The Movie “Most Likely to Succeed” is a Paid Infomercial for Project Based Learning

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At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

At a school which prides itself on encouraging thoughtful, critical thinkers my high schooler was required to watch “Most Likely Succeed” and told to “get inspired” by one of the vice principals. Parents had no idea this was happening, and were only informed after the fact.

During the mandatory classroom discussion after the movie, my kid was skeptical, pointing out the connection of the movie to the charter chain, Big Picture Learning, and how the movie was essentially propaganda. The teacher facilitating the discussion decided to argue and let the rest of the class know my kid was wrong.

At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

The most enlightening part of the evening was the discussion after the movie. Guess who was on the panel?

  • Jeff Petty, Regional Director of Big Picture Schools
  • Jen Wickens, formerly of Summit, and currently Co-Founder and CEO of IMPACT Public Schools – a charter chain specializing in project based learning trying to make inroads in the region.

Big Picture Learning also operates high schools which specialize in project based learning in Washington State. These schools are located at Highline, Bellevue, Issaquah, Chelan, and Twist. Showing Most Likely to Succeed to high school students in Seattle and telling them to “get inspired” isn’t a neutral act, in my opinion.

Here’s the irony of this whole sad affair: I wasn’t going to write about Most Likely to Succeed – but here we are. For the last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of education activism and where our public schools are headed. I’m not seeing a lot of hope. The looming destruction has made me tired, but mostly sad.

I’m sad my kids go to schools where lawlessness is the district norm, rather than the exception to the rule. Where principals know they can do whatever they want and won’t be held accountable, no matter how questionable the behavior. In my district, principals know any sort of suspect behavior will be excused after the fact by the suits downtown.

I’m sad schools that want to embrace equity and Black Lives Matter don’t see this in direct conflict with using Teach Like A Champion – the handbook for no-excuse charter schools which put kids on the pathway to the school to prison pipeline – as a professional development tool.

I’m sad activist and union leaders value the preservation of institutions over the needs of the people who make up these organizations.

I’m sad that read and re-Tweet activism has pushed out critical thinking and uncomfortable conversations.

I’m sad civic engagement has devolved into marketing strategies, where the rich and powerful use the delphi method to control the conversation and push their already decided upon solution.

I’m sad education activists in my state are letting Democrats off the hook with McCleary and have also given up on the battle over smaller class size.

Mostly, I’m sad that as a society we have lost our moral compass.

We no longer see kids as unique individuals to be nurtured, loved and protected. Instead, we’ve accepted the idea that it’s OK to turn children are commodities. Widgets which can be data mined, profiled, molded and manipulated into profit making vehicles for adults – snake-oil salesmen who we welcome with open arms into what is left of our public schools.

-Carolyn Leith

Correction: I’ve received many emails pointing out Big Picture Learning’s school in Highline isn’t a charter school. Instead, it falls under Washington State’s law regarding innovative schools. This goes for the other schools operated by Big Picture Learning in the state.

ALEC was behind the push for states to adopt innovate schools regulations and provided model legislation for doing so. According to ALEC Exposed:

This “model” legislation creates a new term of art for schools to allow them to change rules and legal obligations, including waiving provisions of collective bargaining agreements: “districts of innovation.” This is, in essence, a way to create charter schools within the public school system and again, like many ALEC corporate proposals, targets changing worker’s rights and the rules for teacher pay, pensions, hours, and other conditions of employment. The bill would give chartering authority for these so-called “innovative schools” to state-level officials, even though the bill purports to respect the tradition of local administration of schools systems. (emphasis mine)

You can read ALEC’s The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act model legislation here.  Click here to look up the waivers granted by the State Board of Education to Big Picture Learning.

To learn more about the venture capitalist behind Most Likely to Succeed, start here: Ted Dintersmith is Not Here to Save Neighborhood Schools!

 

 

 

 

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Relay Graduate School Indoctrination

Reposted with permission from Peg with Pen.

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Ultimately, these practices are racist, classist and serve one purpose – protecting the privilege of a few while cashing in on our neediest children. These practices strip children of their culture, their ability to think, and they fuel the school to prison pipeline.  Schools like North Star, which Relay uses as an exemplar, have only 50% of their children from the fifth grade class still attending in the 12th grade.   They also serve far fewer children of poverty and/or those with disabilities.  Check out their attrition rates here and that will tell you everything you need to know.

This blog, and many future blogs, are going to be focused on the Relay Graduate School indoctrination occurring in my school and many schools across the country this year, due to the Relay principal academy which occurred this past summer. Colorado folks should also know that Relay intends to set up a permanent campus here in Denver.  Relay Graduate School was created to support the needs of charter schools, specifically KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First.  Many of the individuals who work with  Relay also publish books that detail scripted ways of teaching, disciplining and leading. If you start researching the leaders of Relay Graduate School you will see that they are ripe with all sorts of training and experience that ultimately does not equate to true experience within the field of education. And one cannot equate charter school experience (like KIPP for example) as teaching experience.  I’d call it school to prison pipeline training.

Carol Burris, in an article for The Answer Sheet states:

At the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), teacher education that balances research, theory and practice has been replaced by ‘filling the pail’ training. Designed to serve the needs of three charter school chains — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools— RGSE has no university affiliation, yet awards masters degrees in New York State.

In order to enroll in their program, one must teach, uncertified, in an affiliated school. Traditional public school teachers need not apply. Degrees are earned by online video and reading modules, attending discussion groups and by the uncertified teacher’s students’ test scores. If the test scores are not up to snuff, the teacher does not earn her degree. There are no classes in educational theory or history, nor any indication that the candidate must complete a masters thesis requiring research and reflection. It is cookie-cutter training grounded in one vision of instruction — the charter school vision. Each candidate’s pail is filled with the same techniques.

Doug Lemov, a Relay “teacher”,  and the author of Teach Like a Champion, has a doctorate in business from Harvard and two degrees in English. As far as I can tell from digging through articles and bios on Mr. Lemov, he has four years teaching experience. Three of those years were in a private school in New Jersey where he taught English grades 9 -12, in addition to being a counselor of admissions. He taught one year of intro. to composition at Indiana University. He’s ultimately never taught in a public school, but he has plenty of experience leading and shaping charter schools.

If you are familiar with my blog you will know that I spend a great proportion of my time discussing opt out and various facets of how to tear down corporate education reform.  Tearing down these faux graduate schools will be a new venture for me and one that I must pursue simply for selfish reasons – it is inside of my school, infesting our democratic inquiry-based school with all sorts of propaganda – and sadly, we are just beginning. We are in year one of a three year grant.

You probably are wondering – how did this happen? My school is in “turnaround” status. We have a very diverse population of students within a high poverty community. At last count we had approximately 40 languages represented in our school and approximately 75% of our students on free and reduced lunch.  Our state passed legislation to create a school “turnaround” leaders program.  My school is one of the unlucky recipients of this program.  Our Colorado Department of Education then picked so-called graduate school programs to assist in “training” school leaders/principals, within this program. Relay was picked as one of the providers. As you keep digging and researching you’ll discover all sorts of ugliness to be found in terms of money wasted on Relay in lieu of more resources and small class size for our urban diverse districts.  There’s been several articles written on Relay in terms of the training – see here and here .  I also recommend checking out this blog titled School Finance 101.  JerseyJazzman has a great takedown of North Star, a charter school that Relay uses as a “model” for all schools to follow.

The following was my first attempt to explain what I’m experiencing at our beautiful elementary school where we have worked incredibly hard for the last few years to represent the culture and beliefs of an inquiry-based democratic school and community.

I wrote on FB:

Okay – so now that I’m getting indoctrinated with charter school rhetoric (even though I’m not IN a charter school) I am utterly in awe of how absolutely mind-numbing and surface level thinking absolutely everything is – from the discipline to instruction to data collecting to greeting students. Seriously. These folks lack any understandings of child development, instruction or an understanding of how to relate to children and build relationships, not only with children, but adults. They prefer barking orders and demanding compliance to scripts. Everybody gets a script – whether you are the coach, the teacher, the principal or the student. Orders barked and children parrot back all sorts of stupid crap. No thinking. Stupid posters everywhere that demand compliance about something. And stupid phrases folks are suppose to say to demand compliance – and they seriously request that the less words you say (as you bark orders) the better. Pretty much it’s all about raising test scores and learning nothing about anything. All about a “controlled” environment. And “aggressive” monitoring. No learning. For anybody. And definitely no learning about one’s self as a learner and future literate problem-solving citizen. It’s a combination of prison environment and some bizarro robotic world with a definite connection to the Native American boarding schools. It’s clear who will maintain the privilege here as they cash in on urban diverse schools such as mine. There’s definitely nothing about being human and caring about humans within a lovely community. That’s out the window. Kinda hard to stomach in a school that is striving to be a democratic inquiry-based school. I’d say it’s really like a serious punch in the gut. The more I read from the Relay Graduate School script the more I can’t fathom that there is any educator out there that would tolerate this bullshit. The fact that there is – and the fact that school districts and CO dept of ed HIRE these non-educators to “support” (I mean beat down until you comply) their schools – signals to me a clear step towards the end of the teaching profession as I know it and knew it. How anyone could believe that there is anything in this scripted process that is actually about meeting the needs of children I’ll never know. How to get it out and shut it down? That is the question.

So, I’ve spent this three day weekend researching Relay – researching their beliefs, their dog training, and the folks who are behind this – not only at Relay but here in Colorado – where certain legislators passed this bill and our Colorado Dept. of Ed. brought in Relay to provide these services.

My head has been spinning since the launch of our staff development where we received a quick outline of the fun headed our way via Relay.  It’s hard to talk about what goes on in your school without revealing personal details – and I wish no harm to come to anyone in my school, but I do feel a responsibility to share what’s happening, as everyone across the country should do, in an effort to protect children, save our profession, and our public schools. The silence is what is killing us.

Which is why I wrote this on FB: As education activists, it is our job to expose the evils of corporate education – but specifically we must expose the nuanced ways in which non-educators and testing are destroying our public schools and ultimately the lives of children. These fascist methods for forcing us into compliance to scripts which demand obedience to the test are becoming increasingly present in our urban diverse schools. The strangle hold is becoming greater by the day as schools in turnaround face the looming devastation which will occur as PARCC, or whatever test you must take, reaches its ultimate goal of shutting down public schools and creating great profit for corporations. In the final stages of this process it appears that many across the country are turning to those who embody everything we oppose – in a desperate attempt to keep a school from being shut down due to test scores. It’s a rather sickening process to watch. A bit of the Stockholm Syndrome twisted up with some strange process in which educators either fight back, or become one of them. It’s so important that educators do their research as these folks infiltrate their schools. Be prepared and know what’s coming. I’m devouring everything I can find on Relay Graduate School and their buddies at KIPP, etc. What scares me is that there is not a lot out there exposing Relay for what it is – which means, some are joining and becoming one of them. I will expose this nightmare every step of the way this year. We must take them down.

I want to dig a bit further into this idea of nuanced ways in which non-educators and their propaganda can infiltrate a public school. And please remember, one doesn’t have to be in a chain charter school to be the recipient of these militant practices – it could happen to anyone. I can assure you, never in a million years did I think they would make their way into my school, and now – here I am.

I am in a public school built on the ideas of community, inquiry, democracy, and love and respect for children. Yet, when I walked into school this year the language had changed.  Language shapes a reality. And when the language no longer matches what you see with your eyes, it is unsettling and creates fear and instability. Our reality shifts as the language shifts. I’m thinking democracy yet I’m hearing achievement and college career ready. I’m thinking community yet I’m hearing 100% compliance. And then, you begin to see it visually – the signage, the weekly staff bulletins, the “professional development” books. You begin to see it emotionally in the faces of those around you – the denial, the sadness, the anger and the appearance of “acting” because it’s not really who we are. Every time one of those words – corporate words – militant words – fills the air – it’s like a stab in the heart of our school.

Please understand that those at my school are not caving to this nightmare…..but regardless, its presence takes its toll.

Words/phrases like: infraction, acronyms for rules (H.A.L.L., S.H.I.N.E., F.L.U.S.H.), bite-size targets, controlled atmosphere, unpacking standards, accelerate achievement, proficiency – these words –  begin to become common place. We are encouraged to use economy of language – the less words the better when asking children to follow directions ( this is directly from one of the many Relay scripts).

Relay has scripts for everything. They have videos to show you second by second how to maneuver within these regimented practices. Within this system, the key to high test scores is compliance. When teachers are dealing with children who are traumatized, children who lack food and healthcare, children who are attempting to learn a second language, children who have no books in the home – when we are attempting to do all of this in a class size of, let’s say, 28 – the only way to keep a focus on the mind-numbing test skills (which is Relay’s goal) is to demand compliance while ignoring the realities in our classrooms.  Google “Uncommon Schools:” on YouTube to see the very regimented practices that they demand of their teachers and their students. Here is an example:

These (practices in video above) are not in my school – but it does show you how far the compliance will go if folks buy into this militant training. One person who watched the video on Facebook said….Hitler Youth???

What scares me about Relay Graduate School and their propaganda is that folks are willing to sift through all of it to find the good. I’ve been watching this happen for several years now. A perfect example is the book by Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion.  As stated earlier, Lemov is not an experienced teacher. He’s really a charter school king who is raking in the money by preying on urban diverse children. Yet, folks will look at Lemov’s book and find something good in it that they can use.  I’ve literally heard folks say, “But there’s a few good things in that book!”  Folks will also go to Relay training, or sift through Uncommon School videos and find something good. This is how the conditioning to comply begins. This is how little things – like a poster that says H.A.L.L. begins to create an atmosphere void of democracy and thinking human beings.  It may seem perfectly innocent at first – but it’s not.  Folks might say, structure is good! Remember this – structure and compliance are two very different things. I can create a safe structure/environment with my students that allows us time to think, talk, move, share, and work quietly as well as loudly!!! I can have a conversation with children before we walk into the hallway to help remind all of us (including myself) to talk quietly so we do not disturb the other classes.  There is nothing democratic about compliance, which is what Relay Graduate School scripts demand. Finding a few good things in something that folks compare to Hitler’s Youth or Native American boarding schools – in terms of the big picture – is honestly, terrifying.

Ultimately, these practices are racist, classist and serve one purpose – protecting the privilege of a few while cashing in on our neediest children. These practices strip children of their culture, their ability to think, and they fuel the school to prison pipeline.  Schools like North Star, which Relay uses as an exemplar, have only 50% of their children from the fifth grade class still attending in the 12th grade.   They also serve far fewer children of poverty and/or those with disabilities.  Check out their attrition rates here and that will tell you everything you need to know.

Another thought to consider – as Opt Out moves forward this year, schools like Relay will fall by the wayside if Opt Out indeed wins.  Without a focus on test scores Relay has nothing – there would be no reason to demand such severe compliance of principals, teachers, and children, if indeed there was no need to bow down to high stakes testing. Schools in turnaround, such as mine,  could return their focus to community building, student and teacher inquiry, democratic thinking, all in an effort to make the world a better place – a place where children walk down the school hallway talking and smiling. A place where children can share their thinking without being required to sit in their chair with hands folded – do you sit with your hands folded when in a meeting?  A place where names like “Relay” for a “school” wouldn’t even exist – because in a relay there are winners and losers. We know how this is going to end if we keep playing this game – we will lose – we must stop playing. Stop giving the corporations, the faux educators and the pretend graduate schools what they want  – we must quit giving them our children. Our children deserve it all – yet, we continue to sacrifice them to the corporations and those who dictate the corporate agenda. As educators, we cannot be silent as they experiment on our neediest children – we cannot be silent as they inflict practices on children which are meant to beat them down until they comply. To be silent – well, it’s simply a crime against humanity.

-Peggy Robertson

Understanding Teach Like a Champion

Reposted with permission from Peg with Pen.

Another Brick in the Wall

To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it’s incredibly shallow and simplistic – yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov’s beliefs about “teaching like a champion” are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners.  This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to “track” (Lemov’s word – not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

I’m currently in the process of reading Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I’m reading it because it is one of the “go to” books shared via Relay Graduate School of  NYC, and unfortunately, their work is being spread far and wide here in Colorado in many of our districts, including mine. We are at a very precarious time in public education – our work as educators is being stripped from our schools and replaced by non-educator think tanks who pride themselves on high test scores.  Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is written by Doug Lemov. I’ll let you read more about him here. Ultimately he is not an educator, but has great experience within the world of charter schools. He has two degrees in English and one in business. He is a corporate education reformer. Period.

To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it’s incredibly shallow and simplistic – yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov’s beliefs about “teaching like a champion” are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners.  This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to “track” (Lemov’s word – not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

True learning is incredibly messy, but with an inherent structure in place to support the messiness. Those of us with vast experience in public education know this. And we also know that in order for true learning to occur, we must embrace the messiness, while all along keeping a structure in place to allow for the ebb and flow of learning.  We create routines and structures, with student input, to foster an environment which supports student engagement, student learning styles and interests, all the while making certain that our teaching is developmentally appropriate and meeting the needs of each learner.  If we have the necessary resources, the autonomy to teach, and a class size that allows for us to address each child’s needs – amazing things can happen. If children have food, healthcare and books in their home we can move mountains. However, in this day and age – having everything necessary for all public school children to thrive mentally, physically, academically and emotionally – is rare, if not non-existent.

My experience includes teaching almost all grades Pre-K – 6 (never got to teach third!), serving as a district literacy coordinator, serving as a literacy coach, and working as an educational consultant.  I have supported the development of principals and teacher leaders across Colorado and I have worked with teachers nationwide to support their understandings of literacy instruction. I am currently a literacy interventionist in my 19th year of teaching.

In the 90’s I had great autonomy to teach. The inquiries and projects my students completed would not even be possible under today’s testing conditions.  Several of my classes opened restaurants – we literally opened a restaurant in our classroom and charged for meals. We designed the restaurant, shopped for the ingredients at the grocery store, and we made the pasta from scratch in our classroom. Students applied for jobs at the restaurant. We took reservations for parents and district staff to come and eat! Another example was with a sixth grade class in which we created a partnership with a nursing home. Each sixth grader had a friend at the nursing home where we visited weekly to plant flowers, read, sing, and develop relationships with these women and men at the home. The sixth graders interviewed their friends, researched the corresponding time period, and wrote biographies.  I had a fourth grade class who researched activists across the country who were making changes in their communities. These students really wanted to know how they could give back to the community.  We created our own service learning project and gathered food for food banks and worked at the food banks and served at a soup kitchen. We canvassed the neighborhoods gathering canned goods and other items to support families in need. I had other classes who raised money to end landmines that were harming children – we researched these countries and read about the impact on children and created a public campaign to end the landmines. What is interesting about all of these inquiries and projects is that we could connect them to every facet of our day – math, science, social studies, language arts, music, art, and on and on. Those are just a few of the learning opportunities my students had.

I share my experiences because they are important in understanding what education can and should look like. Teaching and learning should not be uniform and defined within a box. Education begins with the students in the classroom, and we then build our curriculum around the students’ strengths, needs and interests. Teachers each have their own talents, their own quirkiness and their own passions which influence their teaching. Students also have their own talents, learning styles and interests which influence how a class takes shape over the year – if indeed we wish for education to be truly intrinsically engaging and purposeful for students. Every classroom is unique – if indeed we are focused on equity for our students and their learning. Education that is standardized and is top down ultimately is dumbed-down.

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is focused on uniformity. Lemov discusses the idea of standardized formatting for worksheets and note-taking. It is my experience that learners find that certain formats work for them and others don’t.  I always share a variety of styles for note-taking with students and ultimately I let them pick what works for them as it’s important that they are able to begin to discern how they learn best and what tools will best support their learning.  Classrooms must be equitable. In order to be equitable we must discern what is just and right for each student. We cannot demand all students use a tool if it does not meet their needs; this is why we have notebook paper with narrow lines, fat lines, no lines at all. This is why we have fat pencils, thin pencils, and pencil grips. This is why we want children to pick and choose their independent reading books. Uniformity ultimately destroys any chance of equity – again, considering what is fair and just for each individual student. At times do we all use a particular format – or process? Of course! But uniformity and standardization do not drive the learning – students do.

Lemov is very interested in teachers being able to quickly see the answers students are writing as they walk around the room – this is why he prefers standardization of note taking. Efficiency, mastery and getting it right is key.  On page 19 Lemov states that the purpose of order in the classroom is to promote academic learning.  I think the purpose of order in a classroom is to create a space which is safe and inviting for student’s social, emotional, physical and academic learning.  Physically I want my students to be comfortable so that they can learn.  I want them to be able to move around the room as needed to meet their personal needs.  Of course, understand it’s not a free for all, children aren’t running willy nilly around the room – but they do stand if needed or cross their legs in their seats, and at times they spread their work out on the floor if that is the best space for their learning to occur.  Couches are a wonderful place for children to read and work. My students can have a very carefully articulated plan for the day as they maneuver around the classroom as needed to learn, as they get the necessary supplies, and or converse with the necessary people, to do their work at hand. We work as a community and develop spaces within the room to support our work as a whole group, small groups and as individuals. We trust one another.

In contrast, Teach Like a Champion classrooms are typically rows of desks and the instruction videotaped is always whole group instruction, in which the teacher asks a question and a student answers.  So, if you were diagramming the conversation in the classroom on paper it would be straight lines from teacher to student – starting at focal point (the teacher) and spreading out like a fan.  Ultimately if you are wishing for a rich conversation that thrives on student talk you are looking for a diagram where the lines intersect. So, the teacher might talk, then a student, then another student responds, and another, and then back to the teacher…so forth and so on. A classroom in which the teacher asks a question and pops from student to student is very dictatorial and ultimately lacks richness and depth of learning – if the teacher is continually directing the discussion then how do we know what the students are thinking and wondering?  Of the 46 videos I have watched so far the questions the teachers ask are pretty basic – questions about defining a word, a sentence starter – there are some deeper questions asked at the high school level, but the arrangement of the lesson and the classroom makes it truly difficult to really have a deep, rich conversation which builds and ultimately engages the learners in a way that develops student strengths and empowers their individual voices. There is definitely not space for individuals to come together to share and build a greater and bigger idea or thought as a result of student sharing.

I have yet to see any classrooms with tables. Tables are wonderful for classrooms where we value community, conversation, and working together. Out of the 46 videos I have watched so far I have seen only two tables for two small groups of children. I have 29 videos left to watch.

Out of the 46 videos I’ve watched I’ve seen 12 teachers smile and/or laugh and 6 students smile and/or laugh.  Out of the six students who smiled or laughed 3 out of the 6 were due to a child having difficulty answering a question and/or making a mistake when answering.  In the videos, when a student talks in the classroom, it is only a result of the teacher allowing the student to talk.  In terms of what “talk” looks like, it takes form as a direct answer to a question from the teacher, popcorn reading (where the teacher calls on students to read a portion of a text – always a fun and relaxing strategy for readers who struggle), and 4 videos which showed a brief moment where children were allowed to partner talk (simply turning to the person next to you to converse). Another form of talk that takes place occurs when the teacher requires the entire class to repeat something in unison – there is a lot of parroting back what the teacher says.

There was one video – out of 46 that I have watched –  in which a child showed some emotion and said “Oh!” as he raised his hand in excitement to answer a question. There is very little, if any emotion displayed, within any of these videos.  When children are forced to comply with such great constraints and boundaries I can imagine that after awhile the emotion is beaten out of them. There are some teachers who exhibit some emotion and kindness, but the children are only allowed to exhibit any kindness to their peers in the form of hand signals or a statement of encouragement shouted in unison as a whole class. On page 11, Lemov points out that a child smiles in a video in which the teacher asks them to pass out papers faster. As Lemov explains how the students are passing out papers quickly in order to increase time for learning in the classroom he states, “The students, by the way, are happy as can be.  They love to be challenged and love to see themselves improving. They are smiling.”

Students love to see themselves improving at passing out and collecting papers? *sigh* Such an insult to the children. But I’ll move pass that and talk about papers for a minute.

The videos are full of papers. I get that there is a lot of paper in classrooms, but these papers in the videos typically come in the form of worksheets and packets – seat work. I found it interesting that when they read passages from a text they didn’t have actual books in front of them (based on what I’ve seen so far) -they typically had a worksheet.

On page 12 Lemov states, “Few schools of education stoop to teach aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers, even though it is one of the most valuable things they could possibly do.”

Wow.  I don’t even know what to say to that. Perhaps the best thing to say is that that statement pretty much exemplifies the depth of the entire book. Honestly, reading the book and watching the videos is terribly depressing.

The sections I have read in the book so far deal with getting students to answer questions and making sure that the answer is (god I hate this word) “rigorous.” Students must answer questions and if they can’t answer the question they must repeat the answer after another student or the teacher gives the answer.  At one point in the book (p.92) he shares an example of a student who doesn’t parrot back the answer and he states that the child will have to come in at recess because this is a “case of defiance.”  So – not “parroting” back an answer is defiant?  Defiance is defined as a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force. I personally wouldn’t parrot it back because I’d find it insulting. I’m not a dog who needs to repeat a trick in order to be “trained.” If this is considered defiant I fear for the child who feels the need to scream and throw these worksheets in the trash.

In regard to rigorous – there is much discussion about “rigorous” content. On page 84 Lemov discusses how it saddens him that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most read titles in sixth grade.  It is not considered rigorous enough. He obviously has not read the research on pleasure reading.  But again, he is not a true teacher, so that is to be expected.

There is lots of discussion around errors. I always find this to be a fascinating pattern within books by non-educators. They focus on the negative. I have always used students’ strengths to build on their attempts and next steps. However, in this book the focus is on creating a culture of error where students feel comfortable making errors and teachers scan for evidence of “incomplete mastery.”  I agree that students should feel comfortable taking risks in a classroom, but his concept of error and getting it “right” are so different than mine.  In a democratic classroom we take risks continually, and when we  problem solve and figure it – often together – it’s a process of learning versus this idea of searching for the errors and getting it right. I believe that the process of learning is full of risks and ultimately, NOT necessarily the right answer, but perhaps……another question?

Lemov uses the word “tracking” a lot. Teachers track students, rather than “watch” students and students must track the speaker. It really feels a bit like hunting when watching the teachers “track.” They are looking for specific answers and they will hunt the answer down until they get it. There isn’t a sense of students really ever working together to problem solve and/or determine some finite answer (this is very much about finite answers) – it’s more that the teacher directs the hunt until he or she hears or sees the answer. It’s very much whole group instruction with individual seatwork to determine “mastery” of the direct instruction. The definition of “tracking” is different for students. When the students track, they literally must shift their whole body to face the speaker – it’s a rather robotic movement to observe. I think about sitting in meetings and how teachers respond when someone speaks – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an entire group of adults literally shift all their bodies to turn and listen to someone speak – and I definitely haven’t seen it happen in unison.

There is a lot of unison in body movement and speech.  Some of the teachers snap their fingers to demand all students say a word at the same time. Teachers will ask all students to repeat something like, “adverbs end in -ly.”  There were some moments where children were reprimanded and you could hear the teacher saying quietly “Laughing is ten dollars.” or “I’ll call your mother.” If I were a child in one of those classrooms I would positively have exploded under the pressure of keeping my body still and my voice still. All students must be sitting up very straight. Many classrooms have the students folding their hands on the desk at all times – and if they raise their hand, they very quickly rush the hands back to folded position when they are done answering the question. When students raise their hand they are praised for how high and straight the arm is.  If they praise a student they will often ask the whole class to repeat a phrase like, “Way to go, you!”

I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes in a meeting before I must shift my body. If I am required to sit still for too long I ultimately feel very agitated. I wonder how the children feel? And how does this impact how they act when they are finally able to leave school?

All the classes are mainly children of color in the 46 videos I have observed so far. Out of the 46 videos there was only one video in which the children did not wear uniforms. I wonder, where are the wealthy districts in suburbia in these videos? Has this been tried out at Sidwell?

There are all sorts of whole group movements like banging on the desk or doing rock paper scissors all at once to determine an answer to a multiple choice question. Hand gestures are used continually to replace actual speech.

I have grave concerns about this book being used in any school as a model of techniques which support student learning. The fact that I have to explain this in a blog clearly signals a very sad period of time in the history of public education in our country. There is no room for student learning styles in terms of how students sit, talk, or process their learning using these techniques. There is no respect for culture  – some children come from cultures in which eye contact is actually disrespectful. There is no respect for specific learning needs of children – what about the child who does not process quickly, yet is required daily to participate in the gut wrenching practice of cold calling (in which a teacher rapid fires questions at random children with no think time for the child). These strategies are absolutely detrimental to the second language learner or the child with learning disabilities as there is no scaffolding or additional supports to meet their needs.  Children will simply become compliant or….. they will revolt, and then, they will be asked to leave the school. We must remember, few charter schools accept all children and these techniques come straight from charter schools. Charters are also excellent at counseling children out of the school. There is not a single video I have observed yet that shows children independently moving around the room. The children move like robots and the teachers dictate their every move.

Lemov believes that all these techniques create efficiency and therefore better use of time for students to reach “mastery.” What I observe is a large amount of time wasted parroting motions and words that require minimal thinking but 100% compliance. I do not observe any authentic learning. The children are expressionless. In a classroom of vibrant learning you can feel the buzz and hear the buzz of learning. These classrooms feel more like boot camp.

As an educator I have a vast array of approaches I use to support children.  My bachelor’s is in Elementary Education and my master’s is in English as a Second Language, so I understand clearly the many scaffolds and teaching methods that can be used to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Yet, in these videos of diverse classrooms, the only approach I have observed is whole group direct instruction.

Where are the chatty children who are engaged in learning as they lean over a project or book? Where are the smiling children?  Where are the excited children who are bubbling over with information about their learning, their friends, their family and their school?  And where are the sad children who need the extra moment to talk quietly with the teacher about how they were up all night due to a parental fight?  The children have no emotion. After watching 46 videos of children with absolutely no expression on their faces – minus only six children who let out a brief smile or laugh – I literally wanted to cry.

There is a reason I am absolutely livid over this book. There is a reason I am angry that Colorado – and the rest of the country – is allowing this book and the Relay Graduate School to infiltrate their schools.  When I read the book and watch the videos, all I can think of is fascist, racist times in history in which children were harmed. Corporate education is devouring our children – specifically – our neediest children.  It is gut wrenching to watch the students in these videos.  I know what is possible in a school community – a school where vibrant learning occurs and students and teachers are engaged – with purpose, passion and humanity. Sadly, the strategies in this book adhere to very direct instruction and dictatorial behavior models which strip children of their identity and culture – all in the name of high stakes tests scores. There is no equity here. There is no justice for children.

-Peggy Robertson