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Interviews with Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck

Posted on | May 27, 2014 | Comments Off on Interviews with Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck

I interviewed State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and his challenger in the June 3 primary Marshall Tuck.  Excerpts from those interviews are posted at ‘On California.’  The full text transcriptions are available by clicking: Torlakson or Tuck.

BTW: ‘On California’ is off to a good start.  Nearly 3,000 visitors in the first month, and we are still getting the word out.

Note: The interviews with Torlakson and Tuck have been removed.  They were targets of spammers and bogus comments.  The transcripts are available by emailing me./ ctk



A Small Tribute to a Fallen Photographer

Posted on | April 4, 2014 | Comments Off on A Small Tribute to a Fallen Photographer

I weep for fallen journalists, particularly photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to tell us stories that we find inconvenient.

I never met Anja Niedringhaus, the Associated Press photographer who was intentionally shot by Afghan police officer on Friday, but I cry for her nonetheless.  Reporting war is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  According to one count, 16 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, twice the number that died in World War II.  We don’t have flags and special ceremonies for these fallen, so those of us who write and photograph should at least pause.

Take a moment and look at her images courtesy of the Atlantic blog In Focus.

Then ask yourself, why are we there?  Who are we helping?


‘On California’ Launches at EdWeek.org

Posted on | March 25, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘On California’ Launches at EdWeek.org

On CA logo

Beginning today, Education Week is launching a new blog about the Golden State, which I will be conducting, one hopes with the help of a few friends.  The first pieces are up at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/

Go, look, comment.

Soon, I will write a piece about why I am doing this, which will be posted on the EdWeek site.

‘California The Great Exception’ at Education Week

Posted on | March 3, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘California The Great Exception’ at Education Week

Education Week has published an opinion piece about California that I think sets the tone for substantive discussions about the direction of public education in the United States.  The state, pointedly, is not following Arne Duncan’s lead, but it is not following Diane Ravitch either.  It’s headed in a third, or is it a fourth, way.  In any case, please read and comment.  There will be more coming along from EdWeek.  Stay tuned for an announcement.

‘On the Road’ with the Common Core

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘On the Road’ with the Common Core

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

I’m headed out on what I am calling the Common Core Road Trip, to see what schools in California are doing with the prescription to teach to “fewer and deeper” standards.  Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be traveling the state, and telling the stories of how the 30,000-foot glossy promises of increased student engagement and substantive learning look at ground level.

As reported earlier, I am following the efforts of the Associated Pomona Teachers and the Pomona Unified School District to use interactions about the Common Core as a way to hit the reset button in labor-management relations.  More about them later.

This week, my first stop was in Charter Oak, a 5,700-student unified school district in Covina, where Jeanine Robertson taught for 31 years and  was the teacher union president before becoming a principal and then assistant superintendent for instruction.

On Thursday, She and I visited three Charter Oak schools, saw students working on the new standards, and talked to them, their teachers, and school administrators about what it takes to transfer from a world driven by “factoids” to one that asks students to explain why and how they took a particular pathway to solving math problem or to understanding a story or text.

Much more will follow here and in a new space that will be opening in a few weeks.

The DMV and Expensive French Shoes: Who Treads Better?

Posted on | February 16, 2014 | Comments Off on The DMV and Expensive French Shoes: Who Treads Better?

Repaired shoes

Repaired shoes with tag showing that they were received on August 8, and newspaper from the date they were returned, November 22.

I’ve had a close encounter with the California DMV.  The dreaded Division of Motor Vehicles required that I take the exam before it would renew my driver’s license.  Since I had not taken the written driver’s test for nearly 40 years, the experience filled me with much trepidation, and put me in a room with many 15-18 year olds.

The DMV computer was having a bad network day, and not everything was going smoothly: the lines were long, and I was prepared to grumble about government incompetence.  But surprise: the DMV folks were actually nice, well informed, and helpful.  They circulated among the people waiting, asking what they had come in for, passing out the proper forms, and giving folks clipboards to write on.  Service with a smile, mostly, continued throughout the process.  Despite the computer problems, I was fingerprinted, eye examined, tested, photographed, and out the door in 75 minutes.

Not bad for government work, I thought.  And I contrasted this with the service I’d received recently from the maker of expensive French shoes.  Over the years, I’ve purchased several pairs of pricey Mephisto shoes.  They fit my feet, wear well, and they can be rebuilt to last for decades.  I still wear a pair I bought in 1991.

Last summer I noticed that the soles on a pair of old favorites were wearing out, and so I sent them to the company’s repair service in San Diego, which advertises that the turnaround time would be about four weeks, which seems plenty long enough.

The shoes I sent on August 1 were returned on November 22, 16 weeks including shipping.  The proffered reason was that needed materials had to be shipped from France.  Gee, they’re French shoes; that would be where the repair materials might come from, and—last I knew—cargo planes from Paris landed in California every day.  These soles must have been on a container ship that traversed the Panama Canal.

Mephisto didn’t offer even a hint of an apology much less a refund or reduction price for its lousy service, which in retrospect left me thinking, I’d rather deal with that most dread agency of government, the DMV.  So, when I pass the fancy French shoe rack in the future, I’ll keep on walking.

(BTW: read the manual and take the practice tests.  It’s fun to pass with flying colors while the youngsters struggle.)

The Conversation I didn’t Have with Barack Obama

Posted on | January 8, 2014 | Comments Off on The Conversation I didn’t Have with Barack Obama

Obama Bobblehead

Obama Bobblehead meets Chuck on the beach

12/31/13 Kailua, Hawaii: I’ve been working on an Obama sighting for several days now.  He’s vacationing here, and we jog on the same beach…just not at the same time.  But a rum-punch inspired dream conjured up this conversation:

CTK:  Nice day, Mr. President.

BHO: Chuck!  Fancy meeting you here.

CTK: Just vacationing with my family.

BHO: Me too.  (waving at another runner) It’s friendlier here than in Washington.

CTK: (noticing that the runner smiled and waved with a full hand)  I can see that.  They’ve even got a welcome banner down at the Island Snow place.

BHO: They should, after all the business I’ve sent their way.  Who would have thought you could make a living on shave ice? People follow the motorcade when we go there.  The stuff is full of sugar, but it’s good.

CTK:  The root beer?

BHO: Yea, root beer rules…. So, Chuck, tell me what you’re thinking.

CTK: Inequality, Mr. President.  I loved your speech.  Stay with it.

BHO: Is anyone other than Robert Reich and the New York Times paying attention?

CTK: Not too many, but remember the Occupy Movement.

BHO: Only barely, and that’s the problem.

CTK: Hang in there, Mr. President, inequality is the civil rights issue of this generation.  You know the stats as well as I do.

BHO: But how do I get people to pay attention.

CTK: Bully pulpit.  Do what TR did and make friends with journalists who want to go after the story.

BHO: It’s complicated.

CTK: Personalize the attack.  Over and over.

BHO: That’s risky.

CTK: So is losing.  Do you really think that the republic will hold together without a solid middle class and a working class who has hope for the future?  What happened to that campaign organization?  All I get from Democrats is scare pitches for money.

BHO: So, I thought that you were supposed to be interested in education policy; why not start with schools as the great equalizer?

CTK: Schools can’t help kids when opportunity is limited to the top 10 percent.  But I do have an education policy plea.

BHO: Yes.

CTK: You gotta’ realize that Duncan’s plan isn’t working.  He’s lost the Red states over federal intrusion.  He’s lost California over teacher evaluation.  He could have had anything he wanted in an ESEA revision, but he wasted his political capital on Race to the Top, and now he’s piddling around with waivers.  That’s not accomplishing anything.

BHO: So what should we do?

CTK: Give everybody a waiver.  That will kill off No Child Left Behind and let the Common Core of Standards and its assessments kick in.

BHO: That’s it?

CTK: That’s about all Duncan can do.

BHO: But schools are still failing our students, particularly poor Black and Latino kids.

CTK: I know.  It turns my stomach and troubles my soul. But the federal tool kit is not all that large, and your administration is running out of time.

BHO: That’s the case.

CTK: The Trojan horse in education reform is to change how students learn.  When your girls want to look up something what to they do?

BHO: They Google it, of course.

CTK: That’s my point about education.   I’d take the remaining Race to the Top money and focus it on getting learning tools in the hands of students.  Kids could carry around machines that would teach them algebra or history?

BHO: Nah, they’d just play games.

CTK: What if the games taught them algebra or history?

BHO: Possibly. Can we talk more later?  Hey, Happy New Year.  Gotta’ run.


(Dr. Leanne Kerchner enters).  Wake up Chuck, you’re talking in your sleep again.

CTK: I just had a great conversation with Obama.

LBK: In your dreams.





Reporting on Common Core starts in Pomona with candid talk between labor and management

Posted on | December 19, 2013 | Comments Off on Reporting on Common Core starts in Pomona with candid talk between labor and management


Pat Dolan leading discussion in Pomona

Pat Dolan leading discussion in Pomona

I spent two days this week with the teachers and administrators of the Pomona Unified School District as they sought to find a way forward in implementing the Common Core.

Associated Pomona Teachers took seriously the requirement in California law that school districts were supposed to “consult” over implementing the new standards and testing system.  (This requirement was part of the conditions attached to the $1.25 billion that Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature sent to school districts to prepare for the new standards.)

Pat Dolan and his associate, Ann Delehant, who may be the best labor-management process consultants in the country, led administrators, school board members, classified workers, and teachers through a series of conversations designed to allow them to judge their capacity to work together.

Pomona was the first stop for me on what will become The Common Core Road Trip, an investigation into how the glossy promises of higher standards and deeper learning meet the reality of districts, schools, and classrooms.

Morgan Brown, the executive director of APT and superintendent Richard Martinez heard some unvarnished opinion about the sometimes-rocky relationships between teachers and the district, but anger and tension flowed rather seamlessly into some concrete ideas about sharing work and decisions.

I’ll have much more to say later, but I didn’t want the week to pass without recognizing the substantive work going on and saying thanks for letting me sit in.

Chicago Library Provides Example of High-Tech and High Touch. Is L.A. Ready For This?

Posted on | December 18, 2013 | Comments Off on Chicago Library Provides Example of High-Tech and High Touch. Is L.A. Ready For This?

Adrienne Strock and Sybil Madison-Boyd at YouMedia space in the Chicago Public Library

Adrienne Strock and Sybil Madison-Boyd at YouMedia space in the Chicago Public Library

Brandon Towns was having trouble opening his MacBook to show me the movie he’d made because his fingers were sticky with the glue he was using to make a paper maché mask.

Both sticky fingers and the Macbook capture the essence of YouMedia, the 5,500 square foot space in the Chicago Public Library where Towns and I met.  It’s a high-tech and high touch place for engaging and motivating students, trying to get them sticky with learning.

For the MacArthur Foundation, which funded YouMedia, and for a growing group of educators, the space is a physical representation of a more profound form of learning than that represented by the current teach-and-test regime.

As Connie Yowell, director of education at the foundation, says: “We really think that part of what’s wrong with the current education system, and why people talk about it as broken, is that it is fundamentally starting with the wrong question.  The education system now often starts with the question of outcomes: what do we want kids to learn?…. Our core question is ‘what’s the experience we want kids to have?’  So, the core question is around engagement.”

For Towns, and an estimated 300-500 students a week, YouMedia represents a safe place to go after school: somewhere to hang out, mess around, and to geek out.  These terms were coined by Mimi Ito and her collaborators in their book about how kids engage digital media. The physical layout of YouMedia was designed with spaces that invite each activity.

Comfortable chairs and couches occupy the space near the door watched over by a friendly security guard.  Eight teen-age girls crowd the conversation nook.  Further down the room, students worked at tables and computers.  Five young men crowded into the soundproof recording booth.  At the end of the room, Towns sat huddled with his mentors, working on the mask that will be incorporated into his next film.

Towns is geeking out.  He is part of the 22 percent of YouMedia users who come together with the adult staff to create something or connect youthful interest with academic learning.  A student at King College Prep Academy, a Chicago Public Schools magnet, Towns has been making movies since he was 10.  “The Struggle is Real” is a two-minute reminder that food insecurity dogs the lives of many Americans.  And here is the trailer for his upcoming film featuring the mask he made.

Read more

LAUSD viewing IPads as Key to Common Core

Posted on | December 8, 2013 | Comments Off on LAUSD viewing IPads as Key to Common Core

I have been in Chicago this week.  My colleague David Menefee-Libey, professor of politics at Pomona College reports on this discussion of LAUSD’s iPad purchase program and its relationship to the Common Core of standards.

Wednesday evening I attended KPCC’s panel discussion “Tech in the Classroom: How Much is Too Much?” at their Crawford Family Forum studio in Pasadena. Moderated by their Education Editor Evelyn Larrubia, the panel included Dr. Bernadette Lucas of Los Angeles Unified School District, Prof. Patricia Burch of USC, and Prof. Nancy Cheever of Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Lucas, Director of the Common Core Technology Project at LAUSD, was on the hot seat for the night, largely because of public controversies surrounding the Common Core nationally and the roll out of the iPad program locally.  Larrubia asked more questions of her than the other two panelists, focusing primarily on the iPad program.  What are the big ideas behind it?  How is it supposed to work?  How is it actually working?  I’d urge you to follow the link and watch the program if you’re interested.

Leaving aside the popular controversies, which readers can easily follow elsewhere, two big things from the panel stood out for me.

One is that Lucas spoke in ways that convince me the district sees the iPads (“1 to 1 devices” in district jargon) as thoroughly embedded in the broader chain of ideas of standards-based education that has organized the most influential school reform efforts of the past twenty years here and nationwide.  These ideas and their jargon are familiar to most of us.  Each component of the system is supposed to link to the next in a coherent chain, roughly this way: educational goals ->> content standards ->>  curriculum and materials ->> pedagogy and instruction ->>assessment ->> reporting and accountability ->> intervention.

LAUSD decision-makers apparently see the iPads in several – perhaps all – links of the chain.  The devices will contain the standards-based curriculum now conveyed to student in textbooks.  The district claims this content will take new forms, enabling (or requiring) teachers to develop and use new instructional strategies adapted to the needs, abilities, and interests of each individual child.  The devices will also be used for the computer-delivered assessments required by the new Common Core (though iPads lack the keyboards required for Common Core testing).  Teachers and schools will upload assessment data from each student’s device, data the state will pull together to assess and hold accountable each student, teacher, school, and district in the Brave New World of Common Core teaching and asssessment.

In short, the iPads are not just some shiny new toy.  For LAUSD, they are integral to a whole new way of organizing the district’s entire educational program.  We shouldn’t expect the district to give up on the program any time soon.

The second big idea of the night at KPCC was caution about the first big idea.  Burch, of USC’s Rossier School of Education, talked about her forthcoming book, Privatization and Accountability in Digital Education and her own research on technology initiatives.  She said there is as yet little research on the impact of “1 on 1 devices” on student learning.

Burch, while skeptical, did not dismiss the potential value of these new technologies.  She was generous in her give-and-take with Lucas.  From other research, she said, we know several things that  would make the iPad program more likely to be successful, including teacher engagement, personalized instruction, interactive digital curriculum that doesn’t simply mimic print textbooks, and careful use of data.  Each of these things will require careful attention and hard work from LAUSD and its teachers.

We now know a bit more about what to look for as the iPad rollout goes on.  Kudos to KPPC for its initiative in sponsoring the forum.

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Charles Taylor Kerchner is an Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. My daily musings appear in the blog. The archives of my EdWeek blog are available via link under the 'On California' head. Some of my photography can be seen by clicking on 'Gallery.' And numerous links to academic work and other research and commentary can be found by clicking on 'Projects.'


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