Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Educator's Summer Reading List

It is summer, which means that teachers all over the country are working a summer job to pay the bills, attending graduate courses to improve teaching skills, revising lesson plans in anticipation of the next year and, of course, reading this blog.

It has always amused me when acquaintances at various gatherings would say, "It must be nice to have the summer off." Here is a partial list of things I did with my "summers off" over a 45 year career in education:

Gas Station Attendant
Ice Cream Truck Driver
Summer Camp Counselor
Summer School Teacher
Curriculum Writer
New Student Tester
Professional Development Attendee/Provider
College Lecturer
Graduate School Student

One constant over my summers, however, was reading. I hope all of you have some extra time for reading this summer and I hope some of that time will be recreational reading or catching up with a classic you never got to read before.

I would like to suggest that some of that summer reading also be devoted to the three books discussed below. These are not beach books, but books that will arm you with good clear arguments as you fight against the dismantling of public education and the destruction of the teaching profession.

50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America's Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education by David C. Berliner, Gene V. Glass and Associates.

Berliner and Glass are two highly respected researchers who use their knowledge of research to systematically dismantle every canard of the corporate education movement. Name an issue: charter school superiority to public schools, international tests showing the failure of our public schools, merit pay will improve teacher performance, class size doesn't matter, retention will improve achievement, money doesn't matter, education will lift the poor out of poverty. Berliner and Glass take on each of these issues, present the reformer argument and then cite research to show how wrong they are.

50 Myths is the perfect book to have on hand when in the company of those who carp about charters, choice and "bad" schools. Clear and easy to read, this is a book you will refer to over and over.

A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes K. Schneider.

Schneider provides us with a sort of field guide to corporate education reformers. Name a reformer and Schneider will provide a detailed account of her/his misdeeds. Those of you familiar with Schneiders writing from her blog deutch29 (and if you aren't you should be) will be familiar with Schneider's penchant for finely detailed investigative reporting, skilled analysis of data and air of indignation.

Here is Schneider on some of her reformy targets:

Joel Klein (former chancellor of NYC public schools) - "If Dante had thought of the likes of Joel Klein, he might have added more levels."

Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America) - "Wendy Kopp is no visionary. She is a well-financed conduit for worldwide education destabilization designed to serve the privileged few."

David Coleman ("chief architect" of the Common Core) - "Coleman is a dangerous man; he has the ability to both direct policy and financially profit tremendously from doing so."

Jeb Bush - "Jeb Bush is not an educational reformer. He is no miracle. He is a career politician who is using education as his platform to 'move ahead the family business'."

Schneider backs up these statements with great detail, numerous quotes from the reformers themselves and data. If you want to know what motivations are behind the corporate reformers and just how dangerous these individuals and their organizations can be, this is the book for you.

Rethinking Value-Added Models in Education: Critical Perspectives on Tests and Assessment-Based Accountability by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley.

Here is a book that every teacher must read in the era of standardized test-based accountability. In school after school, in state after state, teachers are being judged (in small or large part) on value-added models (VAMs) based on student performance on standardized tests. Amrein-Beardsley is the foremost authority on  VAMs in the country. She created the blog Vamboozled! as a forum for information and criticism of VAM based accountability measures. In this book, Amrein-Beardsley takes a scholarly approach to the dismantling of the research and rhetoric behind VAMs.

Her conclusions: VAMs are unreliable, invalid, nontransparent, unfair, full of measurement errors, and being used inappropriately to make key decisions about teacher retention, termination and pay. Other than that they are just peachy.

Beardsley's book is not just a critique of a failed accountability measure, however. In the final chapter she offers alternatives, solutions and conclusions. Her key recommendations are listed here.

  1. Credibility and trust are key to any evaluation scheme. VAMs lack this basic requirement.
  2. Educators' professional judgment should not be removed from any evaluation system.
  3. Any evaluation system should rely on multiple measures that are aligned with locally defined criteria for demonstrating effectiveness.
  4. Any evaluation system must include a plan to evaluate and refine the system.
If you're performance is being judged, even in small part by value-added measures, this book is a must read.

As teachers our lives are devoted to the abolition of ignorance. As professionals, we must not fall victim to ignorance about what is happening to our profession and why. The three books cited  above will go a long way to providing us with the information we need to defend public education and our own professional integrity.

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