"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

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?


Saturday, October 9, 2010

What's wrong with the "School Reform Manifesto?"

Here's a good review of the How to Fix our Schools Manifesto of Rhee, Klein and others. I have a few things I'd like to add, though.

1. The manifesto claims that the Race to the Top is the catalyst for more educational reforms than "we have seen in decades." Race to the top pits states against each other for the right to get funding from the United States DOE. If we truly wanted to fix ALL schools in need in the country the Race to the Top would be replaced by a program which would help ALL students...not just the "winners."

2. The manifesto claims that seniority is responsible for the loss of young teachers. The implication is that there are so many bad teachers that children are being held back. The implication is that the teachers unions are responsible for keeping bad teachers in the classroom. Why then, do states without unions...and without collective bargaining laws, have test scores that are in line with the rest of the country? Why aren't "union-free" states achieving more in their schools?

3. The manifesto claims that firing a poor teacher is a monumental task...nearly impossible. In truth, though, tenure only guarantees a teacher due process. If the administration wants to fire a teacher who has tenure, then they have to show the reason why. The administration needs to document the reasons why a teacher is worthy of being fired...just like teachers have to document the grades they give their students. A teacher who is failing in their job has the right to hear the reasons why they are being fired. It's the administrations obligation to show why the teacher is incompetent or otherwise not qualified to teach.

4. The manifesto encourages the evaluation of teachers with their students' test scores even though student achievement tests are not a valid measure of teacher quality.

5. The manifesto encourages the reliance on charter schools, even though the research has not shown that charter schools are any better than traditional public schools.

6. I'd like to reemphasize a point that Valerie Strauss (as well as the other bloggers listed below) makes in her article below. Good teachers are important, but the single most important factor in student achievement is their home life - their time outside of school.

Now...here are Valerie Strauss' comments...

(Also see comments by Anthony Cody here...and by the Education Optimists here)


From Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post
The bankrupt 'school reform manifesto' of Rhee, Klein, etc.
There are so many things wrong with the new “school reform manifesto” signed by 16 school district chiefs -- including New York’s Joel Klein and Washington’s Michelle Rhee -- and published in The Washington Post that it is hard to know where to start.

There’s the intellectual dishonesty and scapegoating: It starts by saying that everybody is responsible for improving schools but then proceeds to bash teachers, and doesn’t say a single thing about the responsibility of superintendents.

After eight years as the czar of New York City’s public schools, Klein might want to stop blaming other people for his failures.

There's historical myopia: The document says kids are just sitting around waiting for adults to do something, without noting that adults have been pushing eight years for test-centric reform favored by many of these superintendents with disastrous results.

There’s misinformation:
As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income -- it is the quality of their teacher.
Wrong. Research actually shows that the home life of students is the single biggest determinant of school achievement. School chiefs can ignore it all they want, but that doesn’t change the facts. (Of course this is no excuse for leaving lousy teachers in schools, but there is equally no excuse for ignoring outside factors and blaming good teachers for things beyond their control.) The document, published in The Post's Outlook section and available here, makes the same tired call for more charter schools, the end of teacher tenure, etc., etc. -- all change initiatives guaranteed not to work.

We’ve heard it before, but, apparently, these superintendents felt the need to repeat it now, apparently to piggyback on the publicity of the wrong-headed education film “Waiting for Superman,” and the defeat in D.C.'s primary of Rhee’s political patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The manifesto was initiated by Klein and Rhee, who gave it to Michael Casserly, executive director of the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools. He then worked to persuade other schools bosses to sign on, according to a knowledgeable source.

The Washington-based council is a coalition of 65 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems and the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of these schools. Its mission, according to the Web site, is to promote the cause of urban schools and to advocate for inner-city students through legislation, research and media relations.

The organization also provides a network for school districts sharing common problems to exchange information, and to collectively address new challenges as they emerge in order to deliver the best possible education for urban youths.

Casserly, who has led the organization since 1992, is well-known in school reform circles, if not to the general public. I asked Casserly why he helped Klein win support for the document, and he responded by e-mail: “Part of the job.”

The document uses jargon that effectively calls for linking standardized test scores to teacher evaluation, a scheme that several recent studies concluded is ineffective in improving student achievement.

That doesn’t stop today’s reformers, who are obsessed with “data” and with using business practices to run schools, which are really civic institutions that should be operated on a civic model. Says the document:
“Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school.”
Um, don’t most businesses fail?

One of the signatories, Andres Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, just signed an important agreement with the teachers union that calls for multiple measures to evaluate teachers, though this wasn’t acknowledged in the manifesto, leaving it a mystery as to why Alonso signed on.

You can read the rest of the nonsense here and come to your own conclusion.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Put Diane Ravitch on The Daily Show

I've been sending Jon Stewart emails about having Diane Ravitch on the show for months...no answers.

This is from Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet.


Lewis Black’s piece on “the public school crisis” that aired on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” the other night left me wondering why education reform hasn’t been more of a high value target for Stewart or, for that matter, Steven Colbert.
The reform world is dripping with hilarious promise.
There are characters to lampoon: School superintendents who are education’s fundamentalists, believing only they know the way to reform heaven.

There are issues to rip open: The standardized testing obsession, the charter school obsession, the insistence on first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration to turn the nation’s leading civic institution, the public school system, into a market-driven industry.
Black’s piece (not his finest work) seemed to be inspired by the new education movie “Waiting for Superman,” which paints a false picture of
the education reform scene, and by NBC's recent Education Nation summit, which, in a different way, did the same thing.
He spoke about public charter schools, and said “Charter schools are better,” and then, after showing a clip of kids, said, “But those kids are in public schools. What ideas do we have for fixing them?”
Charter schools, as Black apparently doesn’t know, ARE public schools, and, incidentally, educate less than 5 percent of the country’s kids.
As for being “better,” the biggest research study on them, conducted by Stanford University researchers, showed that only 17 percent of them produce better test scores than their local traditional public schools and the rest were either worse or the same.
Stewart and Colbert both had the perfect chance to wade into this wacky world earlier this year when Diane Ravitch’s book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” was published and became a bestseller on the New York Times list.
Ravitch, the country’s leading education historian, tells of how she once supported No Child Left Behind but looked at the evidence of its effects on schools and came to realize it was terrible policy. Now the Obama administration is taking some of the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind to new levels of awfulness.
I asked Comedy Central why Stewart hasn’t invited Ravitch, or, for that matter, someone else who could talk about the education reform madness, but a vice president there said they don’t talk about the guest selection process. I heard elsewhere that the show wants “edgy” guests; Ravitch is actually edgier than virtually all of the guests both men have on their shows. (I know because I watch them.)
Colbert, on his Colbert Report, invited Education Secretary Arne Duncan on for an interview last year, but, frankly Colbert let Duncan off the hook.
Stewart has become more than just a funny guy on television. He has become a cultural force who routinely attacks hypocrisy and stupidity in all kinds of arenas. Colbert is too.
If Stewart and Black and Colbert can’t find fun in the hypocrisy of public school reform, they are losing their touch.


Anyone Can Teach...Even Old Actors

What would you say about a reality show in which an actor, who "always wanted to be a teacher" walked into a real classroom and started teaching?

Tony Danza of Taxi and Who's the Boss fame, for which he received an Emmy nomination and several Golden Globe nominations, co-taught a 10th grade English class at Northeastern High School in Philadelphia during the 2009-2010 school year.

A & E is broadcasting the series. It began on October first.

I watched the first episode via Hulu and what struck me about the show at first glance was the assumption that anyone can teach...even an old actor (Danza will turn 60 in April of 2011). I mean...if an old actor could become president, why not a teacher?

This is just what Teach for America and the Broad/Gates Reformers are saying. Our schools are full of bad teachers...so let's get some new, energetic, but unqualified people to replace them.

Jim Horn said it well at Schools Matter:
In a prime example of Orwellian logic, Arne Duncan's corporate bosses have declared that the best way to getting test results in the poor schools that need the most highly qualified teachers is to lower the standards for teacher education by offering more "alternative certification" programs.
I'm not sure what I expected when I began watching the show, Teach: Tony Danza, but I certainly didn't expect what I saw. Danza is entertaining, has a good sense of humor, accepts the comments the students throw at him and responds honestly, and generally comes across as a typical first year teacher. Part way through the episode he said what so many first year teachers tell themselves, "You know you think you know so much, and then you find out you don't know nothing!"

Like most first year teachers, he talked to much...monopolizing the classroom. One of the most difficult lessons for new teachers to learn is that learning comes from the students, not from the teacher. A teacher can present material, but it's interaction with the students that leads to learning. So...he discovered quickly that he had to talk less.

On his first day, he screwed up, got called to the office and was reprimanded by the assistant principal for not signing in (Of all the scenes in the show, this one seemed to be the most staged). He then went into the principal's office and was told that "if this doesn't work, you're outa here." To his credit (or perhaps because he knew he was being filmed) he accepted the reprimand and the warning graciously.

Throughout the film he's mentored by an "instructional coach" who gives him tips, help and support. The coach, David Cohn, observes in the class, and is, I presume the co-teacher of the class.

The most gratifying thing about the first episode is that he has the same trouble that all first year teachers have. He is desperately trying to keep up with the students. He's nervous..."terrified" he said. He worries that he will have that "deer in the headlights" look...and his worry is justified. More than once you could see the pressure on his face...the fear, the loss of confidence, the panic when you just don't know what to do next. Teaching can be overwhelming and for beginners it often is. At one point he says what every experienced teacher knows, "This is the hardest work I've ever done." Like many first year teachers he worries, while wiping away the tears of frustration, that he may have "bitten off more than [he] could chew."

We'll see.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Ignoring Poverty, Still...

This is why Diane Ravitch calls Valerie Strauss our nation's most indispensable education journalist.
The Elephant that Obama and Lauer Ignored: Poverty and Student Achievement

About two-thirds of the way through President Obama’s interview Monday with NBC’s Matt Lauer on school reform, I thought the two were about to really dive into the biggest issue plaguing the country’s most troubled schools.

Already discussed were the usual subjects raised by the Obama administration when it addresses school reform: charter schools, standards, how to get terrific teachers in every classroom, the length of the school year, Race to the Top and did I mention charter schools?

Then, there it was, the moment when Lauer raised the issue of poverty and the new Census Bureau figures showing that one in seven Americans live at or below the poverty line, defined as an annual income for a family of four of $22,000. That’s one in seven -- and that figure doesn’t include families of four with a $23,000 annual income.

I thought Lauer would make the obvious connection between poverty and student achievement. After all, the most consistent link in education and social science research is between family income and standardized test scores.

Today’s breed of school reformers, however, have ignored this link and adopted a “no excuses” policy, which essentially claims that good teachers can overcome anything, including medical, sociological and psychological problems that children who live in poverty bring into the classroom.

There is an oft-stated claim that three (or four, or five, depending on the source) “effective” teachers in a row can wipe out the effects of poverty. In fact, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made this claim today in an interview with Tom Brokaw as part of the network's Education Nation Summit.

There is no valid research to show this -- historian Diane Ravitch explains how this bogus notion gained credibility in Chapter 9 of her best-selling book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” -- but that hasn’t stopped people from wrapping policy around it.

David Berliner, regent’s professor emeritus at Arizona State University, a prominent researcher and educational psychologist, has studied how achievement is affected by poverty-induced physical, sociological and psychological problems that children bring to school.

These are six out-of-school factors Berliner has identified that are common among the poor and that affect how children learn, but that reformers effectively say can be overcome without attacking them directly: (1) low birth weight and nongenetic prenatal influences; (2) inadequate medical, dental and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics.

Statistics tell this tale. Here are some from “Early Warning!: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” the latest in a series of “Kids Count” analyses by the Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization that advocates for policies to help poor children and families.

The authors take the 2009 reading test results released in March from the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- considered to be the gold standard in K-12 standardized assessment -- and break down the numbers to show how well different groups of disadvantaged students are doing:
  • 90 percent of low-income black students in high-poverty schools were not reading at grade level by fourth grade.
  • 83 percent of poor black students in schools with moderate to low levels of poverty did not reach the goal.
  • 88 percent of Hispanic students in high-poverty schools missed the mark.
  • 82 percent of Hispanic students in schools with low or moderate rates of families living in poverty did not read at grade level.
So there Lauer was, on the verge of making the most important point in any discussion about student achievement, and ... he moved on. Without making it.

Obama and Lauer started talking about the poverty statistics in regard to the economy, tax cuts and the economic recovery, and the moment was lost.

So the most important issue in school reform was ignored again.

Those who raise this issue are often attacked for resisting change and wanting to maintain the lousy status quo. It’s a silly, false argument; critics of the Obama administration’s reform agenda want to get rid of bad teachers just as much as anybody else, but they are pushing for workable, fair reforms, not turning back the clock. But the agenda has powerful backers. Obama, for example.

This is why so many people who voted for Obama hoping that he would reverse this school reform view promoted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in his No Child Left Behind law are terribly disappointed and increasingly angry.

Obama should know better as president. Lauer should have pushed him on this as a journalist.

That their discussion ignored the elephant in the room tells you everything you need to know about what is missing from today’s school “reform” efforts and why they are doomed to fail.