"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

Friday, April 9, 2021

No Pause in Indiana's Push for Privatization

Should we give a cheer that the Indiana Senate eased up on the offensive expansion of vouchers that the Indiana House passed in its 2021 Budget bill?

THE HOUSE VERSION

The House version gave nearly 40% of all new education money to the less than 5% of the state's students in the form of increased voucher spending, including money for unaccountable ESAs (educational savings accounts).

It also provided an increase in voucher availability to a family of four making nearly $150,000 a year. This House plan was not the "save poor children" voucher plan that Mitch Daniels proposed ten years ago. It very definitely expanded voucher money for wealthier students.

It's probably good that Indiana Republicans are no longer trying to pretend that their voucher program is so that "poor kids can escape from terrible schools." Instead they're all but admitting that public schools don't interest them. Privatization is the goal no matter what that pesky state constitution says. At least now they're being honest about it.

THE SENATE VERSION

The Senate still included an increase in vouchers so they're not backing off entirely. Families of four with six figure incomes would be able to get a 90% voucher allowing their kids can enroll in mostly segregated private schools that teach creation science and that slavery was a good investment. This assumes of course, that the school will have their child since private schools can reject students for nearly any reason.

The Senate version, while not as extreme as the House, still contains a significant increase in voucher support, including a foot-in-the-door new ESA plan that lets parents use tax dollars to buy "educational" services without public oversight or accountability. Hmmm...I wonder if they might try to increase money for that in years to come?

HOUSE WILL BE "AGGRESSIVE"

The bill now goes to a conference committee where House members will try to put back what the Senate took out. Speaker of the House Todd Huston, whose campaign contributions include $35,000 from Betsy DeVos's Hoosiers for Quality Education (see also here), said that the house will "be negotiating very aggressively" to get back what was taken out so they can satisfy their lust for privatization.

One might even think that the plan all along was for the House to propose an extreme expansion of vouchers, then have the Senate back off a bit to pacify public school advocates (and more than 170 school boards around the state), and settle on a more "modest" increase in voucher money and an ESA plan.

It's still an increase in Indiana's ever increasing move towards total privatization.

For Further Reading

New Indiana budget proposal scales back private school voucher expansion
After a chorus of opposition from public school districts and advocates, Indiana Senate Republicans significantly scaled back an expansion of the state’s private school voucher program under their budget proposal Thursday.

The Senate plan would not extend private school vouchers to as many middle-class families as suggested in the House budget proposal and other legislation discussed this session. It also would dramatically curtail a proposal for education savings accounts, which would give stipends to parents of children with special needs who do not attend public schools.

Senate budget would dial back voucher expansion
...the Senate budget would partially roll back the ambitious expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program that was included in the House budget.

Like the House budget, it would create a new K-12 education savings account program, but it would limit participation and costs. Also important: It would remove a House-approved cap on the complexity index, the funding formula feature that favors districts and schools with more disadvantaged students.
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Monday, April 5, 2021

2021 Medley #5 - Vouchers, Testing, and Reading

Vouchers, Testing, and Reading


VOUCHERS

Scholars show how to challenge voucher discrimination

How many ways can we say it? School choice is not about parents choosing the school for their child. It's about schools choosing which students to allow through their doors. Private schools get to choose their clients.

The law may state that private and religious schools must not discriminate in order to receive state funds, but the actual real-world actions of schools accepting vouchers shows that private schools can, and often do reject certain students based on various characteristics such as religion or sexual preference (or the sexual preference of their parents). Under other circumstances, this discrimination wouldn't be a problem. Religious schools should be allowed to require their teachers and students to follow certain theological teachings. However, it becomes a problem when public funds are used to further such discrimination.

The simple fact is that private schools, and religious schools in particular should not be allowed to use public funds because they are not required to accept all students. Public tax dollars should go to public schools which accept all students -- gay and straight, faithful and faithless, white or black. Using tax dollars to support religious schools that discriminate is contrary to the intent of the founders. Jefferson wrote,
...to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness...
Using tax dollars to support private and religious schools which discriminate based on religious beliefs is forcing taxpayers to pay for something they might not believe in. It's "sinful and tyrannical".
Green, the lead author, said supporters promote vouchers to expand opportunities for students and families. But, as the programs expand, state officials often enable them to deny those benefits to entire groups of students.

“Vouchers were sold as program that all could benefit from, but the anti-LGBT provisions give the lie to that statement,” Green said.

Voucher programs come in a variety of forms, but all provide ways for states to provide full or partial tuition funding to private schools for qualifying students. Indiana’s program, established in 2011, serves over 36,000 students in more than 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious schools, at a cost of $172.8 million. Lawmakers want to expand the program and extend it to upper-income families.

Vouchers Are About Abandoning Public Education, Not Freeing Parents

Public education is a public good, like roads, water systems, and libraries. It benefits everyone.
Vouchers are not about freeing or empowering parents. They are about empowering private interests to chomp away at the giant mountain of education money in this country. They are about dismantling any sort of oversight and accountability; it's striking how many of these voucher bills/laws very specifically forbid the state to interfere with the vendors in any way, shape or form.

Think of voucher programs this way.

The state announces, "We are dismantling the public education system. You are on your own. You will have to shop for your child's education, piece by piece, in a marketplace bound by very little oversight and very few guardrails. In this new education ecosystem, you will have to pay your own way. To take some of the sting out of this, we'll give you a small pocketful of money to help defray expenses. Good luck."

...Voucherization is also about privatizing the responsibility for educating children, about telling parents that education is their problem, not the community's.


TESTING

Lawmakers Backing Standardized Tests Should Practice What They Preach

Forcing students to waste time taking standardized tests this year (and, actually, any year) is absurd. It is a waste of taxpayers' money -- even more than during normal (aka non-pandemic) times.
Educators are scrambling to teach safely and most lawmakers stand aside unsure how to help.

We can’t figure out which students to assist, they say, without first giving them all a batch of standardized tests.

It’s absurd, like paramedics arriving at a car crash, finding one person in a pool of blood and another completely unscathed – but before they know which person needs first aid, they have to take everyone’s blood pressure.

I mean come on! We’re living through a global pandemic.

Nearly every single class has been majorly disrupted by it.

So just about every single student needs help – BUT SOMEHOW WE NEED DATA TO NARROW THAT DOWN!?

Our duly-elected decision-makers seem to be saying they can only make decisions based on a bunch of numbers.

Does Education Secretary Cardona Recognize the Two Huge Problems with High-Stakes Testing?

Following the pattern of previous Democratic and Republican administrations, the Biden administration's Secretary of Education has determined that the most important thing the Federal Government has to do for public schools throughout the country is force them to take wasteful standardized tests. Arne Duncan would be proud.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insists that federally mandated standardized testing will go on as usual in this COVID-19 dominated year. While his decision feels particularly impractical, intrusive, complicated and disruptive in the midst of COVID-19, the decision is of much deeper concern for two reasons.

One would like to think that Dr. Cardona is familiar with the huge debate that has consumed education experts and also many parents who have been opting out for years now. But when Dr. Cardona explained why testing must go on as usual, he didn’t even bother to offer a rationale that addresses any of the reasons experts have insisted he should cancel the tests once again this year. Instead he said we need the tests so that the Department of Education can ensure that federal investment goes to the school districts that need it most. That is such a lovely thought, and if tests were designed and used to gauge needed investment in the poorest communities, it would be wonderful.

READING

The Reading Helper

Halfway through my career I moved out of my general education classroom and became, what Russ Walsh calls, a Reading Helper.

In this post, Walsh reminds us that the most important aspect of being a teacher is the relationship between teacher and student, not standardized tests...not state standards...not grades.
I have a teaching certificate that says I am a qualified Teacher of Reading, and Reading Specialist and Supervisor, but from the time I got a certain Valentine's Day card from a student in 1993 I have thought of myself as a Reading Helper. That card was from a second grade vulnerable reader named Danielle who had been my student since that September. The cover of the hand made card was full of many colored hearts and flowers and said, of course, "Happy Valentine's Day." Inside was a message that I will never forget and which has defined my work ever since: "Thank you for hleping me read. Love, Danielle" Yes, exactly, "hleping." Danielle still had some spelling reversals crop up from time to time. But the message could not have been clearer. I was being thanked for helping and it meant the world to me.

Why Do So Many Children Have Dyslexia? What is it Exactly?

The word “dyslexia” literally means “difficulty with written words”. In my experience -- more than forty years as a paraprofessional, teacher, and retiree volunteer -- there are as many different types of dyslexia as there are struggling readers — every child is different! Parents define it based on their own child’s (or children's) struggles. Teachers define it by what they've seen in their own isolated classrooms. I’ve watched arguements between parents and teachers exposing the conflict as “that’s dyslexia,” “No, this is dyslexia”. The arguments about reading programs are even worse. There is no one perfect program that works for every single student. There is no panacea.

Nancy Bailey is absolutely correct in this post, that we need to stop worrying so much about the label and find out what works for each individual child. If a parent wants to call their child’s struggles dyslexia, so be it, but we still need to figure out what works for the child.

This post is followed by an interesting discussion in the comments. Many of the comments prove the points that Bailey makes in her article.
It’s important to continue to raise questions about reading problems and to seek school programs that help children learn to read.

But we should also be asking why so many children present such problems when they show up to school.

No matter what causes reading problems in children or what the label, schools, and teachers must continue to provide students with the individual help they need. There is no one perfect reading program for all children. Schools need to provide rich reading environments and extra phonics for students who need it.


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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Beverly Cleary, Age 104

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF MY READING INSTRUCTION

I taught third grade in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the "teach to the test" trend hadn't infiltrated America's public school classrooms. We gave a standardized test, but it didn't determine who went to fourth grade, didn't enter into my evaluation, and didn't have anything to do with how much money the school got. In fact, "teaching to the test" was considered bad pedagogy and limiting to the scope of the everyday classroom experience. We were, therefore, pressured NOT to "teach to the test."

At that time in my teaching career, I considered my daily read-aloud the most important part of my reading instruction.
If we had a fire drill, assembly, tornado drill, or any other interruption to the day, the only thing that I made sure I finished for that day was the daily read-aloud. I would do as much of the rest of the curriculum as I could, of course, but read aloud was sacrosanct. It was the one part of the day that I made a conscious effort never to miss. What are the benefits of reading aloud that make it so important? In his classic, Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease lists these five reasons for reading aloud...
  1. it builds vocabulary
  2. it conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  3. it creates background knowledge
  4. it provides a reading role model
  5. it plants the desire to read
I was convinced then, and I still believe, that children who are read to, feel good about reading. Children who feel good about reading are motivated to read to themselves. Children who are motivated to read grow into readers. Trelease explains it this way...
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
I would keep track of the books I read to my students and at the end of the year, I would rank the stories based on the students' favorites. One year I even had the students illustrate a scene from their favorite book in a line drawing. I gathered them all, made copies for everyone, and presented the students with a coloring book of their peers' drawings from their favorite books of the year.

Without fail, every year three authors would be at the top. They were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and of course, Beverly Cleary.

RAMONA THE HERO

My third-grade students always loved Kindergarten Ramona in Ramona the Pest. They were close enough in age to their own Kindergarten experiences that they remembered their own Ramona-like fears and mistakes. Ramona Quimby took those fears and mistakes and understood. I always imagined my third-graders thinking, "Here is another little person who understands what it is like to be a child."

After Ramona the Pest, I would often skip right to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since that was Ramona's "third-grade" book. Ramona was universal. She faced similar problems, made similar mistakes, felt similar feelings, and, for those students in my class who had older siblings, felt the same way about her older sister.

Ramona was sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never a parody. The characteristics that made Ramona so appealing to my students were the same characteristics that made her seem real. Even though the stories were made up, they were never outside the possibility of what could happen to them. Every child could relate to feelings of embarrassment when they made a mistake. Every child understands the anger at being patronized. Ramona expressed those feelings and made them acceptable.

Once in a while, one of the little girls in my class would be labeled Ramona by the other students. It was never cruel or teasing. Ramona was their hero. It's just that sometimes, one of the students had that same combination of energy, frankness, and off-kilter humor that would remind us all of our friend, Ramona. More often, I would watch the students in their daily lives and think -- of the boys as well as the girls, "There's Ramona."

Cleary was such a popular author that I occasionally included books about Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins in my yearly read-alouds, but Ramona was, without question, the hero to year after year of my third-graders.

BEVERLY CLEARY, APRIL 12, 1916 - MARCH 25, 2021

I wonder if any of my former third-graders, when learning about Beverly Cleary's passing, thought about Ramona.

My hope is that they did...because they read aloud to their children...who read aloud to their children.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

In Which I Think of Ways to Respond to My Legislators

Indiana is ready to add more public money to the state voucher program for private -- mostly religious -- schools.

House Bills 1001 and 1005 would give nearly a third of the state's increase in education funding to the 5% (10% if you count charters) of the students who go to private schools. I had written to my local state rep, Dave Heine, but received no reply. He voted to approve the increase along with all of his Republican friends in the state House of Representatives. The bills are now before the state Senate, so I wrote my state senator, Dennis Kruse (IN-S14), and asked him to vote against increasing the vouchers.

I received responses from Senator Kruse this week. I'll send a reply to his emails, though I doubt it will change anything. Here is what he wrote (different paragraphs are from his response on House Bill 1001 or House Bill 1005) followed by some of what I might say.
Kruse: Thank you for reaching out about House Bill 1005. I value the opinions of my constituents and I value your individual opinion.
Me: Do all politicians start their letters this way? I've talked to this man in person and I know full well that, while he might "value" the opinion of some of his constituents, he doesn't really value mine. Every election cycle, Senator Kruse gets donations from a group called Hoosiers for Quality Education a group funded by former Secretary of Education, and billionaire privatizer, Betsy DeVos. The goal, it seems, is to privatize Indiana's education system.
Kruse: I am committed funding education for Hoosier students. The Indiana 2019-2020 state budget increased $750,000,000 more to K-12 Education than the previous fiscal cycle. That is the largest single increase in state education funding in our 200-year history as a state. This legislative session has just begun. I am excited for the opportunity to review Indiana's current practices and potential amendments.
Me: He says, look at how much money we're spending on education in this state. Am I supposed to be impressed by this? We have given around a billion dollars of public funds to private/religious schools since the voucher plan was put into place in 2011. How was that money spent? No one knows. Who kept track of that money? Maybe the money was spent on new steeples, football fields, or church expansions. There's no way to know because that money is unaccountable.
Kruse: While I believe that Indiana public schools should receive an increase in funding, I also believe that parents have the right to choose where their child should be educated. House Bill 1005 creates a grant for students with disabilities or for students with parents who have disabilities. Accordingly, this bill allows parents of children with disabilities to make a choice about where their child attends school. Some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities. Therefore, I want to ensure that parents can receive a meaningful education for their child by supporting House Bill 1005.
Me: Do parents choose to send their children to a private school? Some do because some private schools will accept some of the students. But all private schools restrict some students. Students of a different religion, gay students, transgender students, students who struggle with learning, students with behavioral issues, are all targeted for rejection by some private schools. Whose choice is it to attend a private school? A parent can apply to send their child to a private school, but it's up to the school to accept them.

Should taxpayers fund schools that discriminate against certain students?

What about students with disabilities? Some private schools don't accept any students with disabilities. Others only accept certain disabilities (such as students needing speech therapy). Private schools often reject students by telling the parent that "we aren't equipped to deal with their particular needs." Finally, public schools are required by law to provide services to children with disabilities. Private schools are under no such obligation. Do these bills require schools to take students with disabilities? Do these bills preserve the rights of students with disabilities?

Kruse notes that "some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities." So instead of dealing with this problem directly by increasing funds to ensure that all public schools are properly supported, we're going to just forget about that and send the money to private schools instead? Why are we sending tax money to private and religious schools if we aren't even able to fully fund our constitutionally mandated public schools?
Kruse: The decision about what school to send your children to is a challenging one for every parent. Choosing not to attend a public school, for most parents, is an opportunity to select the best fit for curriculum for their children.
Me: I'm glad he mentioned the curriculum. Why should taxpayers provide funds for schools that teach religion instead of science or history? Should taxpayers fund students' field trips to the Creation Museum? What about schools whose curriculum materials "whitewash slavery" saying things like, "The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well"?

Should tax dollars go to schools that teach religion? The Indiana Constitution (Article 1, Section 6) says "NO."
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.
In 2013, despite the Constitutional restriction, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state voucher program. They were wrong.
Kruse: While I support school vouchers, I also strongly support public education. Indiana's total state budget designates 61% of funding toward education. 50% of the budget is directly utilized in k12 education, for an annual budget of $9 Billion of the total annual state budget of $18 Billion...
Me: Again, the money he's talking about includes money for private schools and charter schools which he votes to increase every year. Indiana Republicans always, always say that "more than 50% of the budget goes to education." That's true, but hidden in that more than 50% is the money, taken off the top, for private schools. That money should be going to public schools, because the state constitution mandates a system of public schools. It says nothing about supporting a system of private, religious, or privately run schools. Indiana, indeed, no state in the country, can afford to fund three separate school systems (public, charter, and voucher).
Kruse: Accordingly, this legislative session we are currently working to draft the budget proposing an increase to school funding by $438 million. This proposal would result in an approximate $800 raise for teachers over the next two years. I will support this increase and any opportunity to raise public school teacher salaries.
Me: I'm all for increasing Indiana's teachers' salaries. Indiana teachers' salaries have dropped by around 15% (when adjusted for inflation) since 2000. The amount that Senator Kruse notes, though, isn't enough. With another $800 a year, the average salary for Indiana teachers would still be less than all the surrounding states. Now, if he means to increase the salary by $800 a month (for the 10 month school year), that would put the teachers just slightly below where the Governor's Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, said we needed to be. Finally, and once again, that $438 million increase to school funding includes voucher increases!
Kruse: I am committed to finding ways to support the education of Hoosier students at both private schools and public schools. I believe that school vouchers do not contradict public education. Instead, I believe that parents should have the ability to send their children to the school of their choice.
Me: I know he is committed to finding ways to support private schools. I can't think of one voucher bill that he's voted against since 2011.

The truth is that school vouchers DO harm public schools. Public dollars should go to public schools.

Period.
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