Sunday, June 30, 2013

Teaching About Canada's History in the United States History Classroom

Tomorrow Canadians will celebrate their most important national holiday, Canada Day/Fête du Canada, which celebrates the joining of Québec and Ontario with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia creating the federation of Canada. The history of the United States is so closely linked to Canada that it is a travesty that Canadian history is rarely taught as part of a typical U.S. history class. In fact, Americans have very little knowledge of their neighbors to the north. A poll last year in Toronto's National Post found that less than half of Americans can name Canada's capital and very few Americans can name the current Prime Minister.

What events should be discussed in a U.S. history class? First, most Americans do not know that the U.S. invaded Canada at least three times (French and Indian War, War of Independence, and War of 1812). From the French and Indian War (also known in French-speaking Canada as La guerre de la Conquête or The War of Conquest) to genocides committed by New Englanders in Arcadia during the colonial era, Americans have been aggressors toward Canadians before there was even a United States. From being the end of the line of the Underground Railroad to supporting the north during the Civil War and allowing the Lakota Indians led by Sitting Bull to stay in Canada after fleeing from the U.S. government, Canadians have often supported racial justice in the U.S. (in fact, Canada has an incredibly important multicultural provision in their constitution). Finally, the 20th century saw the strengthening of U.S.-Canadian relations as the two countries were allies in World War I and II, and the Korean War, as well as the controversial signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was put into effect in 1994 (and to this day has been blamed for massive job losses in both Canada and the U.S.).

Happy birthday Canada, and here is hoping in the next year that Americans learn more about you...

(In case you are American, above is a picture of Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada. It was in part chosen the capital in 1857 because Queen Victoria was advised its distance from the U.S. border could help it be more defensible from a possible U.S. invasion)

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Tale of Two Education Reports

Two national groups hope to influence education with the release this week of their widely publicized education reports. On first glance the two reports seem to have little in common. The first report published by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) attempts to rank teacher preparation programs, while the second report published by American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) examines the teaching of the humanities and social sciences in K-12 schools. Yet, these reports offer book ends of the same debate over the future of our public education system. Whether intentional, both reports speak to major flaws in the the market-based education reform movement's infatuation with education as a means to serve the economy, as well as its obsession with data-driven instruction.

Numerous scholars, including Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Aaron Pallas, Michael Feuer, Bruce Baker, Mercedes Schneider, Ed Fuller, Jack Hassard, Donald Heller, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, have highlighted the problems with the recent National Council on Teacher Quality "Teacher Prep Review" report (on the flip side, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised it). For those who do not know much about NCTQ, it was created by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to directly challenge university-based teacher education. As such, it is not surprising that their report found most university-based teacher preparation programs were inadequate. Its board members include education reformers that favor deprofessionalizing teacher preparation, including Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. Due to the controversial nature of NCTQ and concerns about data collection, many schools of education (including my own institution, Boston University) refused to provide data. Yet, NCTQ rated many of these teacher preparation programs regardless, and if you look at their report, attempt to publicly shame those institutions that did not share data. 

Despite its research-like appearance, this report is not educational research. The NCTQ report collected syllabi from institutions along with entrance exam scores and used that to rate teacher preparation programs. It is essentially a document reviews without any serious methodology or peer review and based on erroneous or missing data. The report's rating system is primarily based on each teacher preparation program's selectivity and content alignment to the Common Core standards. However, neither variable are an accurate measure of a program's overall quality. The vast majority of critiques of this report can be summed up with Richard Allington's comment, "Imagine a person reviews the restaurants in your city by examining the menus they found on-line. Never tasted the food or ever visited any restaurant." This report assessed teacher preparation programs without ever observing a single course, interviewing a single instructor, or surveying any students. This is not an honest assessment of our nation's teacher preparation programs. Rather, it is a underhanded attempt to undermine the university-based teacher preparation system that has made dramatic improvements over the past two decades. It is indicative of the current state of education reform in the United States.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released their own report titled "The Heart of the Matter." This report was supported by a panel of liberal and conservative politicians and commentators, as well as actors, artists, and media personalities and documented the state of humanities and social sciences in K-12 schools. Although this report was suppose to be earth-shattering, it has been drowned out by the recent uproar caused by the more controversial NCTQ report and a recent scandal involving the resume of the AAAS's director. However, the findings of this report should have received much more media attention. In sum, the report finds that the United States has focused too much educational attention on math and sciences at the expense of the humanities and social sciences. Consequently, the school disciplines that help students develop certain types of creativity, civic knowledge, and understanding of the human experience are being neglected. Meanwhile, other high-performing nations, like Singapore and Finland, are increasing their instruction in the humanities. My main critique of the report is that it suffers from the same obsession with market-based education reform as the NCTQ report. Although not to the same extent, it frames the need for more education in the humanities and social science as an economic imperative. Despite this, the report illuminates the dilemma a nation is put in when it chooses to focus its resources and energy into the school subjects it believes are more important for the economy. It is important to provide a well-rounded education, which includes a diverse array of school subjects.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Open Door Policy, Boxer Uprising, and U.S. Imperialism

On this date in 1900, the Righteous Harmony Society began a 55-day siege against primarily European powers stationed to protect their economic interests in Beijing. This resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians, 32,000 Chinese Christians, and 200 American and European missionaries stationed in the country. Ultimately, what was referred to by the Chinese as the Yihetuan Movement and the Boxer Rebellion by the Europeans, would be the beginning of the end for the Qing Dynasty. How and why did this happen?

The Boxer uprising took place in a context of a crippled economy and a severe drought in China, but also the growing economic and political influence of outsiders. Only two years after the U.S. won the booty of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in the Spanish American War and while the U.S. was still fighting against Filipino rebels, Secretary of State John Hay issued a series of notes describing the United States' position toward China. The Open Door Policy, as it would be labeled, argued that multiple European powers, the United States, and Japan should have open access to trade in China. As these nations began to stake their economic claims, a resistance movement began to gain traction. The Open Door Policy and related Boxer uprising is often dwarfed in U.S. history classes by the Spanish American War and territorialization of Hawaii in the same period, but offer an important case study for students on U.S. imperialism and helps explain the long and contention relationship between China and the United States.

Here are several resources on the Open Door Policy and the Boxer Rebellion, which can be a starting point for teachers in helping students understand the varying historical perspectives of these events.








Friday, June 7, 2013

Teaching Race and the Last 20 Years of U.S. History

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, many journalists and commentators declared that the U.S. was now in a post-racial era. This sentiment was echoed by many White students in one of my recent studies that examined students' conceptions of Whiteness in the history classroom. However, racism still persists and can be seen in the educational opportunity gap, the differences in unemployment between racial groups, and the under-representation of people of color in government. Almost 50 years after Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech," the United States is far from equal. It is crucial that social studies teachers continue to help students understand and challenge the social and political inequalities that exist in our country. As the end the school year approaches, many teachers are preparing their units on the past 20 years. Any modern U.S. history unit would not be complete without an examination of the intersection of race and history. The following three events could comprise the core of that unit.

Overarching question: Some in the media have suggested that the United States is now post-racial, meaning devoid of racial preference and discrimination. After learning about the following three events, do you agree that recent U.S. history was devoid of racial preference and discrimination?

The Rodney King Beating and the Los Angeles Riots:

Hurricane Katrina:
Katrina's Hidden Race War

NAFTA, Migrant Farm Workers, and Immigration Reform:

Mayoral Forum on Education: Recap

Recently, I expressed my concern that powerful corporate-backed education reform groups and venture-philanthropists are trying to influence both the state legislature and the Boston mayoral race. Along these lines, I highlighted that several of these education reform groups were hosting the first Boston mayoral candidate forum. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub had an excellent commentary on the debate. As a Boston resident, I also attended the forum to help inform my choice in the upcoming election. After reflecting on the forum, I have grouped the candidates into three camps: market-based reformers, supporters of district schools, and no clear vision. I will summarize the candidates based on these groupings.

Market-Based Reformers:
This camp was entrenched in the market-based reform ideology of the groups hosting the event (Stand for Children, Teach for America, Education Reform Now). These candidates desire more decentralization in the Boston Public Schools. They made clear their support for charter schools, turnaround powers, and outside organizations managing district schools.

John Connolly has been running on an education reform platform since he first declared his candidacy back in February. During the forum, Connolly accused the Boston Teachers Union of being the main barrier to the school district's improvement. I found most troubling his position on taking power away from the central office at Court Street and decentralizing the school district. In his ideal system, each school would function on its own, which he envisions as freeing these schools to be innovative (essentially make the entire district comprised of independent charter schools). This view proves to be incredibly naïve, as it ignores the reality that most charter schools have student populations that are self-selecting and do not represent similar populations to the district schools. For district schools to improve, they actually need centralized leadership and support to guide them in these school improvements.

Dan Conley highlighted his background in the justice system, which ultimately exposed his lack of educational knowledge. It was frustrating listening to him say repetitively "studies show," when it was clear he has limited understanding of educational research. At one point, he declared to the audience that he had no idea why the state hasn't abolished the cap on charter schools, but he could offer very little explanation as to why more charter schools were needed beyond "they get results." Finally, his most concerning comment was that he will treat teacher "training" (his word, not mine) like he trains his attorneys. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how quality teachers are prepared.

Mike Ross expressed very similar educational views to to the others in this camp. He showed support for lifting the charter school cap, but added that it should be done carefully and that he did not know how many charter schools were a good number. Mike Ross cited his respect for Geoffrey Canada and the schools he runs in New York (Although there is much to admire about the Harlem Children Zone, with its wrap-around social services, I wonder if he know that the it is also notorious for pushing students out and they even "fired" a class of under-performing students?). Yet, Mike Ross's most unusual statement was that across the nation it is commonplace for traditional districts to be improved by the presence of charter schools. In reality, there have been numerous studies on charter schools, including the rigorous Stanford CREDO study, that show charter schools generally have similar or worse results to their district peers. Other studies show that charter schools tend to be more racially and economically segregated than district schools. Finally, I am unsure where Mike Ross read that charter schools make districts better. I assume he either refers to a policy paper from the conservative Manhattan Institute or a similar report from the Department of Education, neither of which are research.

The last member of this group was John Barros. He established one of the first in-district charter schools in Boston, would like to lift the charter school cap, and, showing his lack of educational knowledge, cited New Orleans as one of the best urban success stories in the country and one that Boston can learn from. Interestingly, New Orleans, with more than 70% of its students attending charter schools, is one of the lowest performing districts in the country, and Boston, with only 8.7% of its students enrolled in charter schools, is one of the best. I recently read Kristen Buras' eye-opening book on the privatization of the New Orleans public schools and the impact on students. I would recommend others do the same.

Supporters of District Schools:
This camp expressed the view that the Boston Public Schools are a high-quality urban system, that any reform must include working with the teachers union and district administrators, and that the focus should be on struggling schools within BPS, rather than charter schools. I spend less time analyzing their comments and supplying data, because their answers were more aligned to my description of BPS in the preceding post.

Felix Arroyo attempted to show that he was a strong supporter of in-district schools and BPS. First, he cited that many of his family members, including his wife, teach in the system. He highlighted several times that he attended BPS through high school (unlike John Connolly, for instance, who attended Roxbury Latin, a private school in West Roxbury). In front of an audience that was generally supportive of market-based reforms, Felix Arroyo said he did not support raising the cap on charter schools and that BPS would be the main focus of his mayoral administration, as he would "double-down" on the public schools. He discussed his concern for English language learners and his experiences as an native Spanish speaker.

Marty Walsh declared that the system can only be improved by working with the Boston Teachers Union and that attacking teachers will not improve the system. He advocated for expansion of vocational schools, like Madison Park, and pre-kindergarten to all residents of the city. Although his stance on the charter cap was very nuanced, he expressed that lifting the cap will not be the panacea that some hope it to be.

Rob Consalvo focused on the positive developments in recent years in the Boston Public Schools. He framed BPS's struggles in terms of limited resources and lack of collaboration. He emphasized the importance of parent involvement and discussed the need for more active parent engagement. Stating that he supported charter schools, he argued that it would not be appropriate to raise the charter cap at this time.

Charles Yancey discussed the many educational programs he created and supported as a longtime city councilor. He was genuine and displayed his passion for constitute services. At times, this meant that he did not directly address the question at hand. However, he had the most poignant comment of the night when he stated that he didn't want to discourage charters, but frankly, as mayor it would not be his job to help charters, but to instead fix BPS and draw kids away from charters. He felt that the charter school cap was necessary and that Boston's mayor should really only care about the district schools.

No Clear Vision:
This final camp seemed well meaning, but lacked any strong opinions about the issues. Both candidates in this group discussed charter schools as positive, but also not the only solution. Both candidates shared stories of successful district schools that should be models for other schools and they seemed generally supportive of BPS. They both discussed the need to share practices across schools. It was somewhat difficult to analyze most of their comments on education due to their relatively vague answers.

Charlotte Golar Richie emphasized her background in both city and state government. She framed her discussion in terms of the achievement gap, but also a resource gap. She called BPS a great district and cited the Broad Prize. Often her answers were very eloquent, but somewhat vague. I left not really knowing her stances on the key educational issues.

Bill Walczak highlighted the need for strong school leadership in any successful school. He discussed the role of the principal in leading teachers and that he would attempt to lengthen the school day by working with the union. He supports increasing the number of charter schools in Boston, but also wants to increase the Level 1 and Level 2 disctrict schools.

You can watch video of the forum here and judge for yourself (you can enlarge it to full screen):

When Empires Divide: The Treaty of Tordesillas

On this date in 1494, the empires of Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which ultimately avoided war by dividing the Americas. This is rarely taught in K-12 history courses. Yet, it is instrumental in explaining the language and cultural divide in Latin America. After teaching about Columbus, the Treaty of Tordesillas offers an excellent starting point for teaching about the colonization of the Americas.



Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Unjust History of American Indian Citizenship

On this date in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act. This law would finally grant citizenship to all American Indians born within the United States. Indigenous people had been unjustly excluded from the 14th Amendment, which after the Civil War granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," but infamously excluded "Indians not taxed." Not being citizens meant that American Indians lacked the legal protections of others. While the signing of the Indian Citizenship Act was a positive development, it did not reverse the long line of unjust actions by Europeans and later the U.S. government toward the people who first inhabited the continent, most notably the widespread disease and war that swept the continent as a result of Whites, the forced moves during the Trail of Tears, the spread of White settlement through the Homestead Act, the establishment of the reservation system through the Dawes Act, and the Wounded Knee Massacre. However, the the fact that American Indians needed to wait over 150 years to be afforded the same legal rights as Whites helps explain the rise of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and the takeovers of Alcatraz and Wounded Knee in the early 1970s. It is important that U.S. history teachers include the complete story when they teach about the First Nations.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Corporate-Back Education Reform Groups and Massachusetts Politics

As a teacher, teacher educator, parent, and resident of Boston, I am concerned that powerful corporate-backed education reform groups and venture-philanthropists are trying to influence both the state legislature and the Boston mayoral race.

In education, Massachusetts is the top performing state in the nation and ranks only behind Singapore internationally on math and science tests. Boston is one of the best urban school districts in the country. It has long been touted as a national model for urban schools. In 2006, Boston won the distinguished Broad Prize for Urban Education as the best city school district in the nation. On the most recent NAEP, Boston 4th and 8th grade students’ gains exceeded the national average for all public schools. Although there is certainly more work to be done, the district has seen amazing educational progress over the past decade and the students, teachers, and parents deserve the accolades. Yet, it is also a district that remains relatively unscathed by market-based reformers. Most students in the district attend traditional public schools, with only 8.7% of Boston students attending a charter school. Only five schools in the entire district are run by outside management groups. There is not a teacher shortage and Teach for America teachers have found placement in only a few schools in the district. It has an active and strong teachers union, all of the district's teachers are in the union, and the teachers are relatively well paid. The vast majority of teachers have gone through university-based teacher preparation programs and hold master's degrees.

Some market-based education reform groups hope to change this. Currently there is a limit to the number of charter schools that can be created in each city or town in Massachusetts. Recently, these groups have begun lobbying the state to eliminate the cap on charter schools and there is currently a bill working its way through the State House that would eliminate the cap on charter schools. What is most egregious about this law is that it only eliminates the cap in the state's 30 lowest performing school districts and would almost exclusively effect the state's urban and rural districts, while shielding the more affluent. In response, the Boston Teachers Union and local parents groups are organizing a press conference and rally against raising the state cap on charter schools this Tuesday. Here is a link to the rally's flyer.

These market-based reform groups have also stated they hope to dramatically reform Boston's and Massachusetts' public schools through the political system, including a recent proposed ballot referendum and the expansion of Teach for America into Boston. With Tom Menino deciding to not run for a sixth term, this is the first time since his election 20 years ago that there will be a competitive mayoral race. These groups have made clear that they intend on supporting and donating to "pro-reform" mayoral candidates (Update: Democrats for Education Reform has officially endorsed John Connolly for mayor). They hope Boston will one day adopt the type of reforms found in Chicago, Philadelphia, L.A., and New Orleans, which focus on increased privatization and decreased teachers union influence. Many of these groups are hosting an educational forum at the Brooke Charter School this Wednesday (6/5) at 7 pm. Consider attending by registering here.