"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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Cow Left Behind

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Diane Ravitch talks to KIPP and TFA

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Response to Bloomberg

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

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

Here are some more articles about the NYC Chancellor pick:

...and my favorite:

The Cathleen Black appointment: A precedent


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wanted: Political Appointees to Run School Systems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 8, 2010

Re: Competition in Race to the Top

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

—Fred Rogers, Middlebury Commencement, 2001


Friday, November 5, 2010

Doom and Gloom...

I'm filled with Doom and Gloom...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting for Sanity

From Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

Et tu, United Way?

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

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

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