"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Medley #15: A Poisoned Environment - A Side-Effect of Poverty

Poisoning our children

Let's review.

Lead in the environment damages children...permanently. It lowers their school achievement, causes behavior and growth problems, and can increase criminal behavior.

Educational Researcher David C. Berliner discussed the impact of environmental toxins such as lead in his 2009 paper, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. He wrote,
It is now understood that there is no safe level of lead in the human body, and that lead at any level has an impact on IQ. Small doses from paint on toys or in cosmetics have the power to subtly harm children. The present-day cut off for concern about toxic effects is usually a measured lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (10 ΞΌg/dl). Anything higher than this is considered unsafe by the U.S. government. However, a five-year study of 172 children indicates that lead causes intellectual impairment even at much lower levels...
Now, in 2019, ten years later, we're still discussing the damage that lead poisoning does to our children...and we're still blaming the low achievement of lead-damaged children on schools, teachers, and parents through our reliance on test scores and our underfunding of those schools serving children who need the most help.

[The following is from the Environmental Protection Agency. I reccomend that you read it soon, as there's no telling when the current administration will remove it from the web site.]

Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water
It is important to recognize all the ways a child can be exposed to lead. Children are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. If the level of lead in a child's blood is at or above the CDC action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, it may be due to lead exposures from a combination of sources. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

Children

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia
The most notorious example of state-sponsored child-poisoning in the last few years has been in Flint Michigan, where the residents still do not have safe drinking water, and those responsible for the mess -- and covering up the mess -- have yet to be held accountable.


Flint’s Water Crisis Started 5 Years Ago. It’s Not Over.

This was published in April 25, 2019, five years after a group of Flint officials declared the water safe. How many children from Flint now need special educational services?
...in Flint, the water crisis is by no means in the past.

“It’s a community that’s still dealing with the trauma and the aftermath of having been poisoned at the hands of the government,” Karen Weaver, who replaced Mr. Walling as mayor largely because of anger over the water crisis, said in an interview this week. Ms. Weaver continues to tell residents to drink only bottled or filtered water.

On Thursday, pastors and activists gathered outside the city’s water treatment plant to call for more help. Some wore shirts that said “Flint Is Still Broken.” 
It's not just Flint, however. Right here in Indiana...

INDIANA

East Chicago

The Bitter Legacy of the East Chicago Lead Crisis

...which then-Governor Pence ignored as long as he could...
In 1985, the Indiana State Department of Health discovered lead contamination near the USS Lead facility, the same year the facility closed down. While USS Lead would later clean up lead waste at the facility, contamination would linger in the surrounding areas. It wasn't until 2009 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added parts of the USS Lead facility and the surrounding neighborhood to the Superfund National Priorities List...

In the summer of 2016, the EPA sent letters to residents of the housing complex informing them of the lead contamination. Frustrated by the slow pace of the EPA cleanup effort, which continues to this day, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish the West Calumet Housing Complex, which it did, forcing more than a thousand residents to move out.

South Bend

Towns Face Obstacles Dealing With, Then Fixing Lead Contamination
“One of the challenges is that, as we’re digging into this, we’re discovering that funding has diminished, testing has diminished, the attention to this problem has diminished,” says Stoner.

As far as funding goes, the St. Joseph County Health Department doesn’t have the money to help all the children with elevated blood levels—help like seeing if there are lead hazards in the kids’ homes or educating parents on how to manage lead poisoning...

Whiting/Hammond

Lead contamination limbo plaguing Whiting, Hammond neighborhoods
...a lack of funding means the majority of the yards in EPA's study area have been left untouched.

Soil sample results provided to the Times show Dana and Sean’s backyard levels at 435 ppm, or slightly above the federal agency’s residential cleanup removal standard.

By EPA’s own safety standards, their soil level should warrant action, they said, but so far, EPA has only had enough money to clean yards deemed critically necessary...

Lead Levels In Hammond, Indiana Schools Raise Concerns
A new round of test results show potentially hazardous lead-levels in water at seven Hammond schools, and now some in the community are worried about schools that have not been tested yet.
What do all these areas have in common besides lead in the water?

A high percentage of children of color, and high levels of childhood poverty.

60% of Flint's children live in poverty. East Chicago schools have a free and reduced lunch rate of 85%. Childhood poverty rates for children in South Bend, while dropping in recent years, is still over 30%, well above the state average.

NEW JERSEY

Lead Crisis in Newark Grows, as Bottled Water Distribution Is Bungled

Newark New Jersey, with a childhood poverty rate of over 40% is now facing the same situation as Flint, East Chicago, and dozens of other high poverty cities around the country.
A growing crisis over lead contamination in drinking water gripped Newark on Wednesday as tens of thousands of residents were told to drink only bottled water, the culmination of years of neglect that has pushed New Jersey’s largest city to the forefront of an environmental problem afflicting urban areas across the nation.

Urgent new warnings from federal environmental officials about contamination in drinking water from aging lead pipes spread anxiety and fear across much of Newark, but the municipal government’s makeshift efforts to set up distribution centers to hand out bottled water were hampered by confusion and frustration.


Why do children in poverty achieve at lower rates than wealthier children? In part, it's because they are exposed to environmental toxins like lead at higher rates than their wealthier peers.

This wouldn't...and doesn't...happen to children of the wealthy.


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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Lamp is broken; the Golden Door is closed

The current acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services made the news on Tuesday...

Trump official revises Statue of Liberty poem to defend migrant rule change
On Tuesday, Mr Cuccinelli was asked by NPR whether the 1883 poem titled The New Colossus at the Statue of Liberty on New York's Ellis Island still applied.

"Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, 'Give me your tired, give me your poor,' are also a part of the American ethos?" asked NPR's Rachel Martin.

"They certainly are," Mr Cuccinelli responded. "Give me your tired and your poor - who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."
Those of us who are familiar with the poem, and the history it embodies, know that the actual words are a bit different. There are no strings attached to coming to America and Cuccinelli, no matter what his "acting" title, can't change that. While it's not the law of the land, Emma Lazarus's poem has been part of what Rachel Martin called the "American ethos" for more than a century.
The Democratic led House Homeland Security Committee condemned Mr Cuccinelli's revision in a tweet, calling the words "vile and un-American".

"It's clear the Trump Administration just wants to keep certain people out," the committee wrote, calling Mr Cuccinelli "a xenophobic, anti-immigrant fringe figure who has no business being in government".
On last night's (Aug 13) edition of The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, author Rick Wilson said,
This is the American story writ large. Generation after generation after generation, who came here, not because we were a race, not because we were a single tribe, but because we were a propositional nation; an idea that if you came here you could become an American. The one unique nation on Earth where there is zero racial or cultural universality...Let's be honest about this. This isn't a code for whether they're coming here with a 401K or not, it's a code for whether they come here if they're white or not.
Emma Lazarus was not an immigrant, but she came from immigrant roots. She was born in New York City in 1849 to a wealthy Jewish-American family. When she was asked to write a poem for the base of the Statue of Liberty she recognized that the statue was a beacon, an outward-facing welcoming sign.

She focused her poetry on the "welcome" of America because her immigrant roots were important to her and she used the poem to express the feelings of those immigrants and refugees who were looking for a place to "breathe free." At the time, she was aware of Jewish refugees from Russian anti-Semitic violence, but her words were universal and applied to everyone who needed to escape oppression.

Her words said,

Here is a country where you will be welcomed.

Here is a country where you can be free to live your life.

Here is a country where you can find a home.

There are no conditions set forth in her poem. You don't need a bankroll to come to America. You don't need a college degree to come to America. Emma Lazarus's poetry symbolizes the immigrant roots of America and welcomes the homeless. It welcomes the poor. It welcomes everyone.


"The New Colossus"

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
– Emma Lazarus, 1883

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

2019 Medley #14: Early Learning, Play, and Preschool

Play, Preschool


PUT PLAY FIRST

Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive
By Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, Oxford University Press

Full disclosure: I haven't finished reading this book, yet...

...but I'm far enough along to know academic kindergartens and virtual preschools aren't the best way to build academic success for our children. In fact, I learned the same thing forty-five years ago, when I was a preservice education student. Current research supports previous research. Play is children's work. Children learn through play. Worksheets in preschool and kindergarten, whether they're made of paper or on a computer screen, are inappropriate. Cooking stations, dress-up boxes, and building toys are what we need for our littlest learners. We should bring back recess, blocks, and doll buggies. Teach young children through read-aloud, finger play, and singing. Give our youngest children time to play without adult interference.
Despite this strong medical and scientific consensus that play is a foundation of children’s lives and education, play is an increasingly endangered experience for many of the world’s children.

Why is play dying in our schools? There are many social and cultural factors, and one major political reason is “GERM,” or the “Global Education Reform Movement,” a term that co-author Pasi Sahlberg has coined to describe an intellectual school reform paradigm that places academic performance as measured by standardized tests before children’s engagement, well-being, and play in schools.

..."If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less." -- Professor Peter Gray

WE'VE BECOME A WORSE WORLD FOR CHILDREN


"Play is where they learn to solve their own problems and learn, therefore, that the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy and they learn the world is not so depressing after all. Play is where they learn to get along with peers...and see from other points of view...and practice empathy...and get over narcissism. Play is by definition, creative and innovative...yet the hue and cry that we hear everywhere is for more school not for more play and we've really got to change that." -- Peter Gray

FAKE PLAY

Fake Play and Its Dangerous Alignment to Standards and Data

Being on a tee-ball team isn't real play. Pee Wee football isn't real play. Preschool soccer isn't real play. Adult directed play, while it has its place, isn't real play. Children need unstructured play...every day.
There’s a troubling phenomenon happening in early childhood education. It involves aligning standards to fake play.

Children own real play.

In Educating Young Children, Mary Hohmann and David P. Weikart discuss the HighScope preschool program and the welcome backseat adults often take to allow children to freely play. They say: When children are playing or starting to play, and are receptive to other players, adults can sometimes join them in a nondisruptive manner. This is real play.

Real play involves children using their imaginations to plan and work things out on their own. It’s messy and hard work for the child, but it builds thinking skills.

Educating Young Children provides descriptions of materials for play. The authors describe adult-guided educational activities too, but children are also trusted to learn through free play. Adults support the children in their activities. There’s no worry about test scores, but a focus on the child, their development, and the joy of learning.

Unfortunately, for years, unstructured play has been beyond the reach of many children. Kiss curiosity and problem solving good-bye.


UNSTRUCTURED PLAY INCREASES TEST SCORES?

Montgomery County adds additional recess time, test scores increase

For all those doubters who say we can't reproduce what Finland has done to make our schools more effective, here's an example of something we can copy -- free, unstructured, play.
We are about two weeks away from kids heading back to the classroom.

One local school system is hoping for another year of increased elementary test scores.

We sat down with the superintendent of Montgomery County schools, and he says a trip overseas to visit one of the world's best education systems opened his eyes to the one thing that was missing from our classrooms: playtime.

Montgomery County educators see the playground another classroom space where children learn communication and collaboration.

“I think it's an important part of learning,” said Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Miear.

The change in perspective came after a trip to Finland a couple years ago.

“What I found was that there was not a lot of difference between us and them. Of course, they have some of the highest test scores in the world and they're very high in terms of academic achievement, so I start looking at what is the difference,” Miear said.

He found they have 15 minutes of recess for every 45 minutes of academic learning.

“We had kids who were spending an entire day in class with very little movement and having to wait until the end of the day for recess and that's, you know, several hours. That's not good for kids,” Miear said.

As he was preparing changes in the classroom the General Assembly loosened its restrictions allowing playtime to be counted as instruction.

So last school year, Montgomery County rolled out twice a day recess for all elementary students.


WHY DO WE NEED PRESCHOOL? ACADEMICS? OR INTERACTION?

Why Online Preschool is a Terrible Idea

Children don't learn through computer screens...they learn by doing. Is an online preschool really a preschool?
It used to be that parents sent their young children to kindergarten to prepare them for elementary school. Now things have developed to the point where parents are sending their 3 – 4-year-olds to preschool to prepare them for kindergarten! What is the world coming to?

It’s becoming a place where there is no time to be a child anymore. And that’s not all. It is becoming a world where children no longer run around and learn through play and interaction. No, thanks to online preschools they are now learning sitting on a couch, staring at a screen and clicking a mouse.

Parents of young children can now enroll their child in a cyber preschool that provides digital learning materials, activity guides and “homeroom teachers” online through a home computer, tablet, or smartphone. This is the latest way to start a child’s education, but is it sensible?

Preschool teaches important social skills

Think about it: why are children sent to preschool in the first place? Isn’t it because they need human interaction? One of the most important skills children learn in preschool is how to make friends. Life is about human relationships after all. How do you learn about making friends, sorting out differences, and obeying the rules when you are staring at a screen, looking for the right color to click on?

Children learn through play, not screens

Young children don’t learn best through computer-based instruction. They learn through activity, primarily play. They use all their senses, their entire bodies to learn. They learn through touch and smell, running and crawling, building houses with odd materials, making dams in the back yard after the rain. And most importantly, they learn about their place in a social context from their peers and teachers.


POSITION STATEMENT

Position Statement on Online Preschools

Defending the Early Years says "no" to online preschool.
All children deserve high quality early education, and we call on local, state, and federal agencies and policymakers to reject online preschools and invest in fully-funded, relationship-based, universal pre- kindergarten programs with proven long-term benefits.

BETTER THAN NOTHING?

An Online Preschool Closes a Gap but Exposes Another

Is an online preschool better than no preschool at all?

There are places where preschools don't exist...rural areas, high poverty areas. Those children need unstructured play with other children, too. Does online preschool fill the gap? Is it better than nothing?

The truth is that it's not a yes/no question. If we care about our future, we must make sure that "no preschool" and "online preschool" aren't the only options.
“Children who come from families of means have always gone to and still go to terrific quality pre-K programs,” said Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a co-founder of Defending the Early Years, a nonprofit campaign promoting universal pre-K. “Any program, you see the same thing — it’s kids engaged with teachers, blocks, paints and other kids. It’s all these things that everybody knows is quality.”

Not surprisingly, many early-education experts balk at the idea of preschool online. Steve Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said a good preschool program typically developed a child’s social and emotional abilities, as well as ingraining lessons like thinking before you act.
“All of that can’t be done online,” he said.

But some advocates and Waterford Upstart argue that an online program is better than the current preschool options available to most low-income families, which are often nothing.


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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Miseducation of the American Voter

John Merrow, the retired education journalist for PBS, recently wrote,
...public education is an efficient sorting machine that is undemocratic to its core. Schools sort young children in two basic groups: A minority is designated as ‘winners’ who are placed on a track leading to elite colleges, prominence and financial success. While the rest aren’t labeled ‘losers’ per se, they are largely left to struggle on their own. That experience leaves many angry, frustrated and resentful, not to mention largely unprepared for life in a complex, rapidly changing society...
The "losers" who aren't really labeled "losers," Merrow said, are the ones who find no reason to vote, and Merrow placed at least part of the blame on public education.
This practice [focusing on test scores] went into high gear with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. “Regurgitation education” became the order of the day. This approach rewards parroting back answers, while devaluing intellectual curiosity, cooperative learning, projects, field trips, the arts, physical education, and citizenship.
Education which focuses on test scores devalues critical thinking. Citizens who do not think critically cannot fully participate in our democracy...
...the end result is millions of graduates who were rewarded with diplomas but have never participated in the give-and-take of ordinary citizenship—like voting. Did they graduate from school prepared for life in a democracy, or are they likely to follow blindly the siren song of authoritarians? Can they weigh claims and counterclaims and make decisions based on facts and their family’s best interests, or will they give their support to those who play on their emotions?

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump welcomed support from those he called ‘the poorly educated,’ but that’s the incorrect term. These men and women are not ‘poorly educated,’ ‘undereducated,’ or ‘uneducated.’ They have been miseducated, an important distinction. Schools have treated them as objects, as empty vessels to pour information into so it can be regurgitated back on tests.
[To be fair, however, I must note here that teachers, those tasked with fulfilling the mandates of No Child Left Behind (and Race to the Top, which followed) have not been happy with those mandates. Many teachers have stood up against the test and punish policies. Many have left the profession. Many have fought back and been either beaten down or forced out. Spend some time reading the early posts from this blog to get an idea about how teachers have spoken out against what most of us would consider poor and inappropriate educational practices (see here and here, for example).]

Recent news about two topics have emphasized Merrow'a point.


CIVICS

The Pew Research Center issued a report titled, What Americans Know About Religion. The report indicated that many Americans don't know enough about what the U.S. Constitution says about religion.
...when asked what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to federal officeholders, just one-quarter (27%) correctly answer that it says “no religious test” shall be a qualification for holding office; 15% incorrectly believe the Constitution requires federal officeholders to affirm that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, 12% think the Constitution requires elected officials to be sworn in using the Bible, 13% think the Constitution is silent on this issue, and 31% say they are not sure.
Has our obsessive focus on reading and math resulted in a majority of our citizens being ignorant (or at best, forgetting) about the content of Article VI of the Constitution?
...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Americans are also apparently ignorant (or forgetful) about other parts of the Constitution. The most recent Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, for example, showed that a third of Americans could not name a single branch of the federal government. A year ago the same survey showed that a quarter of Americans couldn't name any of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

As a result of the general lack of civics knowledge among the populace, the 2019 Indiana General Assembly passed a bill, which the governor signed, requiring students to pass a civics test in order to graduate high school.

A better understanding of how our government works is a great idea. Unfortunately, the legislature's knee jerk reaction was to assign schools yet another multiple-choice test based on memorization of information -- an example of what Merrow calls "regurgitation education." There's no guarantee that much real learning will occur in preparation for such a test.

Is this civics information already being taught in America's public schools? The answer, I'm sure, is "yes." Sadly, however, our fellow citizens haven't really learned it and carried it into adulthood. We have political leaders who spout allegiance to the Constitution, yet don't understand the separation of powers with its system of checks and balances or the freedom of the press. And we have millions of citizens who can't seem to remember enough about how our government works to identify the ignorance of our leaders.

If it's taught, why don't our students internalize and remember it? Is it because it's not repeated enough times during the years of schooling? Is it because we focus on reading and math in our assessments of students and that becomes all that matters? Is it because reading and math have squeezed other items out of the curriculum?


SCIENCE

Science, in addition to civics, is an area where Americans have shown ignorance/lack of memory. The fossil fuel industry has done a better job of teaching Americans that climate change is unproven science than schools have been in teaching children that it's real. Nearly 90% of Americans are unaware of the consensus within the scientific community that climate change is real and a threat to our civilization.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans are unaware that there is a consensus within the scientific community that human-caused climate change is real and threatens the planet, a new report says.

According to the report published last week by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, only 13 percent of Americans were able to correctly identify that more than 90 percent of all climate scientists have concluded that climate change is real.

The annual survey of 1,266 adults compiled in May and June failed to note that it is actually 97 percent of climate scientists that concur that human-caused global warming is happening...
Why is there only one nation in the world where climate change is a controversial topic? Why do we have a fossil fuel lobbyist in charge of the EPA?


CHANGES NEEDED

How can we teach our students so they finish school ready for citizenship? How can we provide our citizens with the skills needed to recognize propaganda and demagoguery? How can we increase the critical thinking skills of Americans?

How can we change the national dynamic where, in 2016, only 64% of Americans eligible to vote were actually registered...and only 55% of those who were eligible actually voted?


It's obvious that our obsessive focus on "reading and math test prep" hasn't worked to create an informed citizenry. And to make matters worse (but not surprisingly) there are certain groups of students who are damaged more by test-and-punish policies than others. One guess who it is...
On the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly called the "Nation's Report Card," students of color and low-income students have consistently scored lower than their white, wealthier counterparts. "If there are students who are not receiving adequate instruction in civics education, and if those students are among the disadvantaged groups, then that's going to perpetuate some of the barriers to political participation and representation that we've seen in the past," says Elizabeth Levesque, an education research fellow at the Brookings Institution.

That distance between marginalized communities and government has a disenfranchising effect.

INSTEAD...

In her recent book, After the Education Wars, Andrea Gabor explains that there are educational behaviors and characteristics which work better than a reliance on "test and punish" and "reform-based" education.
...[successful schools] share a number of traits in common...

  • They are nurtured through a process of democratic collaboration and iterative improvement, in which grassroots participation is key.
  • They are embraced by savvy leaders who have used participative management to foster deep wells of trust.
  • They have often been protected from bureaucratic meddling by winning exemptions from specific regulations, often including union rules, and sometimes with the help of enlightened policymakers.
  • They value data but understand its limits, knowing that the most important factors are often immeasurable.
So how do we make civics and science education stick?

Start early.

Start with qualified teachers.

Give experts (teachers, for example) input into the curricula.

And, of course, fully fund public schools...stop diverting public tax dollars to private and privately run schools...and end the obsessive overuse and misuse of testing.

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