Monday, March 22, 2010

Terry Grier brings Martin Haberman to Houston--but the teachers union seems to be involved in the discipline policy, too

Terry Grier learned in San Diego that a superintendent can't do much without bowing to teachers union pressure to make sure no policy involves accurately evaluating teachers. So he does the best he can.

See bottom of this post for Terry Grier biographical information.

Key concepts links:
The Pedagogy of Poverty, Two Views
Must read Part 2

The man behind Houston ISD's new discipline policy?
by Jesse Alred
March 17, 2010
"Teacher behaviors," argues Dr. Martin Haberman, "obstruct learning."

"Misguided teachers," the professor writes, "make the naive assumption that problems [in the classroom] should not exist, or if problems do arise they should be dealt with..."

Haberman's theories, especially one he calls “the pedagogy of poverty,” have strongly influenced Houston's new Superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier. The Superintendent has served on the Advisory Board of The Haberman Foundation, and prefers using interview questions created by Haberman designed to identify and hire teachers amenable to disruptive behaviors.

Dr. Haberman believes the way to deal with persistently disruptive students is to tolerate those behaviors, to treat these students as if they were a family member with a chronic illness. Dr. Grier agrees. He is closing Community Education Partners, a program that separates disruptive students from their cooperative classmates.

Dr. Grier is choosing instead to emulate New Orleans by sending kids who disrupt their classes to other schools on the belief that the school environment, and not the student mind-set, is the problem.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Wait a minute. This isn't making sense. If the teacher is the problem, shouldn't the teacher be sent away rather than the student? Perhaps the teacher should be sent to a training program.]

Haberman believes the problem in schools serving low-income students are the adults not the students. The problem starts with “authoritarianism” of teachers. The “pedagogy of poverty” arises from teacher attempts “to ensure youngsters are compelled to learn their basic skills.” “Students are not necessarily interested in basic skills,” so “directive teaching must be used.”

Haberman's alternative is to sidestep basic skills education and have students develop the curriculum. He also wants a shift in subject matter to issues such as “Differences in race, culture, ethnicity and gender,” “Why are there rich and poor people,” or perhaps, “a racial flare-up.” “War”, “environment”, and “health care” are other “persistent basics of life” Huberman wants at the center of public school pedagogy.

As an experienced high school teacher, one who grew up in a low-income environment, I agree with Dr. Haberman on two counts: that low-income kids often resist formal education, and that teaching the basics are not enough. He is right that teachers with large numbers of disruptive students turn to more authoritative measures.

I am not sure the solution, though, is to pander to their class or racial and class prejudices, to indoctrinate them, or to ignore the absence of basic skills. Why did these students not learn the basic skills in their elementary and middle schools? Surely he is not proposing in-depth dialogues about the racist nature of our society in third grade, or allowing fifth graders to create their own curriculum.

Dr. Haberman also paints all poor kids with the same brush. While a significant minority of kids from poverty do resist formal learning passively or actively, many students do cooperate, learn the basics and more, and go onto success in higher education.

The reality is that formal education in a classroom is an awkward, unnatural process that requires discipline on the part of the student based on an understanding that by controlling himself now there will be a payoff later. This is true of every young person: rich, middle-class and poor. Very few people of any race or class embrace academic learning enthusiastically at a young age.

The successful charter schools, KIPP and YES PREP, adopt approaches just the opposite of Dr. Haberman. They work to make sure kids from low-income families understand “the deal:” that discipline, hard work and self-control in the classroom leads to college and financial and professional success as adults.

Underlying Dr. Haberman's “pedagogy of poverty” is not only an attempt to blame teachers for situations that victimize us as well as the student, but the assumption that poverty in an affluent society is a normal condition leaving no scars on the minority of people who go through this experience.

Like many scholars influenced by the sixties, Haberman, a New York City native, believes educational problems would be conquered if the authorities got out of the way and unleashed the people at the bottom.

“The bureaucratic functionaries,” he writes, “are well aware of the road to success and use various blocking strategies to prevent creating a critical mass of STAR teachers who are needed to turn a failing school around.”...

Keeping disruptive students in an environment they do not trust prevents teachers and students from building the cooperative culture...

[Maura Larkins note: Terry Grier is the opposite of Lowell Billings, the superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District, where I worked. Billings supported a highly authoritarian culture at my school--until his own henchmen, who included current CVE President Peg Myers, got carried away with their power and thumbed their noses at Mr. Billings. But instead of changing the authoritarian culture, Billings just tried to be the biggest authoritarian, making a big mess in the process. See all posts about Terry Grier; all posts about Lowell Billings.]

April 28, 2010 biographical update
Terry Greir, who was then superintendent of Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, was hired as Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District and then moved to Houston.

Trustees appear to be focusing on N.C. leader
By Helen Gao
January 11, 2008

...Under his leadership, Guilford has garnered recognition for its efforts to cut dropout rates, improve graduation rates and increase the number of students taking advanced courses. Grier was named North Carolina Superintendent of the Year in November.

Guilford is also known in North Carolina for being the first school system to pilot a pay structure that includes financial incentives to attract and retain teachers and principals and reward them for student performance...

Grier also has a good working relationship with the 11-member Guilford school board, said board member Anita Sharpe, who describes Grier as being “generally well-respected.”

If Grier lands San Diego's job, it would be his eighth superintendency. He has held top jobs in six states, including California, Tennessee, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas.

He started his education career as a teacher. His first superintendent's job was heading McDowell County Schools in North Carolina at age 34. In the mid-1990s, he led the Sacramento Unified School District, but was fired in a 4-3 vote without explanation.

He told the Charlotte Observer that after an election, the balance on the school board tipped against him.

1 comment:

Preston said...


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