"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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ice Storm leftovers

The radiator that exploded...literally - pieces flew off...spewed its black gunk all over the living room.

Here is a picture of a spot of that gunk across the room over the couch.

Here's a lampshade which got in the way of the gunk.

Most of the house is put back together. Tuesday night Chad came over and put in our new faucet. How lovely it is!!!

Still to do:

Contact the phone company.
Figure out what to do about the "down" bathroom which is still backing up.
Gather more sticks.
Entertain the Insurance adjuster when he comes on Monday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Pause in the Ice Storm...Obama, Arne Duncan, and test scores

We interrupt news about the ice storm to drop three items. First, a comment about Obama's nominee for Secretary of Education. If you listened me during the election I frequently said that I did not like Obama's Education policy (what little there was). Now, unfortunately it looks as if he is putting his money where his mouth is. Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is going to be our new Secretary of Education. Duncan is not an educator...he's an attorney. His interest is in producing good workers for business interests. More testing...more punishment...more of the same crap we've been forced to step in for the last 8 years.

Second...a modest proposal from a math teacher.

Third...more about Arne Duncan from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

1. Obama Betrays Public Education. Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling

Here's Arne Duncan, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Education, rubbing shoulders with the enemy, Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education. Her disdain for public schools is legendary. She's also not an educator. Her qualifications? She's a mom and has had kids in school. Duncan's main qualification is that he's one of Obama's basketball buddies.

The current "reform" of public education is a travesty and a lie...it's a pretense and we need to stop calling it "reform." It is corporate deception, hidden in the language of civil rights. They're killing our schools.

From Henry Al Giroux and Kenneth Saltman:

"It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with [Arne] Duncan's history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices - both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services."

Read their entire piece at truthout. It's long, but it's important to see what our next president is going to (continue) to do to public education.

2. A modest proposal from a teacher...

To the editor

From Robert Shelvock

Published in Washington Post (12/23/2008)

Every politician and appointee seems to have all the answers to our public schools problems. It amazes me how few of these people have actually taught in those schools.

A challenge to President-elect Barack Obama and Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan [front page, Dec. 17]: Take the entire staff from the worst-performing D.C. school and swap it with the one at the best-performing school. Then see what happens to test scores.

This would be a cheap way to find out whether school reform is worth everything being invested in it. If teachers really are the difference, scores will go up at the bad school and down at the good one. But I think you will find, as most teachers already know, that socioeconomic status
affects scores far more than teaching methods.

The writer is a math teacher with the Department of Defense Education Activity program.

3. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Blasts Duncan in Op-Ed

Arne Duncan favors free market schools....for profit schools...

"Duncan’s reforms are steeped in a free-market model of school reform, particularly the notion that school choice and charter and specialty schools will motivate educators to work harder to do better as will penalties for not meeting standards. But research does not support such initiatives. There is evidence that encouraging choice and competition will not raise districtwide achievement, and charter schools in particular are not outperforming regular schools. There is evidence that choice programs actually exacerbate racial segregation. And there is evidence that high-stakes testing increases the drop-out rate."

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ice Storm - Day 5

Woo hoo!!! The power came on at about 7 pm last night (Monday).

With the help of a brand new generator and a kerosene heater we started warming up the house. Chad removed the old, broken radiator - with only one minor emergency as water came shooting out of the pipe. The electricity came on while we were "thawing" out various water areas, so the generator was put away for next time. Lots of problems still remain.

There's no hot water in the "up" bathroom, the kitchen faucet is still broken, there's no heat above the garage, no heat in "the addition," and the floor in the "down" bathroom flooded because of frozen drains.

Today's chores:

1. Hope that the power stays on.
2. Move things out of the living room so that the floor can be cleaned.
3. Clean up the "down" bathroom...wash the towels used to mop up the floor (and, btw, hope that the washer works.
4. Thaw out the radiators in the addition.
5. Thaw out the hot water lines in the "up" bathroom.
6. Drag more limbs to the front of the house hoping that eventually some kind soul will come along and haul them away.
7. Contact the phone company to re-attach the phone lines...though this may have to wait until the tree which pulled the wires down melts and gets out of the way.

The living room corner with the dead radiator removed and capped - thank you Chad!!

The dead kitchen faucet - soon to be replaced with a brand new faucet with soap dispenser.

For some reason the siding has not "healed itself."

The "Hero" trophy goes to Chad and Kate for all their hospitality, help, and patience!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ice Storm - Day 4

All day Friday...all day Saturday...all day Sunday...and this is Monday...so it's the fourth day we've been in exile from the Grabill homestead.

We are extremely grateful to Kate and Chad for allowing us to invade their quiet home. Evidence of our presence is definitely felt and Kate is being a very brave girl with Mom and Dad in such close proximity. Memories of all those times she was embarrassed simply by being around us are, I'm sure, in the forefront of her mind, yet she continues to be strong in the face of such difficulties.

Some of the evidence...

Computers laying around...

Meg's favorite winter wrap-up blanket and heat bag...

...and the deep sense of stress which pervades the entire episode.

Today's trip home to Grabill brought some surprises. With subzero temperatures last night, the threat of frozen water pipes was great...and it happened. So far, there are two locations in which it is known that water froze in the pipes. First, the kitchen sink...which now needs a new faucet and second, one of the radiators, pictured below:

Water from the radiator burst into the room splashing up to 10 feet away and leaving a mess on the carpet.

Here are some more pictures of the ice storm which has caused all the problems.

The tree in our neighbor's yard which pulled down our telepone wire, ripping off the siding.

Another view of the siding.

The redbud tree in the front of the house. You can see how the trunk is being split by the weight of the ice on the limbs. Not sure if we will be able to save it.

Yesterday's pictures showed the limbs in the backyard...here are some that we dragged into the front yard.

A tree limb fell down and popped one of the boards off of our fence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ice Storm

On Friday morning, December 19, we were hit with an ice storm. The power went out at about 6 am.

We're still waiting for power, but the electric company is saying "Wednesday or later." No thaw till next weekend...so the danger of trees knocking down powerlines is still great.

Minor damage to the house...the phone wire was pulled down by a tree. It's still attached, but it pulled away from the house dragging some siding with it. A limb fell on our fence knocking some of it off.

Today I think, we need to go back and open the faucets a bit more to make sure that the water doesn't freeze in the pipes.

Ah...the joys of homeownership.

Some pics:

Neighbor's yard.

Kate said, "That's Arty" so I included this shot, too.

Redbud tree from the driveway.

Our redbud tree hanging precariously...

Same view...further back...

Tree limbs in the backyard...several more have already been dragged to the front.

Phone wire was pulled to the ground by a tree next door...and ripped siding off the house.

The top of the deck...right after the ice storm.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Teaching Jobs Based on Test Scores is a Bad Idea

Top 10 Reasons Why Teaching Jobs Based on Test Scores Is A Bad Idea

10. Teaching jobs based on test scores will hasten the flight of the remaining good teachers from the poorest schools where the best teachers are already in the shortest supply.

9. Teaching jobs based on test scores will attract only the most desperate teachers to the poorest schools.

8. Teaching jobs based on test scores will contribute to cutthroat competition among teachers for positions most likely to produce the best test results.

7. Teaching jobs based on test scores will decimate teamwork and collaboration among teachers.

6. Teaching jobs based on test scores will push the curriculum into a smaller and smaller box based only on what is tested.

5. Teaching jobs based on test scores will further poison the educational climate in schools that is now almost unbreathable.

4. Teaching jobs based on test scores will exacerbate the cheating and corruption associated with high stakes policy implementation.

3. Teaching jobs based on test scores will damage learning for knowledge, skills, and understanding by placing further emphasis only on memorization and short-term learning gains that can be demonstrated with paper and pencil tests.

2. Teaching jobs based on test scores will extend the view of children as raw material to be exploited for their monetary worth.

1. Teaching jobs based on test scores will encourage the marginalization and discarding of the raw material that can't be exploited.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

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Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poverty is not an excuse...it's a condition...

"When people have said 'poverty is no excuse,' my response has been, 'Yes, you're right. Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition. It's like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.'" - Gerald Bracey

Poor Children's Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows

ScienceDaily (Dec. 6, 2008) — University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.

In a study recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) – basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain – like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.

"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response."

Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, "those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity."

Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. "We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive."

Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist, heads a joint UC Berkeley/UBC research program called WINKS – Wellness in Kids – that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low socioeconomic circumstances change children's basic neural development over the first several years of life.

"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

"It's not a life sentence," Knight emphasized. "We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices."

Kishiyama, Knight, Boyce and their colleagues selected 26 children ages 9 and 10 from a group of children in the WINKS study. Half were from families with low incomes and half from families with high incomes. For each child, the researchers measured brain activity while he or she was engaged in a simple task: watching a sequence of triangles projected on a screen. The subjects were instructed to click a button when a slightly skewed triangle flashed on the screen.

The researchers were interested in the brain's very early response – within as little as 200 milliseconds, or a fifth of a second – after a novel picture was flashed on the screen, such as a photo of a puppy or of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

"An EEG allows us to measure very fast brain responses with millisecond accuracy," Kishiyama said.

The researchers discovered a dramatic difference in the response of the prefrontal cortex not only when an unexpected image flashed on the screen, but also when children were merely watching the upright triangles waiting for a skewed triangle to appear. Those from low socioeconomic environments showed a lower response to the unexpected novel stimuli in the prefrontal cortex that was similar, Kishiyama said, to the response of people who have had a portion of their frontal lobe destroyed by a stroke.

"When paying attention to the triangles, the prefrontal cortex helps you process the visual stimuli better. And the prefrontal cortex is even more involved in detecting novelty, like the unexpected photographs," he said. But in both cases, "the low socioeconomic kids were not detecting or processing the visual stimuli as well. They were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex."

"These kids have no neural damage, no prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, no neurological damage," Kishiyama said. "Yet, the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as efficiently as it should be. This difference may manifest itself in problem solving and school performance."

The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame, since in animals, stress and environmental deprivation have been shown to affect the prefrontal cortex. UC Berkeley's Marian Diamond, professor emeritus of integrative biology, showed nearly 20 years ago in rats that enrichment thickens the cerebral cortex as it improves test performance. And as Boyce noted, previous studies have shown that children from poor families hear 30 million fewer words by the time they are four than do kids from middle-class families.

"In work that we and others have done, it really looks like something as simple and easily done as talking to your kids" can boost prefrontal cortex performance, Boyce said.

"We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids – there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens," he said. "But changing developmental outcomes might involve something as accessible as helping parents to understand that it is important that kids sit down to dinner with their parents, and that over the course of that dinner it would be good for there to be a conversation and people saying things to each other."

"The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development," said Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in teenagers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Boyce's UBC colleague, Adele Diamond, showed last year that 5- and 6-year-olds with impaired executive functioning, that is, poor problem solving and reasoning abilities, can improve their academic performance with the help of special activities, including dramatic play.

Bunge hopes that, with fMRI, she can show improvements in academic performance as a result of these games, actually boosting the activity of the prefrontal cortex.

"People have tried for a long time to train reasoning, largely unsuccessfully," Bunge said. "Our question is, 'Can we replicate these initial findings and at the same time give kids the tools to succeed?'"

This research is supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.

Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Berkeley

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Time Bashes...

I remember arguing with my father about Time magazine. "A right-wing, fascist rag" I said (this was back in the day of my anti-Viet Nam War radicalism). "An editorial magazine with definite corporate opinions and a 'business' focus" he said.

Of course, he was right...and they have done it again. The latest issue of Time Magazine features the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools on the cover and contains a diatribe against 1) American education, 2) American schools and 3) American teachers. It seems that all that's wrong with public schools today is bad teachers. Our schools are failing...students not learning...teachers' unions sabatoging the future of our children...and the rest of the world is passing us by.

The 'business focus' of Time Magazine has come through loud and clear. They have joined the ranks of the "Business Roundtable," Bill Gates, and the Chamber of Commerce in their level of public school bashing.

"The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation's economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research. And Washington, which spends more money per pupil than the vast majority of large districts, is the problem writ extreme, a laboratory that failure made."

This is pretty clear is it not? It's the teachers' faults...period. Unfortunately they are missing the point.

It turns out that we're not so bad after all...it all depends on how you look at "the decades of research."

The truth is when compared to our white middle class and wealthier students, the rest of the world does not have that much of an edge.

If you read the research by Erling E. Boe and Sujie Shin from the University of Pennsylvania (published in Kappan, October 2005) you'll see that white American students are doing pretty well compared to the average scores from the G5 nations. It is only when you add in the test scores of America's poor, both brown and black, that you get the sorts of results that the anti-public school crowd can use to perpetuate their myth of failing schools in the United States.

The fact is that the 'problem' with the public schools in the US is the same problem that has been affecting the rest of the nation economically and socially for the last 8 years...the growth of poverty. Poverty in the US was not eliminated, but at least reduced during the Clinton years, but in the last 8 years the number of children living in poverty in the US has skyrocketed.

The rich are getting richer...and their children are getting a pretty good education. The poor are getting poorer thanks to Bush, Cheney, Rove & Co. The bottom line is poverty, and urban schools are neglected. Time Magazine is still too blinded by their corporate connections to see the truth.
Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

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Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Bush Legacy - Health Care

I know that President elect Obama is busy building his cabinet and figuring out how to pull our economic butts out of the fire. I hope, however, that he jumps on the health care issue quickly. Aside from sucking the life out of the American people in two economically disastrous wars...aside from killing decent public education in the name of saving the poorest among us...aside from handing the riches of the American people to his friends and family...aside from making this one of the worst industrial countries in terms of "good places to raise children"...he has put the proverbial fox in charge of the "health care chicken coop."

Here's just a sampling of the "Bush Legacy" on health care from Think Progress.


– Since 2000, the ranks of the uninsured have grown by 7.2 million.

Health care premiums have doubled under Bush. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have risen from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008.

– The fastest growing component of health care is health insurers’ administrative costs.

Enrollment in Medicare private plans doubled. Through such plans, insurers “have increased the cost and complexity of the program without any evidence of improving care.”

– The combined profits of the nation’s largest insurance companies and their subsidiaries increased by over 170 percent between 2003 and 2007.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Nation at Risk

You had to be there.

When the Federal Government released A Nation At Risk in 1983 the response was dramatic. People were decrying the poor education our children were receiving and blaming it on the "education establishment" and teachers. It didn't matter that it was not true or that the facts were being twisted to make public education look bad. What mattered was the the Reaganites were finally going to get what they wanted...a complete dismantling of public education. They're still at work, trying to bring down public schools by any means necessary, but they haven't succeeded yet, because America's public schools are among the best in the world. At the end I have linked to a couple of articles which discuss that.

In the meantime, Carl Glickman has taken language directly from A Nation At Risk and applied it to the current financial mess. I wonder if it will be accepted like the original was?


The Latest Nation at Risk Report

The Latest Nation At Risk Report: The Education Roundtable to Tell Corporate America How to Stop Ruining America.

We feel compelled to report to the American people that the business and financial foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur— companies that extolled themselves as models of excellent practices have deceived the American people with sloppy, undisciplined, and greedy practices that are driving Americans out of their homes, threatening their retirements, and dashing their hopes of a financially secure future. Indeed, if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre corporate financial performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

As it stands, our businesses have allowed this to happen, with greedy CEOs and upper management taking enormous benefits for themselves while preaching and dictating to our schools the need to adopt their “sound” business practices of unbridled free markets, privatization strategies, and the notion of competition as the force for change. Taxpayers are now providing an initial $700 billon bailout of some of these companies, whose CEO’s have been actively involved in dictating to policy-makers that America’s schools should model the management style of the private sector.

God forbid that our schools become more like these kinds of businesses! Our business and financial communities have, in effect, been committing rash, thoughtless acts of unilateral financial disarmament, dragging our citizens and their children into economic insecurity while having many of these same citizens pay the bill. By making their terminology, practices and transactions incomprehensible to the lay audience, these business leaders enjoyed a decade-long end run around the public and our alleged watchdog agencies. The hubris of high rollers on the top floors of America’s giant companies permitting unfettered profit-taking at the expense of others has no limit. To be blunt, the business community has become an industry at risk of implosion.

To help our colleagues in the business community, we educators hereby recommend a new guiding and monitoring organization for business and financial institutions. The Education Roundtable will gather a team of the country’s top educators, whose charge will be to set business standards, goals, and accountability structures for all corporations and financial institutions. To promote a greater culture of accountability, the Roundtable will also require each entity to publish a report card every year, based on a series of standardized assessments.

Our final word, perhaps better characterized as a plea, is that all segments of our population will give close attention to the implementation of our recommendations. Our present plight did not appear overnight, and the responsibility for our current situation is widespread. Reform of our corporate and financial system will take time and unwavering commitment. For no one can doubt that the United States is under challenge from many quarters.



There will be some angry readers out there who will bristle as I have lifted some of the exact wording of the Nation at Risk Report of 1983 and changed the word “schools” and “public education” to “business and financial institutions.” And yes, I have taken plenty of liberties to extend and add sentences to define all business and financial leaders and stock market manipulators as untrustworthy, immoral, dangerous people who have let our country down; crushing the day to day lives and long term hopes of the large majority of Americans who can not afford to lose their jobs, their homes, and their savings. And my business friends -- if there still are a few left -- will bristle at the idea that educators and lay people, with no experiences in business or finance, should be taking charge of what they need to do. If so, the point has been made and hopefully, sincerely taken before further policy making.
Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

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Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Study of Reading Program Finds a Lack of Progress

By Maria Glod

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; A06

Students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study.

The final version of the study, released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education, found that students in schools that use Reading First, a program at the core of the No Child Left Behind law, scored no better on comprehension tests than students in similar schools that do not get the funding.

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

Whitehurst said the study showed some benefits. First-graders in Reading First classrooms were better able to decode, or recognize, printed words than students in schools without the program. Decoding is a key step in learning to read.

Reading First, though popular with educators, has been tarnished by allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement in recent years. Federal investigators have found that some people who helped oversee the program had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has assured lawmakers that measures were taken to prevent future management troubles.

"Reading First helps our most vulnerable students learn the fundamental elements of reading while helping teachers improve instruction," Spellings said. "Instead of reversing the progress we have made by cutting funding, we must enhance Reading First and help more students benefit from research-based instruction."

The study, among the largest ever conducted by the department, tracked the progress of tens of thousands of students in 248 schools nationwide over three academic years. The students took a widely used reading comprehension test, and researchers observed classrooms.

Reading First, which requires schools to use instructional techniques supported by scientific research, provides grants for reading instruction. It focuses on five areas: awareness of individual sounds, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Computerized "Reading Incentive" Programs

Excerpted from Chapter Five of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006, 6th edition).

What about computerized “reading incentive” programs like Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts?

by Jim Trelease

Twenty-five years ago when The Read-Aloud Handbook was first published, the idea of computerized reading-incentive/reading management programs would have sounded like science fiction. Today it is one of the most hotly debated concepts among both educators and parents: Should children read for “intrinsic” rewards (the pleasure of the book) or should they be enticed to read for “extrinsic” rewards—prizes or rewards (or grades)?

Advantage Learning System’s Accelerated Reader and Scholastic’s Reading Counts, the two incentive industry leaders, work this way: The school library contains a core collection of popular and traditional children’s books, each rated by difficulty (the harder the book, the more points it has). Accompanying the books is a computer program that poses questions after the student has read the book. Passing the computer quiz earns points for the student reader, which can be redeemed for prizes like school T-shirts, privileges, or items donated by local businesses. Both programs strongly endorse SSR as an integral part of their program and require substantial library collections. Both Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts have expanded their scope beyond “incentives” to include substantial student management and assessment tools, with Accelerated Reader having the largest customer base nationally.

Too many schools are doing the same thing with reading programs that other districts sadly have done with the game of basketball.

Before going forward on this subject, I must note, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I have been a paid speaker at three Accelerated Reader national conventions. I spoke on the subjects of reading aloud, SSR, and home/school communication problems, topics I have addressed at conventions for nearly all the major education conferences, from International Reading Association (IRA) and the American Library Association (ALA) to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

I have written and spoken both favorably and negatively about these computerized programs but in recent years I've grown increasingly uneasy with the way they are being used by districts. Too often I see them being abused in ways similar to basketball, for example. In its original form, Dr. James Naismith was trying to shape an "indoorsy" exercise that would have an "outdoorsy" flavor to it. He invented basketball less than three miles from the home I'm sitting in right now. A century later, some people still use it as a form of exercise, some a form of sport, and others take it to another level and turn it into a local obsession—maybe even a form of legalized child-abuse—while warping the original intention of the sport. I don’t have to spell out those towns, cities, and states.

When I survey my seminar audiences nationally, I meet an increasing number of dedicated educators and librarians who are alarmed by the way these programs are being used. The original design was a kind of "carrot-on-a-stick"—using points and prizes to lure reluctant readers to read more. For a while the big complaint from critics was about these points or incentives. But I didn't have a problem with that as long as the rewards didn't get out of hand (and some have). As for incentives, my family's been benefiting from those frequent traveler "point programs" for decades. Every professional athlete, every CEO, and most sales reps have incentive clauses in their contracts. Who says this is bad business?

As I see it, the real problem arrived when districts bought the programs with the idea they would absolutely lift reading scores. "Listen," declares the school board member, "if we're spending $50 grand on this program that's supposed to raise scores, then how can we allow it to be optional? You know the kids who'll never opt for it—the ones with the low scores, who drag everyone else's scores down. No—it's gotta be mandatory participation." And to cement it into place, the district makes the point system 25 percent of the child's grade for a marking period. Oooops! They just took the "carrot" off the stick, leaving just the stick—a new grading weapon. Do you see the basketball connection now?

Here is a scenario that has been painted by more than a few irate librarians (school and public) in affluent districts that are using the computerized programs:

The parent comes into the library looking desperately for a "7-point book."
"What kind of book does your son like to read?" asks the librarian.
The parent replies impatiently, "Doesn't matter. He needs 7 more points to make his quota for the marking period, which ends this week. Give me anything."

In cases like that, we're just back to same ol', same 'ol: "I need a book for a book report. But it's due on Friday—so it can't have too many pages."

Draftees vs. Enlistees:The difference is in the "attitude."

The only time the incentives really work on attitudes is when it's voluntary. It's the equivalent of the difference between "enlistees" in the Army and "draftees." There's a big difference in their attitudes: one is in for a career (volunteer), the other (draftee) is in for as little time and work as possible.

As for the research supporting the computerized programs, that's hotly contested with no long-term studies with adequate control groups. True, the students read more, but is that because the district has poured all that money into school libraries and added SSR to the daily schedule? Where's the research to compare 25 "computerized" classes with 25 classes that have rich school and classroom libraries and daily SSR in the schedule? So far, it's not there.

Believe it or not, high reading scores have been accomplished in communities without computerized incentive programs, places where there are first-class school and classroom libraries, where the teachers motivate children by reading aloud to them, give book talks, and include SSR/DEAR time as an essential part of the daily curriculum. And the money that would have gone to the computer tests went instead to building a larger library collection. Unfortunately, such instances are rare. Where the scores are low, oftentimes so is the teacher’s knowledge of children’s literature, the library collection is meager to dreadful, and drill and skill supplant SSR/DEAR time.

Are there any other negatives associated with these programs?
Here are some serious negatives to guard against:

  • Some teachers and librarians have stopped reading children’s and young adult books because the computer will ask the questions instead.
  • Class discussion of books decreases because a discussion would give away test answers, and all that matters is the electronic score.
  • Students narrow their book selection to only those included in the program (points).
  • In areas where the “points” have been made part of either the grade or classroom competition, some students attempt books far beyond their level and end up frustrated.

Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district must decide its purpose: Is it there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Case Against Standardized Testing

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The eleventh and twelfth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

11. We are undermining and losing our best people.

As an educator, I can attest to the increasing levels of frustration and dissatisfaction within the ranks of teachers. We are losing fully 50% of new teachers in the first five years of embarking on what they hoped was a lifetime career.(54) We are also losing a staggering number of veteran teachers, some through retirement, others through the frustration of seeing what has happened to education.(55) Think about it: are we really supposed to believe that a teacher comes home at the end of the day and says to her husband—“Honey, it’s been an unbelievable day at school; our reading scores just shot up 2 percent over last year.” The real truth is that educators are made from a complex confluence of personal factors, and principal among them are a love of learning and a kind of reverence for making a difference in the lives of youngsters. By subverting that, by elevating merely routine performance to the front of what makes for education, we are actively undermining the very rationale for why good teachers want to teach.(56) And slowly, over the course of a generation, if we lose enough truly inspiring educators, we will lose their students too—the ones who see no particular reason to want to go into teaching themselves.

12. We are undermining essential American values.

Last, but not least, and perhaps most insidiously, high-stakes standardized exams support a very dangerous world-view. Jim Cummins, the intrepid advocate for literacy and second language acquisition, calls the NCLB mindset “an ideology.”(57) It is one that believes there is a single measure of human excellence, that conformity to the designs of those in authority is mandatory and that deviating in any way from the norm is wrong and to be punished Had it been our principal educational impulse since America’s inception, I believe there would not have been developments like Jazz and women’s suffrage, or figures like Anne Sullivan, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony or Franklin Delano Roosevelt—that we would be today a much less confident, innovative and resilient people.

At its core, the high-stakes standardized testing movement is asking students not only to not think for themselves, but to passively accept that all knowledge is controlled by authority. That you exist only as an individual, not as part of some larger social whole, and that you will be successful or fail based upon your individual ability to do exactly what others expect you to. If you step outside of that and try to do something based upon conviction, creativity or critical insight, your academic record along with a raft of social opportunities will be damaged. In fully embracing a high-stakes standardized testing regime, we are subverting a substantial part of what makes America unique and productive: our ingenuity, our self-reliance, our faith that we make a better tomorrow through creativity and collaboration, not conforming to others’ ideas about what we ought to know or be able to do. Instead, we are being asked to stay passively in our chair and make a selection from answers provided, obey all commands and regulations—no matter how punitive, ridiculous or restrictive—blithely accept the accuracy, fairness and lack of transparency surrounding the exams, and voice not a single word in opposition to the entire noxious enterprise.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

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Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Standardized Tests decrease learning Part 2

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The ninth and tenth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

9. The higher the stakes, the lower the bar.

High-stakes standardized tests are not good measures of academic excellence. As mentioned previously, they measure a narrow band of logical sequence operations which are useful only for taking further exams. In fact, because states are under tremendous pressure to show that their academic programs are working, the truth is that state exams are becoming less and less demanding.(49) It is a truism: just as in gym class where every student must jump over a bar at some minimum height, the temptation is to continually lower the bar until a vast majority can make it. This is not driving the system toward Olympian heights of excellence; on the contrary, it is driving the system toward lower and lower levels of acceptability. Why is it that some states like Georgia and North Carolina have such remarkable pass rates on their State-wide exams but such a dismal pass-rate on the NAEP exam?(50) The answer is that high-stakes exam bars are not set very high, and are certainly not indicative of students who are ready for college, work or the complex demands of being an adult. Look at the amount of remedial instruction now required on college campuses before students can even begin taking introductory classes. On the route of trying to measure and prove academic excellence, we are guaranteeing ourselves a progressively larger share of mediocrity. We are being dumbed- down in a systematic, organized and expensive way.

10. Shallow is as shallow does.

The American public’s perception of how public education is performing continues to slide in an era of standardized testing. Surveys confi rm that Americans view public education unfavorably, saying that standards are too lax and that students are leaving with low skill-levels.(51) Interestingly, when the same respondents are asked about their own public school, the one at which they send their children, their perceptions are that the school performs quite well.(52) In other words, it is the “other” schools that aren’t doing well, the ones that are educating “other” children. No doubt, media coverage of school shootings, falling test scores and inadequate supplies and resources contribute to a general perception that schools are failing. But even when the news is apparently good, when pass rates or test scores move up, the public is being encouraged to believe in a very shallow and unreliable measure of what makes for a “quality” education.(53) As much as students are being dumbed-down by the lowered bar of high-stakes exams, their parents and the public are being asked to swallow whole that the complex, interrelated and open-ended process of education can be reduced to a single number, up or down, black or white. Standardized exams are equally adept at dumbing-down the American public—the very ones being asked at election-time to vote on school-funding levels, school-board candidates, and—yes, sadly—even presidential candidates.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Standardized Tests decrease learning Part 1

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The seventh and eighth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

7. More anxiety = less learning.

High-stakes standardized tests increase the levels of fear and anxiety of young students, and it is a well-documented fact in education that the higher the levels of affective interference, the less able students are to complete even low-order thinking tasks—not to mention the more refl ective, higher-order skills which are crucial for brain development and future employment. The stories coming in from around the country, even around the world,(44) of students unable to sleep at night, acting out, exhausted from stress(45) and generally working themselves into emotional wrecks(46) as a result of hype surrounding exams(47) is truly disgusting. These are children, some as young as eight years old, being put in highly stressful situations where their test performance may have extremely serious repercussions for their teachers, their parents and the fate of their school. Why are we doing this again? Oh, right—for the good of the children.

8. Narrowing the curriculum to a lifeless skeleton.

Fact: 71% of schools(48) report having to cut back on important electives like art, music and gym class in order to find more time for remedial instruction in math and reading. Some critics might consider this a step in the right direction, more like our highly competitive adversaries in China, India and Japan. But, as previously mentioned, in terms of brain development, pedagogical excellence, real-world skills and fostering intrinsic interest in learning, this is a huge net loss for children and our society. Doing more and more of what is not working does not equate with an effective educational program. We are asking children to do the metaphoric equivalent of bang their heads against a concrete wall for hours every day—and when we discover that it isn’t working, we are urging them to do it harder and for longer periods of time.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We're Ruining Brains and Promoting the Achievement Gap!

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The fifth and sixth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

5. We are ruining brains.

Brain development is perhaps the most pressing reason why we need to rethink our current high-stakes testing mania. By age 9 or so, young people have the physical structure—the hardware, if you will—of their brain in place. Over the next ten to twelve years it is crucial that they actively utilize different brain functions—develop the software—in order for it to reach its maximum potential.(36) Structured complexity in the classroom, an enriched array of choices and modes of assessment, varied social groupings all contribute to growing the brain in particularly fruitful ways. And so does creating an environment in which adequate time, physical activity and low stress levels are baseline considerations.(37-38) Similarly, the aesthetic appreciation found in music and the arts as well as more contemplative activities like spirituality and compassion are not things that happen without schools making them a priority, or at least a possibility.(39) All of these are currently being shunted aside in our mad rush to increase test scores. As a result, we are in danger of producing a generation of learners who cannot critically think, appreciate the arts, nor marvel at the profound mysteries of our universe. And, tragically, once these abilities are neglected long enough, up through the age of 24 or so, there is less of a chance that they will ever be fully integrated into a person’s intellectual repertoire.

6. Exams merely ratify the achievement gap.

The oft-stated purpose of NCLB is to narrow the achievement gap between whites and students of color. Yet, we know, and have known for a long time, that the most reliable predictor of a student’s standardized test score is the square-footage of their principal residence.(40) In other words, students of affluent families almost universally score higher on exams than do students in under-privileged homes. Researchers have found that by the age of six, children in affluent families have been exposed to fully 2 million more words than have been children in more trying circumstances.(41) They are more likely to have been read to regularly, engaged in enrichment activities like travel and museums and also to have had access to adequate nutrition and health-care. Is it any wonder that there is a substantial achievement gap when there is a veritable gulf of difference between the haves and the have-nots in America? (I don’t even understand why we are surprised by this.) But to then take the one reliable instrument which has always privileged well-to-do students and make it the basis of comparison and academic achievement for every kid in America is simply to lock in place existing inequities. Poor children are, by far, more likely to drop out, have a stressful home-life, get suspended, repeatedly move and change schools, run afoul of the law and act out during class.(42) They are also least likely to be interested in or motivated by abstract questions or the need to score highly on an instrument far removed from their personal experience. We are not closing the achievement gap under NCLB as major research studies have shown,(43) but, rather, we are confirming and institutionalizing at the level of policy how real and profound are the differences between rich and poor.

Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing

No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...