"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 30, 2010

Stephen Krashen Agrees with me...

...or I agree with him...whichever. On December 27 I wrote:
2. He [Duncan] realizes that if master's degrees in education meant something then his own qualifications would be suspect. He has no educational training. He has never taught in a public school...has never worked in a public school...has never even attended a public school. It's in his best interest to imply that teachers with master's degrees don't know any more than he does with his bachelor's degree in Sociology.
Then, I read this today...
Prediction: Arne Duncan's next move

by Stephen Krashen

I predict that Arne Duncan's next move will be to declare that teachers don't need any kind of degree in education or any course work in education. In fact, he will say they are better off without it.

Guess who has no degrees or course work in education: Arne Duncan. Nor, to my knowledge, has he ever spent any time alone in a room with children or high school students.

And the same is true for many of his advisers.

Analogy: The hospital administrators whose only training is watching Dr. Oz are telling the surgeons how to operate, and are making wild statements about the quality of medical schools and how much preparation medical professionals should have.

This has to stop.

— Stephen Krashen
NCTE Members Open Forum

And just for the record...Margaret Spellings, Duncan's predecessor at the US DOE had the same qualifications that Duncan has...none.

[Note: You may have noticed that I inserted an apostrophe for "master's degree." When I posted on 12/27, I left it out. I have since checked and found that most (but not all) sources say use the apostrophe. You can read that information here.]


Monday, December 27, 2010

Advanced Degrees Don't Matter

Why is it that Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, denounces teachers masters degrees as not effective and too expensive? He claims that advanced degrees do not make better teachers...except perhaps for Math and Science teachers.

Here are some possible reasons for Duncan's position on this issue...

1. He equates "good teaching" with test scores. Teaching students to get higher scores on tests does not require a masters degree. The learning doesn't last...doesn't mean anything beyond the test taking, but that's where he is...tests are the only things that matter.

2. He realizes that if masters degrees in education meant something then his own qualifications would be suspect. He has no educational training. He has never taught in a public school...has never worked in a public school...has never even attended a public school. It's in his best interest to imply that teachers with masters degrees don't know any more than he does with his bachelors degree in Sociology.

3. Ditto number two, above, for his friend and ally in the destruction of America's Public Schools, Bill Gates (aka, the college drop out).

4. If masters degrees in Education were meaningful then Teach For America, which puts non-educators into classrooms where the most experienced, best trained teachers are needed, would not be as good as having education school graduates teaching. Duncan has emotionally invested himself in TFA. He doesn't want to admit that experienced teachers with training are better than college graduates with 5 weeks of training.

5. If teachers with years of experience and advanced degrees are not any better than beginning teachers, then the higher salaries paid to teachers with experience and advanced degrees can be saved. The price of education is too high. The truth is that children in the United States are not valued. We're not interested in how we can improve their learning...just how we can save money. Duncan is playing to the Americans who want services but don't want to pay for it.

The Secretary of Education as well as the President and most US Politicians still won't admit the obvious truth. The fault lies with the system that keeps 20% of our children living in poverty. They blame the public schools, teachers and teachers unions for their own failing.


Friday, December 24, 2010

NY Student Play Banned

A student play blasting N.Y. school reform is banned

By Valerie Strauss

Fourteen students from two New York City schools -- Jamaica High and Queens Collegiate -- wrote an impressive play about school reform under Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, based on the classic play “Antigone.” They were rehearsing to perform the play -- complete with music, visual projections and lights -- when they were told that their principals had decided not to allow them stage it. The play, titled “Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used to Eat Lunch Together,” was banned.
Some dialogue...
Tireseus (the blind prophet): Do you really think closing schools is the answer?

Chancellor: The school is failing.

Tireseus: Or maybe you are failing the school. Why not give them what they need to succeed?

Chancellor: But schools must be held accountable.

Tireseus: And what about you, Chancellor? Who’s holding you accountable?
Read the whole play here...



Thursday, December 23, 2010

No Parishioner Left Behind

Would you get a new family doctor because your current family doctor has a lot of experience? Would you change lawyers because your lawyer has a lot of experience? Would you fire you accountant and hire a younger, cheaper person because your accountant has an advanced degree?

Would we treat the clergy the way we treat teachers? Would you hire a new clergyman because your current pastor (priest, rabbi, imam or minister) has a master's degree...or a Ph.D? Would you fire your congregation's spiritual leader because he had "too much experience?" Would we treat any other professional like we treat teachers?

According to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (B.A. Sociology, 1987, Harvard University), advanced degrees for teachers are a waste of time and money...experience means nothing in education.

Miles Horten takes Race to the Top to it's logical conclusion in the spiritual realm...

From Substance News
How Reform comes to America's religious leaders

Miles Horton - December, 2010


Dear Reverend Pastor ___________ ,

I hereby propose that the State of Illinois grade the excellence of yours and every other church on the achievements of its members. As a single standard of measure, we can test, pretest, re-test, and post-test church members on their knowledge of biblical scripture. However, should you prefer multiple measures of achievement we can development granular data on:

• church attendance,
• evidence of piety,
• tithing,
• membership growth rate, and of course,
• the moral perfection of your members.

Churches that do not meet these Core Standards of Measurement will be placed on probationary status. This status involves immediate loss of:

• tax- exempt status,
• spiritual autonomy
• internal governance

Churches that show lack of improvement over 2 years will be subject to intervention by a group of experts that include (in addition to disaffected seminary students) psychologists, researchers, economists and of course, MBA’s. Sermons will be videotaped, reviewed, and analyzed by this team of experts for the rating of each Pastor and his church.

Funds for this spiritual enterprise will come from a grant generously provided by Larry Flint, Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, Ron Jeremy, and a Business Roundtable composed of Pimps, Hustlers, High Rollers, and Drug Dealers. As this money is provided on a “venture philanthropy” rather than purely charitable basis, it will be accompanied by explicit guidelines for institutional improvement and an in-house manager to insure compliance with our high standards of excellence.

Please be mindful that it is not for the sake of the “Saints” and the “Saved” that we initiate this reform, but for the sake of the many lost souls that our dysfunctional ecclesiastical institutions have woefully allowed to fall by the wayside and fester in incorrigible iniquity. The time has come to stop looking out only for the interests of the clergy and the perfect, as far too many unfortunate lost souls spiral headlong ever downward into the abyss of hell. Indeed the weight of their sin and evil is plunging the earth itself into a perpetual night of unending darkness.

Yet there is hope. This reformation is driven by entrepreneurial innovation, the noblesse oblige of the wealthy, and utmost faith in the invisible hand of the almighty Free Market. Therefore our message is: “Repent ye now! Reform is at hand!”

Your humble brother in the faith:

Miles Horten
See also No Cow Left Behind and No Dentist Left Behind.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best Holiday Gift You'll Ever Give...

This is the time of year for people to buy, buy, buy. Real Life and Virtual Retailers count on the Christmas/Holiday season to break into "the black" (Hence, "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving) for the fiscal year.

Every year Americans spend millions on clothes, toys, electronics, gift cards, greeting cards and decorations (among other things). The commercial aspect of the "Holiday Season" is well documented. The frenzy of spending starts earlier and earlier each year.

Every once in a while, though, someone reminds us that gifts don't have to cost a lot of money.

Jesse Turner, the director of the Central Connecticut State Literacy Center Department of Reading Language Arts, has a blog called Children are More Than Test Scores. His entry for today, December 21, 2010, reminded me that amid my thrashing about trying to convince people that NCLB and RttT are going to be the downfall of Public Education in the United States, there is the quiet voice of reason making a suggestion that will do more to educate our children than all the laws and tests will ever do.

When his daughter was 7 years old, in second grade, she brought home a note from her teacher.
The note 14 years ago said: Read to and with your child for some 30 minutes a night. This was the request from Mrs. Crowley her second grade teacher…Her note to parents simply said: read to and with your child for 30 minutes every night. It was hand written something unheard of in these days of the printer rules. Do this to encourage a love of reading, be a ham, play it up, and enjoy every moment.
According to Jim Trelease, author of the Read Aloud Handbook, reading aloud to your children is the single most effective thing that parents (and, I might add, teachers) can do to improve reading skills. He wrote,
Looking at the impact of frequent household reading to preschoolers, the analysis showed clear positive gains for phonemic awareness, language growth and beginning reading skills. In addition, there was just as much of an impact for lower SES children as higher SES, and the earlier or younger the reading began, the better the results. Even when children reach primary grades, research has shown repeat (3) picture book readings increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent. The international assessment of 150,000 fourth-graders in showed an average 35-point advantage for students who were read to more often by parents.
So, here's the gift from Jesse Turner...
...parents, grandparents, guardians read to your children, read to them not to bring up their test scores, not even to make them better readers, but to plant a love of reading.

Let's pass on Mrs. Crowley’s message written from a time when children were more than test scores… Before the race to the top, and before NCLB. Do it to encourage a love of reading, be a ham, play it up, and enjoy every moment..

Monday, December 20, 2010

Teacher Absences

There's a new central office administrator in the school system from which I retired last June. One of his "pet" concerns is teacher absences.

The administrator, Mr. H, is trying to limit the number of days off teachers take. This makes sense from a fiscal point of view since when teachers are absent they get paid anyway and use a benefit day, and a substitute must also be paid.

The problem comes with Mr. H's attitude. According to some teachers, he acts condescending and overbearing. This may or may not be true, depending on one's point of view, however, the issue of teacher absences is indicative of other problems.

In his blog Reality Check, Walt Gardner wrote about teacher absenteeism in Central Falls Rhode Island. His comments are specific to the Rhode Island school district, but he makes some points which can be generalized to other schools and school systems. Mr. H, if you're reading this (which I doubt), pay attention. Perhaps you can figure out why teacher absences are a problem in our school district.
Nationwide, 5.3 percent of teachers are absent from the classroom on any given day, according to a 2008 study by the Center for American Progress. In New York City, one-fifth of teachers were absent for more than two weeks in the previous school year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Absenteeism was highest in schools serving the most disadvantaged students. In impoverished Brownsville, for example, 24.4 percent of teachers were out more than the 10 sick days allowed, compared with 13.2 percent in the posh Upper East Side.
Research shows that teachers who teach in high poverty schools are absent more. This makes sense, since there is generally more stress in those schools. The stress can come from a variety of areas, btw...students, administration, parents, and most of all, government threats of punishments for lack of "adequate yearly progress."

In our system, though, this does not seem to be a consistent pattern. Schools with high poverty rates do not seem to have more teacher absences than schools with fewer students living in poverty.

There is another issue, though, which I think relates specifically to our school system.
...It's here that it's instructive to look at San Diego.

From 1998 to 2005, teachers were subjected to an aggressive reform campaign without their input that was unprecedented in educational history. In The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Basic Books, 2010), Diane Ravitch devotes an entire chapter to what transpired. A wave of depression and anxiety swept teachers, forcing them to seek medical attention at the local Kaiser Permanente clinic. Once a new superintendent who embarked on a more collaborative strategy took over, clinic visits dropped precipitously.

The lessons from San Diego become even more relevant because in the 1990s, its schools were widely considered one of the best for an urban district. But despite San Diego's reputation, it didn't take long for Alan Bersin, a former federal prosecutor, to destroy morale as city superintendent. He rejected research that emphasized the importance of involving teachers in change, believing that what he was doing was in the best interests of students.

A similar rationale is heard at Central Falls High School. But when control supersedes consensus, it invariably results in severe teacher stress. In San Diego, Ravitch says that many teachers complained of "a climate of fear and suspicion," and of being "exhausted, stressed out, and in some cases, fearful of losing their jobs if they do not perform under this new program."
The low morale...the climate of "fear and suspicion" pervades our school district. Here are a few reasons. I'm sure current teachers in the system could add more...
  • The superintendent presented, and the school board approved, a plan to save millions of dollars for the school system. The plan would close 6 elementary schools, and move the students to centralized locations in and around high schools. A referendum to increase income from the community was soundly defeated during the last election. Teachers in the closing schools are uniformed about timelines for closing...about where they will be teaching...about cuts that need to be made...
  • During the last round of contract negotiations, the school board's team would not negotiate. They came to each meeting with a "this is what we want" attitude. There was no give and take and no discussion. The presentations from the school board's team did not respond to teachers proposals. It was not negotiations...it was not discussion. At the last minute, the school board agreed to language about parent teacher conferences, while teachers accepted a large increase in insurance premiums (a 500% increase gradually introduced over the next few years), a zero percent pay increase, and a retirement incentive package (which I took).
  • Elementary teachers have been given a curriculum developed with teacher input (a committee of classroom teachers) which takes much of the day to day decision making away from individual teachers. Much of the rest of the country has experienced this, but it's new in our school system. Teachers are now facilitators of the new curriculum. Each school has an instructional coach. The curriculum was given to the teachers with a minimal amount of training. What training there was, at least at the beginning, was scheduled to take place during the teachers' preparation time which meant less time to prepare lessons and materials.
Low morale leads to high turnover...high absentee rate...

There is little local control in elementary schools. Decisions from the central office are dumped on the principals who deliver it to teachers. The teachers are obliged to follow through. Directives come from above. There's little room for decision making at the building level. Complaints made to the principals might be listened to...but nothing can be done to change things at the local level.

Scripted curriculum + reliance on "data" (using DIBELS at the elementary level) from standardized tests + lack of opportunity for teacher individualism or creativity + loss of buildings to closings and the fear of job loss due to cutbacks = low morale = teacher absences.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Video to Assess Teachers

iamcompucomp has posted this video on YouTube.

News about new video evaluation system of teachers. . . so teachers can be held accountable for delivery of results.

School Reform Foundation and Charter Teachers for the Future of America have a plan for teacher evaluation. Every reform cliche is turned on its head here, starting with "the strong correlation between student low performance and teachers having desks."

Some other highlights...

"We need an inquisition to make schools strong again."

..."with video replay and stop motion we can analyze every last twitch or spasm in transforming student outcomes."

"You're not hiding something are you?"

iamcompucomp says...

This stuff is for real. The Gates Foundation has invested $335 million in video evaluation of teachers: "The goal is to study what is taking place on a scientific level; to note what is working and what is not working... While we all wait for Superman to come along for our children and for the economy, we are fortunate to have those with the means reach out and do something about our failing schools http://groundupct.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/gates-foundation-invest-335-million-in-teacher-evaluation/."


Friday, December 17, 2010

9/11 Responders Wait for Senate

Today's Subject: Politics, not education.

The House of Representatives has already passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. It provides health care funds for 9/11 first responders and emergency workers who have developed medical problems due to their work at Ground Zero.

The bill, however, is stalled in the Senate by a filibuster.

Think Progress has a clip from the Daily Show, which normally presents a humorous/satirical view of the news. Jon Stewart gathered a panel of four 9/11 first responders, all with serious and life threatening health problems. These four men are among those who were acclaimed as heroes after 9/11. These men are among those who were hailed by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum as the best we have in America. These men are among those who carried people to safety and then sifted through the rubble in the aftermath. These men are among those who are being denied coverage for their 9/11 related illnesses.

One member of the panel, Kenny Speck, a New York City Fire Fighter, said, "It just goes to show the disconnect between those we elect to represent us, and those who get out there and do the work."

Watch it here. Scroll down to the video clip when you get there...


Thursday, December 16, 2010

And now for something completely different...


Climate change is real. Darryl Cunningham explains how it works in a cartoon. Send this to climate change deniers and Fox News...It's written at a level they can understand.



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is Teach For America the answer?

Valerie Strauss had a conversation with education writer, Jay Matthews on her The Answer Sheet blog. They discussed Teach for America.

So-called reformers want to get rid of bad teachers, yet they talk about how wonderful it is that, after 5 weeks of training, TFA students go into schools and "teach." This topic has been covered before, but the point is, as Valerie Strauss makes below, that teachers need to be trained and trained well. High achievement at an Ivy League University does not guarantee top quality teaching. Good teachers usually take years to develop, through training and experience. The neediest schools into which TFA trainees go need the best teachers we have to offer, not the ones with the least training.
"I don’t think that people with great SAT scores who go to Ivy League and Ivy League-plus schools are necessarily any better fit to be teachers than students who don’t. That reeks of elitism. Aren’t you the one who wrote the great book Harvard Schmarvard?

"Teaching is not a science, even if Michelle Rhee says it is; it is an art, and it requires a lot of learning. Because many traditional educational programs are wanting doesn’t mean that teachers don’t need serious solid training. It means our programs need to be improved. The idea that TFA/similar programs are any better at producing them than the traditional route seems, at best, unproven.

"Can you get a great teacher by plopping anybody -- from Teach for America, or similar programs -- into a classroom after five or so weeks of training? Sure, but outliers don’t make good policy. I won’t mention how insulting it is to professional teachers with traditional training."


Friday, December 10, 2010

PISA scores prove what Krashen has been saying.

Stephen Krashen has been talking about poverty as a factor in student achievement for a long time. Now, another source for proof that he is right is available. It's the latest results from PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, supports his contention that poverty, not the quality of teaching in the United States, has the biggest effect on student learning.
Poverty has a huge impact on American PISA scores
by skrashen

“Two countries with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results,” Ángel Gurría, the O.E.C.D. secretary general, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This shows that an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated countries is now out of date.” (New York Times, "Western Nations React to Poor Education Results," Dec. 8).

I have not yet seen an analysis of the impact of poverty on overall PISA scores (I have sent for the full set of data; they tell me it will come in ten days or so). But data available now tells us that poverty, as usual, had a huge impact on PISA reading test scores for American students. American students in schools with less than 10% of students on free and reduced lunch averaged 551, higher than the overall average of any OECD country. Those in schools with 10 to 25% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch averaged 527, which was behind only Korea and Finland.

In contrast, American students in schools with 75% of more of children in poverty averaged 446, second to last among the 34 OECD countries.

This makes sense. Among other things, high poverty means less access to books at school, at home and in the community (e.g Krashen, 2004, The Power of Reading). Less access means less reading, and less reading means lower performance on tests such as the PISA.

The PISA data can be found on page 15 (table 6) of Highlights From PISA 2009, available on the internet.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Cheers to Valerie Strauss and Diane Ravitch.

After Bill Gates and Jonathan Alter (Newsweek) resorted to petty name calling and juvenile put downs of Ravitch, Valerie Strauss offered her the opportunity to respond. She lists the questions Gates asks...and Dr. Ravitch's responses. This is a MUST READ. Cheers for EVERYONE willing to stand up against Gates and his corporate, no-nothing-about-education pals.

Here's a sample from The Answer Sheet:
Gates: “Does she like the status quo?"
Ravitch: "No, I certainly don't like the status quo. I don't like the attacks on teachers, I don't like the attacks on the educators who work in our schools day in and day out, I don't like the phony solutions that are now put forward that won't improve our schools at all. I am not at all content with the quality of American education in general, and I have expressed my criticisms over many years, long before Bill Gates decided to make education his project. I think American children need not only testing in basic skills, but an education that includes the arts, literature, the sciences, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, economics, and physical education.

"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education."

Gates: "Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts?"
Ravitch: "Does Bill Gates realize that every contract is signed by two parties: management and labor? Why does management agree to 400-page contracts? I don't know how many pages should be in a union contract, but I do believe that teachers should be evaluated by competent supervisors before they receive tenure (i.e., the right to due process).

"Once they have due process rights, they have the right to a hearing when someone wants to fire them. The reason for due process rights is that teachers in the past have been fired because of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or because they did not make a political contribution to the right campaign, or for some other reason not related to their competence.

"Gates probably doesn't know this, but 50% of all those who enter teaching leave within the first five years. Our biggest problem is not getting rid of deadbeats, but recruiting, retaining, and supporting teachers. We have to replace 300,000 teachers (of nearly 4 million) every single year. What are his ideas about how to do this?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who Made Bill Gates Emperor of Education - Part 2

Who made Bill Gates Emperor of Education in the USA?

In her latest blog entry, Diane Ravitch discusses how Bill Gates and Arne Duncan are speaking the same words...calling for the corporate changes in America's educational system. They both believe that schools should be run like businesses...and children should be considered the "product."

These are two non-educators, remember. Gates is a college drop out, a computer geek, marketing maven, and slick operator who outwitted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (founders of Apple Computer) by "using" the Macintosh interface and changing it just a bit while getting enough political and economic power to stave off a copyright suit...and later antitrust attacks.

Gates is no fool. He built Microsoft into a huge multinational corporation and the company which 92% (as of November 2010) of the world relies on for their computer access.

But, what does he know about education?

Arne Duncan is a "good-old boy." A Harvard basketball player, sociology major, and friend of President Obama, he started his education career "hanging" with the students his mother tutored. That's as close as he ever got to either attending or teaching in a public school. He ingratiated himself with Mayor Daley in Chicago, and was responsible for the Chicago Miracle, which, like the Texas Miracle that Rod Paige oversaw, never actually happened.

Which one is running the US Department of Education? Gates or Duncan? Here's Ravitch...
The struggle for control of American education continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. I read that Bill Gates advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and recommended that schools stop spending to reduce class size and stop giving teachers extra money for master's degrees. He wants teachers to get paid based on "performance" (i.e., their test scores). I guess we are now seeing a full-court effort to impose the corporate model of school reform, and Gates is the leading spokesman.

No, wait, I take that back, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said something very similar in a speech a day or two earlier, where he seemed almost happy to say that the days of wine and roses are over and schools must learn to do more with less. They seem to be sharing scripts. I don't know who is the leading spokesman.

I can imagine some of Secretary Duncan's predecessors, such as Secretary Shirley Hufstedler or Secretary Richard Riley or commissioners of education such as Frank Keppel or Harold Howe saying something very different. I can imagine them going to the public and urging them to support more resources where they are needed and more equitable funding. I can hear them saying that we need to thank our hard-working teachers, and we need a stronger profession. But Secretary Duncan likes to win plaudits from the people who love to cut education budgets. Go figure. The eerie similarity between Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates makes me wonder who is running the Department of Education.
Why do billionaires like Gates get to define the terms in American public education?

Ravitch, again...
Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can't possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can't imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let's be honest. CCSSO and The New York Times pay attention to what Gates says because he is so rich. If he didn't run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn't one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corporation and sold widgets?

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kansas City and spoke to the annual meeting of the Missouri NEA. Afterwards, as I was signing books, I spoke to teachers from across the state, from urban districts, small towns, and rural areas. They said things like, "Hi, I have been a teacher for 25 years, and I love it." "Hi, please sign this for my mother, she is a teacher, too." "Hi, I'm the third generation of teachers in my family." "Please sign this for my dad, he's a superintendent..."

...These are the people who teach our children, these are the members of the public who serve their local schools without compensation year after year. They and their children and their children's children will be here long after the corporate reform crowd has moved on and been forgotten.

These are the people on whom our public schools depend. They care deeply about their children, their communities, and their public schools. They don't get to speak to the Council of Chief State School Officers. They don't control billions of dollars. They won't be quoted in the New York Times. But these are the people who make our country work. I wish Bill Gates would get out and listen to them. They could tell him a thing or two.
Ravitch is right. Gates is wrong.

Does Gates want to improve public education or does he just want a piece of the education industry pie?

Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News) just bought a huge chunk of a for-profit educational software company, Wireless Generation. The New York City DOE, under the control of the Mayor and appointee, Cathie Black (well, not yet, but soon), is partnered with Wireless Generation "on its Achievement Reporting and Innovation System and School of One initiative." That's why Murdoch hired straight-from-NYC-DOE Joel Klein as his new director of education entrepreneurship.

Does Bill Gates look at all the money to be made in education and think...I want some of that money? Surely not. Instead I'm betting he thinks, "let's do what's best for the education of children in the United States." Surely he would realize that the research shows that merit pay doesn't work...Charter schools are no better (or worse) than traditional public schools...and the biggest factor in the "achievement gap" today is the 1/5 of American children who live in poverty.

Wouldn't he?


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Cow Left Behind

I got this in my spam email today. The NCLB legislation is still sitting in the congress waiting to be reauthorized or not. Perhaps they would consider adding this to the bill...
Thought you'd enjoy this bit of Vermont humor coming from a school principal (Kenneth Remsen, principal of Underhill School in Jericho, VT). It appeared in the Burlington Free Press on 7/25/03.


As a principal facing the task of figuring out all the complexities of the No Child Left Behind legislation and its impact on education, I have decided that there is a strong belief that testing students is the answer to bringing about improvements in student performance.

Since testing seems to be a cornerstone to improving performance, I don't understand why this principle isn't applied to other businesses that are not performing up to expectations. I was thinking about the problem of falling milk prices and wondering why testing cows wouldn't be effective in bringing up prices since testing students is going to bring up test scores.

The federal government should mandate testing all cows every year starting at age 2. Now, I know that it will take time out of the farmers' necessary work to do this testing every year and that it may be necessary to spend inordinate amounts of money on the testing equipment, but that should not detract us from what must be done.

I'm sure there are plenty of statistics to show what good milk producing performance looks like and the characteristics of cows who achieve this level of performance. It should, therefore, be easy to figure out the characteristics necessary to meet this standard.

We will begin our testing by finding out which cows now meet the standard, which almost meet the standard, which meet the standard with honors and which show little evidence of achievement.

Points will be assigned in each category and it will be necessary to achieve a certain average score. If this score is not achieved, the Department of Agriculture will send in experts to give advice for improvement. If improvements do not occur over a couple of years, the state will take over your farm or even force you to sell. Now, I'm sure farms have a mix of cows in the barn but it is important to remember that every cow can meet the standard. There should be no exceptions and no excuses. I don't want to hear about the cows that just came to the barn from the farm down the road that didn't provide the proper nutrition or a proper living environment. All cows need to meet the standard.

Another key factor will be the placement of a highly qualified farmer in each barn. I know many of you have been farming for many years but it will be necessary for all farmers to become certified. This will mean some more paperwork and testing on your knowledge of cows, but in the end this will lead to the benefit of all.

It will also be necessary to allow barn choice for the cows. If cows are not meeting the standard in certain farms, they will be allowed to go to the barn of their choice. Transportation might become an issue but it is critical that cows be allowed to leave their low performing barns. This will force low-performing farms to meet the standard or else they will simply go out of business. Some small farms will probably go out of business as a result of this new legislation.

Simply put, the cost per cow is too high. As taxpayers, we cannot be expected to foot the bill to subsidize farms with dairy compacts. Even though no one really knows what the ideal cost is to keep cows content, the Legislature will set a cost per cow. Expenditures too far above this cost will be penalized. Since everyone knows that there are economies of scale, small farms will probably be forced to close and those cows will merge into larger farms.

Some farmers may be upset that I proclaim to know what is best for these cows but I certainly consider myself capable of making these recommendations. I grew up next to a farm and I drink milk.

I hope you will consider this advice in the spirit it is given and I hope you will agree that the "no cow left behind" legislation may not be best for a small state like Vermont.


Monday, November 22, 2010

No child left unfed...No child left without health care...

Thomas Friedman in his editorial, Teaching for America, speaks highly of Arne Duncan and his Department of Education Plan.
Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession.
The "most innovative reforms?" If that means opening more charter schools, paying teachers based on test scores (merit pay) and firing the staffs of "failing" schools, then I guess he's right. However, none of those "innovative reforms" result in higher achievement.

He then says that too many of our teachers come from the bottom half of their graduating classes...
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes.
And again, bringing Finland into the conversation...
That is why Duncan is starting a “national teacher campaign” to recruit new talent. “We have to systemically create the environment and the incentives where people want to come into the profession. Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’”
I agree...we need the best teachers we can get...with the best training. But there are some things about Finnish (and other examples) education that Friedman conveniently left out.

Here's Stephen Krashen commenting on the same article:
Tony Wagner, Arne Duncan, and Thomas Friedman ("Teaching for America," Nov. 20) agree that Denmark, Finland, and Sweden outperform the US because their teachers graduate in top one-third of their classes

There is another explanation: Poverty. The percentage of children living in poverty in Denmark is 2.4%, in Finland, 2.8%, and in Sweden 4.2%. In the US the percentage is 21.9. Poverty means poor nutrition, substandard health care, environmental toxins, and little access to books; all have a strong negative impact on school success.

Middle class American children attending well-funded schools outscore nearly all other countries on international tests. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty.

Increasing pressure on teacher education, teachers, and parents will not improve achievement, but if we can protect children from the effects of poverty, American tests scores will be at the top of the world.
(Paul Thomas of Furman University also responded. You can read his response HERE.)

The "reformers" (Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, now with the help of Oprah Winfrey and Thomas Friedman) ignore the social costs of poverty when they push their "reforms." They say that poverty is just an excuse, yet when we look at the real data, schools which have a larger number of students living in poverty have higher drop-out rates and lower test scores.

Lack of nutrition, health care, higher levels of lead poisoning...all contribute to the "Achievement Gap." The Achievement Gap won't disappear until we solve the nutrition gap and the health care gap.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Diane Ravitch talks to KIPP and TFA

Valerie Strauss, on The Answer Sheet, comes through once again. She posted a video of Diane Ravitch speaking at Rice University about school reform. Here's what Valerie Strauss said about the speech:
Diane Ravitch gave a speech at Rice University about school reform in which she directly challenged officials from Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program who were present -- the very people who had invited her...

Point by point, she picked apart school reform measures pushed by the Obama administration, leaving no topic untouched: charter schools, value-added teacher assessment, punitive sanctions on low-performing schools, No Child Left Behind, how Finland became an educational model by supporting teachers in ways the United States doesn't, the Texas educational miracle that wasn't, etc.
Her speech starts at about the :10 minute mark and ends at about 1:02. The question and answer period after the speech is poorly produced and difficult to listen to. This is definitely worth the hour time investment to listen to her even if you choose not to suffer through the last 20 minutes of questions and answer.

You can watch the video below or at http://www.vimeo.com/16479134.

REEP, KIPP and TFA Lecture Series from Jon Paul Estrada on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Response to Bloomberg

My post yesterday about the new Chancellor-to-be in NYC was only one of many on the blogosphere. One that interested me was this morning's blog by Diane Ravitch.
The mayor's selection of Black, and Klein before her, is part of a growing trend to turn education—at every level—over to non-professionals. An article in Crain's reports that nearly half the 28 superintendencies in big-city districts this year were awarded to graduates of the Broad Academy, which specializes in training outsiders. In the article, the executive director of the Broad Center said that the leader of a symphony orchestra doesn't have to be a concert violinist. This is true, if she meant to refer to the business manager of the orchestra. But the conductor of the orchestra (the person who "runs" it) must know how to read music and must know quite a lot about each of the instruments and how to bring them together to produce a beautiful sound. Without that skill set, the symphony will just be noise.
She confirms what I assumed...that more and more top education posts in our large urban areas are going to "outsiders" -- non-educators.

I've talked about this before...would we appoint a biologist as Attorney General? an accountant as Surgeon General? Do nominees to the Supreme Court have to be familiar with Law? Should the Treasury Secretary know anything about economics? What every happened to the idea that a good superintendent of public schools should be an educator and a good manager?

Here are some more articles about the NYC Chancellor pick:

...and my favorite:

The Cathleen Black appointment: A precedent


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wanted: Political Appointees to Run School Systems.

In keeping with tradition, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, of New York City, has appointed Cathie Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, to be the new New York City Public Schools Chancellor. She replaces Joel Klein who resigned because, it's "his time to leave."

Why did Bloomberg pick Ms. Black, a publisher with no education credentials?
"She is a superstar manager who has succeeded in the private sector," Bloomberg said of Black.

Asked why he didn't pick somebody with a traditional education background, the mayor said he wanted a chancellor who could build on what Klein started and prepare the city's school children for the jobs of the future.
There are those who believe that, what Klein started," was the demise of the New York City Public School System.

In any case, Bloomberg's appointment of Cathie, "Cheaper than a Hooker," Black, was not shocking. Most top education officials in the nation and in the nation's largest cities are no longer educators.

The US Department of Education was started during the Carter administration. President Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler, an attorney, as the new Secretary of Education. President Reagan vowed to disband the new department if he was elected, but instead, bucked what was to become tradition and appointed a former high school teacher and bus driver, Terrel Bell, to the Secretary position. That was the last time a public school teacher was appointed to the position. Here's the complete list of the US Secretaries of Education, followed by the president under whom they served, and their profession, college major, or previous occupation.

US Secretaries of Education:
  • Shirley Hufstedler (Carter) - Lawyer
  • Terrel Bell (Reagan) - High School Teacher and bus driver
  • William J Bennett (Reagan) - Lawyer
  • Lauro Cavasos (Reagan/Bush I) - College/University Educator
  • Lamar Alexandar (Bush I) - Lawyer, Politician, College/University Educator
  • Richard Riley (Clinton) - Lawyer
  • Roderick Page (Bush II) - College Coach (degree in Education, P.E), Dean, Superintendent
  • Margaret Spellings (Bush II) - Poli Sci Major, Political Appointee
  • Arne Duncan (Obama) - Sociology Major, Professional Athelete, Charter School Entrepreneur, Chicago Public Schools CEO, Political Appointee
In New York City, none of the last three Chancellors (with Black as the third) were educators. In Los Angeles, the current Superintendent is an educator, but he follows an attorney and a US Naval Officer. Similarly in Chicago, since Mayor Daley took over the schools, the last three CEOs have been political appointees...not one of them had any experience in public education. I haven't researched it, but my guess is that a similar pattern holds true for state superintendents and top school administrators in other large urban districts.

Why is it that educators, people who have actually spent time teaching in public schools, show up so rarely on the list of school administrators at the national and "nation's biggest school systems" level?

Here's one reason...
"Once Vander Ark and Gates shifted their focus from startup schools with proven track records to “school-within-a-school” academies in large, failing urban high schools, it was no surprise to anyone who understood the small-high-schools movement that results would be underwhelming. Vander Ark and Gates ignored the research; they ignored the advice of the successful practitioners; and they acted with arrogance and contempt toward the existing high school faculties, whom they assumed would do what they were told in the academy model." -— David Marshak, Educaton Week online, 2/19/10
...and another...
"No Child Left Behind is part of this global project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation. . . . The thinking is that the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries. And they want to cut costs. They want to diminish the amount of money that's put into public education. And that means they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching." —- Lois Weiner, Democracy Now! 9/3/2010
...and again...
"Obama has expanded the importance of standardized testing to determine how much teachers will be paid, which educators will be fired and which schools will be closed -- despite evidence that such practices are harmful." -— Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Aug. 15, 2010
...and more...
"The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them [fads and ill-considered ideas in American Education], for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?" -— Diane Ravitch, The Death & Life of the Great American School System
...and, finally...
"Almost all of Duncan's polices are indebted to the codes of a market-driven business culture, legitimated through discourses of measurement, efficiency and utility. This is a discourse that values hedge fund managers over teachers, privatization over the public good, management over leadership and training over education. Duncan's fervent support of neoliberal values are well-known and are evident in his support for high-stakes testing, charter schools, school-business alliances, merit pay, linking teacher pay to higher test scores, offering students monetary rewards for higher grades, CEO-type management, abolishing tenure, defining the purpose of schooling as largely job training, the weakening of teacher unions and blaming teachers exclusively for the failure of public schooling." -— Henry Giroux, Truthout, May 25, 2010
It's the money...the power. It's politics, not education.

(The last five quotes come from the web page, Notable Quotes, collected by Susan Ohanian.)

A great article on this topic...at the Answer Sheet.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Re: Competition in Race to the Top

"I wonder if you've heard what happened at the Seattle Special Olympics a few years ago? For the 100-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line; and, at the sound of the gun they took off--but one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, saw the boy and ran back to him--every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This will make it better." The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long long time. People who were there are still telling the story with obvious delight. And you know why? Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is much more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then. "

—Fred Rogers, Middlebury Commencement, 2001


Friday, November 5, 2010

Doom and Gloom...

I'm filled with Doom and Gloom...

Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, now has a Republican majority in both houses of the Indiana legislature. This means that his "agenda" will likely be enacted. Why do I think that? Well...let's see what he has to say.
"Starting first thing (this) morning, the real work begins," Daniels said. "We are going to bring Indiana a new wave of reform in state government, a new wave of reform in local government. And we are going to finally give the students of Indiana an education system built around them."

And, he said, "we are going to preserve the most taxpayer-friendly government in the United States of America. . . . We are never going back."
Mitch isn't a friend of public education at all. His agenda includes more charters, "merit pay" for teachers and the end of collective bargaining for teachers. He uses the same old discredited rhetoric of how those three changes will help our state's children.
Education a key focus

...While balancing Indiana’s budget without raising taxes is the top priority, Daniels also singled out education reforms. He advocated erasing limits on how many charter schools can be created; was open to the idea of vouchers that parents could use to send their children to a private school; and will seek to eliminate any state laws, regulations or local teacher contract strictures that tie the hands of local school superintendents in order to give them more flexibility.
Daniels has wanted to "bust the union" since he was elected. The Indiana State Teachers Association has seen better days. Financial scandal and increased dues threatened the union over the last couple of years...and continuing pressure from the state will add to its woes.

The ISTA worked hard this election season to elect pro-public education teachers, but the conservative mood of the voters made it all but impossible to keep a Democratic majority in either of the state legislative houses.

Daniels is also the one who has tampered with the tax system of funding the public schools in Indiana. He was able to get funding for education moved from property tax revenue to sales and income tax. Following that he orchestrated a cap on property taxes at 1% which, because of a measure on this year's ballot, will be part of the state's constitution.

This tax juggling resulted in a $300 million reduction in revenue for public schools. Mitch's goal? Well, add it up.

Massive cuts in support for public education + Merit Pay for teachers + Vouchers + Charter Schools + Removing the Power of the ISTA in Education (through repeal of the state's collective bargaining law)

It's clear to me that equals an attempt to weaken or destroy the public schools in this state.

This five pronged attack on public education is built on talking points and plans that don't have any basis in fact.

Merit Pay, for example, has not increased test scores in places it has been used.

Voucher plans have more often than not, been declared unconstitutional because of their entanglement with religious schools.

Collective Bargaining and teacher's unions have been blamed for poor school performance, however this ignores the fact that states without collective bargaining laws for teachers have among the lowest achieving students (based on test scores) in the country.*(Click here for more)

And finally charter schools have been shown to be no better than public schools.

If Mitch really wanted to do something for education in Indiana he would find a way to reduce the number of families living in poverty.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting for Sanity

From Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet

This was written by George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country.
America’s public schools are a national treasure and it is past time that we started treating them as such. Every one of you here today probably has a schoolteacher to thank for the fact that you can read, add, and think rationally. A teacher who opened your mind to new ideas, who helped you speak that mind and listen when others spoke theirs. It’s a great system, and it opens its doors to every kid no matter their race or nationality, no matter what language they speak or if they can speak at all, no matter rich or poor, motivated or not, whole or impaired.

We have spent too much time the blaming our schools for all that ails us. Sure schools could do better—but so could the banks, big business, and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids, are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels; or for the loosening bonds that threaten the civil discourse our republic requires. They are, however, part of the solution to these threats to our social security. But only if we come together on a few things in the name of a saner approach to making sure every kid has a good public school to attend.

First, we have to admit that as much as schools can do, they can’t do it alone. It is hard for a child who is homeless, hungry, or in pain to heed the lessons of her teacher. America should, as part of education policy, work to see that every child is safe and secure, has good medical care, a roof over her head, and food in her stomach.

Second, we must all admit that there is no doing a good school system on the cheap. America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education. But it is not just how much we spend, it is where we spend it. In the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that considers all of what it takes to raise a child, the charter schools are spending one-third more than the public schools in the city, and they still are struggling.

This is not a condemnation of that important work—it just means we should admit that we are going to have to invest heavily and in a targeted way if we want our schools to work for all our kids.

Third, over 90% of our schools are good old regular public schools—not a charter or a choice, just where kids go to school. If we are serious about every child having a good school, it won’t be by creating a few fancy alternative schools. It will be by improving all of our schools.

Fourth, we already know what works. All our schools--charters, magnets, public--have had successes, but we don’t seem to learn from them. Successful schools are places filled with good teachers who are well supported, where strong connections are built with students and families, where kids do real work not just read textbooks or listen to lectures, and where kids are evaluated by what they can do not by what test question they can answer. They also are places not segregated by social class.

So what would a sane person, perchance a sane Congress, do to help and support our kids and schools? Hate to be simplistic, but here you go—We have to shore up our safety net for all kids to have access to health care, food, and shelter; use federal resources to get dollars to kid in the most need; and focus on all schools using the lessons learned from our most innovative and successful schools and getting the regulations and rules that prevent this change out of the way.

This is what I wish for my school, your school, all schools. We don’t need Superman. We just need some sanity.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Et tu, United Way?

The United Way blogger, Lauren Kinsey, has written about Waiting for Superman. She has not only written about it, she has gushed that we should,
...join us in creating an open dialog around education in America. Watch the trailer below and pledge to see the film. Then stay tuned for how you can give, advocate and volunteer to help improve the public education system and help achieve our goal to cut the number of high school dropouts in half and create opportunities for a better life for our children. Visit waitingforsuperman.com/action and click "Get Local" to participate in a campaign in your community.
To her credit, she offers us an "open dialog" around education, something which the movie never did, and some readers have taken her up on it. Two comments to the blog entry are right on the mark.

One teacher wrote,
I will be happy to buy you a copy of Diane Ravitch's book "The Fall and Rise of The Great American School System" to offer you a different perspective. Ms. Ravitch has done actual research, not just anectodal accounts to back her assertions. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the huge promotional budget of Mr. Canada or those pushing this "crisis" agenda. Ms. Ravitch spoke recently at Wayne State. I wish you would have come to hear her. She worked for the elder Bush administration and eloquently lays out how the push for a national curriculum in the 1980's was highjacked by basic skills testing and charter schools in an attempt to privatize public education, using children to push an extreme political agenda that demonizes teachers. 
The other...
Teachers are among the strongest supporters of United Way, but now that they're getting political, maybe we should withhold our money from them. They obviously don't appreciate what we do every day in the classroom.
Maybe we should...

What's so bad about Waiting for Superman? Click HERE.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Indiana State Board of Education is set to Take Over Schools...

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette...October 29, 2010.
School takeover outline

In a breathtaking assault on local school control, the GOP-controlled State Board of Education is set to adopt rules the day after Election Day that could hand operation of struggling schools to for-profit companies. Local taxpayers who footed the bill could find their investments handed over to charter operators with none of the accountability required of locally elected school boards...

...The proposed rules formalize procedures, with a clear emphasis on turning operation of the struggling schools to an “outside manager.” The individual or organization selected by the State Board of Education would have the same authority and exemptions as a charter school. Indiana charter schools, however, are exempt from the consequences of the state accountability law. The outside manager has no deadline for improving school performance and seemingly could operate it permanently.

“There is no data supporting improvement or gains that outpace public schools when turned over to for-profit entities,” said Steve Brace, executive director of the Fort Wayne Education Association, the union representing FWCS teachers. “One only has to look at local charters to observe the evidence. The agenda set out by the state superintendent is clear. I pray the public truly understands the consequences when local control is taken from them.”

Most of the five pages of proposed rules outline the authority of the outside manager and requirements of the school district. The district, for example, must continue to pay debt obligations on the school buildings, while the outside manager is permitted to enroll even students who live outside the school’s boundaries and is not required to engage in collective bargaining with teachers. Contracts for transportation, food service, technology support, special education services, custodial services and even extracurricular activities are subject to approval by the state Department of Education, the school district and outside manager, with the DOE having the final authority in case of a dispute.

Voters unhappy with decisions made by their local school board can throw out board members when they stand for re-election. They won’t have the same recourse with a charter school operator empowered by a State Board of Education and Department of Education seemingly intent on privatizing schools.
It seems that the State of Indiana is set to turn over the public schools to private corporations and give them full reign...no oversight...no accountability...no public recourse.


Friday, October 29, 2010

The "Minor Obstacles" of Poverty

This letter by Marion Brady was published in the Orlando Sentinel.
Columnist Mike Thomas has just seen the documentary film "Waiting For Superman," and is fired up.

"We can't use a kid's background as an excuse for his failure," he says in his 10-28-10 Sentinel column. "That allows educators to excuse themselves in advance for their own failure."

Well, we certainly can't have that, can we?! Any teacher who can't overcome the minor obstacles to learning that some kids bring with them to school needs to be shown the door. And the process of booting them through it shouldn't be complicated by some "due process" clause written into a union contract.

No excuses! Just because a kid is hungry, has bad teeth, can't hear well, can't concentrate or behave because of lead poisoning, is tutored hours a day by television, gets no exercise, comes from a home without books or anything else to read, changes neighborhoods and schools a couple of times a year to keep ahead of the rent collector, has never seen the inside of a museum, has never been anywhere, lives with adults who know and use only a fraction of the words known and used by other adults, has no reasonable expectation of ever having a different sort of life (or even a life at all), lives in a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy, where celebrity trumps seriousness-just because teachers haven't figured out how to use the wonderful tools and rules that educationally clueless bureaucrats have handed them, is no reason to let them off the hook.

That American teachers face about 20% of those kinds of kids, and top-scoring Finland has about 4% of them, is irrelevant.

Marion Brady


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Waiting for Superman the Truth!

Posted by Valerie Strauss:
By Caroline Grannan

“Woodside is a great school." -- Emily Jones

The movie “Waiting for Superman” tells the stories of five students around the country who are desperate to escape their “failing” public schools and get into the shining charters that are portrayed as their only chance of success – or at least that’s the tale the movie tells.

One of those stories takes place in my neck of the woods, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The one white middle-class student among the five kids in the movie is Emily Jones, who lives on the suburban San Francisco Peninsula.

The story that Waiting for Superman tells is that Emily is desperate to escape her district public high school, Woodside High, because she’s a bright student who “doesn’t test well,” and due to Woodside’s antiquated and harmful tracking policies, she’ll be tracked into lower-level classes that will doom her to mediocrity.

She grasps at (as the movie shows it) her only hope – Summit Prep Charter, which does the opposite of tracking, requiring all its students to take six AP courses during high school.

Well, that story is false. Here’s the proof. On this video clip, John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation interviews Emily.

The part in the movie illustrating how the horror of tracking sent her fleeing to Summit Prep features a graphic showing students on a conveyor belt, with the select few being elevated to higher-level classes and the rest being dropped onto a march to oblivion.

Yet in the video interview, Emily chats freely with John for five minutes and mentions a number of reasons for wanting to go to Summit instead of Woodside – but never mentions or even alludes to tracking. Just after minute five, Fensterwald brings up tracking. Emily comments on tracking only after Fensterwald prompts her.

And in fact, here’s what Emily says about Woodside High: “Woodside is a great school. I really liked it and I really wanted to go there before I saw Summit.”

That’s not what Waiting for Superman portrays. If the movie misled viewers with a false story about Emily, the line “fool me twice, shame on me” applies – we can’t believe anything it shows us.

Meanwhile, parents at Woodside High have created a huge banner and posted it across the front of the school:

“Woodside High School teachers – Man, You’re Super! Thank you for teaching ALL the students in our community!”


Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Humor.

Q: What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by its diameter?

A: Pumpkin Pi

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences are always difficult for people to predict because...well...because they're unintended.

When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 the members of congress believed that focusing on helping the poorest performing children would be beneficial. Who would argue that we should "leave children behind?" The fact that the law, and it's successor, Race to the Top, has had a detrimental effect on those students the laws were specifically written to help, was unintended...or was it?

I've started reading the blog, Accountable Talk written by Mr. Talk, a veteran New York City teacher.

In his latest post, Unintended Consequences, Mr. Talk refers to his TDR, or Teacher Data Report. The report he got was based on, among other things, the test scores of his students. His report was poor because, as he says,
Besides the fact that the formula is wildly unpredictable, I had the added disadvantage of teaching extremely needy kids in an otherwise excellent school. I have no one to blame for that but myself; when my AP asked whether I'd take on the most challenging students they had, I agreed. I had some crazy idea in my head that helping the students who needed it most was what a teacher should do. So I did it.
When the TDR was released, he realized that he was in a difficult situation. He scored poorly because he chose to teach the most difficult students. Should he continue to do that...and continue to get poor TDRs or quit volunteering and teach students who were "easier" and less "needy?"

Sadly, he chose the latter.
I just quit volunteering to teach the very children who needed me most. When my AP asked me to take them on again (which he would not do unless he knew I'd been successful), I said no. This year, those kids are with another teacher who has difficulty just getting them to sit in their seats. (This is not a knock on her. She is new and these are tough kids).
This year, his students are not the most difficult and they will, he is sure,
...vault me back into the rarefied air of the "excellent" teacher.
He is, frankly, concerned about his future.
I have a family to support and they are my primary duty. I can not take a chance that I will lose my job over some erroneous data.
And he's not the only one.
There are other consequences of the TDRs that became apparent to me immediately. I've had discussions with at least three excellent teachers who have told me that they are now planning on leaving the DOE for sure, because they can not see how they will ever be able to put in enough years to retire from this system. They feel everything is stacked against them. Because it is.
High quality, dedicated teachers are leaving the profession because they are being made the scapegoats in the corporate push to demonize public schools. They are being forced out because people who know nothing about education, children and schools are changing the way teachers must teach. For teachers, it's no longer about helping kids learn, it's about survival in a crazy world. When you have to pass up teaching the most needy children in the school because your livelihood depends on the students' achievement level few people are going to choose to take on the challenge of teaching the nation's most difficult students.
Another consequence is that no one wants to teach the grades or subjects that are targets of the reports. I have a feeling that a LOT of teachers are going to request K-2 assignments or look to leave middle school so they don't have to be subjected to public humiliation should their numbers not stack up with whatever new system the DOE devises.
This "unintended consequence" is preventing the best teachers from volunteering to help the students who need them the most. No Child Left Behind is leaving children behind. The Race to the Top is causing schools to push test scores to the detriment of learning. This situation, like the one in Los Angeles (where the LA Times published test scores from teachers' classes labeling the teachers successful or failing) is not about education. It's about blaming teachers for the problems our society refuses to deal with.

Mrs. Mimi said it best in a post she had...She went to comfort a child crying in frustration over "the test." I've printed this before, but the content is equally chilling today...if not more so. We are hurting children because billionaires and politicians who don't know a thing about education are setting education policy.

Read this from Mrs. Mimi's blog...
Don't tell anyone, but I used to just call it quits after a while.  I mean, enough is enough, right?

Me: (noticing that one friend, a friend who struggles in reading... I mean STRUGGLES) (kneeling down and whispering) Are you okay?
Friend: (tears streaming down face) (STREAMING!) I just can't do it anymore. (Is your heart breaking yet?)
Me: I know it's hard, sweetie, but you just have to do your best.
Friend: The words are just too hard.  I'm not smart enough.
Me: (trying not to let tears stream down my face because I have to get this kid to try and finish) Just try a few more and then we'll stop.
Friend: And we'll go back to learning?
Me: (choking back sob) Yes, honey, we'll go back to learning.
This child...this "low achieving" child...is wise enough to know that testing is not teaching or learning. Test scores don't always measure what's important.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A complete review...

Diane Ravitch has a complete review of the documentary, Waiting for Superman. It's worth the read. The best thing about it is the myths perpetuated by the film, that she explodes...

Myth #1 - Teachers are the most important factor in student achievement.
The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
Let's not ignore the film's blaming of unions for the condition of the public schools...while ignoring the fact that states without collective bargaining laws for teachers have among the lowest achieving students (based on test scores) in the country.*(Click here for more)

Myth #2 - Charter schools will solve all our problems.

The film raises Charter schools as the answer to the problems of our "failing" public schools, but Guggenheim failed to mention two things. First...most charter schools are NOT doing any better than public schools...
...the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?
...and second, that the successful charter school highlighted in the film has resources that no public school has...
Guggenheim didn’t bother to take a close look at the heroes of his documentary. Geoffrey Canada is justly celebrated for the creation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which not only runs two charter schools but surrounds children and their families with a broad array of social and medical services. Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. Canada himself is currently paid $400,000 annually. For Guggenheim to praise Canada while also claiming that public schools don’t need any more money is bizarre. Canada’s charter schools get better results than nearby public schools serving impoverished students. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results.

But contrary to the myth that Guggenheim propounds about “amazing results,” even Geoffrey Canada’s schools have many students who are not proficient. On the 2010 state tests, 60 percent of the fourth-grade students in one of his charter schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50 percent in the other. It should be noted—and Guggenheim didn’t note it—that Canada kicked out his entire first class of middle school students when they didn’t get good enough test scores to satisfy his board of trustees. This sad event was documented by Paul Tough in his laudatory account of Canada’s Har- lem Children’s Zone, Whatever It Takes (2009). Contrary to Guggenheim’s mythology, even the best-funded charters, with the finest services, can’t completely negate the effects of poverty.
Myth #3 - American Public Schools are a failure.
Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.
The film misleads viewers and misrepresents the American Public School system.
Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance. The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. This is flatly wrong. Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are. NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement. The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade. The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.” But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.
Ravitch's review blows holes through Waiting for Superman. Will the president, secretary of education, state departments of education, millionaire "reformers" and the public listen? Probably not. At the end of the day we'll have the pro-charter, pro-testing, anti-union, anti-public education folks go on their merry way and continue to distort what's happening to public education in America while the charters continue to line the pockets of the rich and the rich continue to deny the effects of poverty.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Is Anyone Listening?

We keep shouting but no one seems to be listening. The corporate/federal school "reformers" seem to have access to all the media...the Washington Post and the New York Times, NBC News, Oprah, even movie theaters. Does the average American know that there are people who object to the Gates/Broad/Duncan/Superman view of American schools? I hope so...but I don't see it.

As Marion Brady writes in the article referenced below,
...the failure of those now setting policy to respond to my arguments says they’re not listening, or not understanding, or are so sure they know what they’re doing they don’t need to pay attention to someone who was wrestling with issues about which they consider themselves expert before many of them were born.
Are the reformers listening? Does Bill Gates know that people disagree with him and his corporate money? Does Arne Duncan know that his policies go directly against what research has shown to be best for the schools in the country? Does President Obama know that poverty is, indeed, the major factor in student achievement and that our middle class and upper class students lead the world in their achievement?

Perhaps not. Perhaps they really believe that charter schools, which, on the whole are no better than public schools, are the answer to our "failing schools." Perhaps they really believe that teachers don't try hard enough and we're somehow hiding our real teaching skills until they pay us for test scores.

So...they need to listen. They need to listen to Stephen Krashen when he reminds them that Gerald Bracey showed that poverty was the major problem with student achievement.
The entire basis for the national standards/testing movement is our low scores on international tests when compared to other countries. Our scores, however, are only low because we have such a high percentage of children in poverty, compared to other countries that participate in international tests. When we consider only middle-class children who attend well-funded schools, our math scores are near the top of the world (Payne and Biddle, 1999).
They need to listen to Marion Brady when he decries
...Congress as America’s school board, and members of the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cutting the checks that help elect and keep the members of that board in office...
Is anyone reading the Gesell Institute's report on their 18 month study which shows that even though we're pushing academics in Kindergarten children still develop at their own rate...proving once again that One Size Does Not Fit All!
In many districts, worries about benchmarks and test scores have made kindergarten less play-centered and developmental gaps more pronounced. When some children couldn’t handle expectations and were disrupting class, the William H. Frazier Elementary School in Fallbrook, Calif. began “Preppie Kindergarten” to separate those children who are ready for today’s kindergarten from those who are not. These children spend two years in kindergarten rather than one.

“All these kids were struggling and we wanted to give them a better start,” says Preppie Kindergarten teacher Kim Kinsman, who requires children to sit 15 minutes—not 30—at a stretch. “You cannot make a baby walk before they are ready to walk,” she says. “You cannot push a child. If they are not ready, they’re not ready.”
There's clear evidence that poverty is the real problem and that children learn at their own rate no matter how much we test them. The best teacher in the world can't change a child's rate of development. The best teacher in the world can't overcome the enormous negative influence of malnutrition and hunger, lack of health care, environmental toxins, and lack of access to books. American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore nearly all other countries on international tests. Our overall national scores are lower because the US has a very high percentage of children in poverty (over 20%, compared to Denmark's 3%).

Who's listening?