"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, August 30, 2010

The Condition of Public Education

The newest PDK/Gallup Poll on the condition of public education is out. There are always a few suprises. On the other hand, some things don't change year after year.

Local Schools.

Americans regularly give the schools in their local community higher ratings that the schools nationwide and parents with children in the schools give them even higher ratings.
Differences between how Americans view their local schools versus the nation’s schools suggests that Americans like the schools they know but are much less positive about public education in general. This finding is often viewed from two very different perspectives. Some compare it to similar findings in other situations. For example, while Americans give Congress low grades, they give their local congressperson much higher grades. Researchers then write these two questions off as being consistent with Americans’ fickleness toward their public and private institutions. On the other hand, these responses greatly concern some educators and policy makers. They believe it affirms that Americans are content with schools as they currently exist, the status quo, and that too many American will not embrace important reform efforts.
A majority of 82% of the respondents to the poll do NOT see their local schools as failing giving them a grade of A, B or C. 49% scored their local schools as an A or a B. In other words, the school we know best we score higher than the schools we don't know. We're very negative about the quality of schools nation wide. But if such a high percentage of people are giving their own schools average to above average ratings where are all the schools that are doing so poorly?

Even more telling...more than 3/4 of the people who have children attending public schools give their school  a grade of A or B. Parents of children in school are the ones who know best how the school is working. They see the progress their children are making. They are the ones who are in contact with our schools on a daily or weekly basis.
Seventy-seven percent of America’s parents gave the school their oldest child attends either an “A” or “B.” These are the highest grades parents have assigned to their oldest child’s school since the poll began. During the past 25 years, parent grades assigned to schools have continued to improve.
Alfie Kohn: No to Threats and Bribes

What about No Child Left Behind? the reliance on standardized testing? the competition for scarce federal resources? Alfie Kohn addresses these issues on p.18 of the report (pages are numbered from the current issue of the Kappan).
So: People say no to threatening (to close schools) and to bribing (kids with money), which together define the carrot-and-stick approach favored by economists and behaviorists, who run the show. If contemporary “school reform” is a stool, that’s one of its three legs — gone. The second leg is standardized testing, and the 2008 PDK/Gallup poll found that most people regard test scores as less meaningful than “examples of student work” and “teachers’ observations.”

The last leg? Well, imagine this question on next year’s poll: If we had to choose between doing what’s best for children to help them become good learners and good people, or educating them in a way that primarily benefits their future employers, which would you favor?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Newbery Medal Committee

The John Newbery Medal is an award given by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), of the American Library Association (ALA). The first award was given in 1922 and has honored books such as, Sounder, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Johnny Tremain. The books are chosen by a committee...and selection to the committee is a real honor.

On this year's committee is a former teacher and current children's librarian in Cincinnati...Sam Bloom...who also happens to be my son. A local newspaper in the Cincinnati area has a good article about him and the Newbery award.

Two things occurred to me as I was reading the article about him. First, reading aloud to your children and students is the most effective way to instill a love of reading. It shows them that you value reading, that you love reading, and gives them an understanding of how stories work.

Second, and this is not something that you will read in the article, good young teachers are leaving the classroom because of the overemphasis on testing - among other things. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have turned American classrooms into test prep factories and the frustrations of that, coupled with the growing list of restrictions dumped on classroom teachers, leads to a rate of teacher turnover higher than other professions.

If we give the supporters of the current "reforms" in education the benefit of the doubt, their attempts to increase the number of good teachers in our schools is having the opposite effect. The so-called "reforms" of NCLB and RttT are driving good teachers out of the classroom.

There are some who believe that NCLB and RttT and other so-called "reforms: are actually attempts to make the public schools in the US fail. The goal set by NCLB of having 100% of all students reading at "grade-level" by 2014 is, by definition, impossible. The true goal is to force public education into failure in order to make way for privatization.

Making teachers' lives miserable is just one step in the process of destroying America's public schools.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to School, Fall 2010

This week my still-working-colleagues returned to the classroom to begin the school year. I had occasion to visit my former school yesterday and I made it a point to go around and talk to some of the teachers. Several things were apparent in just a few visits.

The new curriculum

Last year representatives from all grades in our district spent about 2/3 of the school year writing a curriculum to replace what we have been using. Today, the first student day of the year, is the first day of its implementation.

Many of the teachers are worried about it...concerned that it won't work with their students or it won't do what it's been hyped up to do. Some are confused about how to implement it. Others feel like it's reducing the role of the teacher away to that of a robot, following a list of directions. Time will tell, of course. We'll see how it works.

Larger class sizes

Class sizes have increased.

Research in class size has shown that lower class sizes helps - especially in the primary grades...especially with at risk and minority children. It lowers achievement gaps, reduces retention rates and special education referrals and the best thing, the benefits last for several years.

But we can't reduce class size. It costs money. It requires more teachers and more resources.

This is just one more of the "more with less" circular philosophy which has been dumped on the public schools. Schools are failing, but they need to cut back on spending because there is no money for resources. It means less support for classroom teachers -- support which can offset larger class sizes if used wisely. With no money it, too, has disappeared. Fewer resources means larger classes, less individual help, and growing gaps in achievement. Growing gaps in achievement mean more "failing" schools. More "failing schools" mean more publicity about how the public schools in the country are no good.

It also means more fodder for the so-called reformers who favor charters and more testing (don't forget to include the President and the Secretary of Education in that group). The little bit of money that's being dangled in front of public schools is only for the select few through RttT. The winners who get it have to promise to spend more of it on charter schools and judge teachers on the test scores of their students. The losers don't get that...and they don't get any money, either.

Gandhi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." Among America's weak are the children...a larger percentage of whom are living in poverty than in most other industrialized societies.

There's a pessimism about the future of public education that permeates schools. Constant bashing from the press and the politicians will eventually wear down even the most positive teacher. Lack of support by society will help the so-called reformers in their quest to weaken and destroy America's public school system.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The First Five Years

The video below (Thanks Kate) hits the nail on the head. Most of our educational problems stem from child poverty which drags children down academically even before they start school.

1. The United States has the highest child poverty rate in the developed world.
2. Poverty is the most accurate determiner of academic achievement.
3. Since 2000 the number of families living in poverty has increased dramatically. 
4. It's easier to blame schools and teachers than to do something about the poverty in our country.



"Thousands of studies have linked poverty to academic achievement. The relationship is every bit as strong as the connection between cigarettes and cancer." —David Berliner, Our Impoverished View of Ed. Reform, Aug. 2005


"Arne Duncan and his accomplices aren't advocating the close examination of poverty data: health, tooth decay, presence of iron, family income. No, they declare test data is king. All you have to do is look at the really ineffective, misleading, inappropriate, and just plain stupid test questions on which they are basing all this data collection to know the data emperor has no clothes. Depending on McGraw-Hill, Pearson, et al student standardized test results is the most expensive, least effective, and most damaging way to evaluate teacher performance. Period." —Susan Ohanian, website, July 22, 2009


"13.6 million of America's children live in poverty." —Every Child Matters


"High-stakes decisions based on school-mean proficiency are scientifically indefensible. We cannot regard differences in school-mean proficiency as reflecting differences in school effectiveness. . . . To reward schools for high mean achievement is tantamount to rewarding those schools for serving students who were doing well prior to school entry." —Stephen Raudenbush, Schooling, Statistics, & Poverty


"Studies in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Denver and Boston -- along with others in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales -- all show that poverty is a primary determinant of student achievement. High-stakes test scores are very highly correlated with family income." —Donald C. Orlich, Pacific Northwest Inlander, 3/15/06


"Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition, like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on this planet, and so does poverty." —Gerald Bracey

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

There's plenty of time left in our part of the world for summer water fun, so when I came across this article I decided to link to it. Next year I'll try to remember to do it at the beginning of the summer.

How do you know if someone is drowning? The surprising thing is that they don't "look" like they're drowning. Here are some things to look for:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Ladder climb, rarely out of the water.
There's a lot more information at the link below.