"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, November 15, 2020

Who's to Blame?

How can a school system evaluate their teachers this year?

No one has been trained to work under our current conditions of either remote learning or learning while maintaining a social distance while wearing face coverings.

Everyone is doing what they can to make things work.

Some of the teachers who have worked hard to be there for their students have gotten sick.

Some have died.

We've discovered that COVID can strike anyone...even children. Even in school.

Parents who work outside the home can infect their children, and those children can infect their teachers.

When students or teachers get COVID, school systems, cities, and municipalities are quick to say “it didn’t happen at school.” This keeps the schools open and the kids at school so parents can work even if it’s not true. (And I understand the need for parents to work. I understand the difficulty for some parents of not being able to work from home...and at the same time having to be home with their children).

Sometimes if it gets too bad, schools will "go virtual."

What happens to the parents, then? Do they quit their jobs? Do they lose their jobs? Do they enlist the aid of grandparents who might be more susceptible to serious illness?

The adults in schools can get sick and die from this disease. When they do, who do we blame? Who is responsible when teachers (or kids) get sick and die from COVID-19? Do we blame the teachers themselves because "it couldn't have happened in school" so "they must have gotten it from somewhere else?"

Can we stop blaming educators for getting COVID?
Could we please have the decency to admit that, in many of these cases, we have no idea where they got it? While it is possible these educators contracted the virus outside of school, it’s just as likely that they didn’t. We simply don’t know.

What we do know about this virus is that the only way to truly stay safe from it is to avoid crowded public places, perform regular disinfection and ensure proper ventilation and clean air flow when we must share space with others. Those conditions are hard to come by in a public school.

These educators who have lost their lives during the pandemic have been forced to choose between increasing their risk of infection by returning to in-person instruction and not being able to feed their kids or pay their mortgage.
We're all doing what we can.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

2020 Medley #25 - It's Always Been About Relationships

Good relationships in the classroom lead to better learning. Students need to feel safe, accepted and appreciated. A scared or angry student doesn't learn well. I know this from my own experience as a student. I learned the most from the classes taught by teachers who treated me with kindness and respect.

It's likely that relationships between students and teachers are more difficult during the current pandemic. A virtual connection with a teacher isn't the same as in-person contact. The same might also be true even for those students who are attending school in person. Masks covering the faces of teachers and other students create an additional barrier to relationships. While not impossible, it's harder to judge a person's mood or attitude when you can't see their face.

A post on today's Educator's Room blog provided some insight into building relationships. The author, Thomas Courtney, is currently teaching his students virtually. He reflected on his experience as a child watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and thought that perhaps distance learning teachers could gain some insights from Fred Rogers' experiences on TV.

FRED ROGERS, GENIUS

Mr. Rogers Was a Genius, Virtual Learning Showed Me How
When distance learning began, I thought perhaps that one of the bonuses to being virtual would be an ability to recreate that for my elementary school students. I used videos from youtube-I even made videos of myself. Something told me that this unlimited supply of visual and verbal experience would blow what Mr. Roger’s gave us right out of the water–that technology had advanced far beyond the small neighborhood world that Fred Rogers made for us. I just needed to find the right media to explain the solar system, the water cycle, to explain good nutrition. Right?

I was so wrong.

It has been over six months since my class became an online experience, and recently I’ve made a discovery that has profoundly changed my teaching now and hopefully will continue to change it after our pandemic ends: Mr. Rogers, you were even more ahead of your time than we thought.

You see, I have come to realize that Mr. Roger’s adventures in the neighborhood weren’t about using the power of TV. It wasn’t about expertly crafted videos. It was about using the power of relationships–relationships that all of us have. Relationships that can be forged and developed even though the computer and the best part is that these relationships can be made even easier through distance learning.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Make a Positive Impact on Students

The quote below from August 2013, embeds another quote from an article in Kappan magazine (membership in PDK International required). The article discusses the importance of positive relationships for boys in school. The conclusion states that "Positive relationships precede desired school outcomes, including the end of obstructive, resistant behavior, increased engagement in classroom process, and increased willingness to complete assigned tasks."
You know what it's like to work for a boss who reacts as if nothing you do is good enough. You try to do the best you can, but the criticism eventually takes its toll and you either quit, or stop trying. Students can't quit, at least not till they're 16, so they shut down. The writers of the Kappan article tell us,
...the teacher followed him and continued to berate him, concluding with “You are such a punk.” And, we asked, how did that make you feel? The boy said with conviction, “I hate him.” But, we persisted, you are still in the class, you have to work for him, right? The boy said, “I’m not doing anything in that class. He can flunk me. They can kick me out. I’m not doing anything.”
It's clear: Bad relationships destroy learning.

Tests Don't Measure Everything

I posted this in December 2015 during the time I was still volunteering in a local school. It's gratifying for teachers to see their former students, especially when they remember their teachers fondly.
This morning one of my former third grade students (from c.mid-1980s) paid me a visit...

She was my student during a particularly difficult time in her life. I remembered it clearly when she mentioned it this morning and I mentioned a talk we had, teacher to child, during which I did my best to encourage her. She remembered, and was surprised, but seemed genuinely pleased that I remembered it as well.

The important part of our conversation today, was that she expressed gratitude, after all these years, for the patience and understanding which I had shown her when she was a child who was hurting. She has carried it with her throughout her life and has shared it with her family now that she is an adult.

She didn't thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn't thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn't thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.

There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – living, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects of the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.

No test can ever measure that.


Time for The Test! What Can One Teacher Do?

Relationships between students and teachers are more important than standardized tests. There are things that tests can't measure.
Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests -- the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation -- is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that were important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn't be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that's not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.

TECHNOLOGY ISN'T ENOUGH. WE NEED HUMAN INTERACTION

If Technology Can’t Save Us, What Will?

Both administrators and teachers are human. Public schools and those who work in them have never been perfect. The one major regret from my own teaching years has to do with failing to develop positive relationships. But that does not mean that computers should replace real, live teachers in today's public schools. There is more to education than learning facts (be sure to read Personal Relationships Make School Fun below).
It turns out that technology cannot, will not replace the human touch, when it comes to learning that is worthwhile and sticks in our students’ brains and hearts. We already knew that, of course. But it’s gratifying to know that school—bricks and mortar, white paste and whiteboards, textbooks and senior proms—is deeply missed.

Public education is part of who we are, as a representative democracy. We’ve never gotten it right—we’ve let down millions of kids over the past century or two and done lots of flailing. There are curriculum wars that never end and bitter battles over equity, the teacher pipeline and funding streams.

But still. We need school.


SEND POSITIVE MESSAGES

Hula Dancing, Singing and a Teacher's Impact

Earlier this year, Russ Walsh, at Russ on Reading, wrote about experiences that stay with students long after they leave school. From April 2020...
The messages we send to kids last a lifetime and they are not often about the times table or coordinating conjunctions or how many planets are in the skies. It is the personal messages and connections that are remembered. It is the belief a teacher instills that we can do that resonates through the years. It is that one book that made a special impression that we remember. That is a lesson we all must take into every interaction we have with a child.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS MAKE SCHOOL FUN

The Fun They Had

Nearly seventy years ago, in 1951, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov told the story of two children who found a book. They didn't know what it was because they had never seen a "real" book. All they knew were the electronic books in their "mechanical teachers." Asimov, who spent some time teaching college students, but never taught elementary kids (although he did write quite a few books for young children), instinctively knew that children need human interaction...even in school.
...She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.

And the teachers were people...

The mechanical teacher was Hashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/ 2 and 1/ 4...”

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

2020 Medley #24: No More Political Ads Issue

The 2020 Election, Racism, Online learning,
Kids in high poverty schools, School "choice",
Discrimination using public funds

As of this writing (11 AM ET, Nov 4, 2020), the 2020 election is not completely over. Ballots are still being counted in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. The Democrats have likely flipped two Senate seats (Colorado and Arizona), but lost one (Alabama). Other Republican Senate races are not called but are likely to remain the same. So with a net gain of one seat, the Senate will remain under the control of Mitch McConnell.


HEALING WILL TAKE TIME

The Racist Genie is Out of the Bottle (again)

This post by Russ Walsh was originally published on November 11, 2016. Even if Joe Biden eventually gains enough electoral votes to become president, the rise of white supremacy during the last four years is not likely to disappear quickly.

Read the whole post. Not much has changed since 2016.
This morning the New York Times published an editorial asking that the President-elect directly and immediately denounce the hate and let his supporters know that this targeting behavior is not OK. But once you let the hate genie out of the bottle, it is devilishly difficult to put it back in. Racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are never far from the surface in this country and when these baser instincts of humans seem to have the imprimatur of the leader of the country, it may take a lifetime to tame them.

As teachers, we need to be on guard and vigilant. We must re-double our efforts to make sure the classroom, the hallways, the cafeteria, the locker room, the campus are safe for all people, including Trump supporters, who will almost certainly be the targets of backlash as well.

In 1992, Rodney King, the African-American victim of a brutal police beating in Los Angeles asked, “Can we all get along?” Apparently not, Rodney. Not yet, anyway. There is still a lot of work to be done.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

Kindergarten Pandemic Learning Fears Should Not Be Tied to Screen Time and Rigid Drilling

Play is children's work and it is the way in which children learn, make sense of the world, and acclimate themselves to their culture. Online instruction can't reproduce the benefits of play.
Online learning is a relatively new phenomenon, and drilling five-year-olds, making them sit and face screens for long periods, can’t be good for them or instill a love for learning.

Most childhood specialists are not excited about online learning, and they discourage formal reading instruction in kindergarten. They disapproved of this push before Covid-19, so why would they like it now?

The benefit of online connection for kindergarteners is being linked to a kindergarten teacher and other children, to feel some semblance of a kindergarten class during a lonely time. Teachers who demonstrate love and kindness, introducing children to exciting and funny information they will find memorable, create the best foundation.


WASTING PUBLIC MONEY

Instead of Funding Public Education, Oklahoma Bankrolled a For-Profit Virtual Charter School

The pandemic has given privatizers permission to defund public education. Sometimes the money diverted from public schools ends up in the hands of charlatans.
Back in May, as Oklahoma state leaders sent traditional public schools contradictory messages on online, hybrid, and in-person learning during the fall semester, families flocked to Epic as an alternative. Now, Epic has about twice as many students as the Oklahoma City Public School System.

This shift amounts to a massive drain on traditional public schools, which receive funding based on student numbers, as they face the increased costs of adhering to health and safety guidelines.

Epic, while currently experiencing a surge in enrollment, has been mired in controversy since 2013, when it first came under scrutiny for financial irregularities by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the state’s education board, and the legislature. Throughout the investigation, Epic refused to cooperate, and used expensive lobbying and advertising campaigns to delay the process.

Much of the Epic scandal was predictable, as Oklahoma funded a for-profit charter without creating an accountability system with the power to oversee its financial practices or education outcomes.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS AREN'T FAILING

Kids in poor, urban schools learn just as much as others

Test scores of children in high poverty schools are generally lower than those of wealthier children. However, the scores are more a reflection of what happens outside of school.

"Martin Luther King Jr. said, ...we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished."
Instead of being “engines of inequality” – as some have argued – this new research suggests schools are neutral or even slightly compensate for inequality elsewhere.

Disadvantaged kids start with poorer home environments and neighborhoods and begin school behind students who come from wealthier backgrounds, Downey said.

“But when they go to school they stop losing ground. That doesn’t agree with the traditional story about how schools supposedly add to inequality,” he said.

“We are probably better off putting more energy toward addressing the larger social inequalities that are producing these large gaps in learning before kids even enter school.”

Downey emphasized that the results don’t mean that school districts don’t need to invest in disadvantaged schools.

“As it stands, schools mostly prevent inequality from increasing while children are in school,” he said.

“With more investments, it may be possible to create schools that play a more active role in reducing inequality.”


SCHOOL "CHOICE" IS NO CHOICE

Two posts by Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) on how school choice is being used to discriminate, and who really benefits from school "choice."

School Choice Is Not For Those People
The message to LGBTQ students could not be clearer--"we don't want your kind here."

And if that wasn't clear enough, Alabama has been making it clearer. Back in January, an application from Birmingham AIDS Outreach to open up an LGBTQ charter school was turned down by the Birmingham school board. Alabama has a Public [sic] Charter School Commission that stands ready to overrule local school boards in case the charter is turned down, but the board has now shot down Magic City Acceptance Academy twice--first last May, and again just last week. Last week four of the eight board members abstained, three voted in favor of the school, and one against, which adds up to no.

So school choice is only for some students, and those decisions are not going to be made by elected officials are answerable to the public, nor are choice schools going to be bound by the same rules that operate in the public school world.

School Choice Disempowers (Almost) Everybody
With no collective or empowered group to stand against them, privatizers get that much closer to living in the land of Do As They Please. It's not better for students, for families, for education, for the country; it's better for them.

This is a unifying them for the "democracy is not the point--liberty is" crowd-- collectivism is bad. Well, bad in the sense that in order to be part of a collective, like a team or a board or a democracy or a functioning society, you have to give up some of your individual liberty. But the rich and powerful have accumulated a huge amount of liberty for themselves, and they would like to give up as little as possible. A publicly owned and operated school system is just one more obstacle to their perfect liberty state. Disempowering all the Lessers just helps them get closer to that fabled state.

PUBLICLY SUPPORTED PRIVATE SCHOOLS DISCRIMINATE

Another gay teacher fired. LGBTQ students face expulsion. Discrimination continues in Florida schools | Commentary

Once you accept tax money you should follow the laws made on behalf of the taxpayers. Firing someone because of who they are is not allowed in this country.
...discrimination against teachers is just the tip of this intolerance iceberg. Dozens of publicly funded voucher schools in Florida have policies that blatantly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families.

Many schools spelled them out in writing on their websites — until the Orlando Sentinel started reporting on them. Then, some of these faith-based schools started scrubbing their sites. Few came out to say they were no longer discriminating; they just wanted to erase the evidence.

One Volusia County school that received more than $1 million a year told students that simply uttering the words “I am gay” was “basis for dismissal.” A Merritt Island school that received more than $700,000 told students they could be suspended for five days for lying or cheating but expelled for being gay.

All told, the Sentinel found more than 80 schools with blatant, written policies — against students and their parents.


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Friday, October 23, 2020

U.S. Neglects Tomorrow


In Aesop's tale of the ant and the grasshopper, the busy ant made preparations for the coming winter, while the flighty grasshopper played away the summer. When winter came, the ant was prepared with substantial food for the winter while the grasshopper was starving.

The United States seems determined to play the grasshopper when it comes to our future. We use up our energy without a thought of what will happen when it runs out -- and fossil fuels, no matter what other arguments one might make about them -- are a finite resource. We fill our landfills to bursting...and recycling is failing in its promise. We ignore the changing climate that is drying out the "nation's breadbasket" and burning up California's farmland. And, most important, we don't seem concerned with preparing our future citizens and leaders, our children.

In 1989 Carl Sagan said,
...we have permitted the amount of poverty in children to increase. Before the end of this century, more than half the kids in America may be below the poverty line.

What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them? This is stupid.



In the video above, Sagan claims that the US is 19th in the world in Infant Mortality. We haven't improved much -- if at all -- since then. Why? Because we don't spend as much money on our babies as other countries. We're a wealthy country yet we aren't investing in our future by taking care of our most important natural resource -- our children.

Without continued investment in our children, will we be able to maintain our lifestyle and standard of living? In 1996, Sagan wrote,
I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time – when the United states is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
Superstition and darkness -- take a look around.


U.S. ranks near bottom of advanced nations in child wellness — new report

If we don't take care of our children now how will that affect our future? Will we prepare enough doctors? enough teachers? enough people to support the society? Will we have more social unrest? more poverty? more violence? Will our economic gaps increase?

Which will have a greater impact on our daily lives...Jeff Bezos's $200+ billion net worth, or the more than 38 million Americans living in poverty?
The United States ranks near the bottom of dozens of advanced nations in terms of the well-being of its children, according to a report with data from before the coronavirus epidemic.

The rankings were published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF, which show that of 38 advanced countries for which data was compiled in a range of wellness markers, the United States was No. 36. (See ranking chart and full report below).

The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway topped the list, which takes into account data on the mental and physical health of children as well as their skills as measured by international exams. Mental well-being includes both life satisfaction as well as suicide rates; physical health includes rates of overweight and obesity as well as child mortality, and skills focuses both on proficiency in reading and mathematics as well as social skills.

But the report noted that in many of the advanced nations on the list, children are not doing well; in fact, in nearly half, more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Of 41 nations ranked on child poverty, the United States was fourth from the bottom.
What Does It Mean When Hardly Anybody Stands Up for the Basic Needs of Children and Public Schools?
I do not remember a time when the wellbeing of children has been so totally forgotten by the leaders of the political party in power in the White House and the Congress. This fall, school district leaders have been left on their own as they try to serve and educate children while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging across the states. School leaders are trying to hold it all together this fall at the same time their state budgets in some places have already been cut.


Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019

In order to prepare our children for their (and our) future, we'll need teachers. Are we investing enough in teachers? Are we providing an incentive for the "best and the brightest" to go into education? Are we addressing the nation-wide teacher shortage?

We have been living through a decline in the number of teachers being trained, even before the pandemic. Colleges and universities report fewer students are choosing education. This past week we learned that the University of South Florida will close down its education school. Will more universities follow USF's lead? Who will train tomorrow's teachers?
Key findings

• The teacher wage penalty has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty is how much less, in percentage terms, public school teachers are paid in weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers (after accounting for factors known to affect earnings such as education, experience, and state residence). The regression-adjusted teaching wage penalty was 6.0% in 1996. In 2019, the penalty was 19.2%, reflecting a 2.8 percentage-point improvement compared with a penalty of 22.0% a year earlier.

• The teacher wage penalty declined in the wake of recent teacher strikes but only time and more data will reveal whether teachers’ actions led to a decline and a turning point. The lessening of the teaching penalty from 22.0% in 2018 to 19.2% in 2019 may reflect pay raises enacted in the wake of widespread strikes and other actions by teachers in 2018 and 2019, particularly in some of the states where teacher pay lagged the most. Unfortunately, the data we have to date are not sufficient to allow us to identify the geographic locus of the improvements in teacher wages and benefits and any association with the recent wave of teacher protests and strikes. Only time will tell if this single data point marks a turning point in teacher pay...

• The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.

Isn't it time that we started to prepare for the future?

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