"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

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who benefits from National Standards?

This article by Paul Sonne appeared in the Wall Street Journal of March 2, 2010. Who really benefits from the push for National Standards? Does it help the students? Does it close any "Achievement Gap?" It's plain that the benefit of National Standards is for the business community. That's why they're pushing so hard for it.

It's businesses like Pearson, through the Obama administration, who are defining Education "reform." Competition is the rule...close the "businesses" which are failing...judge the workers by their "product"...fire the failing employees...

When you scratch the surface of the current attacks on public education you'll find big corporations (e.g. Pearson, McGraw-Hill) and wealthy businessmen (e.g. Bill Gates, Eli Broad). There's money to be made in the new education industry - charters and private schools, vouchers programs, and the re-segregating of the American public school system.

Poverty is still the main issue that WE as teachers have to deal with nationwide.
Education and publishing company Pearson PLC reported a 46% jump in 2009 net profit to £425 million ($648 million) Monday, boosted by an education business that CEO Marjorie Scardino says could be helped further by U.S. President Barack Obama's push for common state standards in math and reading...

The education division's growth could be boosted in the U.S. in the coming year as 48 states develop common core education standards for math and language arts as part of a voluntary state-led effort encouraged by the White House, Ms. Scardino said...

The implementation of core standards would reduce the burden Pearson faces in adapting materials to individual state requirements. It could also open up an opportunity for Pearson to win a new contract measuring the progress of that common-standards initiative. The degree to which Pearson will reap benefits depends on how many states ultimately opt into the common standards and how specific they are...

Ms. Scardino said Pearson could also benefit from $4.35 billion in "Race to the Top" grants the Obama administration will begin distributing to states this year for education innovation and reform. Data systems that measure student success, one of Pearson's key product areas, are an emphasis of the grant plan. 
For another view of the National Standards Movement see, Debunking the Case for National Standards by Alfie Kohn.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm ready...

School systems are in difficult financial situations these days. One of the options is to trade old teachers (at the top of the salary schedule) for new (at the bottom of the scale).

Our school system has offered teachers who are eligible for retirement an incentive to retire now...so that younger, less expensive (and I might add, less experienced) teachers might take their spots. I could have retired 4 years ago (or maybe it was 5) but I saw no reason to leave what I have done for so long...and had so much fun at. Now, though, the school system is making an offer that's difficult to refuse, so yesterday, at 3:40 pm ET, I turned in my letter of intent to retire at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. My retirement date will be June 7...assuming we don't have any more snow days :)

I have mixed feelings about retiring. I got into education by accident, 34 years ago. I never really chose to be a teacher...more like teaching chose me. If my life had gone the way I had planned I would have been a musician...

In any case the decision has been made. It's been a hard decision. Those of you who have seen me in the last few days/weeks may not have realized that. I'm all smiles and chuckles at the thought of not having another recess duty or another unpleasant discussion with the administration. But it has taken me a while to justify this in my mind. I do have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Here are some of the things I've thought about...in no particular order.
  • Reason to stay: The number one cause of death for men in the US is retirement. I'll have to find something else to do.
  • Reason to stay: There are people in my school who I have relied on for support and friendship. I've grown very attached to some of them and, while I realize that the phone still works, and email still works, it's not the same as being with someone every day. That will be the hardest adjustment for me to make. I play at being really happy about this, but this aspect has been wrenching...and very difficult for me to deal with. I know it's the right decision, given all the pluses and minuses, but there will be no way to stop this from being an emotional loss. I know...I know...change is part of life.
  • Reason to leave: When I first started teaching I had some goals...Many of them have been unmet...some were not realistic...and some I've simply forgotten :) There is one goal, though, that has become more important to me in the last few years. It is this...I don't want to be one of those teachers who retires mentally before they leave the classroom physically. I've done well this year. Being in the position I'm in I've minimized my weaknesses (Classroom management), and maximized my strengths (insight into student needs). I'm not the best teacher who ever set foot in a classroom, but I'm good at what I do now, and this has been a good year. Now would be a good time to leave when I have those good feelings about what I've done.
  • Reason to leave: I'm emotionally worn down. I didn't run for an office (other than as a delegate to the state teachers' association general assembly) in our teachers' association for the first time in years. Being on the Negotiations Team, the Discussion Team, and the Executive Committee has become stressful. It's not the time involved...or the people...it's the frustration of trying to make a difference and being ignored (by the administration) or shot down over and over again. There are things that are happening which I believe are bad for schools and children...not all of those things are the fault of our administration or our school system, of course. In fact, most of them are NOT local issues, but watching what is happening to Public Education in general, and my students in particular, has become more and more frustrating. I'll still write my blog. My readership has grown (thank you all) and I can keep writing about what I see but I'm tired of fighting principals...and business managers...and superintendents.
  • Reason to stay: I still have a lot to offer my students. I understand, through first hand experience, the difficulties of learning to read, ADHD, and the related emotional baggage that accompanies those problems (maybe I should have been a school counselor ). I also have a lot to offer our teachers' association as well. I don't regret not ever being our Association President. I know that I would have done ok in that position. I know the contract...I know enough about the workings of Association/Administration interactions to anticipate trouble. I might have been instrumental in helping restore the teachers' trust in the administration (assuming they would cooperate). I might have been...but there are others who will step up.
  • Reason to leave: I'm physically worn down. My injury has taken a lot out of me. We don't heal as well as we did when we were younger (notice how I switched to the more anonymous third person when talking about "our" age)...it's taking a lot longer than I had hoped...and some of the discomfort will last for months more. Oh, it's getting better every day...and I hope to be walking my 5 miles (or however long it is) a day again this summer, but physically, this has been a hard year.
  • ...and so on...Can I afford this? I'll get to read more. I'll get to write more. Will I become a lazy good for nothing? What kind of job can I get part time? ...etc...etc.
I've worked for 10 principals - including some who are no longer with us. I've worked with approximately 150 colleagues - including some who are no longer with us. I've touched the lives of probably 600 students (give or take) - including some who are no longer with us. I can't imagine a job other than teaching, in which you get to know so many people, so well. I can't imagine another job in which you can influence another human being the way you can as a teacher. The responsibility is awesome...as is the satisfaction.

My biggest teaching frustration has been allowing myself to do things in the classroom which, while mandated by federal, state and/or local authorities, were things that I knew were not in the best interests of my students.

My greatest teaching joy has been to read aloud to my students...year after year. I've loved being able to watch them while they listened...to feel their excitement in a good story as they held perfectly still...to listen to the complete silence between words and sentences as they anticipated the next thought or action...to hear them laugh as Fudge poured his breakfast on his head...to watch their eyes widen when Viola Swamp entered the classroom...to hear the quiet gasps and then see tears well up in their eyes as Stone Fox helped Little Willy and Searchlight across the finish line...to hear them cheer when Charlie found the Golden Ticket. Those were the best moments of all.

Pros and cons...ups and downs...ok...I'm ready.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Punishing the Children in Florida

Mandatory Student Standardized Testing With Punishments is Cruel Privatization Power Play Against Public Schools

By BuzzFlash
Created 03/20/2010 - 3:22pm

The children will in some cases become sick and throw up. Others will panic and wet themselves. Still others will complain of nightmares and plead for reassurance from parents and teachers. But no excuses are countenanced in the Sunshine State. The state once again went ahead with its annual ritualistic destruction of 8 and 9-year-old children this past week through the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

All the children psychologically injured came from families without the means to take refuge in private schools where the FCAT is banished as junk pedagogy. Thankfully, affluent parents can protect their children from the test. Poor and working class mothers and fathers are trapped though. They watch anxiously from the sidelines on test day and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the best does not always happen. When a child "fails" the FCAT reading in the 3rd grade, and thousands do, it is the official policy in the State of Florida to punish the child. The State has rejected the idea of extra care and remediation and embraced the incentives provided by fear and public humiliation. The "failed child" sits in the same 3rd grade class again throughout the following school year. Former friends and classmates go happily on to their 4th grade adventures in learning. They will watch each other come and go every day in nearby classrooms with the full understanding of why they are now and forever separated.

Again, the State of Florida punishes the child. No adult--not a parent, not a teacher, not a principal, not a District Superintendent, not a school board member, not a Florida Commissioner of Education, not a member of the Florida Department of Education, not a legislator, not a governor--no grown person need fear any sanction for poor FCAT performance. The State of Florida has decided to punish the 9-year-old alone.

There is a sleeping giant in Florida's public schools. The teachers are the most powerful and potent force in the system. Those teachers made a huge mistake when they let the FCAT into the schools and into their students lives. But teachers were ambushed. They grew up in world without FCAT. They all went to school before punishment and psychological battering became official government education policy. As children today's teachers were taught that presidents and governors and legislators cared for all kids. It was before they learned a governor could be devious.

When teachers let the wolf, the FCAT, into their classrooms it emboldened the leaders of the pack. So they're back now to destroy those very teachers. State Senator John Thrasher and other allies of former Governor Jeb Bush have proposed Senate Bill 6. It will tie the paychecks of teachers to test scores. At first the legislation will put the jobs and livelihoods of every inner city teacher and special education teacher in jeopardy but they intend in time to get to all public school teachers.

They are out to achieve the vision of a man by the name of Milton Friedman. Sixty years ago Friedman wrote, "I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational service is rendered to individuals by private enterprises. Nothing else will destroy or even greatly weaken the power of the educational establishment--a necessary pre-condition for radical improvement in our educational system.. . .The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry. . . ."

Senate Bill 6 is intended to work the same way FCAT did with children--batter teachers into lower pay and lesser benefits and more overcrowded classrooms through fear and intimidation. Then they will snuff out what is left of public education and install their "new, highly active and profitable industry...." And they are counting on Florida's teachers to commit suicide.

That remains to be seen. The only reason an FCAT booklet has ever been distributed in a Florida classroom is because a teacher has agreed to do it. They can pass Senate Bill 6 or Senate Bill 666 and it's null and void unless teachers administer their tests. They're prepared to deal with teachers lobbying and other forms of pleading for mercy. They won't even be bothered by thousands of sign carrying teachers marching through the streets of Tallahassee.

But imagine the teachers refusing to administer the tests. Pray tell, what would they do about it? Can they fired everybody and turn the children of Florida loose in the streets? Yes, the sleeping giant may yet awake in time to save public schools and heal the children.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Duncan Doesn't Deserve His Office...

The Secretary of Education said, when talking about firing entire school staffs, "I will tell you what doesn't work. Doing nothing."

He's correct, of course, but his ideas about what to do have been researched and found wanting.

First of all, I have to be honest and admit that in my opinion, Arne Duncan doesn't deserve the office of Secretary of Education any more than Margaret Spelling did. Search out Duncan's biography and you'll find a couple of interesting things. (Read various versions of his bio here, here, here and here.)

First, the man is not an educator. He is a tutor, turned sociology student, turned professional basketball player, turned politician. As a young man, he tutored low income students for his mother's business. He never worked in a school as a teacher. He never had his own classroom with 25 or 30 third graders, or 150 9th graders during a seven period day. He never had to deal, as a classroom teacher, with other teachers, administrators, school board members, or parents.

He worked at his mother's tutoring business. He never went to a public school. He attended the University of Chicago lab school -- his father was a professor at the University of Chicago. He went to Harvard and majored in Sociology and Basketball. After a stint playing pro basketball in Australia he returned to Chicago and ran a tutoring business with his sister...eventually landed a job with the Chicago Public Schools...and found his way to the top as CEO.

He never attended a public school. He studied sociology, not education. He never set foot in a classroom as a teacher.

Duncan claims that Charter Schools are the answer, but Charter Schools, on the whole, don't perform any better than do public schools...on the whole.
The research found that 37 percent of charter schools posted math gains that were significantly below what students would have seen if they had enrolled in local traditional public schools. And 46 percent of charter schools posted math gains that were statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their traditional public-school companions. That means that only 17 percent of charter schools have growth in math scores that exceeds that of their traditional public-school equivalents by a significant amount.
In reading, charter students on average realized a growth that was less than their public-school counterparts but was not as statistically significant as differences in math achievement, researchers said.
Part two of the Duncan/Obama plan is paying teachers on the basis of their students' test scores...i.e. Merit Pay.

As reported by the Economic Policy Institute, Adams, Heywood and Rothstein said,
...the use of merit pay systems based on quantitative measures is fraught with perverse consequences that often thwart the larger goal of improving the quality of services and outcomes...
Merit pay schemes tend to pit people against each other, in direct contrast to the cooperation and collaborative atmosphere needed in a school setting. Making test scores the end all of education leads to corruption and "doctoring the books" as was clearly demonstrated during the administration of G.W. Bush. The "Texas Miracle" authored by Bush's first Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, turned out to be based on test cheating and pushing students out of school and onto the streets.

Indeed, "Rothstein’s work shows how even the best-intentioned attempts to create systems for measuring performance often subvert the goals and values of the firm or organization being measured."

Duncan's reliance on questionable methods for improving schools shows that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the research and at worst, purposely ignoring it. His lack of qualifications for and dangerous policies as the Secretary of Education calls into question the motives and judgment of President Obama who appointed him.
"I continue to believe that everyone who opines about education should first be required to spend several months in a public school classroom...Only that way can their writing have authenticity. It's called walking around in the other person's shoes." -- Walt Gardner
Other sources:

Texas Merit-Pay Pilot Failed to Boost Student Scores, Study Says

Nine Myths about Public Schools

Top Ten Reasons Why Merit Pay for Teachers is a Terrible Idea

Merit Pay Could Ruin Teacher Teamwork

The Folly of Merit Pay

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Other Options...

To the Central Falls, Rhode Island School Board:

If firing all the teachers isn't enough to solve the problems of poverty, here are some other options for you to try.
  • Fire the students for not learning enough. If you can blame teachers for not working hard enough so that all students can pass the test then surely it makes sense to fire the students for not working hard enough to learn everything that's being taught.
  • Fire the parents. If kids live in poverty it's their parents' fault for not working hard to make enough money.
  • Fire the textbook publishers for not working hard enough to include all the answers to "the test" in their books.
  • Fire the local police for not working hard enough to keep the students safe so they could go to school and concentrate on academics instead of worrying about making it home alive.
  • Fire themselves. The school board should fire themselves for not working hard enough to solve the problem of the students' poor performance.
  • Fire the Central Falls local government for allowing poverty to exist in their city. The link between poverty and low school achievement is well established. If the government had eliminated poverty the school would not have "failed." Fire the government of the state of Rhode Island as well...same reason.
  • Fire all the medical professionals in the city. The link between health and achievement is also well established. If the doctors and dentists had worked hard enough to keep all the children healthy, then the school would not have "failed."
  • Fire everyone in local, state and national departments of education who has never been an educator. Being a former student does not qualify someone to make decisions affecting the lives of hundreds of children.
  • Fire Arne Duncan and Barak Obama for cheering this tragedy.
  • Fire anyone locally or nationally who imposes sanctions on schools because they are filled with struggling, children. These schools haven't failed...the nation has failed.
"Central Falls School District - Great Schools - Helping Each Other - Working Together - Making Dreams Into Reality." -- from the Central Falls School District Web Site

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Central Falls...

Central Falls Rhode Island.

All the teachers are being fired. Fewer than half of them will be rehired for next year. This is the Duncan/Obama way of improving a school.

Where will they find the teachers willing to teach here? Who would be stupid enough to want to work at a place with that kind of job security?

Mrs. Mimi said it best (in the first of several rants on the subject), I think [Warning: When Mrs Mimi gets upset she uses language inappropriate for young children]...
Holy crap, I don't even know where to begin. There are so many parts to this puzzle that are being conveniently ignored. You all, in your infinite wisdom, have made some fantastic comments about this issue on my Facebook fanpage.

I mean, how can these ass hats seriously fire all the teachers with a straight face and a clear conscience while conveniently ignoring the fact that the school is PLAGUED BY POVERTY. I guess you can't fire poverty, but you certainly shouldn't IGNORE IT ALL TOGETHER IN A DESPERATE DISPLAY OF DEMONIZING AND FINGER POINTING. I was watching an interview on CNN (the Anderson Cooper one...just scroll down) where [someone] just dismissed poverty with a, "well, you can't do anything about that."


Cuz I know it's a tough mountain to climb to, you know, end poverty, but to ME, saying that we "can't really do anything about poverty" is just about as pathetic, sad and depressing as saying, "well, we can't do anything about this school, so let's just fire all the teachers Donald Trump style." (Bad hair and power tie not necessarily included.)

...There is a low rate of academic success among the students at this particular school....First of all, can we just give a shout out to the bullshit that is standardized testing being used as the only measurement of student achievement? I mean, that's a whole post in and of itself. Second of all, what curriculums are being utilized? How much freedom to teachers actually have to teach in ways they believe in? Or are we telling them exactly how to do their jobs, providing them with sub-standard resources and then getting pissed when it doesn't come out all rosy?

...And again - these kids are LIVING IN POVERTY. These friends are probably coming to school hungry, dealing with ridiculous home lives, perhaps even working a job to try and help their families and we're surprised when they don't ace their math quiz????? And I hate to hate on people who are already struggling, but what about their parents? WHAT ABOUT THEIR ROLE IN THEIR CHILD'S EDUCATION?

It just seems to me that a lot of people (administrators, policy makers, parents, etc) want to put in their two freaking cents when it comes to telling us how to do our jobs but then want to take no responsibility whatsoever when shit hits the educational fan. I'm just sayin....if you can't take the heat, THEN LEAVE US ALONE AND LET US DO OUR JOBS!

Am I going to blindly stick up for every single one of those teachers? I hate to say it, but the answer is no. I'm sure there are teachers in that building who suck. Just like there are workers in every job in every industry everywhere who are sub par weak links who everyone talks about but no one does anything about. Now I know it's hard to fire a teacher, and I don't even want to get started on a debate about tenure (need to keep the old heart rate under 140 for my little friend here), but it IS possible. There IS a process to do that when a teacher demonstrates an inability to be effective in the classroom. Where are the fingers pointing at the transient administration who failed to follow this explicit process? I mean, I recently wrote about the teacher evaluation process in which numerous times I witnessed administrators never actually pay attention to my lesson and then write up a report on the wrong subject...

So we're completely comfortable in ignoring the failure of this process and these individuals but have arbitrarily decided to pin 100% of the blame on teachers?

Teachers are being unreasonable when they asked for more money for additional work. I guess the school system wanted teachers to eat with the children (To increase instructional time? Make them nauseous? Increase aspirin consumption and therefore boost sales?), add minutes onto their instructional day, spend time outside of school tutoring students and attend weekly 90 minute meeting. Can you please show me another profession in which people are asked to work more hours, take on greater responsibility and take on some seriously ridiculous odds for no extra money? It is also clear to me that the people suggesting this have never actually eaten in a school cafeteria. And to them I say, "Friend, shit ain't gettin' done at lunch. Those kids need a break!!!"

They keep pointing out the salaries of the teachers, saying that they make $72,000 a year, which judging by the facial expressions of the finger pointers, sounds ridiculous to them. They make arguments such as "teachers are putting their salaries ahead of the needs of the kids."

Um, I'm sorry, but did I miss the word VOLUNTEER somewhere in my job description? Why do people think it okay to play the altruism card here? Because if "good intentions" were the only requirement for this job, we'd all be screwed. Maybe teachers should have demanded payment in sunshine and rainbows...there might be some of that to spare.
Teachers are the scapegoats...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fire the principals and the teachers...

Jim Horn, one of the Schools Matter bloggers, is bitter. His writing is angry and insulting. But, he's correct.

In his latest post, America's Broken Promise Alliance, or No Chamber of Commerce Left Behind he talks about accountability. President Obama went to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and announced a new accountability plan.

[begin paraphrasing]

The accountability is not for the corporations who ruined the economy. It's not for the Wall Street types who made millions from American workers and homeowners. Congress and/or the White House don't have to be accountable for insurance companies and drug manufacturers who take advantage of sick Americans with little oversight.

No, the accountability the President is peddling has bipartisan support. He, Arne Duncan, and their friends Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and other "reformers" want to fire principals and teachers in the poorest schools in the nation. They need to be fired because they have not solved the poverty problem that Washington and Wall Street continue to ignore.

[/end paraphrasing]

With the highest instance of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, our politicians don't want to accept responsibility so they don't "see" the correlation between poverty and education. If they did, then they would have to admit to their constituents that "we're not really #1" something that the average voter doesn't want to hear.

Stephen Krashen wrote:
Students from high-income families attending well-funded schools outscore all or nearly all other countries on tests of math and science. Only our children in high-poverty schools score below the international average. Children living in poverty do poorly because of factors unrelated to school (e.g. diet, pollution, little access to books). Our national scores are unimpressive because the US has the highest percentage of children living in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%).
Public Education might just end up as the latest in a long line of casualties of poverty in the US.