It’s time to discuss ‘equity’ instead of ‘accountability’

There’s no word that a political candidate could utter in regards to education that causes me to turn into a raving lunatic faster than “accountability.”

Our teachers and schools have been clubbed over our heads with the “accountability bat” by legislators and school board candidates for 10 years in Indiana.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

“Accountability” has been the guiding factor in every single policy decision made in Indiana education in that time, and these policies have only weakened our schools.

The lie that our schools and teachers must be “more accountable” has led to a climate of number crunching, standardization, and educational jargon and endless acronyms that now control our schools and stifle far too much critical thinking and creativity.

“Accountability” has led to an era of fewer educational options for our children. How many Indiana schools have lost their arts programs, electives, and even libraries in this era of tight budgets that are often so strained because our state spends so much money on standardized tests?

Yes, we have replaced the joy of books and music in our schools with the art of filling in a bubble with a Number 2 pencil.

All because we now worship data, most of which is used to prove what we usually already know anyway.

Our public schools have become “accountability factories” in America’s desperate race to prove that every fact, standard, and nugget of knowledge can be fully measured at any given moment.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch says it best in the documentary “Rise Above the Mark,” which reveals the truth about what’s happening in Indiana schools right now.

Ravitch says, “What the standardized test does, over time, is that it rewards conformity, it rewards the people who can pick the right bubble…it punishes divergent thinking, it punishes creativity, it punishes originality. If you think about what that’s going to do to this country over the long haul…we are raising a generation of children who have been taught that there’s only one right answer.”

That’s the true irony of the “accountability movement” in education. The very policies designed to ensure teachers and schools are “accountable” — standardized tests, overly complicated teacher evaluation models, letter-grade labels for high achieving and low performing schools — actually prevent the most essential kind of learning.

Because the truth is that the most valuable kind of learning so often simply cannot be measured.

Certainly, no one would argue against the notion that our schools or teachers should be accountable to ensuring that students are learning.

But far too often legislative and school board candidates use the idea of “accountability” as a convenient catch phrase — it sounds impressive.

However, “accountability” has far too often been used as a weapon against schools by those who are often the least accountable themselves.

So, until we are ready to talk seriously about parental accountability to their children, our legislators’ accountability to their communities, corporate and business accountability to ethics and the truth, and even students’ accountability to themselves, then we need to stop overusing and misusing this concept as a basis to manage our schools and monitor our teachers.

We have seen over 10 years of “accountability” in Indiana education policy.

Those policies have failed. Those who have voted for and supported those policies in the legislature have failed.

It’s time replace “accountability” with “equity.”

Teachers: It’s time to speak to local voters

Two weeks.

We have two weeks until Election Day 2014.

We usually view mid-term or “off year” elections with some apathy, but Indiana teachers know that this year’s election is crucial to our livelihoods, our profession, our school children, and our schools.

We must send a bold, clear message to our governor, legislature, and State Board of Education: Stop!

We are in the midst of one destructive idea after another in regards to Indiana education policy. Our public schools and the profession we love have radically changed in the last five years. We know it. We feel it. And we know that we cannot continue down the same path.

One trusted colleague of mine with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher recently made this observation — she has never seen teachers as upset, as burdened, or as fed up as we are right now.

Another Indiana educator, a fifth-grade teacher who has chosen early retirement and whose story is shared in the documentary Rise Above the Mark, says this:

“I still love what I do, and I loved it up until the end, but I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope that some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

Later in the documentary, she adds, “They’ve taken education, the profession that I love, and turned me into a number.”

This is the truth of what is happening in Indiana schools all over the state thanks in part to our current legislature. I won’t rehash the litany of bad ideas here — feel free to explore past posts on this site for more details — but I will say this:

Our mailboxes been inundated with a glossy litany of half-truths and lies from legislators all around the state claiming to have preserved local control of our schools in the last few years.

Teachers know the truth. Teachers know that is simply not true.

Indiana public schools suffer from less local control and more excessive intrusion from our state legislature than ever before.

When it comes to education policy, this current legislature is full of fake conservatives who shackle innovation, stifle creativity, and intrude endlessly into our local schools.

Our daily lives as teachers are burdened with the evidence of less local control — from excessive standardized testing, to the ludicrous flip-flop of standards (Yes, we’ll adopt Common Core. No, wait, no we won’t!), to the fact that the state has changed our evaluation system, to restrictions on how we bargain our contracts, to the reduction in the worth of our advanced and master’s degrees — the list of excessive intrusion into our schools and classrooms from our current state legislature is long and tedious.

So, please know this, voters — any current legislator who claims to have worked tirelessly for the cause of local control of Hoosier schools while supporting and voting for corporate education “reform” scams is either deceitful or delusional.

Or both.

And that is why I am calling on all teachers to talk with voters here. Now. Because we teachers must speak up now.

We must tell voters the truth about how our profession and our schools have changed.

We must tell voters that while we love our profession, our schools, and our students, we will no longer silently tolerate the constant assault of bad legislation that has radically altered our public schools.

We must ask voters to stand with us to restore local control, common sense, and research-based decision making to our schools.

And locally, we must make the case with voters to vote for three outstanding educators and experts — Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger.

I challenge every teacher to find a way to work with or on behalf of at least one of these pro-education candidates.

Teachers, do not be silent. Do not be passive. There simply is not time.

This is not about political parties or ideology. This is about telling voters the truth about how our current legislature has hurt our schools.

Tell the truth about our schools.

We have two weeks.

Teen Voices: How should we improve our schools?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“Test students less.”

“Less testing. More focus on promoting the creative habit. Less memorization. More support to the arts.”

“Less emphasis on grades and competition with grades. Not only valuing academic achievement. I don’t understand why being good at math is so much more valued in society than music and creativity and expression.”

“Less testing and have a wide range of classes for everyone to explore new things.”

“Cut out all the testing, man. Teach the power of knowledge, not the power of the GPA (grade-point average).”

“Make teacher reviews more serious. Teacher evaluations seem to be done just as a formality.”

“We need to have a strong public education that students look forward to going to. The schools need to work on being supportive, which is what we students really need.”

“To improve our schools, we must break out of the box we have surrounded education with. We must allow creativity of teachers and students alike to flow naturally. We must find teachers devoted to improving their students’ lives.”

“Well, I would say we should imitate other school systems that are the academic leaders of the world, like Finland, but I know that would never work. We have too many students from too many walks of life. So, how do we fix it? That’s definitely about to be a problem that plagues my generation, so I hope we deal with it by creating an entirely new system that pulls aspects from other systems together to create something unique that works for Americans.

“All I know is the bell system makes me feel like an animal. We can read clocks. We don’t need bells ringing to tell us when to switch classes.”

“Do everything Finland does.”

“Finland. But really: all public education; don’t tie funding to test performance; pay teachers like they deserve to be paid; live in a country where education actually matters.”

“Get rid of standardized testing. Make sure the students learn, not just memorize.”

“Do not give kids who are failing the opportunity to quickly recover the credit with minimal effort. This encourages failure. The kid should have to deal with the consequences or try harder.”

“Some of us are actually curious and intrinsically motivated to learn. Do not destroy that by trying to extrinsically motivate us.”

“Start teaching a foreign language in elementary school. It’s much easier for us to learn it then.”

“Don’t get me started.”

My View

My students researched education as part of a second-semester research project that required them to synthesize information from a variety of sources and propose a solution to a problem in modern education.

It’s interesting that so many of them were compelled to compare American schools to Finnish schools in their responses. Finland offers a very different model to educating students than America. Truthfully, in many areas they are far more successful in educating their children than we are.

Improving American schools, in my view, requires us to commit to all of the following:

  • A recognition that we can only improve schools by first addressing poverty and income inequality, the defining problems of our nation
  • A commitment to hold more fully engage parents in our schools and to more fully hold them accountable for the academic success and behavior of their children
  • A complete rejection of market-place education reforms that have increased standardized testing and have contributed to the inequality hindering our schools and communities while reducing funding, effectiveness, and local control
  • A return to the American principle that our nation’s success depends on the vitality of our public schools (This, by the way, is a conservative principle, contrary to what many narrow-minded, intellectually challenged political “leaders” will tell you).

We have been reforming education for over thirty years. The reform movement has become the status quo, and it hasn’t improved anything.

Only by finally meeting the four challenges listed above can we truly begin to once again ensure that America is the world leader in education.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: The Art of Teaching

by Jim Lang

From Hilda Kendrick to Tony Willis to Jack Dvorak — these are the teachers who helped make me the person I am today. I appreciate them all. I thank them all. I hope I can have a similar impact on my own students. I hope I can contribute to the noble profession of teaching as they have.

As I reflect on the teachers who shaped my life, one unique quality connects them all – they were all intrinsically motivated to make the lives of their students and colleagues better.

I point this out because I think that to truly appreciate teachers we must honor those qualities that make them so exceptional.

Every great teacher in my life cared about me. Not my test scores. Not my data. Not my grades. Me.

Yes, my learning was essential, of course. But by caring about me, they ensured I learned.

These great teachers were not motivated primarily by academic standards. Or data walls. Or “highly effective” evaluations. Or merit pay. Or competition with their colleagues next door or down the hall.

These great teachers were great because they worked tirelessly to make my life and the lives of my peers better. That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s the art of teaching.

So, as we end Teacher Appreciation Week, my final appeal to those who desire to truly thank and appreciate a teacher is this – let us teach.

Indiana has been on the education “reform” rollercoaster for 12 years. New standards, more standardized testing, more accountability, more restrictions on our schools and universities, new merit pay proposals, new teacher evaluation proposals, new school corporation rating systems, the nation’s largest government-sponsored voucher program, an entirely new education agency created with no debate – none at all.

Effective teachers will share the truth about these “reforms” – that most of them are unnecessary, wasteful, and wholly ineffective. Moreover, most of these ideas dampen the very art of teaching that drives so many of us to make a difference in the lives of our students.

So, as I reflect on the past, I also ponder the future. I worry that this art of teaching that drives the truly great teachers is being diminished by a steady stream of bad ideas. I suspect that teaching is, in fact, a dying art if we continue down the same path.

And yet, I know that the desire to appreciate teachers also reveals a real belief in us and a genuine concern for our best interests. This gives me great hope for the future of our profession.

As we end Teacher Appreciation Week, know that the best way to honor all teachers is to simply respect us. Listen to us. Trust us. Believe in us. Support us. Work with us. Join with us to stop this steady stream of bad ideas in Indiana. Join with us to advocate for ideas that really work.

And most importantly, just let us teach.

This really is the best way to show your appreciation. It’s the best way to help us serve your children and our communities better.

It is the best way to ensure that the art of teaching continues.

The best way to thank us is to simply let us do what we love.

Indiana’s rejection of Common Core reveals need to question our state’s leadership

by Jim Lang

Well, it’s official.

Indiana has become the first state to officially withdraw from the controversial Common Core Standards. Somewhere in Indiana I am sure conservatives who live in mortal fear of the federal government are celebrating their victory over big government intrusion.

But perhaps instead of celebrating we should take a final look at who brought Common Core to our doorsteps in the first place.

Let’s begin by examining the language in a January, 2010 memo from the Indiana Department of Education and superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett outlining Indiana’s feedback on the proposed Common Core Standards:

“Indiana supports the efforts put forth in collectively developing a core set of academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. Indiana is committed to preparing students with the knowledge and skills they need for college and careers as well as to be prepared to compete globally. As evidenced by our Race to the Top application, Indiana is committed to the adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards in August 2010.”

In 2010, Republicans like Bennett embraced the Common Core initiative. In fact, it was one of the cornerstones of much of the GOP-led education “reform” movement.

And that Race to the Top application that is mentioned? That was a reference to Indiana’s failed attempt to “win” up to $250 million dollars in federal funding, which was partially linked to implementation of Common Core Standards.

Yes, Indiana Republicans were falling all over themselves in 2010 trying to secure millions of dollars from the same federal government that they so regularly criticize as intrusive.

And it is important to note that the real conservatives in halting the Republican attempt to link Indiana education to the federal government cash trough were members of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

That’s right. The ISTA refused to sign on to the Republican-led plan to secure federal Race to the Top funding, which is one of the reasons the application was abandoned.

Teachers – and their union — were the real conservatives here.

Fast forward then, to August of 2010, when the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved Common Core Standards, describing the standards as “robust and relevant to the real world.”

Who appointed the members of the Indiana State Board of Education that approved these standards?

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.

In fact, a well-written 2013 editorial in the Indiana Economic Digest concisely outlines the history of Common Core, including the fact that it began as an initiative by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The federal government was never involved until President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, linked the Common Core initiative to their competitive Race to the Top initiative.

My reasoning for re-examining this brief history of Common Core Standards in Indiana is not to condemn. As an educator and teacher, I questioned Common Core Standards from the beginning, but not because I felt they were a part of a maniacal federal government takeover of our schools. I just didn’t see any need to trade our state standards, which were among the strongest in the nation, for the Common Core Standards. And while I disagreed with the need for Common Core, I do believe that most who supported the initiative at the time were thinking about students first.

However, I also believe that Hoosier voters have a responsibility to their children and to our schools to remember that Republicans have controlled Indiana politics for 10 years. In that time, Indiana has proposed and passed more education “reform” legislation than any other state, measures that have radically altered Indiana public and private schools. In my view as an Indiana educator, most of that “reform” has been disastrous.

So, our Republican leaders now turn their backs on Common Core Standards – their plan – because they claim to oppose the very federal intrusion they once sought.

Apparently, they were wrong about Common Core. This should make us all wonder what other education legislation has been faulty, misguided, or just plain wrong.

Perhaps it is time to question and re-examine the political leadership in our own state instead of blaming Washington, D.C. for our frustrations and legislative missteps.

Hoosiers must not forget who is really responsible for Common Core Standards in Indiana

by Jim Lang

News that the very people who have created a mess of Indiana education are now considering abandoning Common Core Standards should have educators and critics of corporate education “reform” especially thankful this Thanksgiving.

Yes, the GOP, the party that signed on to the set of national standards created by governors and state school chiefs in 2010, now appears ready to reverse itself, according to an article in the NWI Times.

If true, could it be that the GOP, the party that eagerly tore into Indiana public schools like crazed dogs into a Thanksgiving turkey, has actually listened to educators they have scorned and insulted for so long?

More significantly, could it be that Hoosier Republicans are finally going to act like conservatives again and begin rejecting a nationalized set of standards that wastes money and offers little-to-no improvement in schools at all?

Yeah, right.

More than likely, they see the backlash building against Common Core as other states begin backing out of the initiative. Even GOP darling Scott Walker in Wisconsin is feeling the Common Core heat as the Tea Party pressures him to pull out of Common Core.

Suddenly, legislators all across America are realizing what Indiana Republicans — including former governor Mitch Daniels, former superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett, the State Board of Education, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate failed to realize from the start — that the national Common Core initiative financed largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and embraced by corporate leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, potentially reduces local control and comes with a hefty price tag.

In other words, it’s not conservative.

As an skeptic of the Common Core initiative since the beginning, I suppose I should be thankful that Hoosier leaders may have finally seen the light and are listening to what so many qualified Indiana educators have said about the Common Core Standards since the beginning — that they were expensive and unnecessary.

But I suspect that this sudden enlightenment has less to do with what’s best for students and schools and more to do with manipulating Hoosier voters.

According to the NWI Times article, House Speaker Brian Bosma calls the Common Core Standards “a distraction,” and points out, “It is the only thing that approaches the phrase ‘Obamacare’ with concern and violent reaction around the state.”

And here we may be seeing next move in the GOP manipulation machine — subtly linking the Common Core fiasco to Barack Obama. Because everything that doesn’t work must be Barack Obama’s fault.

Now, it is certainly true that the Obama Administration and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan leaped eagerly onto the Common Core bandwagon and have made it a focal point of their Race to the Top agenda, even if they haven’t always done so eloquently, as seen by Duncan’s recent misstep in insulting suburban moms. As I have stated previously here, this President is no friend to public education.

But one view of the timeline of the Common Core initiative reveals that Washington, D.C. and Barack Obama had nothing — that’s right, nothing — to do with the creation of Common Core. In fact, it was governors and state school chiefs during the Bush administration — many of the same education reformers who embraced corporate education “reform” in their own states — who began developing Common Core Standards before Barack Obama was even a candidate for president.

A closer look at implementation of Common Core in Indiana reveals a similar truth: this has been an agenda that Indiana Republicans once proudly embraced.

It was clearly their agenda, and they implemented it despite concerns from many vocal critics.

So, let’s be clear here. Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, and the federal government simply supported an initiative that was developed and initiated in many states, including in Indiana, by Republicans.

It is important that Hoosier voters understand this, because I have a feeling that the very people who are responsible for creating this mess will now attempt to initiate the most elaborate flip-flop in the history of Indiana politics.

Suddenly, the very people who have worked tirelessly to implement one nitwit education “reform” idea after another will now stand united against the evils of federal intrusion, socialism, Barack Obama, and any other terrifying big government monster they can create to distract Hoosier voters from the truth — that the Common Core Standards are the result of corporate education “reform” initiated at the state level far more than at a federal level.

The roots of Common Core lie in the corporate interests that seek to own and profit from our schools. While the Obama Administration hooked the federal government to the Common Core train to disaster, it was initially the plan of state officials, largely Republicans, that constructed the train, laid the tracks, and charted the destination. Especially in Indiana.

It was their plan.

Just like the creation of an unnecessary second education agency at taxpayer expense with no legislative or public debate at all.

Just like the implementation of the nation’s most expansive government-sponsored school voucher program.

Just like the support for charter schools that often never exceed — or even meet — the academic standards or accomplishments of most public schools.

Just like their continued support for ideas like merit pay that studies prove have little-to-no impact at all on student achievement or teacher motivation to excel.

Just like their continued willful disrespect for superintendent of public instruction Glenda Ritz, the voters she represents, and defiance of Open Door policies designed to maintain transparent government.

One of the advantages to having one political party so solidly in control of every level of state government is that it eventually becomes easy for voters to see who is responsible for all decisions, both good and bad.

Hoosier voters began to realize last year that we do not like what we see when it comes to Indiana education policy. That is why we elected Glenda Ritz. And since then, we have seen a double-down of bad policy, more disrespect toward teachers and educators, and a disturbing lack of good judgment and ethics by our state government.

And that is the real reason, I believe, why we may see such a sudden shift away from Common Core Standards.

Because those most responsible for Common Core Standards in Indiana now need voters to conveniently forget that this was their idea. They own this, and they now need us to forget that fact.

As voters and citizens, we owe it to our children, our schools, and ourselves to understand and remember whose agenda some of our state “leaders” now prepare to abandon.

Their own.

It’s simple — Hoosier lawmakers do not trust teachers or understand education

by Jim Lang

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle

When I return to my classroom next week for my twenty-first year of teaching, Aristotle’s quotation will be hanging in my classroom. It is a simple yet eloquent reminder for my students and for me that the true value of education is examining and evaluating everything, even ideas that may disturb or offend us.

Perhaps Aristotle’s quotation should also hang in the office of Purdue University president Mitch Daniels.

Recent revelations that as Indiana governor, Daniels sought to ban a book written by historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn from classrooms prove that Daniels needs a reminder about the value of a quality education.

Daniels’s intentions, revealed in a set of 2010 emails obtained and released by the Associated Press, focused on Zinn’s controversial A People’s History of the United States, which was being used as a resource in Indiana teacher preparation courses.

Daniels’s critics charge his desire to ban Zinn’s book amounted to an assault on academic freedom. Even some of Purdue’s own professors released an open letter expressing concerns.

Supporters claim Daniels was right, referencing Zinn’s anti-war stance and liberal viewpoints, some even calling Zinn and his book “anti-American.”

Daniels himself later stated he was simply trying to keep Zinn’s book away from K-12 students. Perhaps this is why he called Zinn’s work “propaganda” and “execrable and anti-factual” in his emails.

Meanwhile, the debate over academic freedom continues, and Indiana teachers sadly nod our heads in unison.

Because, honestly, we told you so.

Daniels’s actions come as no surprise to so many Indiana educators, who have labored for years trying to provide a quality education to Hoosier students in spite of Daniels’s education “reform” policies that make our jobs more difficult with each passing year.

Because Daniels’s education “reform” agenda as governor, broad and sweeping in scope, sends the same basic message about education and teachers as his emails about Howard Zinn and his recent defense of his actions as governor — we teachers cannot be trusted.

What other conclusion could a reasonable person draw from Daniels’s defense at a Purdue trustees’ meeting: “The question is, would this lead to this material being taught to innocent school children? I promise that if the parents of Indiana understood what was in the book in question, 99 if not 100 out of 100 would want some other book used”?

The implied message is that Daniels, as governor, needed to protect our children from the threat of teachers who would use Zinn’s ideas and textbook to indoctrinate young people. He seems to suggest that somehow, teachers would present Zinn’s ideas and use his textbook as gospel truth.

This defense reveals a willful ignorance about the true nature of education and questions the integrity of all teachers.

You see, as a teacher, my primary job is to expose your children to all kinds of ideas, to help them critique and analyze those ideas, and to present and nurture the necessary skills for them to evaluate and think critically for themselves.

My job, as your children’s teacher, is to teach them how to value their own learning. And to achieve this, we must learn in a classroom where we examine even those ideas that challenge and disturb us the most. And, for this to work, you and your children must trust me. You must trust that my training, qualifications, passion for teaching, and respect for you and your children shape each and every decision I make in my classroom.

This is not easy, or comfortable, or clean. Real learning never is. It’s messy. It’s bothersome. It’s uncomfortable.

And it’s essential.

Because our children must learn to question, listen, defend, debate, and challenge. They must learn to value and respect the opposing viewpoints of others, even when they disagree. They must consider, too, why they believe what they believe. These critical thinking skills only happen in classrooms where ideas are shared, discussed, and evaluated, and where students trust the teacher and their peers.

And this is why Mitch Daniels is so very wrong — because he does not trust us. Because censoring academic materials — and make no mistake about it, this is censorship — assumes that a quality education should be sanitized and scrubbed free from ideas that disturb or challenge us. It assumes that our children are victims each time they step into a classroom with a teacher armed with a textbook, a syllabus, and a passion to teach.

And, it is the same kind of pessimism that defines virtually every piece of education “reform” that Daniels and Hoosier legislators so proudly take credit for. I have written before about Indiana’s expansive voucher program and the corporate education “reform” agenda that includes more testing, hefty financial perks for testing and educational publishing companies, absurd changes in teacher evaluations and training, and moronic ideas like “merit pay” in public education.

At the heart of all of these changes is a lack of trust for our teachers and a disrespect for the education profession in general. Somehow, we now believe that we must constantly test to ensure our children are learning, that we must evaluate each and every nuance of a teacher’s performance to the point of absurdity, and that it is a teacher’s primary responsibility to fill each child with knowledge like we fill our cars with gasoline.

Virtually every piece of Hoosier education reform in the last eight years is predicated on the notion that teachers cannot be effective unless we are measured, manipulated, or prodded. In short, we cannot be trusted.

And, yes, there are certainly some irresponsible teachers and ineffective schools. However, Daniels and reform-minded legislators enacted policies that judge all educators and schools the same — harshly. Indiana’s entire education “reform” agenda is based on the false assumption that the system is fundamentally broken and that no educator can be trusted to intrinsically do what is right.

Would anyone support a teacher who adopted a similar philosophy toward the children in his or her classroom? Why, then, do we continue to tolerate such shameful policies from our elected officials?

More ironic, however, is that this lack of trust in teachers and academic freedom was revealed in Daniels’s own emails. After all, it was Daniels himself who blamed last year’s election loss of then-superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett to Glenda Ritz on unethical campaign tactics of teachers allegedly using school e-mail accounts. Somehow, it was easier to assume Ritz’s win was more the result of unethical behavior of teachers than of the political will of informed citizens.

But then again, Hoosier teachers were all-too-familiar with this kind of cynicism, which is why we joined so many voters in electing Ritz. After all, we cannot be trusted.

So, Aristotle’s quotation will serve as a call to action for my students and for me when we return to school next week. I want my students to embrace the opportunity to question, debate, evaluate, and learn.

I want them to value their education and trust themselves and their teachers more than Mitch Daniels and Indiana lawmakers do.

National Teacher Day reminds me to count my blessings

by Jim Lang

I just had a social media epiphany.

I will admit to a slight Facebook addiction. And I, like most of my fellow Facebook users, have fallen into the trap of posting incessantly about a single topic.

While others share cute photos of their pets or children, or post play-by-play analysis of the game (often in ALL CAPS with large EXCLAMATION POINTS for emphasis), or offer the sad passive-aggressive sentiment of the hour (guess u don’t care…don’t no why I try), I have become the annoying schlump who shares my annoyance and/or complete disgust with anyone who dares to disagree with me about politics, specifically about matters concerning…you guessed it…public education.

In the last day alone, I have insulted our Democratic president, two Republican Indiana governors, and most members of the Indiana House and Senate. At least I am a bipartisan smart aleck. And while they probably deserve my sarcasm and annoyance, it occurred to me tonight that I’m stuck in one long social media rant. And while my posts aren’t nearly as annoying as 72 photos of a cat wearing a Christmas sweater, they’re beginning to make me look bitter. Or insane. Or both.

So, I want to take the time to clarify that my apparent bitterness…or insanity…actually stems from my absolute love of teaching.

I love my job. In fact, I love it a little more each day. I believe in the nobility and importance of my chosen profession. And despite all of the challenges, annoyances, and added pressures from politicians that mistakenly believe they know how to do my job better than I do (uh oh, there I go being bitter again), I am still the world’s luckiest teacher.

I am blessed to work in a school with peers and colleagues who are truly some of the most selfless, talented people I know. The consistent excellence at Floyd Central High School still astounds me, and I’ve taught there for seventeen years.

I get to walk into my classroom each day and work with the best kids anywhere, knowing that no administrator will censor or prior review their publications.

I have an entire network of fellow journalism and media advisers out there that I can reach out to for advice, support, ideas, and laughs. They truly are my journalism family.

And most significantly, I have the honor of teaching, knowing, and laughing with some of the most special people I know…my students. The only part more meaningful than teaching them has been watching so many of them grow up to be such incredible, impactful, moral adults and citizens.

They are my kids, and they are my greatest blessings.

So, I’ll continue to post my rants just as often as others share photos of their sleeping puppy or of the salad they ate for lunch. I suppose it has become my way to speak out, to defend my students, colleagues, and school.

Or, maybe it’s just a bizarre form of Facebook therapy.

But, for today, I’ll just count my many blessings.

San Francisco convention reminds us we must protect journalism, arts education in an era of failed leadership

by Jim Lang

On Sunday I returned from a five-day journey to San Francisco with four Floyd Central journalism students and a colleague. We attended the annual spring convention sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.

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Welcome to California: San Francisco provided a valuable learning experience for my students and for me.

As we attended classes and explored the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco, I was reminded again of how essential strong elective programs like journalism, media, and the arts are to our schools.

Thousands of engaged, excited high school journalists from all over the nation descended on the Marriott Marquis to learn, compete, and improve their journalism skills. San Francisco provided the perfect backdrop to enhance the experience with historic sightseeing.

My fellow yearbook adviser and I simply turned the trip over to our four senior editors. For five days, we followed their itinerary as they chose their classes and escorted us around the city by navigating public transportation. The trip was the ultimate learning experience where we empowered our students to make all decisions. They did not disappoint us once.

Our San Francisco experience reminded me how much students learn when they get out of the classroom. Our journey reminded me of the value of so many similar school-sponsored trips taken by our school’s exceptional theater, orchestra, choral, and band programs. It also reminded me how much more valuable learning is when our students have the opportunity to decide more than simply which bubble to fill in on a standardized test.

Sadly, it seems our public schools are moving away from offering these kinds of real world experiences, especially here in Indiana. If the ISTEP testing debacle of the last week does not alarm you, then, frankly, you are either not paying attention or simply do not care about the quality of our public schools.

The nationwide education”reform” movement that emphasizes accountability through excessive corporate testing has seized control of Indiana schools. Students and teachers will be held “accountable” through their scores on these corporate tests that seem to gobble up more of our time for classroom instruction each year.

Of course, the complete mess that resulted from this week’s testing proves no one is holding the corporations creating and administering these tests “accountable,” despite the millions of dollars they are earning from legislators posing as fiscal conservatives.

Yes, this is the “business model” that so many education reformers and local chambers of commerce advocate for our schools. It’s a model that wastes time, money, and resources. It’s a model that actually increases federal control over our schools and limits local control. It’s a model based on the false premise that we must test, measure, and standardize every aspect of learning.

Most dangerously, though, it’s a model that will lead to the destruction and removal of journalism, media, and arts programs in our schools. Because the truth is that students in these classrooms think critically, solve problems, embrace challenges, develop good judgment, and master all of the skills necessary to recognize the kind of false logic, hypocrisy, and ineptitude of so many of our current political leaders.

It’s already happening. It’s been two years since we eliminated elementary art, music, and physical education in the New Albany-Floyd County Schools. While in San Francisco, I heard from several of my own colleagues from other states about the severe limits or complete elimination of their journalism programs due to severe budget cuts or because their curricular areas are no longer considered important because they’re not measured on their states’ standardized tests.

Our “leaders” continue to slash our most valuable educational programs, all in the name of fiscal responsibility, yet provide enormous sums of money to outsource our children’s educations to corporations and provide bailouts to failing charter schools.

And we just let them do it.

I thought about this a lot last week as I watched my own students get truly excited

Alcatraz was one of my favorite visits...such interesting history.

Alcatraz was one of my favorite visits…such interesting history.

about attending classes where they could improve their skills and learn from some of the best educators and journalists.I considered it as I watched them intently listen and photograph during a fascinating two-hour trek through Alcatraz. I reflected on it again as they embraced the culture of Chinatown and other areas of one of our most vibrant U.S. cities. And I realized just how much more relevant and important this experience was for them than anything they’ll experience as a result of Indiana’s many wasteful education “reforms.”

I also wondered just close we are to seeing a day where elective programs are history in our public schools.

One thing is certain. We need a change in direction in Indiana government. Now. As stewards of our own government and our children’s futures, we must do a far better job of understanding the complex issues of financing and managing our public schools.

Most importantly, however, we must be more vigilant and protective of our invaluable journalism, media, and arts elective programs. We must ensure that they prosper and remain an integral part of our schools in the face of a culture that values accountability over genuine learning and desires an education system that emphasizes test scores over experiences.

We must protect our nation’s student journalists, musicians, and artists, because we’ll so desperately need the kind of leadership and integrity that they can provide to clean up the mess left by our current “leaders” that we continue to elect in Indiana and nationwide.

My twenty ‘truths’ about education and reform

by Jim Lang

Writing and maintaining this blog has become like therapy for me, especially when some clueless legislator or governmental body pretends to know one iota about education.

On days like today, when the Indiana Supreme Court ignores our state constitution and unanimously upholds legislation that provides government-supported handouts…oh, I mean vouchers…to families to send children to private and/or religious schools, I feel like I have to vent.

On days like today, when Kentucky senator Rand Paul calls for federal legislation to expand vouchers (essentially the same irresponsible legislation supported by “Mr. 47 Percent” Mitt Romney), I feel like I have to do something to maintain the illusion that educators’ concerns and frustrations are actually listened to by our political “leaders.”

So, today, I am particularly disillusioned and annoyed. And to those who know me well, this means I must vent, often sarcastically and even maliciously, or explode. And since I do not want to explode during what has been an otherwise relaxing Spring Break, here are my own 20 “truths” about education, one for each year I have been teaching, and in no particular order:

1.  There are far more bad parents than bad teachers.

2. If your school is successful, it is primarily because it is a reflection of a successful community, quality parenting, and dedicated teachers.

3. If your school is failing, it is primarily because it is a reflection of a failing community, poor parenting, and dedicated teachers who strive everyday to make up for deficiencies of a failing community and poor parenting.

4. While critics waste time whining about teachers’ unions, for-profit corporations are shaping curriculum, testing, and schools far more than unions ever did.

5. Choosing to send your children to private schools should not in any way release you from your societal and moral obligation to pay taxes to support public schools for those who cannot afford private schools. Previous generations understood this.

6. Private and religious schools should remain absolutely independent of state and federal government intrusion…except when they accept vouchers.

7. Those who constantly criticize public schools for “indoctrinating” students have either rarely been in a classroom or are guilty of indoctrinating their own children. Or both.

8. If you are shocked that your child is suddenly failing a class, you aren’t paying enough attention to your child.

9. Teachers don’t get summers “off.” Ever.

10. Teachers don’t get weekends “off.” Ever.

11. Standardized testing is a waste of time.

12. Common formative assessment (n): an educational opportunity for children designed to ensure educators can prove to even the most illiterate person that we’re doing what we say we’re doing. Syn: waste of time. Sentence: I spent four hours grading my common formative assessments and entering the data into a spread sheet, and it revealed exactly what I already knew!

13. Voucher (n): a government-supported handout, primarily for private and/or religious schools, disguised as a tax break for people to distract them from the fact that our state government is failing in its constitutional duty to ensure a quality, public school system for all. Syn: handout. Sentence: My voucher helps ensure that I can exercise my already-existing freedom to send my child to any school I’d like without having to fully pay for it.

14. Merit pay (n): 1. a tiny or invisible token of appreciation from legislators to educators in hopes we won’t see what they’re really up to. 2. dumbest educational reform idea ever, and in Indiana, that’s saying a lot. Syn: a tiny or invisible bribe. Sentence: We’ll reward highly effective teachers with $400 of merit pay, which will prompt them to work even harder and make them feel really good about themselves.

15. If education is its own reward, then weighted grades should eliminated.

16. If Indiana citizens should receive tax credits in the form of vouchers for poorly-performing public schools, then teachers should receive tax credits for poorly-performing students and parents.

17. If anyone can now become a teacher or superintendent in Indiana with minimum of educational training, then I should be permitted to perform major surgery with a minimum of medical training.

18. Most online classes are a joke. Really.

19. Those who criticize educators and schools the most have an ulterior motive…and it’s not the well-being of our nation’s children.

20. If any of the above ideas offend you, you’re probably part of the problem.

Feel free to add your own educational “truths” in the Comments section.

I now feel much better. Until next time…