"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, December 31, 2006

Democrats' plan...Kindergarten...Money...

The Democrats' plan for NCLB...

Kindergarten, NCLB style...Money for children...
"If the military needs more money, it is appropriated, as it would be for police, fire, or highway departments if we thought their product was substandard. But, if irrelevant tests suggest that schools are struggling, our solution is to cut funding, rather than to give them what they need."

-- Jack Blatherwick (Jack Blatherwick has been a physiologist and teacher for 40 years), http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/122806K.shtml

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 21,000 signatures so far...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Edison, Einstein, and Everyone else

Thomas Edison was intelligent and creative. Albert Einstein was brilliant and insightful. Both men left their fingerprint on western civilization through their contributions to science and society. Neither however, was predicted to have a great future when they were young. Einstein, for example, was a patent clerk repeatedly passed over for promotion because he was so "ordinary."

Both of these men were, in their younger days, low achievers. Both had trouble in school...and were considered less than capable by the adults who were charged with their education.

Why was it that they were missed? How did they get from being "below average," to their positions as leaders in the sciences?

I'm not an expert in either man's biography, and I'm not about to go on a big research mission just for a blog entry, but I can take a guess as to why no one realized how highly intelligent these two men were. The adults evaluating them did not understand the difference between ability and achievement.

The online version of the American Heritage Dictionary has the following definitions:

ABILITY: 1. The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something.

ACHIEVEMENT: 1. The act of accomplishing or finishing. 2. Something accomplished successfully, especially by means of exertion, skill, practice, or perseverance.

Simply put, if you have ability you are capable of doing something...if you achieve, you do it.

They are not the same thing. In school, teachers talk of ability grouping when they mean achievement grouping. Putting kids in groups based upon their individual skill levels is grouping by achievement because, as Edison and Einstein proved, you can't determine one's ability by how well you do in school.

So what does this mean for practical use in the classroom? There are several things that educators need to be aware of

1. If a student is a low achiever it does not mean that he/she is of low ability.
2. Children of extreme high ability are entitled to be part of the programs for high ability students whether they are achieving or not.
3. High achievers, while most certainly of high ability, are not necessarily the highest ability students in a given classroom. Not all high achievers are gifted. Not all gifted students are high achievers.

Edison and Einstein were highly intelligent, yet were branded as failures at school. They were, however, able to persevere and eventually their lives were marked by great achievement. The damage done to students by our current test-crazed culture is that low achievers who have high ability are labeled failures and not all of them will be able to overcome the emotional and social impact of that label.

If we don't recognize students of ability no matter what their achievement, then the Einsteins and Edisons in our classrooms today may be silent in the future.

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 21,000 signatures so far...

Monday, December 18, 2006

No Child Left Behind failing our children

This letter comes from the Contra Costa Times (California).
Sign the petition...


December 13th, 2006


No Child Left Behind failing our children

It's really ridiculous the way our educational system has become under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Testing, testing, testing and still we have the problem of increasing high school dropouts, fewer highly qualified/veteran teachers, more failing schools and fewer people entering a beat-down profession.
It's time for the politicians to stop playing with our educational system and begin listening to the people who have been working directly with the students and schools' staffs. It's time for President Bush and the politicians to show all of America that our schools are just as important as the war in Iraq.
Invest in the building of highly supplied and efficiently run schools. Invest in educational settings that are technologically current and aesthetically pleasing. Value the teachers by paying them living wages and sound benefits. Encourage youths by having community support centers that have homework help, as well as social and philanthropic activities for our young people.
Cheryl Powell


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Leave this law behind...

The test results are back.

"How did the corporation do?"
"How did our school do?"
"How did my class do?"


At one time standardized tests were designed to show how students were progressing and what areas they were weak in. The tests were designed to be used diagnostically...to guide teaching and learning.

The tests are still designed to do that...and, in some places, they are even used correctly. But even schools which use standardized test scores correctly are having their scores published and compared to others.

No Child Left Behind has made it impossible to look at test scores without considering the fate of the entire school. The scores are published and used to rank schools. Teachers use them to rank their students, and the government, of course, uses them to decide which schools are worthy of praise and which deserve punishment.

Even the Democrats don't get it. They want to "Fully fund" the law. But a fully funded train wreck is still a train wreck. The No Child Left Behind Act was designed to destroy the public schools in the US...and fully funding it won't change that goal. So the new congress is not going to provide any relief to the millions of students whose educations are threatened by this punitive law. Millions of teachers are going to have to put aside their pedagogical skills and "teach to the test." Thousands of good teachers are going to quit in disgust.

The poorest students, economically and academically, are the ones who are going to be hurt the most. Those who are more focused on finding a meal than finding a definition...those who are struggling to learn at their own pace...those who can't speak the language...they are the ones who will be punished as their schools face sanctions, cuts in funding, and state or corporate take-over.

Sign the petition. If it doesn't work at least we tried.

As Valerie Lute, signer #16048 said, "I don't think this is going to work, but what the hell."

At best it will help...at worst, it can't hurt.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Letter to the Senator...

Here's a letter I sent to Senator Kennedy...


I have always been a staunch supporter of your policies for those who are less fortunate. I became a teacher in order to help children meet the challenges they face no matter what personal obstacles they encounter.

I am a reading specialist in my 31st year of teaching. Over the years I think that I have learned a few things about how children learn and about how public schools function.

I am writing to you to urge you to help dismantle the No Child Left Behind Act. I understand your reasons for sponsoring that bill, and I agree with them, however, in practice, more children have been left behind than before. The law has had just the opposite effect that it was intended to have.

Children in the poorest schools in America have been subjected to the worst sort of teaching available because of NCLB. We had difficulty finding good people to staff inner city schools in the past, but this has made it worse. The schools in which the majority of poor students attend have now become test prep centers and so much of education of the entire child has been lost.

Special ed students, who are not able to function at the same level as their peers are now, in many cases, being required to achieve at the same level and, of course, fail. Schools have been labeled failures because they have not been able to "cure" these students of their disabilities and the students are hurt the most.

The bill was not funded properly. If we had funded it at the same level as the War in Iraq it might have been able to help some students, but as it is, it is causing school systems to cut programs for the neediest students in order to pay for more testing.

I know you have invested yourself into this law, but it is time to step back and take an objective look. I have signed a petition at:


and urge you to look at the comments made by some of the signers.

It's time to take the public schools back from the testing companies and give them back to the children and the teachers who staff them.

Please rectify the terrible wrong that this bill has placed upon the public schools of the United States and upon its children.

Thank you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Time to Teach

Our school system will start negotiating with teachers this Spring. Our current three year contract expires after this school year.

Our Teachers' Association negotiation team has been traveling around to each building asking what things we might want to work towards getting as part of our contract.

I talked to the staffs of three schools. Surprise...NO ONE MENTIONED SALARY!!!

The most common complaint was that we are so bogged down with paperwork, test prep, public relations activities, and babysitting duties (recess, cafeteria, bus duty, etc) that we're unable to meet the needs of our students. There just aren't enough minutes in the day to do all the things we're required to do and still have time to teach.

More on this later.

    “Our current ‘scientific’ method focuses almost exclusively on identifying what works best generally, [but] children differ. Therein lies what worries me about ‘evidence-based’ policy making in education. Good teaching, effective teaching, is not just about using whatever science says ‘usually’ works best. It is all about finding out what works best for the individual child and the group of children in front of you.” -- Richard Allington

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Zen of Public Schools

Zen master D.T. Suzuki is quoted as saying that "before studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. While studying Zen, things become confused and men are mountains and mountains are men. After studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains."

In the public schools, if you're merely looking in from the outside, you might observe that teachers are teachers and learners are learners. If you dig a little deeper, though, you see that teachers are learners and learners are teachers.

It's true. A good teacher never stops learning and good teachers learn from their students. The true test of a "master" teacher is the understanding that no one ever becomes a "master" teacher. By definition (at least my definition), a master teacher is one who has "mastered" the art of teaching. Since education is an ever-changing field, and since every student needs something a little bit different, teaching, as an activity, can never be mastered. That's as it should be. Once education becomes static intellectual growth ends.

One of my goals as an educator is to have my students learn how to learn. Thus they become their own teachers and once again teachers are teachers and learners are learners.

There is another dichotomy in public education. That is, the people who know about teaching and learning do not have much input into what needs to be taught and how the education should proceed. People who know next to nothing about education are often the ones who make the important decisions affecting schools. Public schools are run by the "public." In general this means politicians.

One needs only look at the state legislature battles (pick a state...any state) to see what damage this does. It is the legislators who decide how much money the schools get, what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught. It seems as if everyone considers himself an expert at education because he attended school at one time or another.

In Indiana money is doled out to school systems by means of a complicated funding formula. This determines how much each school system and ultimately each school will get. I don't claim to understand how the funding works...it's way above my math abilities, however, I do know that it's not enough.

It's not enough because the state wants public schools to be, as Bill Moyers put it, "the permanent emergency rooms of our country's dysfunctional social order. They are expected to compensate for what families, communities, and culture fail to do."

Social scientists, politicians, parents, the media, even many educators believe there's a "crisis" in education - especially in the public schools. I don't think that's true. I think the crisis is in society and since no one wants to take responsibility for the enormous inequities in our society, it is blamed on the public schools.

The obsession with testing is so that schools will be "accountable" to the greater society. Where is the society's accountability, though? Why is it that we can spend billions of dollars on a contrived war, and ignore the "economy gap" in our society? Why is it that educators have to accept No Child Left Behind to eliminate the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and local, state and national governments don't have to accept the "soft bigotry of urban neglect?"

There is an achievement gap in our society, but it's not in schools. The real achievement gaps are:

  • the gap between what our leaders say they will do and what they do

  • the gap between what we as a society value, and what we are willing to spend to get it

  • the gap between what we're willing to spend to "promote democracy" around the world and what we're willing to spend to equalize our democracy at home

  • BTW, after making the statement about men and mountains Dr. Suzuki was asked "What is the difference between before and after?" His reply was "No difference - only the feet are a little bit off the ground."

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    No Family Left Behind

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 12:00 AM

    Snohomish County opinion

    The No Family Left Behind Amendment
    By Richard Slettvet

    "The relationship between SES [socioeconomic status] and achievement was consistent across all 20 countries. Students with highest levels of SES, as measured in this study, had an educational advantage over their lowest SES counterparts. This reinforces the associations previously documented in the literature both in the United States and abroad between SES and student educational achievement."
    — U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, April 2006)

    WASHINGTON — Acknowledging the role that families play in the educational success of their children, Congress today enacted the No Family Left Behind (NFLB) Amendment to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.

    The NFLB will increase standards of accountability for Congress and the president to ensure that all families achieve high socioeconomic status (SES). Congressional districts that fail to achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) will be subject to corrective action.

    Key provisions of the NFLB follow:

    " In all 20 countries, 15-years-olds who live in a two-parent household have higher mathematics literacy achievement, on average, than those students who live in non-two-parent families (NCES)."

    Congress and the president shall take action to ensure that all students live in a two-parent household. Students in congressional districts that fail to make AYP will be given the opportunity to transfer, at government expense, to the two-parent family of their choice.

    " ... having parents of high occupational status is associated with higher student mathematics literacy performance on average in all 20 countries included in the study (NCES.)"

    Congress and the president shall develop economic and trade policies to ensure that all parents have jobs with high occupational status. For congressional districts that fail to make AYP, the government shall provide low-occupational-status parents with training for and employment as brain surgeons, chief executive officers, professional athletes or supermodels.

    " There are clear educational achievement disadvantages to receiving instruction in a language that is different from the one spoken at home ... (NCES)."

    English shall be spoken in the homes of all students attending public schools. Establishment of the Homeland English Language Police (HELP) to enforce this portion of the law is herein authorized.

    Highly qualified elected officials

    All members of Congress are required to pass the high-school exit exam in their respective states. Elected officials failing to pass the exam shall be labeled "not highly qualified" and will not be permitted to use the congressional cafeteria or barber shop, or to vote on any issue involving education, the economy or stem-cell research.

    Any president who is unable to correctly pronounce "nuclear" shall be denied access to nuclear weapons.

    Any member of Congress who asserts that the Earth is only 10,000 years old shall be required to hike the Grand Canyon, rim to river, carrying the thighbone of a T-Rex, until he or she has an epiphany.


    Congress will report SES statistics by social, ethnic, racial, religious, political party, IQ, hobby, and favorite reality-TV-show subgroup. Congressional districts that do not meet AYP for two consecutive years for any subgroup cited above will be identified "in need of improvement." Congressional districts that consistently underperform may be contracted out to the private sector.

    Richard Slettvet is a special-education teacher working in the Edmonds School District.
    Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Sick of NCLB

    I got an email this morning from an old friend and former college roommate who has been an educator for more than thirty years. He has spent his professional life in public education, trying to help kids make the transition to adulthood, doing his best to change things for the better. He has been a teacher, administrator, and now, a superintendent. We haven't always seen eye to eye on educational issues, but we do agree that what we do with our students while they're in school will determine not just their futures, but the future of our nation.

    In his email he told me that he was sick of complaining about NCLB and was hoping that a change in administration will change the direction education has taken in the last 5 years. He said that I was preaching to the choir with him and that he agreed with what I had to say.

    Well...I'm sick of complaining about NCLB, too...but I'm even more sick of watching it damage students and teachers, destroy schools and school systems, weaken public schools in general, and misrepresent what is happening in the public schools of the United States.

    I wish I could believe that a change in administration would change the course of public education in the US, but I believe that the errors of NCLB go much further than the current administration. The errors of NCLB go to the very nature of the economic and social culture of the US.

    No child left behind is the logical outgrowth of the now discredited report "A Nation at Risk." It is no mistake that the errors in that report were quashed by the Reagan administration.* Yet the myths of that era were embraced by the nation by Democrats as well. Bill Clinton was just as eager to develop a "national curruculum" as the Republicans. His administration was just as quick to call for the grade retention of students who didn't pass "the test" as the Republicans. He was just as willing to use standardized testing as the benchmark from which all school results are gathered and compared as are the Republicans.

    We don't have the luxury of being sick of complaining about NCLB. The students who are under our care are being damaged right now. If we sit back and wait for things to change who will be the voice of the students who are being pushed to drop out so their low test scores won't effect AYP? Who will be the voice of the 5 year olds who are being drilled and killed so they can improve their DIBELS scores?

    If not us, who? If not now, when?

    * See Gerald Bracey's "The 10th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education"

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    One Thin Thread

    by Brady Dennis

    Jerrick Blue was 6 months old when social workers placed him in the care of his aunt, Patricia Blue.

    His mother, Jerothea, who battled mental problems and once was arrested after chasing a neighbor with a knife, never again played a role in his life. She died in 1996.

    Aunt Pat, a short, round woman who worked nights as a nurse at Tampa General Hospital, raised Jerrick as her own.

    She toted him to church and made him take out the trash. She made him go to school, get regular haircuts and wear clean clothes. She taught him to answer questions with "ma'am" and "sir."

    She shielded him from the darker side of his family, the relatives who lived in sketchy neighborhoods near Ybor City. She told Jerrick that working held more honor than stealing. She hammered home the dangers of selling drugs. . .

    Read the rest at the following link. Read it...you need to.


    Monday, October 9, 2006

    A Must Read - Jonathan Kozol

    If you're like me you skipped my last posting (yes, I wrote it, but never read it...too long) since it was too long and dry. It didn't have anything in it but the oft-repeated "what's wrong with NCLB." Most people I talk to are tired of me ranting about it all the time.

    One nice thing, though is the list of References I put at the end. In it you'll find enough proof that the National Reading Panel was a political entity more interested in pleasing the anti-public education forces than in improving schools, and that NCLB is slowly but surely killing our system of public education.

    I realize that not everyone will be interested in reading those books, but there is one book that you should read if:

    1. you ever had, currently have or will have children or grandchildren in the public schools of the US
    2. you have ever worked or will work in the public schools of the US
    3. you pay taxes that support the public schools of the US
    4. you are anyone else

    The book is
    The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol (2005). Crown Publishers. New York.

    The first thing you should look at when you get the book are the appendices.

    The first appendix shows the per pupil spending in public schools in six metro areas. As you would expect, the spending for rich, white kids is 30-100% more than for poor black kids. This is important information if for no other reason than to answer the people who say "You can't fix schools by throwing money at them." Hey...it works for the rich, white kids.

    On a deeper level, though, it shows what is really wrong with the public schools in the US: They are trying to function in a society that allows extreme poverty and racism. The problem with public schools is not the schools...but the world in which they are situated.

    Poor kids are often born into literacy-free environments where there are no books, no respect for learning and not too much conversation either. By the time they're five and ready to start kindergarten they are already way behind their wealthier peers. Minimal help has been provided by pre-schools like Head Start, but that program has been slashed by the current administration. What used to be a good program which reached only a small number of children who needed it is now a good program which reaches only a
    TINY number of children who need it.

    When you read Kozol's book he'll show you how the Civil Rights movement of the 60's led to integrated schools in various places around the country. He'll also show you how those schools were successful in closing the black/white achievement gap. Finally, he'll show you how we have lost nearly all of that to re-segregated school systems...worse than before in many places.

    Two years ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education (which outlawed "separate, but equal" education). The irony is that since that time we have tried integrated schools, found that they worked to educate
    all children, and then, because it was socially difficult, gave it up. We now live in a country which segregates its children racially, ethnically and economically more than ever.

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    No child left behind-Wikipedia

    WARNING: This is too long. If you don't like to read rants by an old man skip it and wait for the next.

    After reading the entry at...


    ...as Roger suggested, I would like to add my 2 cents to the list of reasons the law is inadequate and, in fact, harmful to children.

    For the obsessive-compulsive among you I have also posted references...but no page numbers. You'll have to find those yourself. I may be working half time, but I don't want to spend my extra moments researching.

    1. Introduces an element of accountability into public school education and the expenditure of public funds for education.

    Already in place by the states before NCLB

    2. Links State academic content standards with student outcomes.

    Already in place by the states before NCLB

    3. Requires schools and districts to focus their attention on the academic achievement of traditionally under-served groups of children, such as low-income students, students with disabilities, and Blacks and Latinos. Many previous state-created systems of accountability only measured average school performance, allowing schools to be highly rated even if they had large achievement gaps between affluent and disadvantaged students.

    The reality is that these disadvantaged students are being left further behind by the obsessive focus on testing...since we know that the only thing that correlates positively with standardized testing is income.

    4. Supports early literacy through the Early Reading First initiative.

    This is the same initiative that has been wrought with scandal and fixes for publishers who are friends of the Bushies.


    5. Increases the quality of education. Schools are required to improve their performance under NCLB by implementing "scientifically based research" practices in the classroom, parent involvement programs, and professional development activities.

    Scientifically based research practices are based on the National Reading Panel's report...a report so filled with errors that the only teacher on the panel wrote a rebuttal which appeared in the final report.

    Among other errors from the NRP is the fact that the summary of the report in the "small book" is NOT the same as the information in full report.

    6. Establishes the foundation for schools and school districts to significantly enhance parental involvement and improved administration through the use of the assessment data to drive decisions on instruction, curriculum and business practices.


    7. Measures student performance: a student's progress in reading and math must be measured annually in grades 3 through 8 and at least once during high school via standardized tests.

    It measures the students' ability to take tests and is as reliable as their zip codes. Period.

    8. Emphasizes reading, writing, math and science achievement through a number of "core academic subjects" that include subjects as diverse as algebra and art.

    All over the country non-tested subjects like art, music, and social studies are being neglected to provide more time for drill.

    9. Provides information for parents by requiring states and school districts to give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts explaining the school's AYP performance. Schools must also inform parents when their child is being taught by a teacher or para-professional who does not meet "highly qualified" requirements.

    Yes it does this, but the info in the report card is nearly all based on standardized tests which only shows how well students do on standardized tests...and how much money their parents make.

    10. Gives options to students enrolled in schools failing to meet AYP. If a school fails to meet AYP targets two or more years running, the school must offer eligible children the chance to transfer to higher-performing local schools, receive free tutoring, or attend after-school programs.

    ...and then the school which was "failing" gets less money to improve.

    ...and who gets to transfer? In New York and Chicago (for example), less than 1% of eligible students were able to transfer because of overcrowding.

    Also...the definition of a failing school is debatable...in Florida, for example, it is possible for a school to be rated "A" by the state and yet still be labeled "failing" by NCLB.

    11. Gives school districts the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency, even for subgroups that do not meet State minimum achievement (AYP) standards, through a process called "safe harbor," a precursor to growth-based or value-added assessments.

    It punishes school districts for having students stay in school. The so-called Texas miracle orchestrated by Rod Paige, Bush's first Secretary of Education, was based on students being pushed out of school after 9th grade if they could not pass the tests, and by actual cheating on the tests by school systems. Guess who took no responsibility whatsoever for either of these activities.

    12. Increases flexibility to state and local agencies in the use of federal education money.


    13. Provides more resources to schools. Federal funding for education has increased 59.8% from 2000 to 2003.

    Reduces funding for schools which need it most.

    14. Seeks to narrow class and racial gaps in school performance by creating common expectations for all.

    This is another way in which the most at-risk students are hurt by NCLB. It assumes that "one size fits all," which is not true. With the wide diversity among students there is a need for alternative assessments and expectations based on reason and sound educational practices. The gap between the academic achievement of children in poverty and children of the middle class and wealthy has increased since NCLB was introduced.

    Furthermore, the percentage of children in poverty has grown under the Bush administration. This Compassionate Conservatism is ravaging the families of the poor.

    15. Addresses widespread perceptions that public education results fall short of expectations.

    It guarantees that all public schools in the USA will, eventually be failing schools by requiring a statistically impossible goal of 100% of students passing "the test" be reached by 2014.


    Allington, Richard (2002). Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Bracey, Gerald (2004). Setting the Record Straight. Portsmouth NH, Heinemann

    Coles, Gerald (2003). Reading The Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation and Lies. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Emery, Kathy, and Ohanian, Susan (2004). Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Garan, Elaine (2002). Resisting Reading Mandates: How to Triumph with the Truth. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Graves, Donald (2002). Testing is Not Teaching. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kohn, Alfie, and Shannon, Patrick (2002). Education, Inc. Turning Learning into a Business. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kohn, Alfie (2000). The Case Against Standardized Testing. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kozol, Jonathan (2005). The Shame of the Nation. New York. Crown

    Meier, Deborah, et.al (2004). Many Children Left Behind. Boston. Beacon Press

    Ohanian, Susan (2002). What Happened to Recess and Why are our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? New York. McGraw-Hill.

    Ohanian, Susan (1999). One Size Fits Few. Portsmouth NH. Heinemann

    The Testing Trap

    The tests are over for another year. The fall tests in our state take up most of the months of August and September. The actual tests only take place during one or two weeks, but the amount of time spent on them is much more than that.

    In each building in our district there is a Test-Coordinator. This is most often a guidance counselor, but in some elementary buildings the job belongs to the Resource teacher. [In our system the title Resource teacher is not reserved for the special services teacher who works with LD or MIMH students. The Resource teacher is more correctly defined as the "teacher of at-risk students." The job of the Resource teacher includes working with small groups of students, making or collecting materials for teachers to use in their classrooms, monitoring at-risk students, and too much more to list here.]

    It is up to these people to coordinate the testing program in their buildings. Here's how it works in our elementary building.

    In August, the test-coordinators go to meetings conducted by their local school system and meetings conducted by the state. These meetings are held to inform schools of new testing rules and regulations (and there are ALWAYS new rules and regulations) so that the school won't be in violation. There are usually 3 - 5 meetings for the test-coordinators to go to before the testing actually begins. Meanwhile, in classes throughout the building, "test prep" has begun. "Test-prep" is defined (by me) as the time in which children are drilled with techniques for answering tests and for drilling as much more information into the kids' heads as possible.

    The tests arrive about a week before they are actually scheduled to begin. The test-coordinator has to count the books, sort them for each class, and make sure that all the "extras" are counted as well. The extras include pencils, manipulative punch out cards, and envelopes to hold the manipulatives.

    The tests need to be kept in a locked room so no one can see any of them. The test-coordinator can distribute the examiner's manuals so teachers can make their schedules, but nothing else. Once the schedules are made the test-coordinator needs to round up people to test students with accommodations such as calculators, extended time, etc. These additional testers must be certified teachers...and are not always easy to find and schedule.

    On testing day, the tests are signed out to the teachers administering them, and the fun begins. Students sit through anywhere from 1 to 4 testing sessions a day, lasting for 1 to 3 hours. At the end of the day the test books must be returned to the locked room.

    Once the testing is finished make-ups must be scheduled and administered, usually by the test-coordinator and then the books must be made ready for shipping to the central office.

    There are bar code stickers for the tests in our state. These bar codes have all the information previously bubbled on the front of the tests and include information about the student, his or her socio-economic status, accommodations, IEPs, ethnicity, etc.

    The bar codes must be checked to make sure that they are accurate and that all the information is up to date. Any changes must be bubbled on the test. The bar codes are then placed on the tests...this process can take a long time depending on how many students are in the building and how many tests each of them received.

    Then the packing begins...and it must be done a specific way. The tests from each classroom are labeled and put into bundles. The bundles of tests must also be labeled and put in boxes which are, you guess it, labeled. Every item must be accounted for...all tests, practice tests, and manual must be returned.

    Everyone knows that the time it takes for the tests to be administered is time that no instruction takes place and is therefore time lost from learning. However, the hours and hours of preparation for the tests, organizing, and finally packing up the tests are also lost. The Resource teachers and Guidance Counselors cannot spend that time with students or parents. The effort to make sure that everything is done correctly is draining and the test-coordinators are not given any margin for error.

    All tests and packaging are checked again at the central office and finally they are shipped out for scoring. By mid year the scores will be returned...not for diagnostic purposes for which the tests were originally intended, but for ranking, for pitting one school against another - one class against another, and for politicians to use as a tool in their election campaigns.

    The testing companies themselves have indicated that the tests are more often than not, misused. This however, does not stop them from selling the tests to states and making enormous profits.

    The hours wasted on these tests are gone for another year. The actual instructional value of the tests and their resulting scores are negligible. The cost in salaries for building and district test-coordinators, for printing, shipping and scoring is enormous and the results are most often misused to rank schools not to help students learn.

    It makes no sense.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Scripted Teaching

    After 30 years of teaching I have watched a lot of teachers teach. I've seen good teachers and bad...exciting teachers and dull...quiet teachers and loud...dedicated teachers and indifferent.

    But one thing that is true about every single person into whose classroom I've stepped...each teacher I've observed has brought something unique to his or her students...something of themselves which no one else could possibly bring.

    And it's not just the uniqueness of his or her personality, though that's important...it's also the uniqueness of each teacher's teaching style. For example:

    I've never seen anyone with the creativity of Mr. X. He created magic with his children as they explored the world through fascinated eyes. He used words designed to excite his students and they responded with excited vocabulary of their own.

    There are very few teachers who have the quiet manner and kind demeanor of Mrs. Y. She has tamed the wildest child, eased hurts, calmed angers, and reached through frustrations to help each child achieve her highest potential. Her words were soothing, gentle, and encouraging. In her class children responded to nurturing by helping each other. They learned to use her calming words with their friends.

    Mrs. Z. had more enthusiasm than anyone I've ever seen. She carried her primary students through singing, dancing, clapping, laughing, and running to the enjoyment of literacy and the thrill of learning. Her words captivated her students...and the children absorbed her excitement as she taught them to express themselves with feeling.

    Every teacher brings their own gifts to their students. Each of us has something to offer our students as we talk and work with them day after day. Scripted teaching, saying what is written on a page that someone else has written because they claim it's the only way to get children to learn, takes away that uniqueness, even if only for a short time. It deadens the energy in the classroom and reduces the teacher to an emotionless robot.

    Plato and Socrates were dynamic teachers not solely because of what they taught, but because of how they taught. How teachers teach exposes children to the myriad of personalities which people our world. How teachers teach has the potential to reach the most unteachable student and the most unwilling learner. Scripted instruction does none of that. It smothers a teacher's personality in someone else's words.

    If we all approached teaching the same way, used the same techniques and the same words, we would lose the essence of why we use people to teach instead of computers. Isaac Asimov's short story "The Fun They Had" describes a society in which children learn from a computer called a teacher. Everyone learns the same thing in the same way. The point of the story is that there is something important in the natural interaction between adult and child. Scripted teaching removes that and demeans the humanity of teachers and learners.

    Saturday, September 16, 2006

    State standardized test time

    It's testing time again. It's time for us to stop teaching and devote way too many hours to testing our kids. The high school graduation exam, especially, is a painful thing to administer - and to take.

    Note to students taking the high school graduation exam:
    If you don't pass...you don't graduate. It doesn't matter what you have done during your time in high school...you must pass this ONE test to graduate. Classroom work is not as important...the work that you have done for 180 days a year...for 4 years...is not as important as how you do on this one test. Your entire future hangs in the balance...

    ...but no pressure.

    Teachers in our school system have been told that we cannot give A's or B's to students who have not passed the state standardized tests. What an incredibly stupid idea.

    Is it possible that you might have a student who works hard, does all of his or her assignments, completes homework, passes classroom assessments, yet fails the standardized test for whatever reason? It doesn't matter. Everyone has to pass the test...and if they don't, no amount of make up work, or daily achievement will matter. Everyone has to be the same.

    The new slogan in American education...One size fits all. Everyone is - or has to be - identical. There's no room for an Edison, an Einstein, or a Mozart. Pass the test...pass the test...don't worry about anything else...

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    On beyond thirty...

    When you look at my teaching contract for this year it says "Years Experience: 30."

    Things have changed since I started teaching in 1976. The curriculum has exploded, the kids are socially older, and the world is smaller.

    In 1976-77, my first class of third graders had no clue what a personal computer was, and had never heard of an iPod, an SUV or a hybrid car. They listened to music on records made of vinyl, or on cassette tapes, watched movies on film projectors in theaters or on TV broadcast, didn't have cable TV, and would have thought that "internet" had something to do with moving fish from the end of the hook to the boat.

    I was 28 when I started teaching. I had tried life in "the real world" and discovered, with the help of my 4 year old daughter, that child development and the science of learning was much more fascinating.

    I've taught Kindergarten through 6th grade (somehow missing 5th, but hitting all the others) and have never stopped learning. I have studied reading extensively and now, modestly refer to myself as a "reading specialist." I've got a reading endorsement and a computer endorsement along with my Masters degree in elementary education and was a Reading Recovery teacher for 6 years. I've been on both sides of the "reading wars" and have learned that most children will learn to read despite what we do...

    So here I am, now a part time pull-out reading specialist in a suburban/rural school in the midwest, still trying to figure out a better way to teach even after 30 years. I still find learning fascinating. It's still hard for some children...easy for others...and I still want to know why.

    I'm going to explore that here...as well as why I think No Child Left Behind and the obscene obsessive focus on standardized testing is destroying public schools in the United States.

    I'll also talk about my students and what I'm doing with them...how I hope to help them and why they have the problems they have. Feel free to make suggestions. The truth is, I need help to help them.

    I want to look closely at what's happening in our schools and try to determine why it's the politicians who are determining the curriculum and teaching methods. I want to figure out why teachers have become the enemy to so many Americans and what I can do to rectify that misconception. I want to help re-make the public schools in the US into places where children learn and teachers teach and discover the joy of that interaction. I want to figure out ways to make readers and thinkers out of my students...and I want to find ways to help them let go of the pain of failure and learn to enjoy learning.