"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, April 21, 2007

"Education isn't about learning..." -- G.W. Bush

Thursday, April 19th...

"It is important for all of us to make it clear that accountability is not a way to punish anybody," said Bush in a meeting at the White House, "It's an essential component to making sure that our system, our education system, frankly, is not discriminatory. Education isn't about learning, or getting an education, it's about ensuring that people of all races and all backgrounds have identical test scores."

. . . .

"There cannot be one nationwide federal test that compares all students equally," said Bush, "that'll just never work. Some parts of the country have more minorities than others, some are overflowing with illegals, and some are in the south; we cannot expect these states to perform at the same level as other, less unfortunate states."

Read it here:

Schools Matter
Bush Addresses Notion that No Child Left Behind Punishes Schools

Bush: NCLB not meant to punish schools, but to help them

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Wicked, Wicked Instrument

Handing out a Wicked Instrument
by Noel, a Texas Teacher

Next week, Texas third and fifth grade students who did not pass the first reading TAKS test "opportunity" will get the "opportunity" to take this test again. These kids must pass this test in order to move on to the next grade. If they don't pass this time, they will have another "opportunity" to take the test during summer school.

These students have been preparing for this "opportunity" for 1 hour each day since we received the results of the first "opportunity." In my third grade class, 2 ESL students have been removed from my room daily for this hour of test prep. Both of these children hear very little English at home. Both are very intelligent and can make incredible connections when reading with me. Both have made wonderful progress in reading this year. Both of these children are being taken away from a classroom where group discussion is encouraged and what they have to say is valued. Both of these children, my students, kids whom I love, are being robbed of a good education.

They have spent an hour every school day reading texts that mean nothing to them. They have spent time trying to find the main idea (from 4 choices). They have spent time trying to pick the best summary (from 4 choices). They have spent time trying to find the word from the story that helped them with the meaning of another word (from 4 choices). If they grow up to love reading after all of this torture it will be nothing less than a miracle. All of this for the "opportunity" of taking another test in order to go to the next grade.

I have really struggled this year (only my fourth year of teaching) with the "opportunities" forced upon my students. I feel guilty that I am forced to obey the rules and make them go to this horrid tutoring. I feel rotten that I have a masters of education in reading and am never asked about the needs of my struggling students--only told where and when to send them. It makes me sick to be the person who hands out such a wicked wicked instrument called a TAKS test to children who are scared to death.

I look forward to the day when lawmakers can see that by forcing standardized testing "opportunities" on CHILDREN we have greatly decreased their chances of the real opportunity to love learning.

— A Texas Teacher
e-mail to Susan Ohanian

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Classroom Caste System

[published in the Washington Post]

By David Keyes
Monday, April 9, 2007; A13

Written five years ago to reduce the "achievement gap," the No Child Left Behind Act has in fact created a gap in American education. Its pressure to raise test scores has caused many schools to give poor and minority students an impoverished education that focuses primarily on basic skills.

As it comes up for reauthorization, members of Congress should consider the unintended consequence of the act: a new gap between poor and minority students, who are being taught to seek simple answers, and largely wealthy and white students, who are learning to ask complex questions. In my work as an elementary school teacher, I have seen this new gap and I worry about its impact on my students' future prospects.

Although supporters and critics of No Child Left Behind agree on little, both would acknowledge that testing lies at the heart of the law. Schools approach the act's testing requirements differently, depending on the students they serve.

Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, American schools remain largely segregated. Schools serving mostly wealthy and white students have a distinct advantage when it comes to testing. Their students are far more likely to be raised in an environment that gives them the necessary tools to succeed on tests. They grow up with the intellectual abundance their wealth provides: books, educational videos and Baby Einstein games, to name a few. Having these resources may not make children smarter, but it does educate them in many of the skills -- such as letter sounds and addition facts -- that are covered on standardized tests. Knowing their students are likely to succeed on tests gives these schools freedom to teach higher-level thinking skills.

Poor and minority children also come to school with rich backgrounds. They speak foreign languages, make music, tell vivid stories and have other skills not typical of their peers. Their backgrounds, however, often do not provide them with the academic skills needed to succeed on standardized tests. Fearful of poor test scores that can bring punitive measures, schools spend an inordinate amount of time preparing their students for the tests.

Schools often use test-prep programs to try to raise test scores. The problem with these programs is that they teach the skills covered on tests, and only these skills. Poor and minority students spend hours repeating "B buh ball" and two plus two equals four. Every hour spent drilling basic skills is an hour not spent developing the higher-level thinking skills that are emphasized in wealthier school districts.

I have worked in both types of schools. Currently, I teach in an almost exclusively minority, high-poverty elementary school. Administrators require teachers to strictly adhere to a months-long test-prep program. My students recoil at the sight of their test-prep books. Last year, some of my students cried, wracked with anxiety over the tests.

My students are 7 and 8 years old.

I did my student teaching in an almost exclusively white and wealthy school. There, the students studied the role of quilts on the Underground Railroad, brainstormed plans to save wolves from extinction and performed dances based on retellings of Cinderella. The children learned to think and they loved it.

At the end of the year, test results will come out for these two schools. Educators and politicians will trumpet any reduction of the so-called achievement gap. This misses the point. Students will leave these two schools and schools like them with a widely varying set of skills. As the achievement gap is being reduced, another gap is being created. Students in largely wealthy and white schools are learning to ask larger questions; students in poor and minority schools are only being taught to answer smaller ones.

The effect of this gap will be long-lasting. Students taught higher-level thinking skills will be able to compete for jobs at the upper echelon of the 21st-century economy. Students who receive an impoverished education focused on basic skills will be stuck at the bottom.

The No Child Left Behind Act is creating a caste-like system in which students' future prospects are likely to be similar to those of their parents. This undemocratic development is at odds with a society that prides itself on being a meritocracy. As Congress debates the renewal of the law, members should consider not only whether the act is reducing the achievement gap but also the skills gap it is creating.

The writer is a second-grade teacher at Bel Pre Elementary School in Silver Spring.