Project-Based Learning, #3

Recently in this space I have been praising project-based learning, because it enables students to become producers of knowledge, not merely consumers (and sometimes regurgitators).  As noted earlier, the best projects are ones where the teacher or teachers do not know ‘The correct answer’ because they also are engaged in the journey of discovery. 

In the end, students own the work they have done; school is no longer just about tests, test scores, and the question teachers dread, “Will this be on the test?”

The first two projects I wrote about involved water and air; this one gets students out in their communities, which means it will also introduce adults who don’t have school-age children to the wonders of what is possible in public education.  

Done well, this work enables young people to develop at least six skills that will serve them well throughout their adult lives.

          1) working together with peers;

         2) communicating across generations;

          3) specific production skills;

         4) making value-based judgments;

         5) making difficult editorial choices, and;

         6) meeting ‘real world’ professional high standards.

I’ve given this venture a name: “The Poetry Project.”  Each team of 3 or 4 students will need a video camera (the one on a smartphone will be fine), a tripod or some other firm support for the camera, paper and scotch tape, an editing app, and some willing adults.

How it works:  A team of students, probably middle schoolers, picks a poem that they can relate to.  This is important because they may have to ‘sell’ it to the adults who are going to be asked to perform/recite the poem on camera.  The adults may have to be taught to read with energy and conviction, and having enthusiastic students (now the producers) will help.

Students first print the entire poem in a large font size.  Then separate by obvious verses/couplets for individual readers.  When ready to record, tape the selected verse/couplet to the bottom lip of the camera lens. This way the participants don’t have to memorize anything.  They will be looking at the camera and their lines at the same time. Although many participants may memorize the words, they will be more relaxed knowing that the ‘crutch’ is there if they need it.

Which adults are going to participate?  I recommend the sole criterion is that they do not have kids in school (which is about 75% of adults in most communities, by the way).  

For the sake of clarity, I’m imagining the kids have chosen Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.  

Mrs. Andrews in Apartment 9B:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?

When filming, frame all participants from the shoulders up. Ideally, all readers should be sitting or standing in front of a non-distracting, solid color backdrop.  Consistency matters, so frame every adult in the same way. They should look into the camera when reciting their lines. 

Mr. Young of Mr. Young’s Cleaners:

To die, to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to …

Tell them to continue looking into the camera until you say ‘Cut.’  Make sure the audio quality is clear and coherent. As we say in the business, “TV is really just radio with pictures,” which means that quality sound is essential. Once completely and fully satisfied with the audio, check it again! 

Kimberly Wong in Apartment 17C:

… ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;

To sleep, perchance to dream …

Because producers need options, each adult should be asked to read his/her lines several times. 

 Augie Ramos at the local Deli:

… ay, there’s the rub:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause – there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

And because most adults are not accustomed to performing, student producers have to gain their confidence, perhaps by giving their own reading and talking about what it means to them.

Angela Packer, a trainer at the Y:  

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office …

It gets interesting when adults give a lousy reading and have to be coaxed into a second, third or fourth effort.  That’s when these 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds–who are directing people old enough to be their parents or grandparents–have to learn how to criticize constructively. 

Jacob Epstein of Epstein Jewelers:

… and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin?

 Because bad readings are guaranteed, it’s crucial that the team role-play this situation in advance, in front of classmates, so they can develop strategies for success.

Building Manager Joe Carris: 

Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

One rule that cannot be broken: The readings have to be excellent. No cutting corners and no compromising on quality just to squeeze in an adult whose reading wasn’t good enough but who is friends with the principal or somebody important.  Only quality matters!

Clothing store owner Alice Gotteswold:

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought … 

Producers have to make all sorts of decisions, always keeping in mind that the goal is the best possible production, in this case the most emotionally accurate reading of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

Richie O’Connor, Building doorman:

… and enterprises of great pith and moment,

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action. 

The fun–and greater rewards–begin when the production is posted on the school’s YouTube channel and perhaps broadcast on local news.  That’s when all of these adults start talking about the film, sharing the link, and pulling out their smartphones and showing it to friends and customers.  They’ll be saying, “Did you know what they’re doing in school these days? Sure makes me wish I could go to school all over again.”

For students, school has become more valuable and interesting. With luck, their enthusiasm will rub off and carry over into other aspects of their school experience.  They will become better and more discerning consumers of education precisely because they are now producers.  And, in my humble opinion, this is one way to ensure that our children become confident, productive and creative adults. 

Next time, a classroom-based project for high school students.

NO GLOVE LEFT BEHIND, Season 2

I made a huge mistake last year when I waited until the beginning of April to introduce my campaign to match lost gloves and deliver them to the gloveless.  What I am now calling “No Glove Left Behind” is now running at full speed when it’s most needed, during the harsh months of winter.  I’m writing to enlist your help.

Whenever I walk the streets of New York City I see lost and abandoned gloves, at least one every time I walk our dog, and sometimes more. Below are images of five gloves that I have “rescued” in the past three days. 

Let me ask you: How many times have you, during a walk around your city, come across a single glove or mitten, lying on the sidewalk….and kept on walking?  That is what I used to do, until last March, when I enlisted my wife and a couple of neighbors to search for matches.  

Last year we donated several dozen matching pairs to a nearby place of worship. However, in our apartment right now we have about 75 unmatched gloves, waiting for YOU to find and send us the match!

As you can see below, sometimes the lost gloves almost match, but we strive for perfection.

 

No Glove Left Behind has just three rules, but they are important:

1) Please carefully clean the glove before sending it to “No Glove Left Behind,” 1148 Fifth Avenue, Apartment 9D, New York, NY 10128.   

2) Check the INSIDE of the glove very, very carefully.  Last year one generous person did not and inadvertently sent a glove that a mouse was using as its winter home.  The mouse and babies died in transit, ending their lives, ruining the glove, and upsetting us, the doorman, and the postman! 

3) Please do NOT send money to help support our effort. While NGLB is not yet a 501(C)3 non-profit organization, the income from my trust fund is more than adequate to support it.   As only my close friends have been aware until now, I am the sole surviving nephew of Edward R. Murrow and thus a major beneficiary of the legendary newsman’s Trust.  When I realized that I wanted to be a journalist, I changed the spelling of my last name because I wanted to be judged on who I was and what I did, and not on a family connection. 

Thank you, and bless you…..

Last Week, Water. This Week, AIR. (The Series Continues)

Last week in this space I recommended studying one of life’s essentials, the water we drink.  I also endorsed project-based learning because it demands that students become producers of knowledge, not mere regurgitators of canned information.  

A number of readers asked for more, and so here’s a second recommendation: let’s study the air that we breath every minute of every hour of every day.  This particular project is also a good example of how technology can support genuine learning.

For this project, an elementary school needs a portable air quality indicator, one of which costs about $250.  Suppose that three or four times each school day students carry their monitor outside, turn it on, and record the measurements–which would be automatically entered into an accessible data base. Back in class, they could compare the daily and hourly readings for their playground and look for changes.  They would need to know how to interpret readings, which would require some basic science research and direct instruction from their teacher.  Perhaps they would ask local scientists to come in and talk and also Skype with experts from all over the globe. 

They’d be studying the science of air quality and learning about the specifics of air pollution, the causes and consequences of asthma, et cetera, et cetera.  Perhaps they’ll become curious about the incidence of asthma and other lung-related conditions in their town or state and begin trying to plot and graph air quality against lung-related conditions.  

Everything they learn will also produce more questions, more avenues to explore, and, for teachers, nothing is more satisfying.

As for students, this is genuine knowledge that they are going to ‘own,’ and nothing in school is more satisfying than that.

Because students will be aware that they are producing useful knowledge, teachers won’t be confronted by those awful complaint/questions, “How is this relevant?” or “Why should I care?

Now suppose that every elementary school in the area has its own portable air quality indicator!  That means that hundreds of students will be engaged in this project, comparing readings.  Perhaps elementary students in other towns or states (or countries!) would also be participating, and that would allow even broader comparisons.

On one level, this project would break new ground, because as CityLab noted,  “Measuring air quality has been the purview of state environmental regulators, who rely on monitors approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that cost tens of thousands of dollars. That data is used to send out bad-air alerts (the green, orange, and red warning days) and for regulatory purposes.”

Because educators are notorious for being reactive, not aggressive, it’s also important to note that lots of ordinary citizens have become engaged in the study of the air we breath.  That is, this project isn’t radical, and it won’t cost educators their jobs, if they make connections with interested groups. For example,  The Central California Environmental Justice Network has several projects monitoring air quality.  By putting monitors in backyards and around schools (in the San Joaquin Valley), the group is hoping to see what the area’s biomass plants and the dozens of trucks that rumble through are pumping into the lungs of disadvantaged residents.”

It’s also happening in Grand Junction, Colorado, where a group that calls itself “Citizens for Clean Air”has ordered 25 air monitoring devices.

“We wanted to know where pollution was coming from, what was the cause and what were the levels,” said Win.  The monitors will measure things like exhaust emissions and dirt, heavier and larger particulates.  “They shoot the laser beam through the air that’s flowing from the outside, and it counts the particles as they go through,” said Gerald Nelson with Citizens for Clean Air. They’ve placed the monitors around the Grand Valley in order to get a comprehensive count of particulates. Some are in higher elevations or lower spots, and they stretch from Mack to Whitewater, Grand Junction and Palisade.”

Let’s go back to the kids for a minute.  As they began to understand–and perhaps be outraged by–anomalies, they might feel compelled to write letters or articles for local publications.  Perhaps some would create video reports that could be posted on YouTube…and maybe even picked up by local television news.  

This “curriculum” is about more than air.  It’s also about democracy, independence, collaboration, and knowledge creation.  Projects like these teach more than science, effective writing, and public speaking.  Students will learn that information is power, that collaboration produces strength, and that social policies have consequences. Students will learn that they themselves are not merely numbers or test scores but sentient, thinking individuals with potential.  That they matter.

Technology, used imaginatively, makes it possible for students to develop the habit of  asking questions and searching for answers.  

And technology means our schools and educators can ask of each child, ‘How is he or she intelligent?’–and then create learning opportunities that allow every child to soar.  Technology allows students to have more control over their own learning, without downgrading or minimizing the role of the skilled teacher.

Schools today must provide opportunities for young people to create knowledge out of the swirling clouds of information that surround them 24/7.  You and I were sent to schools because that’s where the knowledge was stored–but that was yesterday. Think how different today’s world is. Today’s young people need guidance in sifting through the flood of information and turning it into knowledge. They need to be able to formulate good questions–because computers have all the answers.

When schools do these things, young people will be learning (or reinforcing) real-world skills that will help them once they move out of school. They’re working together, they are gathering, assimilating and analyzing data, they are learning how to present what they are learning, and so on. They will be working with numbers and writing persuasive reports. No doubt some will be speaking publicly about their findings. This is career-track stuff, 180 degrees different from the ‘regurgitation education’ that is the hallmark of most education today.

And finally, this is a zero-sum game: The hours students spend on projects like these are hours they cannot spend staring at their phones, consuming technology. 

First of a Series on Project-Based Learning

In hopes that your children or grandchildren will be doing school projects later this year, for the next few weeks I will devote this space to project-based learning and some ideas for projects.  

Project-based learning has significant benefits.  First of all, students become producers of knowledge, not mere consumers of information that others decree they must know.  They own what they learn, and they reap the satisfaction of possessing expertise.  Moreover, they develop (or sharpen) a skill the adult workplace values: the ability to work with others. 

The best projects meet these five criteria: 

     1) The topic is of interest to whoever’s adopting it;

     2) The issue is significant, not trivial

     3) The project follows ‘The Goldilocks Rule.’  Neither huge and grandiose (“Solving the Middle East crisis”) nor tiny and trivial (“Comparing the rate of growth of avocado pits under different conditions“).  Instead, it’s “Just Right” so that students can get their hands and brains around it.

     4) It has local significance, which makes it easier to research and raises the likelihood of its having an impact; and

     5) It does not have a predetermined ‘correct’ answer but must be a genuine search for knowledge.

My first suggestion for a project that meets these criteria: WATER, which we take for granted but also which we cannot live without.

You may have read that President Trump is weakening the federal regulations regarding water quality, regulations that President Obama pushed through.  Apparently this change will result in more development of wetlands and more use of water by agricultural industries (which already use about 70% of our fresh water).

That news report got me thinking about water.  What follows will, I hope, be of some interest for students who decide to explore this topic.

Growing up, I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s long poem, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, about sailors stranded at sea and out of fresh drinking water. Its most famous verse goes this way:

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

What about us? Will parts of the United States run out of water?  Where water becomes a scarce resource, will ‘water wars’ break out?  

While the earth’s surface is about 70% water, only about 2.5% of that is fresh water; the rest is ocean, saltwater.  And most of that 2.5% is now in the form of ice, glaciers and sheets of ice around the North and South Poles. As that ice melts into the ocean, it becomes saline and therefore undrinkable, although the melting does contribute to rising sea levels.  And the melting may also be having other consequences. 

And while the actual amount of fresh water remains fairly constant because of the cycle of consumption, evaporation, and rainfall, the world’s population has exploded, meaning that competition for water is a fact of life

Not only that, the average person today uses more water than they did 50 or 100 years ago, not just to wash and clean but also to grow the food we eat today.  Want an example? Well, that hamburger you may have had for lunch took 630 gallons of water to produce, because raising cows is water-intensive.

As I mentioned, agriculture consumes about 70% of the world’s fresh water.   Producing the beans for just one cup of coffee requires 35 gallons of water.  Growing cotton is also a thirsty enterprise. It takes 2,640 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans and 660 gallons to produce a T-shirt. Avocados, almonds – even bottles of water themselves, are all highly water-intensive enterprises.  So we could save water by changing our diets, and perhaps by buying fewer clothes, or wearing clothing that requires less water to produce (whatever that may be, I don’t know).

According to the United Nations, “By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.” It seems very possible–and frightening–that we will have ‘Water Wars’ in different places around the world.  

What can be done to remedy this situation?  I can think of three options but there may be others: 

1) Use less water.  

2) Recycle/repurpose water so we can use it more than once.  

3) Turn saltwater into fresh, a process called desalinization.

The issue is almost paradoxical.  Climate Change is melting the ice cap, which is causing the earth’s oceans to rise. That is, we have more saltwater, even as we are likely to experience shortages of fresh water.

It would be important to make this project local, which students can do by focusing on their own school and school district.  How much water does their school consume in a typical day? And exactly how? Cooking, washing, watering plants, flushing toilets?  What other ways?

Can you compare “water use per student” over the years? Are today’s students using more water, and, if so, why?  (As mentioned above, across the world people are consuming more water than they did years ago.)

How much does water cost the school district, and how much has the water bill gone up over the years?

Students could go beyond their own school or school district and focus instead on their local government agencies and their water use.  Or they could seek to learn about water use by local business and industry. Any of these inquiries could produce useful knowledge.

Finding out about local water use opens the door to larger (national and world) questions about water use, water recycling, and efforts to turn saltwater into drinkable fresh water. 

Can we change?  Well, knowledge is power, for openers. And the more we know, the more we can influence the future.

Who knows–maybe students who take on this issue will become hydrologists!  

(In the next few weeks I will be suggesting projects involving garbage, infant brain development, and air quality. I hope you will share this post with teachers and others interested in quality education. Themerrowreport.com also provides a link if you wish to subscribe.)

EDUCATION’S LEECHES

George Washington woke up on December 14, 1799, with a very sore throat.  When it worsened, the doctors were summoned.  Naturally, Washington, who had left office just two years earlier, received the very best care from the most knowledgeable and competent doctors, those at the top of the medical profession.**

Their expert diagnosis: Washington’s four ‘humors’ or bodily fluids, were out of balance.  This analysis was based on a 1500-year-old Greek theory and accepted as scientific fact: The human body is regulated by four fluids: blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile.    “The group of fourth- and third-century BC physicians known as the Hippocratics who formulated (and more importantly wrote about) their theories, were the first organized group to consider that illness had natural—not supernatural—causes.”

Illness, they believed, resulted when the four humors were out of balance, as they must have been in Washington’s case.

The doctors set about rebalancing Washington’s system. To do this, they followed a scientifically approved medical procedure:  They drained 80 ounces of his blood, close to 40 percent of his body’s total!  

Whether they did this by opening one or more of his veins or by attaching leeches to his body is unclear.  Both procedures were normal.

Unfortunately, the treatment did not work; in fact, it might have killed him, or at least hastened his demise, because our first President died later that same day.

Did bloodletting kill George Washington?  “Many doctors, in fact, believed that bloodletting or the removal of a portion of an ill person’s blood could improve their condition. In accordance with this, in addition to the application of the usual crude purgatives and emetics, over half of Washington’s blood was drained in just a few hours. It is widely held today that the Father of our country died from the aggressive bloodletting, which resulted in severely low blood pressure and shock.”

As horrifying as those images are and as barbaric as those practices now seem, bloodletting by opening veins or attaching leeches had been ‘best practices’ in medicine for 1500 years.

Until one day they weren’t.

For me, Washington’s story mirrors what’s been going on in public education.  In my analogy, Washington represents public education,  and his doctors are the men and women in charge, people who are convinced that education is out of balance (i.e., sick) and that standardization is the cure.

One hundred years ago, standardization in education actually made sense.   After all, shouldn’t ‘third grade math’ be pretty much the same in California, Kansas, and Massachusetts?  Setting standards with across-the-board rules and measurements made it possible (at least theoretically) to make legitimate comparisons of students from different schools and different states.  And standardized, machine-scored exams like the SAT (developed in 1926) provided supposedly ‘objective’ results that could be trusted because they weren’t subject to the whims and biases of the adults correcting the exams.

Before long, the flaws in this thinking became apparent.  Supposedly ‘objective’ tests were culturally biased (in favor of the privileged).  Machine-scored tests couldn’t measure depth of understanding or test for knowledge of complex ideas.  And so on.

But, like the practitioners of medieval medicine, our education experts entertained no doubts about their approach.  Instead, they clung to power.  In fact, they doubled down, eventually making test-based accountability the quasi-religion of ‘school reform.’

Over the years, much has been sacrificed in the name of higher scores on machine-scored, multiple-choice tests: 1) We lost a balanced curriculum that includes the arts, science, history, and physical education.  2) Recess and free play disappeared from many elementary schools, replaced by practice-testing.  3) Classroom dialogue disappeared, replaced by (so-called) “personalized learning” on iPads and other tablets.  4) Hundreds of thousands of good teachers abandoned the field, frustrated by a system that wanted to turn them into baby-sitters and test-monitors.  And on and on.

Just as doctors withdrew Washington’s blood, our public schools are being bled dry, by for-profit charter schools, on-line virtual schools, some (supposedly) non-profit charter schools, massive investments in educational technology, and an expanded bureaucracy of people hired to watch over teachers to make sure they hew to the standardized curriculum.

In Washington’s case, we know that his doctors–at minimum–hastened his death. They may have killed him.  Will today’s ‘education doctors’ kill public education?  That’s an open question.

In Washington’s case, doctors may have opened his veins or used leeches.  Today, it’s all leeches.

You can probably name them yourselves, the leaders and followers who are bleeding public education dry.

How long will the leeches remain in control?  Medicine’s history is not encouraging, unfortunately.  “The notion that 4 bodily fluids—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—caused illness persisted for more than 2000 years in the West until the rise of controlled empirical science in the mid-19th century.” 

By my reckoning, education’s medievalists (AKA the leeches) have been running public education since at least the 1980’s, and I think 40 years is more than enough.   They’ve done too much damage already.

It’s long past time to end standardized bubble testing, to insist on multiple measures of student accomplishment and a varied curriculum, and to demand recess, project-based learning, and more.  All charter schools must be financially transparent and bound by the same rules that apply to traditional public schools.  Teachers must be paid more and given time to create curriculum and watch each other teach.

(I could go on with this list but ask you instead to read “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.”)

 

**I learned about George Washington’s plight from Mo Rocca’s absolutely delightful book, Mobituaries, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

“Insect-Based Teacher Training, Part 2”

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

“From  this control board, I can zoom in on any classroom.  I can pump up the volume to allow me to hear much of what was going on.”

What exactly are you looking for, I asked?

“Look, every student deserves to be taught the same material in the same way.  That’s what equality and equity mean, as far as I am concerned.  We have a state curriculum, and this is a great way to monitor whether my teachers are where they are supposed to be.”

Tell me more, I said.

“OK, look at those three screens in upper right.  Those are all 8th grade math classes.  Now, today is Tuesday, and, according to the state syllabus, Tuesday’s assignment is learning to graph integers on vertical and horizontal lines.  That means that all the students in all three classrooms should be doing worksheets right now. Otherwise they’re not getting an equal education.

In two of the rooms we could see students working at their desks, but not in the third classroom.  The superintendent zoomed in and turned up the sound.  We could hear laughter but couldn’t discern what was being said.

“That’s unacceptable.  I need to be able to hear clearly.  I have to get my tech guys on this right away,” he muttered.

Why do you need to hear, I asked?

“I’m enrolled in an on-line PhD program,” he explained. “This is research for my dissertation, which is on the benefits that technology brings to education.”

But will you talk to that teacher, I asked?

“You bet your boots I will. I may even play the tapes for him so he can see his failures in living color.”

Do your teachers know that you can watch them at any time, I asked?

“We’ve never discussed it, but it shouldn’t bother them if they’re doing their jobs. It’s no big deal, unless, of course, they have something to hide,” he said.

I said that it seemed like the world of “Big Brother,” always watching.

He actually erupted when I said that.  “That’s a pet peeve of mine, people criticizing Big Brother.  I think the idea of Big Brother is a positive one.  I mean, what kid wouldn’t want to have his Big Brother watching his back, protecting him?  I sure would! But, no, everyone hates Big Brother….except me.”

He went on.  “You know whose fault it is? It’s that writer, Orwell.  Remember how in Animal Farm he makes Big Brother the bad guy?  Well, everyone reads Animal Farm in school, and that’s what makes them biased against Big Brother.”

I wanted to ask him about the pigs, but instead I bit my lip and went home.

 

 

INSECT-BASED TEACHER TRAINING

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

One woman, call her Mrs. Jones, scoffed, “I would sooner have ants in my underpants then have some so-called expert muttering in my ear. If you want to help me get better at teaching, come to my classroom.”

“Likewise,” her male colleague, call him Mr. Smith, agreed. “A bug in my ear? No way!  I would rather have a tick on my dick!”

Wanting to know more, I arranged to spend a day with an expert who monitors teachers to help them improve. We met in the small windowless room where he spends his weekdays. Mitchell Rheese is in his late 30’s, a former Teach For America member with an MBA who also spent four years with McKinsey. He allowed me to make audio recordings but no video or photographs. Below are transcripts of three interactions, slightly edited for clarity. (I have changed the names of the teachers to guard their privacy.)

1: First period Social Studies, Mrs. Burris:

The entire class, including the teacher, sat silently for about 90 seconds, while Mr. Rheese grew visibly agitated. Finally he spoke quietly but forcefully, “Mrs Burris, you appear to be wasting valuable instructional time. This is not good!  May I remind you that the state exams are fast approaching!”

She answered quietly, “Sir, we are observing a moment of silence. One of my students lost his twin sister last night. A drive-by shooting. She was sitting on the stoop talking with friends, and now she’s dead.  Everyone is hurting, and I decided that peace and quiet would be the most supportive gesture we could make. In a minute, we will all hug each other, and then try to move on. I hope you understand.”

“Of course I do, and my thoughts and prayers are with your student. But district guidelines specify that moments of silence should not exceed 45 seconds. And hugging is specifically prohibited.  May I make a suggestion?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t get into fruitless discussions of gun control and gun violence, because that’s not part of the unit you are supposed to be covering: How a Bill Becomes a Law.” 

2: Third period American history, Mr. Cody

Mr. Rheese watched intently, again growing visibly agitated. Not by silence, but by the noise level.  We could hear loud laughter and shouts of encouragement from students. Mr. Cody appeared to be smiling broadly, and at one point got up to clap a student on the shoulder. Finally Mr. Rheese spoke to Mr. Cody.

“Mr. Cody, have you lost control of the classroom? Should I call the principal’s office?”

“It’s all good here, sir.  We’re studying the Gettysburg Address, and my assignment was for them to deliver a modern version.  Perhaps in a song, maybe a sonnet, maybe rap. And that last one, the rap version, was just off the charts terrific.  I am so pleased.”

“I don’t see why you are pleased. I am not. How does rap help prepare your students for the exam?  Do they know when Lincoln delivered the speech? Do they know how many words it was, or how long it took for him to deliver it? That’s what’s going to be on the test.”

“Let me ask them.  Hey, kids, how many words are there in the Gettysburg Address?

At this point we could hear a chorus of ‘Who cares!’ and ‘Why does that matter?’

“Tell them, Mr. Cody, that the Gettysburg Address contains 272 words and it took two minutes to deliver.  That’s all they need to know for the state exam. And I will see you on my next visit to the school.”

That hadn’t gone well, and so I asked Mr. Rheese whether ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching’ might be a better fit for math instruction.  He said we would monitor a 9th grade Algebra class.  “This should be straight-forward,” he told me, as he consulted the state syllabus. “The goal  for today is to learn the formula for the area of a polygon, a 4-sided figure with irregular length sides.  The students are supposed to solve 12 problems during the class period and another 18 for homework tonight. Repetition, repetition, repetition, that is the key to learning!”

With that he turned to the monitor showing Mrs. Ravitch’s Algebra class.  He expected to see kids in rows at their desks, but what we saw were small groups of students, three or four, huddled around desks, whispering and sketching.  

“Mrs Ravitch, what on earth is going on? Your students are supposed to be learning how to find the area of a polygon. Why are they gossiping? Why aren’t they doing the problems?

“They aren’t gossiping, sir. They are trying to figure out the formula.”

“You are supposed to TELL them the formula so they can solve 12 problems before the bell rings!”

“Yes, I know what the state recommends, but, if I give the formula to them, they will forget it once the test is over. If they figure it out themselves, they’ll own it, because the key to genuine learning is students’ wanting, needing, to know.  Once their curiosity is engaged, there’s no stopping them.  Can I tell you how I am getting them involved?”

Mr. Rheese did not respond, and so she continued.

“First, I drew a polygon on the board and told them it was a big tract of valuable land.  They owned half, and I owned half, but we wanted to make sure we divided it equally before we sold it. So we had to figure out exactly how much land we had.  They jumped at the challenge, and I will bet that at least one of the small groups will get it right. Once they do, then we will do some problems.”

“Mrs. Ravitch, I hope you know that you are not going to fulfill the state requirements today, and that’s not good for your career.”  

“Maybe so, but I will bet you that every one of them will always remember the formula.”

“I am not a gambler, Mrs. Ravitch, and I don’t think you should be gambling with your students’ futures.”  He paused.  “And your own.”

At that point Mr. Rheese terminated our interview and my access to “Bug in the Ear Coaching.”  

As for me, perhaps if I did more reporting and dug deeper, I would change my mind about “Bug in the Ear Coaching”, but right now I feel exactly the way Mr. Smith does.

(PLEASE POST YOUR COMMENTS ON THE BLOG BELOW. THANKS)

CANCELLING CONGRATULATIONS

Dear Friend,

Last week I congratulated you for earning enough money to allow you to give generously to deserving non-profit organizations.  As I told you then, I hired a high tech firm to crunch the data from my 5,000 person mailing list.  Well, one person (not you) was outraged that I had spent my money invading the privacy of friends and others.

LIGHTEN UP!  THAT WAS A JOKE! 

I did not spend my own money to dig into your personal space.  I used a gift certificate given to me by a friend in Silicon Valley.  And, by the way, it wasn’t all that expensive.

THAT’S ANOTHER JOKE!  Invasive data-crunching is very expensive.  It actually costs a surprising amount per person.  But it’s worth it because now I can sell the information to marketing firms, which means that I may end up making a profit, a nice way to end the year, I’d say.

THAT’S ANOTHER JOKE!  I will barely break even selling your data.  My data-cruncher told me that only 1,271 of you are capable of making ‘significant’ donations, and, while those names go for big bucks, the rest aren’t worth anything.  The data-cruncher added that 79 of the people on my list never donate, and so he’s given their data to hundreds of obscure non-profits, like that group that provides seeing eye dogs for blind dogs—just so their email boxes will always be full.

THAT’S ANOTHER JOKE!  Nothing preceding this sentence is true, just silly stuff to remind you that ‘Giving Season’ ends tomorrow at midnight, the last gasp of 2019.  Below are some organizations worthy of your consideration, IMHO:

  1. If you want to help education reporters do a better job:

THE EDUCATION WRITERS ASSOCIATION

THE HECHINGER REPORT

CHALKBEAT

COALITION OF PUBLIC INDEPENDENT CHARTER SCHOOLS (CPICS)   This fledgling organization representing thousands of so-called ‘Mom and Pop’ charter schools is determined to rescue the charter movement from its predators and its diminished reputation. (Full disclosure: I have been involved in its formation.)

PRO PUBLICA

EDSOURCE

2.  If you care about teachers and children’s learning environments:

THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION   Years ago the pushback against so-called ‘School Reform’ was little more than Diane Ravitch with a megaphone. No longer!  Diane and Anthony Cody created NPE, now led by powerhouse Carol Burris.  Remarkable story….

FAIRTEST

AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization)

3.  Your local public library, your NPR station, and your PBS station are all worthy of consideration…..

Just to be clear, the only information I have about you and the others on my list is your name, your email, and perhaps a phone number.  (Well, in some cases I also have your social security number and bank routing number, but that’s about it….nothing to worry about…..)

Happy New Year, and Happy Giving….

John

Congratulations!

I recently hired a high tech data-crunching firm to analyze my 5,000 person mailing list. Their task was to divide my list into three groups based on their disposable income: “Significant,” “Reasonable,” and “Negligible.”

Lucky you!  You are in the “Significant” category!  Happily for all concerned, this news comes during ‘The Giving Season,’ meaning that you can help others while helping yourself (because charitable donations are tax-deductible).

To cut to the chase: Below are links to some worthy organizations.  (Not surprisingly, many have a connection to education.)

  1.  If you want to help education reporters do a better job:

THE EDUCATION WRITERS ASSOCIATION

THE HECHINGER REPORT

CHALKBEAT

COALITION OF PUBLIC INDEPENDENT CHARTER SCHOOLS (CPICS)   This fledgling organization representing thousands of so-called ‘Mom and Pop’ charter schools is determined to rescue the charter movement from its predators and its diminished reputation. (Full disclosure: I have been involved in its formation.)

PRO PUBLICA

EDSOURCE

2.  If you care about teachers and children’s learning environments:

THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION   Years ago the pushback against so-called ‘School Reform’ was little more than Diane Ravitch with a megaphone. No longer!  Diane and Anthony Cody created NPE, now led by powerhouse Carol Burris.  Remarkable story….

FAIRTEST

AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization)

3.  Your local public library, your NPR station, and your PBS station are all worthy of consideration…..

A final note: Many of these organizations are in a matching-gift mode right now, so your generosity will be matched….

Thanks, and Happy New Year to all

John

Winners & Losers in Pittsburgh

On Saturday seven candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination came to Pittsburgh to talk about education.  Four candidates emerged as winners, as I saw things.  Three of the names won’t surprise you: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden.  After all, this all-day event was organized by the two national teacher unions and other progressive groups.

Who’s the fourth–and biggest–winner? You may be thinking it’s the Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigeig, but you would be wrong.  To help you along, here’s the full list of the seven hopefuls: Senator Michael Bennet, Biden, Buttigieg,  Senator Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Warren.  (After initially declining the invitation, Senator Cory Booker changed his mind at the 11th hour but then came down with a bad cold and cancelled.)

(There was a fifth winner, but that’s not revealed until the final paragraph.)

No surprise: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden were the crowd favorites.

No surprise: All seven candidates favor paying teachers more and want to at least triple federal funding for Title One.  Everyone said that we test students too much.  Just about everyone claimed to have teachers in their family tree.

Slight surprise: Most spoke in favor of apprenticeships and community schools.

Big surprise: the NBC journalists did not push very hard on some questionable assertions or surprising claims, particularly Mayor Pete’s embrace of valued-added research. Neither reporter questioned Biden about supporting Arne Duncan’s much-vilified “Race to the Top,” which dominated education during the eight years of the Obama Administration.

Biggest surprise of all: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar opened eyes and won hearts with her stirring performance. She was, in my view, easily the biggest winner of the day.

I was privileged to be one of about 1500 in the audience for the event, which was also live-streamed on MSNBC and anchored by two NBC reporters. The day was well-organized and carefully choreographed.  Each candidate got about two minutes on stage alone to make a quick pitch to the audience.  Then the reporters asked the candidate questions for about 15 minutes.  Finally, each candidate responded to three questions from the audience.  Even that part was pre-arranged; someone in charge selected the questioners, who had written out their queries.  (I know because I tried to get in line at a microphone and was told not to bother.)

If you are curious, here are my (edited) notes about the seven candidates, in the order they appeared.  My own thoughts and reactions stand out in this fashion.

MICHAEL BENNET, the United States Senator from Colorado, received polite applause.  Said has a plan to end poverty in one year. but no explanation.  Said he’s the first school superintendent to run for President and recognizes the limitations of the federal government re education.  His Secretary of Education would help spread the word about innovation, not be ‘national school superintendent.’ 

“Need to massively increase teacher salaries.  (applause) Pay teachers like lawyers and doctors! Living wage, not minimum wage.  … I won’t make empty promises.  Feds cannot pay teachers more, because it provides only 9% of $$. ….  States and school districts must  act.” 

Democrats are sending a bad message because “Parents care more about free pre-school than about free college, yet Democratic Party’s image is ‘free college’”

I heard three proposals: 1) link MS, HS, and community college.

2) More apprenticeships in HS, as in Denver.  3 days a week of school, 2 days of apprenticeship.

3) Need MORE school, not less.  Not 180 days but more! 6 days of school a week, not 4! (I couldn’t tell if he was kidding!)

He defended what he did in Denver:  Merit pay, which eventually led to a strike, and his embrace of charter schools, not popular with this audience: “Denver charter schools are authorized by the school board and held to same standards as regular public schools.  “Charters are not be all and end all but have been useful element in Denver, only because of accountability standards.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:  His reception was not enthusiastic, which surprised me.

He cited the data about the increase in lifetime earnings ($300,000) of having a great Kindergarten teacher. Says that researcher, Raj Chetty, is on his policy advice team.  “Value added” is what he is endorsing. 

(But the implication of what Mayor Pete is saying seems clear to me: “if only we had better teachers…..”   Frankly, this is scary stuff because most policy folks don’t accept this finding. Is Pete a Republican in disguise, or GOP-lite?  Although the audience around me did not react, in later conversations I learned that lots of people were upset.)

He uses all the right words and phrases about poverty, SEL, wrap around services, community schools.  Roll back Trump tax cuts.  Need more conversation about apprenticeships, CTE, etc.   Right now there’s too much focus on college. Proposes tax credits for employers who provide apprenticeships.  

Pete in PittsburghHe is eloquent, well-spoken, and soothing.  “Crisis of belonging” afflicts us.  “We are in desperate need of things that are shared.”  Eg, military service. But Public School, especially Community Schools can also be that shared experience. 

A seemingly thoughtful suggestion: A national teaching certificate, with training paid for if you teach in a high-poverty school for 7 years.  Certificate would be portable all across the US.”  However, The US already has something akin to that, Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  To date, more than 122,000 teachers have earned Board certification. Does he not know this?

ELIZABETH WARREN, the United States Senator from Massachusetts, was greeted by a standing ovation from many in the audience.  Easily the most enthusiastic response so far…

Began with familiar story: “From 2nd grade I knew what I wanted to be: a teacher.  Lived my dream because I became a special ed teacher.”

Ed is most important issue.  “I have a plan” (that got a laugh, of course).  Wealth tax. Invest in education. $800 Billion. $1 M to every school.  25,000 community schools. We build a great country when we invest in all of our children.

Q from audience:  What can president do for special needs kids?  More $$ from feds. $50B for HBCUs.   Quadruple funding for Title One and fully fund IDEA.  More $ for preschool…

“Make it easier to be a teacher.  I will cancel student loan debt for 43M Americans, and some of them will then be able to become teachers.

More respect, beginning with more $$

“Free College,” but nothing for for profit colleges.  Just public colleges. But state must also make investments, Supplement, not supplant.  How will this cut college costs? (It won’t, apparently)

She was asked about charter schools (but not about Josh Delaney, a senior advisor on her team who is from Teach For America and connected to charter schools). “Public school $ must stay in public schools.” 

Q: Will she support public charter schools? Her answer was unclear. “My responsibility is to make sure that every public school is excellent.”  Not cutting funding for those currently in charter schools. For-profit charters should be closed. All charter schools must meet the same accountability standards.

She has riffed on her ‘wealth tax’ at least three times, maybe four. 

And she’s doing it again.

Q about grad school and lack of tenure, poor pay.  How would your Higher Ed plan help us? “When workers have a strong union, things get better.  Workers are entitled to bargain collectively: that’s where I start. Fed $ will help a bit. Need to push states to contribute more. Cancel student loan debt will help.  Need to treat grad students as professionals.” 

Q about getting more teachers of color:  Need support for HBCU. Need loan debt forgiveness because debt keeps many from teaching.

As she leaves, she’s getting another standing O from most of the audience…

BERNIE SANDERS, the United States Senator from Vermont, received an enthusiastic standing ovation, outdoing Warren.  He seems to have unlimited energy, easily the most energetic speaker so far.

Instead of sitting down when reporters came on stage, he charted his own path. He remained standing while answering the moderators’ questions, basically taking over and making each Q a mini-campaign speech.  No one else has done that…and eventually the two reporters also stand. 

Bernie in PittsburghAsked about his own public education, he talked about going nearly all white schools in NYC

From here on, it was almost all about money, basically his stump speech.  “Forgive all student debt” (including that of the rich) because he believes in universality.  So all public college will be free. All debt, even that of the rich, will be forgiven.

He opposed NCLB.  The Q implies he wants to get rid of all testing, but he demurs.  He says we spend too much time teaching to the test, but we need to keep track of student progress and help where it’s needed.  There are better ways to keep track than standardized testing.

Q: What about ‘food shaming’?  Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  IE, community schools.

“NCAA athletes should be paid.”

Q: “Fact from fiction” question: only 14% of MS students can distinguish between them. “We need to do something big. We need a revolution in education and learning, because learning is inherent in our species.  Have to respect the educators if we value education. Cites case of young man who wanted to be a teacher but got a better paying job in a state liquor store!”

He applauds teachers for leading a ‘revolution,’ in Red states, for better pay and conditions. “I have the longest and best record of supporting unions. Will introduce most sweeping pro-union legislation in history.  50+1 votes to unionize is all that’s needed. Repeal ‘right to work’ laws. All workers have a right to strike.” 

“We jail more than any other country, even China, which has 4 times our population.  Invest in schools, stop building prisons, invest in their education. Also we need common sense gun policy. We will not allow the NRA to dictate.”  

“We have make sure that schools have the resources–teachers and support staff–to help all kids.”

Q: Raise pay of aides and support staff?  Yes, “National minimum wage of $15.”

“We will end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana.”

“We will triple the funding of Title One”

Another enthusiastic standing O on leaving…

TOM STEYER, the billionaire from California, has the tough job of following Senator Sanders.  Barely any reaction from audience.  Introduces self by saying his mother was a teacher in school and detention center and his brother a long-time activist for children.

A laundry list of what he would do, delivered with passion.  “Must start with quality preschool.”

“Teachers need more $$ and more support. More time to plan.  IE, fewer students.  Schools need nurses, food services, mental health services.  Broad measure of student success, not just test scores.”

“My support for HBCU’s dwarfs any other plan.”

Q: Do we want to educate all children?  We spend one-tenth as much on education as on defense.  “The enemies of education are framing the issue as ‘greedy teachers.’  They are lying.   In GA, if you are in the bottom quintile, you have a one-in-twenty chance of moving out and up. That’s a disgrace.  We cannot repair society without ending education injustice. The idea of not starting with teachers is insane.”

“We have to tell a different story. It’s not just money.” 

Q: Should education be a federal right?  “Yes, but we cannot wait for that.  Kids are in school now.. Have to get it right tomorrow! Look at ERA. we still haven’t gotten to 38 states on that.”

steyer

Q from reporter about unequal schooling. You are the picture of privilege. How do you get people to believe that you are the one who can and will make change?  “What I have seen. Basically, I am ‘woke.’ This is a fight for our country. It’s about who we are, how we describe ourselves, who we are deep down.”   

“We all succeed when all kids succeed.” 

“Need to create incentives to get more people into the teaching profession.”

Q from a 13-year-old: why doesn’t my school have a librarian etc, even though schools 10 minutes away have them?   “Fundamental injustice, because of how we pay for schools. This has to change. The property tax approach is wrong.  Have to budget differently. More Title One money won’t be enough.”

Q: How do you measure school success? What can you do to help schools succeed? (While this question caused him to stumble, he recovered.)  “Not test scores or teaching to the test. Check to see how disabled kids.  Education must be for every kid, and,, if you are taking care of most disadvantaged, you are probably doing a good job for everyone.”   

He was earnest, but the audience reaction did not suggest much of a future for his campaign. He got a polite sendoff…

AMY KLOBUCHAR, the United States Senator from Minnesota, began by talking about her Mom. A great story of teaching handicapped kids.  Also mentions her dad and his alcohol issues.

“Will double teacher salaries, repeal Janus decision regarding unions and collective bargaining.  Increase minimum wage.  Will put estate tax back to Obama level, which will bring in $100B.”

“Will fire DeVos in first 100 seconds” (big applause)

Mentions Sandy Hook, the first to do so (today is the 7th anniversary).

“Need a president who looks at issues holistically. I have a track record.  100 bills.”

Q about poor student performance on NAEP. What would you do?  “Attack homelessness with major housing policy.”  Knows Section 8, which is impressive.  “More preschool.” She knows legislation, cites Patty Murray’s bill to change preschool funding.  Impressive wonkiness.

Q: You candidates are all saying the same thing. How will YOU get it done?  “I have gotten things done, more than anyone else.  I will build a blue wall around Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan….and make Donald Trump pay for it!!!”  (huge laughter)

Amy.

Cites her winning record… “I have won every election since 4th grade, where my slogan–now abandoned–was ‘All the way with Amy K.'”  (laughter)

Q about chronic absence of many students:  We need to do more to retain teachers. Important to have teachers of color teaching kids of color. Make school interesting…. My daughter went to public schools, including those with lots of ‘free and reduced…’

“Let’s have someone with an education background as Secretary.”

“We can do this. We won Kentucky, We won Louisiana, We won Virginia.  Bring people together.  Donald Trump is a decency check, a values check, a patriotism check as well.”

Q from union member. Amy says that was her mom’s union. 

She’s doing a wonderful job of connecting with questioners, including a very nervous boy, whom she helped relax. When one girl talked about being loud, Amy told about the teacher who taught her to speak up..by going to the back of the room and saying ‘I cannot hear you.’  She laughed and said that’s why she’s a Senator today.

She got a standing ovation as she left the stage, the third candidate to get one

Former Vice President JOE BIDEN was also greeted with a (partial) standing ovation.

“If Jill and I end up in the White House, you will have the best friend education could ever have. These are not someone else’s kids.  These are our kids.”

“Free community college for all.  $6B a year.  Also need to allow people to go back to college when their jobs disappear.  That’s another reason to make it free. But just tuition-free isn’t enough. Need help with Pell Grants (double them) etc, to help people attend.” 

He did what he did during the national debates, a strange sort of apology:   “If I’m going on too long, stop me.”

He’s got lots of data at his fingertips. Impressive.

Q about remedial education. “If I had only $10 to spend, I’d spend $7 on preschool.” (this turned out to be his most quotable line in news reports.) 

“I will triple Title One. We will get it by taxing income and wealth the same way. Capital gains taxes.   Teacher salaries must be competitive.  $60K minimum. Every 2-, 3- and 4-year old can go to school, for free.  That increases success probability by 50%.  

“But teachers need support–counselors, psychologists, aides.”  He’s citing data again…

“Community schools are good..you have them in Pittsburgh.”

“Kids need to be challenged.  Cannot treat kids as if they are not capable.”

“Here’s the deal” is his favorite expression.  Used it at least four times.  

Q: Should schools be desegregated?  “We have institutional racism. I supported busing because of de jure segregation.  We also have de facto segregation. If all schools are excellent, then the issue will take care of itself.” 

“I make no apologies for my records on race, none…”

Eloquent about violence against women and the law. Says what he learned was that to decrease violence against women, we have to get men involved.  Says colleges dragged their feet. Colleges have not protected women; assault and failure to punish is biggest reasons women drop out of college. Cites Title IX, showing that he knows his stuff….

“No man has a right to touch a woman unless she can say ‘yes.’”  Slams hand in fist. “Those men are cowards.”

He ended with an impassioned pitch about what teachers contribute and a personal story about the teachers who gave him confidence, especially the one who helped him overcome his stutter.  He was really impressive.

The former Vice President received an enthusiastic standing O at the end and then posed for selfies with what seemed like hundreds of teachers. Biden in Pittsburgh

There was a fifth winner that day: Me! It was incredibly energizing to be back in the trenches again, in my fourth year of retirement.  Teachers are great to be with, for sure. No one can match their commitment and enthusiasm, and I had forgotten just how much I missed being with them.