"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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Extinction is the rule, Survival is the exception.

Carl Sagan: November 9, 1934 - December 20, 1996

For Carl Sagan Day...exercise your critical thinking skills with this collection of quotes.

ON CRITICAL THINKING

Broca's Brain Book, 1986
Both Barnum and H. L. Mencken are said to have made the depressing observation that no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. The remark has worldwide application. But the lack is not in intelligence, which is in plentiful supply; rather, the scarce commodity is systematic training in critical thinking.

Carl Sagan's Last Interview Television, 1996
Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.

If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then, we are up for grabs for the next charlatan (political or religious) who comes ambling along.

It's a thing that Jefferson lay great stress on. It wasn't enough, he said, to enshrine some rights in a constitution or a bill of rights. The people had to be educated and they had to practice their skepticism and their education. Otherwise we don't run the government. The government runs us.


ON THE EARTH'S CLIMATE

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space Book, 1997
Those who are skeptical about carbon dioxide greenhouse warming might profitably note the massive greenhouse effect on Venus. No one proposes that Venus's greenhouse effect derives from imprudent Venusians who burned too much coal, drove fuel-inefficient autos, and cut down their forests. My point is different. The climatological history of our planetary neighbor, an otherwise Earthlike planet on which the surface became hot enough to melt tin or lead, is worth considering — especially by those who say that the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth will be self-correcting, that we don't really have to worry about it, or (you can see this in the publications of some groups that call themselves conservative) that the greenhouse effect is a "hoax".

Cosmos Television series, 1980. Book (revised), 2013
Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Book, 1997
If we keep on with business as usual, the Earth will be warmed more every year; drought and floods will be endemic; many more cities, provinces, and whole nations will be submerged beneath the waves — unless heroic worldwide engineering countermeasures are taken. In the longer run, still more dire consequences may follow, including the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the inundation of almost all the coastal cities on the planet.

Wonder And Skepticism Article, 1995
In fact, the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That's the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. (Without the greenhouse effect, the entire Earth would plunge below the freezing point of water and we'd all be dead.) Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We are pumping all kinds of stuff into it. You know about the concern that chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer; and that carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming, a steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. Who knows what other challenges we are posing to this vulnerable layer of air that we haven't been wise enough to foresee?

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF (TEACHING AND) LEARNING SCIENCE

Why We Need To Understand Science Article, 1990
We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Book, 1997
We've arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.


ON HUMAN SURVIVAL

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Book, 1997
The Earth is an anomaly. In all the Solar System, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet. We humans are one amongst millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for 180 million years, the dinosaurs were extinguished. Every last one. There are none left. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And we’ve been here for only about a million years, we, the first species that has devised means for its self-destruction. We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think as well as we can. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. I believe we have an obligation to fight for life on Earth—not just for ourselves, but for all those, humans and others, who came before us, and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent, no dedication more fitting than to protect the future of our species.


The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God Book, 2006
Because it is clear from the fossil record that almost every species that has ever existed is extinct; extinction is the rule, survival is the exception.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

2019 Medley #21

Retention-in-grade, Low Test Scores,
Reading wars, Charters and Choice,
Mississippi Strategy,
Vouchers and Discrimination, Poisoning Children

RETENTION HURTS CHILDREN

The Haunted Third Grade Classrooms Children Fear: Enter and… Stay Forever!

It's time again for another article dealing with retention...complete with references.

In-grade retention doesn't work. More often than not it harms students psychologically and emotionally, increases the chances of students dropping out, and doesn't improve achievement. Yet we continue to do it in order to appease the gods of "test and punish."

I've also collected dozens of articles, research articles, blog posts, and position papers on retention-in-grade, the vast majority of which document the damage done by this outdated and abusive practice.
Students who have academic struggles, but who move on, do better in the long run. Students who are retained might seem to do better at first, but they drop back to having difficulties later. Many students who are retained go on to drop out of school.


THE MYTH OF AMERICA'S FAILING SCHOOLS - LOW TEST SCORES

While I Wasn’t Paying Attention……

In a long, rambling blog post, John Merrow touches on a variety of topics. I disagree with one area he discussed in which he talks about how American students score poorly on the PISA test. Our students don't "underperform their peers in most other countries". We have a higher rate of child poverty, which lowers our average.

As I wrote in March of 2017,
American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don't weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested...

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don't achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty...

Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.
Other topics covered by Merrow are...
  • How do you teach appropriate behaviors when the current President role models bullying and vulgarity?
  • the Secretary of Education's assault on public education
  • What should we measure in our schools? We approach measurement the wrong way.
  • the value of play in education
  • the cost of testing
  • the poor quality of our standardized tests and our undemanding curriculum
A sampling...
A social studies teacher right now is a modern-day Hamlet. Should he or she embrace the chaos and encourage students to debate the morality of the flood of demonstrable lies coming from the Oval Office on a daily basis, knowing that doing so is guaranteed to incur the wrath of some parents, and perhaps some administrators as well? Or should the teacher studiously avoid controversy, knowing full well that doing that sends a powerful value-laden message? To teach, or not to teach, that is the question…..

Or suppose you were an elementary school teacher trying to model appropriate behavior for your impressionable students. How do you respond when one of your kids asks you why the President said Joe Biden was kissing Barack Obama’s ass? Or why Trump can say ‘bullshit’ but kids get punished for swearing?

...We have to learn to Measure What We Value, instead of simply Valuing What We Measure.

...Ironically, the PISA results revealed that American kids score high in ‘confidence in mathematical ability,’ despite underperforming their peers in most other countries...


NRP AND THE READING WARS

Problematic “Scientific Based” Phonics: The Flawed National Reading Panel

The "reading wars" have heated up again and the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) is being hauled out as proof that we need to dump current methods of teaching reading (balanced literacy) and teach "systematic phonics." However, the NRP didn't actually find that "systematic phonics" worked better than other methods of teaching reading.
Metcalf mentions educational researchers who raised questions concerning the National Reading Panel.

Elaine Garan an education professor and author was one.
She believes there are wide discrepancies between what was reported to the public and what the panel actually found. Most blatantly, the summary proclaimed that “systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through sixth grade,” while the report itself said, “There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above first grade.” [emphasis added]


CHARTER SCHOOLS AND CHOICE

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 1: The “I Didn’t Do It!” Excuse

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 2: The “EVERYONE’S DOING IT!” Excuse

An excellent summary of the problem with charter schools in two blog posts by Steven Singer.
It takes a certain kind of hypocrite to be a charter school champion.

You have to deny any wrongdoing one minute. And then admit you’re guilty but explain it away with the excuse “Everyone’s doing it!” the next.

Take cherry picking – one of the most common admonishments leveled against the school privatization industry.

Detractors claim that charter schools keep enrollment low and then out of those who apply, they pick and choose which students to accept.

Charters are run by private enterprise but funded with public tax dollars. So they are supposed to accept all comers just like the authentic public schools in the same neighborhoods.

But charter schools don’t have to follow the same rules as authentic public schools. They pretty much just have to abide by whatever was agreed upon in their charter contracts. Even then states rarely check up on them to make sure they’re in compliance.

So critics say many of these institutions are circumventing enrollment procedures. They’re welcoming the easiest kids to teach and dissuading others from enrolling – even to the extent of kicking out hard to teach children or pretending that an “unbiased” selection process just so happened to pick only the most motivated students.


WORKERS OR EDUCATED CITIZENS?

Indiana’s “Mississippi Strategy” for Education Will Bear Bitter Fruit

Should we raise and educate our children to supply the economy with workers (the Mississippi strategy) or should we teach our children to be educated citizens? Our goal should be towards citizens who think, rather than workers for a corporate state. In The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark, Carl Sagan wrote,
If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
In this post, Doug Masson agrees...
I think there is a fundamental difference between policymakers with respect to whether they see people as liabilities or assets. When we see people as liabilities, then the goal of government is to spend as few resources on them as possible, getting them from cradle to grave with as little fuss as possible. When we see people as assets, then the goal of government is to maximize their potential as efficiently as possible, knowing that the return on that investment will exceed the expenditure as the children become productive, well-rounded citizens contributing to the community. The Mississippi Strategy takes the former approach.


FREE EXERCISE VS. ESTABLISHMENT

Vouchers And Federally-Supported Discrimination

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to hire and fire at will even if they choose to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. However, when the religious group takes government money, then they ought to follow the secular laws of the nation as required by the establishment clause.
...in Indianapolis, as in many areas around the country, the Catholic school system is now funded in part by school vouchers, a system of using public tax dollars for tuition to private schools. Indiana has been aggressive in pursuing school choice policies, particularly under then-Governor Mike Pence, who in his 2013 inaugural address said, “There’s nothing that ails our schools that can’t be fixed by giving parents more choices.” Indiana’s voucher program directs taxpayer dollars primarily to religious schools, and the majority of those are Catholic schools. Cathedral High School participates in both Indiana’s voucher and tax credit scholarship programs.

There was a time when private religious schools might have resisted taking government dollars, even indirectly, for fear of having the government push its rules on the institutions. But now we are seeing that the lever can be pushed in the other direction, and it’s the government that may have to bend to the will of private religious institutions.


POISONING OUR CHILDREN

NC got an ‘F’ for unsafe school drinking water. Activists want the lead out of schools.

North Carolina got an "F" when it comes to protecting its children against lead poisoning.
Environmental activists have launched a new campaign to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water in schools following a national report that gave North Carolina a failing grade for safe school drinking water.

North Carolina was among 22 states that got an “F” grade for not getting rid of lead from school drinking water, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This week, Environment North Carolina released a back-to-school toolkit that gives the public information on how to get the lead out of schools.

“There is no safe level of lead for our citizens but especially for our children,” Krista Early, clean water advocate for Environment NC, said at a news conference at Moore Square. “North Carolina does not currently require testing of drinking water in our children’s schools.
Indiana also got an "F".

There is no safe level of lead for children. Lead in the environment damages children...permanently. It lowers their school achievement, causes behavior and growth problems, and can increase criminal behavior.

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.

Are we doing enough to eliminate lead from the environment? Not according to this article. We spend billions on testing, but apparently can't afford to keep our children safe from poisoning. The problem is that most of those who are affected by environmental toxins like lead are poor children of color. Chances are if we had lead poisoning in areas where wealthy white people lived, it would be taken care of immediately.


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Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Message to Leaf-Burners

AUTUMN

Ah...who doesn't love the nostalgic smell of burning leaves in the fall?


Answer: Anyone with lungs!

It's Autumn in Indiana and my wooded neighborhood is filled with fallen leaves. Many of my neighbors are recycling them by mulching them into their lawns or gardens or hiring crews to pick them up. Some others, are piling them up and setting them ablaze, and by doing so filling the air with poisonous toxins and choking ash.

BUT IT'S JUST ONE LITTLE FIRE

What damage can one little fire cause?

It's not just one little fire...it's several since we live in an addition with dozens of houses and likely thousands of leaf-dropping trees. The point is that "multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards" – at least until the current EPA decides that the right of citizens to breathe is just not a priority.

And, about those lungs...
Besides being an irritant, leaf smoke contains many hazardous chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzo (a) pyrene. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and thus reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. So carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for young children with immature lungs, smokers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart or lung diseases. Benzo (a) pyrene is known to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and coal tar as well as leaf smoke.
Need more?
These toxic fumes can aggravate allergies, trigger asthma attacks, corrode metal siding and paint, and release dioxin that causes cancer. A study from the American Lung Association found that a pound of burning leaves produces significantly more air pollution than a pound of coal burned in a plant.
More air pollution than coal!

Full disclosure: The above paragraphs are about me. Burning leaves make me sick. I have lung issues and, while I hate to use the term elderly when talking about myself, I'm getting up there...assuming I last through the leaf-burning season! It's also about your children and their immature lungs...and your neighborhood children...and your grandchildren...and your grandparents...and your parents. In short, everyone.

KEEP YOUR YOUNG CHILDREN INSIDE

That benzo (a) pyrene stuff is a big deal. It can negatively affect your nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, it messes with your DNA, and it's a carcinogen.

Why would anyone do that to themselves and their families...not to mention the little children who live next door or two houses down...or the old folks on the corner...or everyone else in the neighborhood?

My neighborhood (Google Earth).
Note the dark green...trees.

INSTEAD OF BURNING

If you live in the woods like I do, what do you do with all the leaves?

Some cities (such as Fort Wayne) provide curbside pickup of leaves. Pay attention and make sure you get them to the curb in time for pickup. If you live within the Fort Wayne city limits you've already paid for the service with your taxes...not to mention that there's a city ordinance against burning leaves that will result in a fine.

If you live outside of a city or town, or your municipality doesn't have curbside leaf pickup, you still shouldn't burn your leaves. Instead of setting them on fire, follow the recommendations of Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension Service.
You could compost those leaves yourself. Dry leaves alone will break down slowly over time, but you can speed that process by mixing the leaves with green plant materials, such as grass clippings, garden discards and produce scraps. Or you could add a source of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer. Mix (turn) the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost. A good-sized compost pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet. The compost will be ready to use as a soil conditioner in several weeks to several months, depending on size and management techniques.

Shredded leaves also can be used as a mulch around garden and landscape plants. Mulches provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature. Leaves can be applied to dormant plants in winter to prevent young plants from heaving out of the ground. Leaf mulch can help keep soil cooler in summer. No more than a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves should be used around actively growing plants. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help prevent them from matting down and preventing air from reaching roots.

Directly applying the leaves to a garden or unused area of soil is another option. Try to spread the leaves over as large an area as possible, then till or plow them under. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help them to break down faster.

My personal favorite option is to simply shred the leaves through my lawn mower until the pieces are small enough to just leave them right there on the lawn! Dry leaves are much easier to handle through the mower than moist ones. If possible, remove the bagger so all of the leaves are deposited right back onto the lawn as they shred.

Click this image for information on how to use leaves in your garden.

My lungs thank you.

This post was first published on November 2, 2017. Some links have been added/edited/corrected.

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Stop the Misuse of Tests

Chalkbeat, whose sponsors include such pro-privatization groups as the Gates Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, ran this piece about Indiana's ILEARN test was.

Schools were quick to downplay ILEARN results, but experts stand by the test. Here’s why.
While school leaders and lawmakers were quick to reason away concerns over shockingly low ILEARN scores, some testing experts and state education leaders are standing by Indiana’s new exam.

Calls to shield schools and teachers from any negative consequences of the low ILEARN scores were swift, after it was revealed that only one-third of students in grades 3-8 passed both the math and English portions of the exam. But when detangled from the question of accountability, experts say the results provide a valid measure of what students know.

Low 2019 scores weren’t a sign of a faulty exam, said Ed Roeber, Michigan’s former testing director and a consultant on Indiana’s technical advisory committee for assessments, said. Rather, Roeber said, it’s a reflection of “what instruction is or is not taking place in our schools.”

“I’m not discouraged by low performance,” he said. “I think it could be a real rallying cry for Indiana schools to evaluate what they are teaching and what students are learning.”


The experts said that the test was "a valid measure of what students know." If experts said that, they were not using precise language and were promoting invalid uses of tests. Actual tests and measurements experts ought to know better.

VALIDITY: WHETHER OR NOT A TEST MEASURES WHAT IT CLAIMS TO MEASURE

What might actually be true is that ILEARN was a valid measure of how much of the test content students knew...because that's what a test measures. A test can be a valid and reliable measure of its content, but that's as far as it goes. Student standardized achievement tests don't measure everything students need to learn.

But you say the test covered Indiana's State Standards? Even if it covered all of the standards, that's still not everything children should learn in school.

Tests don't measure what managers want from their employees, such as honesty, enthusiasm, growth, or the ability to work collaboratively in a group. They don't measure creativity or loyalty or perseverance.

In fact, our standardized tests measure only a fraction of what we send our children to school for.

One important reason for not holding schools and teachers responsible for ILEARN is because ILEARN is a student achievement test, not a test of school or teacher effectiveness. Using a student achievement test to measure school or teacher effectiveness is like using a teaspoon to measure temperature. ILEARN wasn't made to measure anything other than a student's knowledge of its content. Using the test for anything else is invalid.


ACHIEVEMENT GAPS
In an op-ed for IndyStar, Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, said the results show persistent racial gaps. While 43% of white students statewide passed both portions of ILEARN, 15% of black students did the same.
We know that poverty has an impact on student achievement and test scores. Could the fact that 42% of Indiana's black children live in poor families have anything to do with the "achievement gap?" Maybe we ought to hold legislators and policymakers (looking at you, Governors Daniels, Pence, and Holcomb) accountable for not providing equal education and employment opportunities or sufficient resources for all of the state's public schools.

A VALID USE OF TESTS

The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association said that we ought to use the test as a baseline. We ought to use the test to "plan a course" for our students.
“The results from that should be a baseline,” said Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill. “It is time now for educators to sit down with the results from that, now knowing how the test operates and how to best plan a course for students moving forward so in years to come the results are a true reflection of the growth of that student.”
That's exactly what standardized tests should be used for...to "plan a course" for students. Standardized tests should be used as instructional guides while keeping in mind that their results are skewed by student poverty and racial bias.

They should not be used to grade or punish communities, school systems, schools, teachers, and students. We ought to stop misusing standardized tests instead of just shielding "schools and teachers from negative consequences."

Until we stop the misuse and overuse of standardized tests we're throwing our tax dollars away. We're wasting student and teacher time better used for something with actual value, like recess, fine arts, and physical education.


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