Teachers.

Post-Fordist Education

'Pedagogy of Human Capital': Stewart Martin on the post-Fordist crisis of progressive education.
Post-Fordism’s appetite for self-directed activity is bringing about a crisis in progressive education. No longer perceived as threatening, a work force trained to think for itself has become highly desirable. So what should an emancipatory education entail today?
I tried to get at this question from the opposite side in "Rethinking Domination and Resistance,
where I argued that the worries about the oppression of progressive forms of education are problems for people who don't really have problems. People who are more overtly oppressed don't have any doubts about whether it is happening or not.

As I've said, I think emancipatory education must involve teaching skills that actually generate collective power, which progressive education does not.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How The Mind Works

From the New York Review of Books, Reviews of:
The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge, by Jean-Pierre Changeux, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise
Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors: From Molecular Biology to Cognition, by Jean-Pierre Changeux and Stuart J. Edelstein
Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics, by Jean-Pierre Changeux and Alain Connes, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise
What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain, by Jean-Pierre Changeux and Paul Ricoeur, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee, with a foreword by Oliver Sacks
Mirrors in the Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions and and Emotions, by Giacomo Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia, translated from the Italian by Frances Anderson
A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, by Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi