"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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who Appointed Bill Gates Emperor of Education?

Here's a teacher who is willing to stand up and speak out against the insanity posing as "school reform." She asks questions that President Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and their supporters won't answer. We need about 100,000 more of her around the country...

Reprinted from the Atlanta Journal Constitution

By Cindy Lutenbacher

Amid great fanfare in our state earlier this month, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced the release of the “Common Core Standards.”

So, I have a few questions for those who back the standards — including our own governor, Sonny Perdue, who co-chaired the Governors Association effort. In the general celebration over the release of these new standards, it seems very few people are asking what Common  Core Standards will actually mean for our children. And that is a mistake because the Common Core Standards are simply the forerunner to even more (and likely worse) standardized testing.

Why are so few investigating the origin of Common Core, which is largely a creation of Achieve Inc., an outfit that is driven by a dozen or so governors and CEOs of major U.S. corporations?

What do these people know about educating our children? Why would we trust them? Why do we simply accept the claims of “research- and evidence-based” support for the creation of Common Core Standards? Why are we not doing as we were admonished to do during Watergate … that is, to follow the money? Where is this independent research, unattached to corporate monies?

In creating these standards, Achieve, the governors and the school officials ignored the vast body of truly independent research that shows such “standards” and their inextricably linked standardized testing are worse than folly and are sending our children in the exact opposite direction of what they need.

This group of very rich people ignored this body of research that shows that the single most powerful factor in education gaps is poverty and not standardized testing.

Did they forget that the United States has the second highest rate of children in poverty of any industrialized country in the world? In fact, these purveyors of Common Core disregarded everything that at least every great teacher I have ever known believes, says and lives in his/her classroom. What we should be doing in Georgia and the rest of the country is focusing on filling our classrooms with great teachers, rather than with thousands of new standards.

We should be supporting our great teachers, rather than driving them from our schools, as will certainly be the outcome of an even greater emphasis on testing. Why does anyone cite the “A Nation at Risk” report in pushing for national standards even though it’s been so thoroughly discredited? Where is the hue and cry over the million dollars that the Gates Foundation gave to the National PTA in order to promote Common Core?

Who appointed Bill Gates Emperor of Education?

Is money being spent, to borrow a Bushism, to “catapult the propaganda”? Or is that last question simply rhetorical?

The architects of these Common Core Standards did not seem to consider all the research that amply demonstrates that having access to a variety of reading materials and having the time and safe space with which to read are the factors that help children become readers.

Instead, the standards rely on the absurd drilling tactics advocated by the politicians and corporations happily taking our tax dollars for their testing and related materials.

Who is really getting the money from turning our schools into Common Core drill-and-kill testing factories? Will Perdue be willing to read the list of literary texts listed in the 183-page Appendix for English Language Arts and allow me to test him on them? Will Perdue even take the 12th-grade exit exams and allow his scores to be made public? Can Perdue explain to me how “Tartuffe,” Euclid’s “Elements,” Paine’s concept of “ground-rent,” and a bivariate polynomial have helped him in governing our state?

And in related news, we learn that Perdue has vetoed the excellent bill that would have saved millions of dollars for our state and, more importantly, released our first- and second-graders from the hideous spectacle of useless standardized testing. Will he be willing to sit in a desk with 30 other governors, who, like hapless 6-year-olds, will be forbidden to speak to one another and must suffer silently as they are endlessly drilled in preparation for the CRCT?

Furthermore, when will Georgia get a state schools superintendent who actually understands children and how they learn, rather than, for example, one who understands politicians and chambers of commerce?

Will the new superintendent be willing to sit obediently through first-grade test prep for Common Core Standards? Is there anyone, anyone, who actually believes that Common Core Standards and its murderous standardized testing will not lead to even more fanatical requirements that cause teachers to have to teach to the test? There’s no evidence that these “standards” will help my children be lifelong learners.

When will we as a state and we as a nation wake up to the destruction of our children that is being carried out under the sanctimonious and specious names of accountability and reform?

And most important of all, for the sake of our kids, when will we revolt?

Cindy Lutenbacher is a teacher and DeKalb public school parent

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We Didn't Devote Our Lives to Testing

As a candidate, Barack Obama spoke against No Child Left Behind. In the clip below from his presentation to the National Education Association's Representative Assembly he described a few of the problems with NCLB.

At 1:01 into the clip he said, "Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next."

Immediately following that (1:10) he added, "Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test."

Finally, he acknowledged teachers' dedication to our profession by saying (at 1:27), "You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do."

Watch it below...


Where does President Obama stand? Well, it seems that President Obama is doing exactly what Candidate Obama spoke against. The same "test and punish" strategy which No Child Left Behind used to leave so many children and schools behind is now being used in Race to the Top.

Instead of supporting "low performing schools" (aka "failing schools") Race to the Top throws up its hands and walks away...it closes schools and replaces them with charter schools which, as shown in recent research, do no better than public schools. (See also here and here.)

Instead of supporting the teaching of problem solving, higher level thinking skills, creativity, and the ability to apply knowledge, Race to the Top will likely increase "test-prep" by placing even more emphasis on standardized tests. Race to the Top is encouraging testing in more subjects more often...and misusing those tests to evaluate teachers.

President Obama has lost his direction. He's apparently lost the understanding that he had as a candidate. More testing, charter schools, closing schools, and firing staffs won't solve the problems of Public Education. They will only make things worse. Magic Bullets like these won't help children learn. It's time to focus on the real problems of the "Achievement Gap" -- lack of jobs, poor nutrition and health care, limited access to reading material, and the rest of the damaging effects of poverty.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Building a Nation of Readers

Stephen Krashen has been saying it for a long time...Read his comments here , here, and and here.

Dolly Parton put her money where her mouth was.

Others have been working hard at it for years with great success.

It's simple. Access to books is good for reading achievement. The more kids have access to books, the higher their reading achievement. There's a program this summer taking place in seven states which will put books into the hands of students who live in areas where access to books is lacking. Sometimes the school libraries are poorly stocked...sometimes the public libraries are too far away or hard (or dangerous) to get to. With this program thousands of children are going to get books of their own.

Click here to read about it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Random quotes...

...on poverty.
When people have said "poverty is no excuse," my response has been, "Yes, you're right. Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition. It's like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty." - Gerald Bracey
As former voucher champion Paul E. Peterson of Harvard notes, all our favorite silver bullets have failed to change scoring patterns over the past half-century: the end of legal segregation, extra federal dollars for students in poverty, high-stakes tests, schools of choice—via charters or vouchers, teachers with more degrees, teachers' unions, improved wages for teachers, and even smaller schools. Of course, we've never done any of these wholeheartedly, but would we want to? We've in reality increased the separations across race and class. And no legal victory has produced equal school resources for the rich and poor. At one short moment in the 1980s we contemplated rethinking the nature of the "evidence" for improved schooling—shifting from "credit hours" and standardized tests to an older form of assessment:"Show me." It didn't last even a decade. Peterson's latest hope is technology and distance learning. Actually, I lived through that once before. Remember? But, I wouldn't dismiss it entirely—as I wouldn't any of the fads. We will not be a nation in the forefront of invention, however, if we stop inventing different answers to the $64-million-dollar questions: What do we want? And, how much do we all have to agree?  -- Deborah Meier, Bridging Differences Blog
"...Education Department data show that disadvantaged children enter kindergarten already three months behind the national average in reading and math skills, and never catch up. That's because their advantaged contemporaries are not standing still. They continue to benefit from travel, summer camp and other enriching experiences. Even the best schools have no control over these factors. It's little wonder then that there will always be a gap in academic achievement.

"California is a reminder of why it's so important not to draw conclusions based on incomplete information. Its public schools were once the envy of the nation. But since the 1960s, their performance has declined dramatically. Is this the result of a new generation of ineffective teachers in the classrooms, or the growth of teachers unions that protect them?

"Some say yes. But there's another more likely explanation. During the period in question, California's immigrant population soared because of the 1965 federal legislation that opened the gates to citizenship. (This does not begin to take into consideration the countless number of the undocumented.) One in four students in California is an English language learner, compared with fewer than one in ten on average in other states.

"Almost 60 percent of the state's total public school population consists of Hispanics, many of them low-income. This demographic is reflected in the fact that half of California's students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches.

"Why are these numbers relevant to the achievement gap? The Public Policy Institute of California reported that only 50 percent of elementary schools with the highest share of poor students made adequate yearly progress in 2007, while 98 percent of elementary schools with the lowest share of poor students did so.

"If any doubt remains, California released its Academic Performance Index rankings on May 13, showing continued vast disparities in achievement between schools serving poor Hispanic and African-American students and schools serving middle-class white students.

"Let's not give up on trying to change this discouraging picture, but at the same time let's not delude ourselves into thinking that schools alone are the answer, whether in California or in any state. Extraordinary teachers can be powerful agents in helping students make progress in learning, but they are not miracle workers who can make the achievement gap disappear.

"Believing otherwise creates anger in taxpayers who have been led to believe that if only schools were like they used to be in the past there would be no gaps. It's a myth." -- Walt Gardner's Reality Check
The Disparity Gap

America talks about closing the Achievement Gap, which makes it easy for us to ignore the other gaps between black and white children; The homeowner gap...the health care gap...the income gap...the poverty gap...the unemployment gap...the incarceration gap...the murder gap. Close these gaps and there won't be an achievement gap.
Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs [out-of-school factors] that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them. -- David C. Berliner, Poverty and Potention: Out-Of-School Factors and School Success

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Last Day...

Monday was my last day.

We started the day with the "sixth grade awards" breakfast. Our school is K through 6th...and when the 6th graders finish the year they go off to the middle school. Each year the 6th grade teachers (as well as the special area teachers - music, art, band, etc) award those students who have made significant achievement or improvement. Students get awards for citizenship, academic achievement, and contributing to the school and community. I've participated in presenting awards to the 6th graders for all the years I've been a Resource teacher. It's nice to be able to see the students I had as first and second graders...to celebrate their accomplishments.

It was easier to say goodbye to the students than I thought it would be. At the end of the day on the last day, the teachers gather outside, as the buses load up. When they're full...and ready to leave, we all stand on the sidewalk and wave good-bye to the students for the summer. For me, and the other retirees, it was the last time we would participate in that tradition.

Since I've been working as a Resource teacher, pulling students out of their classrooms a few at a time and trying to help them increase their reading achievement, I haven't developed the relationships with students that I did when I had my own classroom. Some years there were just too many students...my first year as a resource student I worked with more than 50 students...though the numbers decreased over the years. When I added a half day of Reading Recovery I had even fewer students...and for the last few years I've been averaging 20-30 students a year. In addition, I only worked with first and second grade students...so I would do what I could in those two years and then give the responsibility of bringing them up to speed to their classroom teachers. As a result, I didn't get to know the students as well as I did when I had my own classroom and it was easier to wave good-bye to them.

[By the way, the lack of that emotional attachment to students...the feeling of family you get after spending months together in a classroom...is among the things that I missed when I left the general ed. classroom]

After the buses left I walked around the building...going to each classroom and saying goodbye to the other teachers. I found the custodians...went to the office and said good-bye to the secretaries and principal. I've worked with some of them for the entire 19 years I've been at this school...and some were relatively new. Some of the teachers had my own children as students, so I have known them for longer than I worked at the school. This experience was surprisingly easier than I expected...

...until I got to my "team." The special services team works closely together. Aside from me, the members of the team include the Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), the Guidance Counselor, and, in our building, two Special Education teachers. These are the people with whom I have worked closely over the last years of my teaching career. I've developed especially close relationships with the SLP and the Guidance Counselor. We became more than colleagues...we talked about more than our students. We shared personal problems and successes as well as professional information. My retirement doesn't mean that we will lose the friendships we developed, but it does mean that the day to day support and contact will be gone, and I do feel the emotional loss. Saying good-bye was personal...emotional...and exactly as hard as I imagined it would be.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Counting down the days...1

Another weekend...Monday (June 7) will be the last day of my career in education...or as one of my colleagues has correctly pointed out to me...the last day of this phase of my career in education.
"Nor do I admire their belief that schools will get dramatically better if they compete, just like businesses do. Maybe people in business win by competing, maybe competition produces better mousetraps, but that is not the way that schools function. Schools work best when teachers collaborate with one another to identify students who need extra attention or a different program or to mentor weak teachers; schools work best when they collaborate around common goals. Schools are not trying to build a better mousetrap. They are trying to educate our citizenry. Schools are not businesses, and we will continue to flounder so long as we put politicians and business leaders in the driver's seat on education policy." — Diane Ravitch, Ed Week blog, Dec. 1, 2009

What did I want to accomplish that I didn't get done?

When I started teaching the goal that was foremost in my mind was to help students who, like me, had difficulty learning. I wanted to spend time with children whose ability was average or above average, but whose achievement was lagging. I wasn't able to fully verbalize that goal until years after I started teaching. When I look at how I organized and ran my classrooms, though, it was always with the idea of helping the low achievers along.

When I divided my students into groups for instruction - whether it was 17 first graders, or 38 third graders - the groups with the fewest students were always the ones who required more attention and support.

When I scheduled times to work with my groups, I always made sure I worked with the students who needed more help daily.

When I analyzed what I taught, I focused on the students who didn't achieve what I had set out to teach and tried to figure out how I could reteach it so they could learn...or how I could reinforce it so they could remember.

There were days when I neglected other students...the average and above average achievers. I didn't intend to do this...it just happened because I was spending more time trying to figure out how to reach the students who were struggling [Was that the best way to run a classroom? No, definitely not. If I had it to do again, I would spend more time at the beginning of the year developing ways to better use the time I had available so I wouldn't neglect students simply because they were making progress].

For the last sixteen years, almost half of my 34 year career, I have worked with struggling students almost exclusively. I worked with small groups of students...and individuals. I was able to focus on specific problems. I talked to classroom teachers about the students...what were the students doing in their classroom? What were their weaknesses? What were their strengths? What should I focus on to most support what was going on in the classroom? As part of the team focused specifically on one child at a time, I hope that I was able to achieve the goal of helping low achievers grow a little more than they would have without my help.

So, why have I put this under the "what I wanted to accomplish but didn't" title? I helped some kids, but not all of them who I worked with. I was successful with some, but there were others who failed to thrive in school, despite what I tried to do. Was it my fault if they didn't succeed? Yes...and no. I'm not all powerful. I'm a normal human with strengths and weaknesses of my own. I couldn't work miracles even though I wanted to. But I could have done better than I did...

What else?

The country is moving...has moved...in the wrong direction. We have, as a nation, lost our commitment to public education. The over reliance on testing - teaching to the test, focusing only on the "standards" which are covered on the test - has damaged public education and the teaching profession. We've stood by and let it happen. We've been sucked into the myth that "higher standards" means better education when we should know better...harder does not always mean better.

We've allowed ourselves, as educators, to be locked out of the conversation. We've counted on our professional organizations, honor societies, and unions to speak for us and they have let us and our students down. The situation is now intolerable. Are there teachers who thought No Child Left Behind was good for children or who think that Race to the Top will help public education in the United States? I'm sure there are some...but most of us witnessed first hand the damage that has been done to our profession and our students. No Child Left Behind opened people's eyes to the great inequities that exist in public education...and that was good, but instead of easing the inequities, it increased them. The weakest of our students were saddled with the lowest form of learning simply to pass the test. Their frustrated teachers were forced to teach in ways many of them knew were inadequate, simply to keep their schools from being punished. Race to the Top is continuing the damage to the weakest students by labeling them as failures and punishing their school administrators and teachers.

As individuals teachers have very little power to make changes on a large scale. However, we can work to change the conditions for our students and our colleagues.

This blog has been an attempt to change people's minds...and increase their understanding. In some ways, it has succeeded.

So, have those goals been accomplished? No...no matter how much I did, there was always something more to be done. I'm not blaming myself for that...I did what I could at the time, but now, at the end, I see that I could have done more.

I can't go back and change the past...and I have very few regrets about what I did with and for students and their teachers, but there is always more to be done.

We need to work together...to collaborate to improve public education, as Diane Ravitch wrote in the quote I included at the beginning of this post. We need to collaborate with each other to improve our instruction...and we also need to collaborate to improve public education in general. We have to work together to change what's being done in the name of education. We have to support politicians who support public schools. We have to speak out against those who would use faulty logic to privatize public education.

Maybe in the next phase of my career I can accomplish more...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More proof...

Race to the Top relies heavily on teachers' pay and evaluation being tied to student "performance" i.e. scores on high stakes achievement tests.

Valerie Strauss at The Answer Sheet reported recently on the results of a study of Chicago's teacher performance-based pay. It turns out that it doesn't work well.
A study released today by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. shows no evidence that the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program improved student math and reading tests when compared with a group of similar schools that did not use the system, Education Week reported...

The concept ignores the fact that standardized tests in schools today were not designed as teacher assessment tools and aren’t valid measures, but that isn’t stopping a headlong rush into implementation in school districts across the country.
There's a double standard at work here. Teachers and schools are being taken to task for not using research-based or scientific-based programs, yet the USDOE is ignoring research which goes against its political agenda.

The process at work today is guaranteed to fail. The Race to the Top requires that states use what doesn't work. When schools fail the teachers will be blamed, fired, and vilified.

Public Education in the United States is being pushed over a cliff.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Counting down the days...3

Wednesday night...three days left.

Today I was thinking about my first year teaching. Some thoughts at random from 1976-77...

The building was old...hot water heat...no thermostat. The heat was either on, or off. In the winter, it was on, of course, and the room got sweltering. It was so hot in there that I had to open the windows to keep the temperature reasonable. Before I learned how to control the temperature we had a day where it was exceptionally hot in the room. The students were all hot and uncomfortable. One student got up too fast and fainted. I sent another to get the nurse (no phones in the rooms at that point) as I knelt beside the one who was down. He slowly woke up...face flushed...confused look. My messenger returned with a note from the nurse. "When he's ok, send him down." !!!

The third graders in my class (38 of them) were from a wide variety of homes. One of them, Steve, got himself and his first grade brother ready for school each day. His parents worked the night shift and both were sleeping when they got up -- so an 8 year old and a 6 year old got themselves off to school each day.

Paul and his brother, Don, were both in my class. Paul had been retained twice...Don once. Neither was able to handle the reading textbook. Even as a first year teacher I knew that keeping them in material which was too hard for them wouldn't help them at all...so I scrounged lower level readers from other teachers. I also learned about the effectiveness of retention. These two boys, probably learning disabled, gained nothing from being held back.

The teacher next door (first grade) came to my door one day and asked me to be the witness as she paddled a student. I was so surprised that I didn't refuse immediately and she proceeded to punish the student. I had no idea that I would be asked to watch as a teacher hit a student. At the end of the day I went to her and told her not to ask me to do that again.

Class management was never one of my strengths. I struggled with it as long as I taught. Correcting student behavior was difficult for me. One of the techniques I used my first year was to wait. Sometimes, with that many students, I had to wait a while. One day, when it was time to go home, I couldn't get them to settle down. I waited...and waited...and finally they got quiet and we got ready to leave. By that time, however, all the buses had left. As I realized what had happened I had this awful feeling that I would never be allowed back in the classroom. Luckily the principal was a patient man...and recognizing the "deer-in-the-headlights" look from the first year teacher, helped me solve the problem. We called all the parents...one at a time...and they picked up their children. Not one of them seemed the least bit upset. I'm not sure how the principal accomplished that, but I was very grateful!

The building housed students in grades K through 8. I had cafeteria duty and recess duty with 8th graders. That was when I learned that I neither understood nor appreciated middle school children. A couple of incidents caused me some considerable stress. One day I got hit by a milk carton while on cafeteria duty. I had no clue where it came from (behind me somewhere)...luckily it remained closed when it hit me in the back. Fights were a major problem at recess. One day two boys started fighting...I separated them and sent them to the office. After school the principal came to my room and told me that "boys will be boys" and as long as they were about the same size and not really hurting each other I should take care of situations like that on my own.

One of my students had hip surgery during the year. He came to school on crutches...and then used them to hit other students.

My birthday was in September. The students prepared a surprise for me. I knew they were doing something, but I didn't know what was going to happen. The day came...and I walked into the room, having left on some excuse to get out of there and give them the chance to get ready. The surprise turned out to be a wastebasket FULL of confetti dumped on my head as I walked into the room...

The art teacher, who eventually became a school board member and extremely antagonistic towards teachers, had a limited repertoire. The students drew...period. They used colored pencils, markers and crayons. No paint...no clay...nothing else but colored pencils, markers and crayons. I was fresh from the education school...and I knew the value to young children of using a variety of artistic media. So...I got tempera paints and set up an easel in my room. The kids painted every day. It was a mess, but they loved it. I don't think most of them had ever painted before...probably never again, either. It was worth cleaning up every day.

The number of students in the room changed as the year went on. Migrant workers came and went and their children attended school for a couple of months...then left. The highest number of students I had at one time was 38...and, for a while, it got as low as 32.

I started reading aloud to students the first day. I continued the practice nearly every day for the rest of the years I taught in a grade level classroom. No matter what grade...K through 6...I read every day. I also used sustained silent reading each day. All of us, would stop everything and read. At the beginning of the year in third grade we would read for 5 minutes. Some of the students couldn't maintain concentration longer than that. By the end of the year, the Sustained Silent Reading Time was lasting 30-35 minutes.

With that many students the paperwork load was astonishing. I spent at least 2 hours every evening trying to keep up. Eventually I learned how to review student work without having to grade everything. I also learned to teach without using so much paper.

Looking back on that year I realize that I did so many things wrong...wasted so much of my time on little things that didn't matter...and wasted the students' time requiring things that were not particularly educationally sound. At that time, there were no mentor teachers...I got to the school and I was on my own. Other teachers made suggestions, but I struggled alone. Somehow we all survived.

All in all, the experience of my first year was not as difficult as some others have had. It was not as hard for me as the year I taught 6th grade - after 18 years of experience. I've been really lucky to have taught in schools with students whose parents care about them...help them...appreciate their teachers...and consider themselves part of the team working to help their children learn. I've been lucky to teach with colleagues who were dedicated to helping their students grow. In all the years I've taught...at all the schools...with all the teachers...I have never met a teacher who was in it for any reason other than helping their students. I'm proud to have been associated with so many dedicated professionals.