"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

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Third-Grade Punishment Laws - Revisited


A post on Diane Ravitch's blog has raised the topic of grade retention.

Laura Chapman: Who Is Behind the “Read by Third Grade or Be Retained” Campaign?
There is a national read-by-grade three campaign. The practice of holding students back a grade is not new, but in the olden days it was never based on test scores alone and certainly not based on scores from national tests. I am no expert in reading, but I have learned to question how questionable policies proliferate.

Right now, The Annie E, Casey Foundation is a source of the national “Read by Grade 3” campaign. It is financed by about thirty other foundations and corporations. You can read about the investors here: http://gradelevelreading.net/about-us/campaign-investors

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also the source of widely cited and dubious research about reading. For example, the Foundation sponsored “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (2010, updated 2012)” by Dr. Donald J. Hernandez, sociologist at Hunter College (more recently at the University of Albany, State University of New York). I find no evidence that this study was peer-reviewed. https://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/

We've known for over a century that retention in grade does not cure low achievement. The focus of the post and comments on Diane Ravitch's blog is the "Read by Grade 3" movement and the practice of states to retain students in Grade 3 until they pass the state reading test.

Usual media coverage of the states' third-grade retention plans (or as I call them, third-grade punishment plans) usually includes the caveat that retaining students in third grade will "damage their self-esteem." Unfortunately, there's often no follow-up discussion about how damaged self-esteem is itself often a cause of poor academic achievement.

The range of discussion on Ravitch's blog covers the gamut of usual arguments about retention in grade. Elementary teachers are to blame for sending students to middle and high school unprepared. Students fail because they are lazy, absent too often, or don't take school seriously. Retention is needed because "we have to do something."

Most students who are retained in grade because they can't read "at grade level" don't show any improvement by two or three years after retention. In fact, students who are retained often perform worse than those who have been "socially promoted." There is so much research on this that we should have learned by now not to retain students. So why do American Schools retain nearly a million students a year?

The academically questionable report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that is mentioned in this article correctly asserts that there's a correlation between low graduation rate and poor reading skills at the end of third grade and a correlation between low graduation rate and poverty. The report also suggests that some parents won't, or are unable to help their children. The authors list things to help students improve, such as increased preschool opportunities and supplemental programs paid for with state and federal dollars. Nowhere does it say that retention in grade is beneficial. Neither does the website of the campaign for grade-level reading, 3rd Grade Reading Success Matters. Their site suggests early childhood interventions and community outreach programs. [Whether retention in third grade is included in their "agenda" isn't stated clearly on the web site. Many states now retain students who fail a third-grade reading test even though this practice isn't supported by research.]

It is unlikely that retaining students in third grade -- or at any grade -- will help their middle school or high school reading achievement. Elementary teachers can't always compensate for the lack of resources available...or large class sizes...or pandemics. There are programs available to help students who are struggling, but those don't fit every student...nor are they available everywhere. Why do we think that students should stop learning to read upon entering a certain grade? Secondary teachers aren't trained to teach reading, but perhaps some basic instruction on reading development should be included in the curriculum for secondary education certification.

And what of the offensive suggestion that students can't read "at grade level" because they skipped school or because they misbehave? A reminder that correlation does not imply causation might be appropriate here.  Isn't it possible that a student who is academically behind their peers might avoid going to school or act out because either of those two behaviors is less emotionally painful than failing? One could just as easily say that students skip school because they can't read well and it is a waste of their time, as well as a painful experience, to sit in class all day long and be made to feel stupid. Or that students act out in class because the feelings of frustration over their inabilities are difficult to deal with. We can't say that students' low achievement is due to behaviors - behaviors that might actually be caused by their low achievement. It's easy to place blame, but the fact remains that not all children learn at the same rate. Some students struggle to learn.

Finally, "grade level" reading is an arbitrary standard. What is "at grade level" in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (average income $127,553) might not be the same as what's "at grade level" in Detroit (average income $29,481) because there IS a correlation between poverty and reading achievement. "Grade levels" like standardized test cut scores, aren't set by the teachers who know their students. They are set by book publishers, test companies, and state departments of education. Sometimes they are set by people who have no idea what is appropriate for a particular age group. Perhaps the term "grade average" would be a better term to use. Still, statistically, any average means that half of a given group of students will perform below the other half...because not all children learn at the same rate.

Students need to learn how to read. But unless we, as a society, are willing to pay for the resources needed, there are going to be some students who struggle and don't achieve as quickly as we would like. Each student's situation and abilities are different. Teachers will do everything they can to help their students, but sometimes, at the end of a school year, some students will still need more. That's just how it is. Instead of blaming the previous year's teachers, or the students, or the students' parents, we should do what we can to help students progress from where they are.

In the short run, it might be cheaper to skimp on resources for struggling students when most students will learn anyway, but if we are serious about our intention to provide a high-quality public education for all students, then we are obliged to provide more for the students who need it.

One size only fits some.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.