"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, December 28, 2011

2011 Medley #17

Testing, Testing, and more Testing, Corporate Reform, NCLB Waivers, School Prayer

Once Upon a Time, Not Too Long Ago, Teaching Was Considered a Profession, But Then Came Standardization, Tests, and Value-Added Merit Pay Schemes That Ate All Humanity for Breakfast...

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." -- Albert Einstein
...[While] teaching the basics is important, it is not enough. Of course children need to learn to read and to write and to add numbers. But they also need to know how to decide what is worth reading and what those numbers add up to. And talented teachers need the freedom and professional autonomy to work the magic of their art in a myriad of different ways that defies standardization.
When Test Scores Become a Commodity
When student scores become like orange juice, pork bellies, or yen, the people with the greatest incentive to cheat are the weakest teachers and administrators. These people might be weak, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. Weak but clever educators will inevitably find ways to game the system, sometimes by cheating, but more often by coming close, but not stepping over the line: Educators could turn their courses into nothing but test-prep machines; they could refuse to collaborate with colleagues; they could curry favor with students to encourage better results; or take other steps we can’t imagine. Many of these weaker teachers, even short of cheating, might well end up with excellent “value added” scores, while stronger teachers who are honest and don’t play the sharp game end up looking bad.

This is not just a possible bad outcome, it is inevitable. It is inevitable because markets generate such behavior and dislocations, and the more volatile the market, the greater the undesirable behavior and dislocations will be.

...If this is the kind of public school system the American people want, then fine. Let’s just be honest about it.
Testing Gone Wild
The growth of testing has all the characteristics of the formation of a bubble. Once it pops, which all bubbles eventually do, the full damage will become apparent. The trouble, however, is that by then it will be too late to remedy matters.
10 Years of Assessing Students With Scientific Exactitude

Michael Winerip gives us a timeline of school "reform" in New York. Why aren't Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg being held accountable?
JULY 2010 Finally someone — Dr. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents — has the sense to stand up at a news conference and say that the state test scores are so ridiculously inflated that only a fool would take them seriously, thereby unmasking the mayor, the chancellor and the former state commissioner. State scores are to be scaled down immediately, so that the 68.8 percent English proficiency rate at the start of the news conference becomes a 42.4 proficiency rate by the end of the news conference. Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief accountability officer for the city, offers the new party line: “We know there has been significant progress, and we know we have a long way to go.” Whether there has been any progress at all during the Bloomberg years is questionable. The city’s fourth-grade English proficiency rate for 2010 is no better than it was in February 2001, nine months before the mayor was first elected.
Tides Are a-Turnin’
Those of us who believe in “real reform” do have the power of passion which compels us to be active on blogs, comment sections, and social media sites. I think Arne Duncan, Education Nation, Michelle Rhee, Teach for America and The Gates Foundation have all become more careful in what they tweet because we have become pretty darn good at flooding twitter when they post some ridiculous, unproven, pro-corporate propaganda.
Duncan's Dilemma: What will be Done to States without NCLB Waivers?

Duncan and Obama are not friends of public education. The current administration's education policy is just more of the same. The fact that the Republican candidates for President would be even worse doesn't excuse the Democrats from their role in destroying America's public schools.
In fact, the requirements for Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers are even MORE prescriptive than NCLB ever was. In order to be granted a waiver from the onerous effects of the law, states were required to submit plans for teacher and principal evaluations that include student test scores, the embrace of the Common Core standards, and new standards for College and Career Readiness. Secretary Duncan has repeatedly defended the Common Core Standards from the charge that they are stealth national standards by claiming that they are an initiative of the states that are involved. But does not this become a federal project when essential federal aid is made contingent on implementation of these standards?
The truth about school prayer

Wherever there are algebra tests (or physics tests, English tests, or chemistry tests) there will be prayer in school. God wasn't taken out of school in 1963...only state sponsored prayer was removed. Any student may pray at any time, as long as they don't disrupt the educational process. Students are free to pray before tests, before meals, during football games, and before they combine chemicals in chemistry class. That's what voluntary prayer is. The people who tell you otherwise are simply lying.
Truth be told, students of all faiths are actually free to pray alone or in groups during the school day, as long as they don’t disrupt the school or interfere with the rights of others. Of course, the right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion does not necessarily include the right to preach to a captive audience, like an assembly, or to compel other students to participate.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Last month NEA released a report on teacher effectiveness. Based on the report, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel announced a three part agenda for improving the teaching profession.

The agenda has three major components:

1. Raising the Bar for Entry: The Commission on Teacher Effectiveness and Van Roekel call for rigorous preparation and a one year internship for everyone who wants to enter teaching.
2. Teachers Ensuring Teacher Quality through peer assistance and peer review programs.
3. Union Leadership to Transform the Profession: Local educators need to take leadership roles in the improvement of the teaching profession.

The three part agenda for the improvement of the teaching profession along with the report on teacher effectiveness has gotten some pushback as falling into the trap of giving teachers and public schools the entire responsibility of improving education's many "gaps." However, it's not the teaching profession's responsibility to solve all the societal problems which effect education. Teachers and teachers unions can lobby, encourage, and complain, but nothing will be accomplished until the wealthy in the country understand that it's in their best interest to eliminate poverty and other class issues.

In fact, it's refreshing that a professional teacher organization has taken the debate out of the hands of the "reformer" billionaires and politicians who have emphasized teacher quality as the only way to improve schools despite research to the contrary.

Last summer the NEA Representative Assembly passed a "New Business Item" which the first part of the three part agenda confirms. The New Business Item 93 correctly identifies Teach for America (TFA) as a source of unprepared teachers. Raising the bar for entry to the teaching profession would ensure that new teachers received more than a 5 week crash course. It reads as follows:
NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.
New Business Item 93 as well as the Commission on Teacher Effectiveness have stated clearly the NEA position which is -- fully trained teacher professionals should be responsible for educating the children in America's public schools. NEA specifically opposed TFA as a path for teacher professionals.

So why has NEA President Van Roekel joined with TFA CEO Wendy Kopp in a USA Today op-ed which states
One in three K-12 students will be assigned a teacher who is in the first three years of his or her career. As a new generation embarks on a career in teaching, we must commit to giving them the best preparation possible.
The presence of Kopp's name on the editorial implies acceptance of TFA as one of those "best preparation possible" routes.

Anthony Cody asks the question about the USA Today piece in his Living in Dialogue blog...
Here, the first item on the list has changed. No longer is there discussion of "raising the bar for entry," or a year of full residency. Here, the first item is "Use data to improve teacher preparation." In other words, judge teacher preparation programs by the test scores of the teachers they produce. Do we really want this? One more piece of leverage aimed at pressuring schools of education to tow the line and encourage their students to teach to the test? Teach For America figured this out years ago, and a visit to a TFA classroom will reveal the posters on the wall tracking student test scores, and exhortations to reach the big goal of 80% mastery.

The column states, "Unfortunately, not all teachers are getting the high-quality preparation they need to excel with students in the classroom."

Unfortunately indeed.

Does Mr. Van Roekel believe that Teach For America's five or six week long training is adequate preparation?
Teacherken, at Daily Kos, takes it one step further.
I fail to see how a commitment to giving new teachers "the best preparation possible" is in accord with the practice of TFA taking its applicants - who may be outstanding students from elite colleges and universities - giving them only 5 weeks of training, with no meaningful practice teaching, then placing them in schools with high needs children, sometimes in positions of responsibility for which they lack the appropriate background (Special Education), where their primary support mechanism may be former TFA teachers who themselves had only 2 years of experience in the classroom.
Quite rightly, teacherken names his blog entry What if you feel betrayed by your union's leadership?

The NEA Representative Assembly specifically rejected TFA as a source of adequately trained teachers. The NEA Commission on Teacher Excellence recommends a full year of internship thereby rejecting TFA's minimal teacher preparation. Yet the president of NEA seems to ignore this by teaming with Kopp in this manner.

Do we, as a profession really want to team with TFA and the woefully inadequate preparation it provides?

You might be interested in these articles about TFA.

A Closer Look at Teach for America's Research Page
The data showing experience matters is overwhelming, in fact one of the reports on TFA's "research" page acknowledges this fact (it's the "Portal Report" which is a pdf ): "Teachers with 4 years or more experience out perform teachers with 1 year of experience on 9 out of 10 indicators."

Ravitch: The Problem with Teach For America
TFA is a huge success story, but there is also something scary about seeing so much money and power assembled around its core belief that a brand-new college graduate with only five weeks of training is just right to educate our nation's most vulnerable students.

TFA, Brainwashing, and Not Playing Nice
This is not a mere difference in perspectives. Not even in ideologies. This is not the old "whole language" versus "phonics" reading debate or even the history curriculum battles of past education wars. This is a fundamental fight between those who would sell our education system to the highest bidder while actively ignoring the poverty and inequalities that infest our nations's schools and those who stand for a quality equitable public education for all. And it will take a fight, as all social change requires, to actually change the discourse.

Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t
TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cheaters Never Win -- Part 9

More cheating in Georgia.

Valerie Strauss reports...
New major test cheating scandal revealed in Georgia

A new investigative report details a second major standardized test cheating scandal in a Georgia school system, implicating 49 educators, including 11 principals. A key reason for the “disgraceful” cheating, investigators said, was pressure to meet No Child Left Behind requirements.

The report cites three key reasons for the cheating:
  • Pressure to meet the adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, a provision that requires school districts to annually increase the number of students who score at the proficient level on math and reading standardized tests.
  • A fear by teachers and principals of being perceived as failures.
  • The failure of principals, as well as the system’s administration, to lead.
Not all 11 principals had the same level of culpability; some actively participated in cheating, while others did not ensure the tests were properly administered. The distinction is important but hardly exculpatory. It is one thing to explain how high-stakes testing has led to more cheating, and even to understand how some people might feel pressured to cheat. There is, though, no good excuse for this kind of behavior, no matter how wrong it is to use these tests to assess students, teachers, principals, schools and districts.

A conclusion in the report was this: “Since the enactment of NCLB, standardized testing has become more about measuring the teachers, principals and schools than accurately assessing the children’s academic progress.”

There have been numerous cheating scandals reported in school system after school system around the country in recent years, according to FairTest, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce the misuse of tests. FairTest has documented confirmed cases of test cheating in 30 states and the District of Columbia over the past three academic years.
The report can be found here and here. You can also read a news article complete with a list of cheaters.

The fact that this was in Georgia, like the last cheating scandal (Atlanta) means nothing. It's going on all over the country. Administrators and teachers alike are trying desperately to keep their schools alive despite the insanity of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

The cheaters were wrong, but so are the state and federal legislators, governors, the president, and the state and federal departments of education. There is cheating because the tests are given too much importance. The tests are being used in ways which are inappropriate and therefore wrong. Children are being denied a complete education because so much of what needs to be learned in school, and in life, cannot be measured. It's a system in which everyone loses and it's been going on too long.

Let's go back to learning?

Mrs. Mimi told a story about administering a literacy assessment to second graders. In this little playlet there are two characters: Me, the teacher, in this case Mrs. Mimi and Friend, a second grader who struggles in reading. Get a tissue and then read it...
I Am Chilled To The Bone

Setting: My fabulous classroom. Although on this day, instead of sitting at desks arranged in collaborative groups, my friends sat in single rows. Rows I had to waste precious instructional time teaching them how to form because of an administrative demand that insisted on the Re-Creation Of The Testing Environment.

Scene: I have just passed out a literacy assessment, in which I have to ask my second grade friends (whose reading levels span mid-first grade all the way through mid-third grade) to read forty FORTY! paragraphs about the most boring and mundane un-relatable shit known to man and then answer a multiple choice question on that paragraph. They then have to successfully transfer their answer to a separate bubble sheet which, at the start of second grade, can feel like asking them to climb Mount Everest in flip flops. Yes, they are that prepared. Oh, the best part? EACH child has to finish. Which means that I have to make some of them sit there for OVER AN HOUR while those who are finished (and those who simply think they are finished) must sit in silence as their opportunity for real learning ticks away.

Sounds like a party, no?

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.
It would be nice if we could all go back to learning.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 5

Part 5 in a self-indulgent virtual trip reminiscing about my years of teaching elementary school...

Moving can be a emotionally wrenching experience. I had taught at Monroeville Elementary School for 11 years. I had made some good friends there and gotten to know hundreds of students. Monroeville Elementary School, however, was a 45 - 50 minute drive from my house...each way. It was hard to leave what had become my professional home, but after 11 years and thousands of driving miles, I decided it was time to move closer to home, so I applied and received a transfer to Woodburn Elementary. In the Fall of 1987 I started teaching fourth grade. During the four years I was at Woodburn I taught a different grade configuration each year. I went from fourth grade to second grade, to a combined second and third grade, and finally finishing, like I did at Monroeville, with third grade.

Woodburn was built as an "Open Concept" school. The walls between the classrooms did not reach the ceiling, were moveable and didn't prevent noise from traveling from one classroom to another. There were some serious drawbacks to that kind of school building...it was noisy, discipline was hard to maintain because of the constant buzz of noise around the building, teaching had to be done at a low sound level. Teachers must be trained to effectively utilize a school building without walls and that training hadn't occurred. The result was a building full of traditional classrooms with no permanent walls.

There were however two important advantages. The first was that the walls could be moved and rearranged to accommodate larger or smaller classes. The shape of the classrooms could be adjusted as well. In the four years I was there I had a different shaped wedge of classroom...of different sizes...each year. The adjustment was not hard and after a few weeks of school each year the size and shape of the classroom was not an issue.

The second advantage was with collaboration between and among teachers. In the primary area of the building, where the walls were only 4 feet high (as opposed to 6 feet high in the intermediate area), it was possible for teachers to observe each other, as questions, make suggestions, and see different teaching styles. I learned a lot just watching the excellent teachers on either side of me during the four years I was there.

Challenging Students: Teaching at Woodburn was my first experience with teaching Amish students. It turned out that it was not much different than working with "English" students in terms of ability, behavior and personalities. I taught one student (third grade) who stands out in my mind, however. She was an average student, well behaved, responsible, but she woke up very early every morning to do her chores on the family farm. When she got to school she had been working with animals, hay, and other farm related allergens. By the time she walked up to my desk my eyes were itchy and the sneezing had begun. I was literally allergic to this student!

...and parents of course. Woodburn was the school where a parent requested that her child NOT be in my class because she didn't want her daughter in a classroom taught by a man. It was also the school where a parent walked into my second grade classroom literally yelling at me and emptied her child's desk announcing that she was never coming back. The child was having difficulty learning and the parent didn't want to acknowledge that.

Staff: Just like any school building Woodburn had a range of below average to above average teachers. When I started at Woodburn the kindergarten teacher was the same person with whom I student taught. I could now observe her as a colleague and realized that I had been very lucky to have had the opportunity to student teach in her classroom.

The teachers I got to know best were in the second and third grades. I'm now volunteering for one of the former third grade teachers at Cedarville Elementary School, another building in the same school system. There are several other people at Cedarville, who were at Woodburn when I was there...including the RtI specialist and the secretary.

Principal: When I started at Woodburn, I must admit that I was not impressed with the principal. He seemed just average...and not especially ineffective. However, as the years went on...even after I left, I began to realize the strengths he brought to his job which made him one of the best principals I worked for. John, knew every child in the building. He went on field trips with classes, was outside at recess frequently, and was in the cafeteria every day helping with crowd control, cleaning tables, and talking to students.

During a conference with the parents of the child mentioned above (the one who was pulled from my classroom by her mother) the parents began to talk about how bad the kindergarten teacher had been. John told them that the conference was about their child and finding ways for her to succeed. The parents persisted in their critique of former teachers. John stood up, went to the door, opened it, turned to us and said, "If you're going to continue to focus on past teachers instead of how we can help your child do better in class...then this conference is over." He didn't just defend his teachers blindly. He would listen to criticism and bring that information back to the teacher if needed, but this was a case of parents trying to blame others, in this case an above average teacher, with no basis. His focus was on the students.

Finally, when I was packing up my files during my last year of teaching I looked back on my evaluations. John's evaluations were among the best I had received. He didn't necessarily score me higher than other principals had, however he included constructive criticisms and detailed suggestions. It was clear that he knew me and had analyzed my teaching style...the evaluations I got from him were among the most helpful during my 35 years of teaching.

I left Woodburn after the 1990-1991 school year. Since that time the principal has retired, staff members have moved to other buildings and Woodburn Elementary School, now called Woodlan Primary School, is slated to be closed after this year.

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools

Part 1 Phillip Rogers Elementary School (K-8), Chicago, Illinois: 1953-1962
Part 2 Sunnymede Elementary School (K-6), New Haven, Indiana: Fall Semester 1975. Grades K, 1.
Part 3 Coesse Elementary School (K-8), Coesse, Indiana: Spring Semester 1976. Grades K, 1.
Part 4 Monroeville Elementary School (K-8, then K-6), Monroeville, Indiana: Fall 1976 - Spring 1987. Grades 1, 3.
Part 6 Harlan Elementary School (K-6), Harlan, Indiana: Fall 1991 - Spring 2010. Grades 2, 6, Resource, Reading Recovery

Total Teaching Career
Kindergarten 3 years
First Grade 5 years
Second Grade 4 years
Third Grade 10 years
Fourth Grade 1 year
Sixth Grade 1 year
Resource (pull out tutorial program) 16 years
Reading Recovery 7 years
*The total adds up to more than 35 years because of split assignments.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Medley #16

Poverty and Education, Time in School, Testing, Teach For America, Finland, Reading Technology and Brain Research

Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It? The unaddressed link between poverty and education

The fact that this article is subtitled "The UNADDRESSED Link Between Poverty and Education" speaks volumes to the power the "reformers" hold over information. Does the average American not know that poverty affects education?
...in the United States over the past decade, it became fashionable among supporters of the “no excuses” approach to school improvement to accuse anyone raising the poverty issue of letting schools off the hook — or what Mr. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Such accusations may afford the illusion of a moral high ground, but they stand in the way of serious efforts to improve education and, for that matter, go a long way toward explaining why No Child Left Behind has not worked.

Yes, we need to make sure that all children, and particularly disadvantaged children, have access to good schools, as defined by the quality of teachers and principals and of internal policies and practices.

But let’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let’s agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question.

The "Reformer's" Case of Denial

Fresh from her important presentation at the National Opportunities to Learn Summit Diane Ravitch reports on an important paper about Education and Poverty in her Bridging Differences blog entry, Scrooge and School Reform.

The paper is titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence. The abstract...
Current U.S. policy initiatives to improve the U.S. education system, including No Child Left Behind, test-based evaluation of teachers and the promotion of competition, are misguided because they either deny or set to the side a basic body of evidence documenting that students from disadvantaged households on average perform less well in school than those from more advantaged families. Because these policy initiatives do not directly address the educational challenges experienced by disadvantaged students, they have contributed little -- and are not likely to contribute much in the future -- to raising overall student achievement or to reducing achievement and educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Moreover, such policies have the potential to do serious harm. Addressing the educational challenges faced by children from disadvantaged families will require a broader and bolder approach to education policy than the recent efforts to reform schools.

Report busts myth that U.S. class time is much lower than that of high-performing nations
Many modern school reformers have unfortunately maintained a narrow focus about the conditions that lead to academic success, including the notion that more school time is necessarily better.

For years now we’ve dealt with their refusal to face the impact of poverty on students, their disinclination to revamp outdated curriculum, their obsessive reliance on standardized testing as the be-all and end-all of accountability measures, and their unwarranted faith that the corporate world holds the answers to fixing the public education system.

At some point, perhaps the weight of the evidence against their agenda — and it is growing every day — would come crashing down on them and make them reconsider.

To pay for improving conditions for children of poverty: Reduce testing
Testing only when it is helpful will save billions. This can be spent to improve health care and nutrition, increase access to books and take other steps that will protect children from the effects of poverty.

Philip Kovacs: Huntsville Takes a Closer Look at Teach For America's "Research"
TFA acknowledges that experience matters on its "research" page. Check out "the "Portal Report" which is a pdf: "Teachers with 4 years or more experience out perform teachers with 1 year of experience on 9 out of 10 indicators."

Misrepresenting Finland: Seeing What We Want to See, Saying What We Want to Say
  • Finland has a social commitment to low childhood and social poverty that is contrasted by the relatively high childhood poverty rate in the U.S. as well as the U.S. failure to recognize the power of social programs to address income equity.
  • Finland has a social and educational commitment to teacher autonomy and professionalism that is contrasted by a growing move in the U.S. to reduce teaching to a service industry and to de-professionalize teaching by implementing scripted curriculum and test-based accountability.
  • Finland has rejected detailed and scripted national curriculum guides, punitive standardized testing, and relentless ranking and stratifying of students—all of which are central to the corporate agenda now being proposed and perpetuated all across the political spectrum and media.
  • Finland embraces in the wider society and the schools commitments to social justice and kindness, while leaders, the media, and the public in the U.S. speak almost exclusively about the role of schools to create a workforce.

Books vs. screens: Which should your kids be reading?
The hyperlinked, text-messaging screen shapes the mind quite differently than the book, according to Wolf. “It pulls attention with such rapidity it doesn’t allow the kind of deep, focused attention that reading a book 10 years ago invited,” she says. “It invites constant change of attention, it invites multitasking. It invites, in other words, a kind of triage of attention.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Students Vs. Prisoners

Earlier this year I reported on a superintendent from Michigan who wrote to his governor asking that his school be reclassified as a prison so his students could receive the same benefits that prisoners get including health care, meals, etc. Now a law firm in Michigan has created a graphic detailing the difference in cost between students and prisoners.

Student vs. Prisoners - Benefits in Michigan

[Source: Buckfire & Buckfire | Michigan Personal Injury Lawyers]

How would it help to spend more money on education? Watch this very short video I posted last August.

How much more is spent on prisoners than students in your state? How much money could our states save in reduced prison costs by spending more on education?

You might also be interested in some articles dealing with the way education affects incarceration rates.

Early Childhood Education Prevents Future Crime
A study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers revealed that children who did not participate in their quality preschool programs were 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18.2 Researchers concluded that these programs could prevent up to 33,000 crimes by the time children participating enter into adulthood. This study showed that quality early childhood education programs could cut crime among juveniles by one-third.
Early education prevents incarceration —peer-reviewed research
In the study published June 9 in the journal Science, Reynolds and Temple...report on more than 1,400 individuals whose well-being has been tracked for as much as 25 years. Those who had participated in an early childhood program beginning at age 3 showed higher levels of educational attainment, socioeconomic status, job skills, and health insurance coverage as well as lower rates of substance abuse, felony arrest, and incarceration than those who received the usual early childhood services.
Fewer dropouts could cut crime, save money
...the conclusion of the California Dropout Research Project, which said a 50 percent reduction in dropouts statewide could save $12 billion and prevent nearly 15,000 criminal acts. 
The study, released Thursday, calculated the societal and economic costs associated with dropouts in 17 cities statewide, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. 
The research assumes that about half of those who drop out each year from middle and high schools - an estimated 1,261 in San Francisco during the 2006-07 school year - would eventually graduate.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Superintendent Calls School Reformer's Bluff

John Kuhn, superintendent of of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District (TX) has been a vocal opponent of the corporate "reform" movement for a long time (See here, here, here, and here). His passionate defense of children over test scores has been an inspiration.

In this article posted on Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet, A Superintendent Calls School Reformer's Bluff, he asks a pointed question. If the "reformers" are really interested in children (not just money or union busting), then, in addition to the attention public education gets why don't we also pay attention to how local and state governments do to improve the lives of children?

I'm sending a copy of this to Gates, Duncan, Obama, Indiana Governor Daniels and Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
A superintendent calls school reformers’ bluff

By John Kuhn

As a public school administrator, I have been a steadfast critic of the legacy of No Child Left Behind. But I’ve recently figured out a way that school reformers can get me on their side. It’s very simple.

My concern has long been that the test-based focus of NCLB and the insistence on assigning labels to struggling schools has really been about convincing Americans that public schools are failing in order to justify privatizing the system — to the benefit, of course, of investors, not children. Why think anything else, when “higher standards” are accompanied by slashed education budgets, continuing inequities in school funding, and continued efforts to roll back public sector employee rights?

But reformers such as former Washington D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Sandy Kress — a lawyer who was a principal architect of the school accountability system in Texas (during the administration of then gov. George W. Bush) which served as the basis for NCLB — assure us that all their reforms are really about the children.

They repeatedly call on get teachers and administrators to quit making excuses and hold themselves accountable for the educational outcomes of poor and minority students. Who could be against that?

Well, I’m calling their bluff. Let’s see if it really is all about the children.

NCLB has done one important thing: By disaggregating data, it has forced teachers and administrators like me to agonize over the outcomes of our neediest students.

But after 10 years, it is clear that NCLB’s reforms haven’t spurred miracles, and it is time that the profound problem of inequality is addressed. The deck is stacked against kids who live in poverty not just because their schools are on average worse than others, but also because of the circumstances of their lives when they leave campus.

Itt’s time that we admit that it isn’t just teachers holding back poor and minority students back. The problems are societal.

So I’m calling on reformers — Kress and Rhee included — to lend support for a new kind of reform, one that steps outside the schoolhouse and shares the onus for achievement with more than just teachers.

I’m calling for data-driven equality, modeled on Kress’s work, expanding it to force greater societal changes that will help teachers bridge the achievement gap.

Let the 50 states disaggregate equality-related data by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and let us rank the states and reward them for closing all the societal inequalities that are truly at the heart of our achievement gap. There should be an incentive for voters to elect lawmakers who will craft policies that minimize inequalities.

Let’s have national benchmarks for equality in incarceration, equality in college enrollment, equality in health coverage, equality in income levels, employment rates, rates of drug addiction and child abuse.

Let the states figure out how to close their gaps, but reward results. Citizens in states whose data shows progress toward equality benchmarks should be rewarded with a lower federal income tax rate.

Note that the states can figure out how to get there, so no one can accuse me of urging socialist fixes to inequality. I don’t care how you fix it, just fix it. As a teacher I am calling on society to do its part to save these kids! The kind of plan I am describing leaves mechanisms to the states — it merely incentivizes equality.

We should all insist that our leaders build a system that guarantees the demise of inequity on these shores. Let’s move together toward a broader social accountability, driven by data and gauged by progress toward statistical, measurable, social equality.

Here’s an incentive: As a state moves closer to demonstrable equality according to data, then Washington could reduce the federal income tax rates charged to citizens in that state. Let citizens who opt for equality in so doing opt for lower taxes and more individual liberties. Incentivize equality, and see if kids don’t do better in school.

Let’s publish the data in newspapers. Let’s label all 50 states once a year. Let the states stand on their records and compare their progress. Let’s ensure that no more American Dreams get deferred because of unequal opportunity.

Today some 22 percent of American children live in poverty. Are we going to pretend forever that it is acceptable to ignore the needs of children outside the schoolhouse and blame teachers and principals for everything that happens inside?

As soon as the data shows that the average black student has the same opportunity to live and learn and hope and dream in America as the average white student, and as soon as the data shows that the average poor kid drinks water just as clean and breathes air just as pure as the average rich kid, then educators like me will no longer cry foul when this society sends us children and says: Get them all over the same hurdle.

And so I as an educator now say to a nation exactly what it has said to me for years: No excuses! Just get results.

Disaggregating data forced me to pay attention to minority students. Let’s force society to agonize over equality like teachers now agonize over test scores!

Give me equal children, and I guarantee you that my fellow public school teachers and I will produce graduates who will create a brighter future for this nation than you or I ever dreamed possible.

You might also like this:

Thinking structurally about social ills, rejecting excessive individualism for community-based, it-takes-a-village-style responsibility, has been out of favor in America for a long time. In education reform, what’s been in style instead is vilifying teachers and their unions. For some schools, making the grade has meant cooking the books to show results. Let’s hope that the time to reform this business-modeled mindset has finally come. -- Judith Warner in Why Are the Rich So Interested in Public-School Reform?

And this (click for larger image):

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Most Important Speech on Education in Years

The Opportunity to Learn Campaign (OTL) is
...a national movement to create a stronger, safer, more prosperous America now by closing the opportunity gap in public education. The campaign connects advocates across the country to ensure every child’s fundamental civil right to a high-quality public school education, regardless of where they live.
This year, the OTL Summit featured Diane Ravitch as one of the keynote speakers. Dr. Ravitch's presentation was titled Whose children have been left behind? The Daily Kos calls it the "most important speech on education in years." I agree. It is important. The Daily Kos blogger (teacherken) wrote:
You can read the entire text here (pdf).
You should.
You should pass it on.
I did, and I will. Here...

We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster....it has documented the shocking gaps in passing rates between different groups of children, but it has done nothing to change the conditions that cause those gaps. We know the gaps are there; actually, we knew about the gaps long before NCLB was passed. Yet Congress is still patting itself on the back for identifying a problem and doing nothing meaningful to solve it.
Now we know the results of this absurd law. More than 80% of our schools have been labeled failing schools. By the year 2014, nearly 100% of our schools will be considered failures. Has any other national legislature in history ever passed a law guaranteed to label every single one of its schools a failure?...Let’s be clear about what NCLB has really accomplished: It has convinced the media and major philanthropies and Wall Street hedge fund managers that American public education is a failure and that radical solutions are required. The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted rightwing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools.
The Achievement Gap between Rich and Poor
...we now know that there has been very little change in the gaps between the children of the rich and the children of the poor...Meanwhile our policymakers say we need higher standards, more rigorous standards, and more testing. How exactly will that help children who are struggling to read and do math? Or, in some cases, struggling to read and speak English? Or in the case of children with disabilities, how are they helped by harder tests? This is like saying, “if these children can’t jump over a four-foot bar, let’s lift the bar to six feet and see how they do.” Do you know how they will do? It seems obvious to me.
Competition and the Free Market
We know—or we should know—that poor and minority children should not have to depend on the good will and beneficence of the private sector to get a good education. The free market works very well in producing goods and services, but it works through competition. In competition, the weakest fall behind. The market does not produce equity. In the free market, there are a few winners and a lot of losers. Some corporate reformers today advocate that schools should be run like a stock portfolio: Keep the winners and sell the losers. Close schools where the students have low scores and open new ones. But this doesn’t help the students who are struggling. No student learns better because his school was closed; closing schools does not reduce the achievement gap. Poor kids get bounced from school to school. No one wants the ones with low scores because they threaten the reputation and survival of the school.
The entire current reform movement rests on a fanatical belief in standardized testing. Yet testing experts warn us that the tests should be used for diagnostic purposes, not to fire teachers and close schools. The basic rule of testing is that a test should be used only for the purpose for which it was designed. A test of fifth grade reading tests whether students can read at a fifth grade level; it is not a test of teacher quality. Testing experts warn that tests are subject to statistical error, measurement error, and human error. Sometimes the answer is wrong. Sometimes the question is wrong. Sometimes a thoughtful child will pick the wrong answer because it sounds plausible.
One thing we know for certain about standardized testing. Poor and minority kids consistently get lower test scores than white and privileged kids. So why would we make testing the most important measure of education? Why would we take the technology that is most discouraging to children in the bottom half and then insist that it matters more than anything else? Why would we give more credibility to standardized tests than to teachers’ and parents’ judgments about children’s potential?

A common response from the "corporate reformers" is that their critics complain but don't offer suggestions. Ravitch has suggestions for them.
  • Every pregnant woman should have good pre-natal care and nutrition so that her child is born healthy. One of three children born to women who do not get good prenatal care will have disabilities that are preventable. That will cost society far more than providing these women with prenatal care.
  • Every child should have the medical attention and nutrition that they need to grow up healthy.
  • Every child should have high-quality early childhood education.
  • Every school should have experienced teachers who are prepared to help all children learn.
  • Every teacher should have at least a masters degree.
  • Every principal should be a master teacher, not a recruit from industry, the military, or the sports world.
  • Every superintendent should be an experienced educator who understand teaching and learning and the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a health clinic.
  • Schools should collaborate with parents, the local community, civic leaders, and local business leaders to support the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a full and balanced curriculum, with the arts, sciences, history, civics, geography, mathematics, foreign languages, and physical education.
  • Every child should have time and space to play.
  • We must stop investing in testing, accountability, and consultants and start investing in children.
Our Choice
Do we want to be a decent society or a decadent society? Do we want to nurture, protect and inspire all of our children? Do we want children who are leaders or followers? Do we want to make sure that this generation of young people is prepared to sustain our democracy? Do we want citizens prepared to ask questions or just to answer questions posed by authorities?
We must stop the trash talk about our public schools and dedicate ourselves to making every one of them a school that is just right for all our children. Yes, it will cost more, but ignorance and neglect are much more expensive.
You can read the entire keynote speech at http://www.ucc.org/justice/public-education/pdfs/NatlOTL.pdf.

You should read the whole thing.
You should pass it on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Krashen Argues Against National Standards and National Tests

Stephen Krashen uses research at Schools Matter.
Against National Standards and National Tests
Stephen Krashen
to appear on: TOPed.org, Thoughts on Public Education in California
December, 2011

The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1) Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students' scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests that enforce the standards.

Each of these claims is false.

(1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our mediocre overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries (now over 21%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.

(2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children's educational outcomes. Yes, a better education can lead to a better job, but only if jobs exist.

(3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.

No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards, far more than the already excessive amount demanded by NCLB, however, is excessive and will not help learning.

In addition, the cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. New York City is budgeting a half a billion dollars just to connect children to the internet, so that they can take the national tests. This extrapolates to about $25 billion nationally.

This money could be spent to protect children from the effects of poverty, i.e. on expanded and improved breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses (at present there are more school nurses per child in low poverty schools than in high poverty schools) and improved school and public libraries, especially in high-poverty areas.

Some sources:

“Test scores of students from middle class homes ...: Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report. Berliner, D. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press.

“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.

Improving the economy ....: Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104; Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.; Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17104

There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/. OECD

Excessive testing: The Department of Education is urging testing in more subjects, in earlier and later grades, including interim testings, and doing value-added testing (which means testing in the fall as well as spring). This could mean a 20-fold increase in testing over what we have now.

Testing in more subjects: The Blueprint A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. United States Department of Education March 2010

In earlier and later grades: PARCC document: http://www.parcconline.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCC%20MCF%20Response%20to%20Public%20Feedback_%20Fall%202011%20Release.pdf

Interim tests: Duncan, A. September 9, 2010. Beyond the Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments -- Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to State Leaders at Achieve's American Diploma Project Leadership Team Meeting: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/beyond-bubble-tests-next-generation-assessments-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-state-l. The Blueprint, (op. cit.) p. 11.

Value-added testing:
http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-statehouse-convention-center-little-rock-arkansas (August 25, 2010). The Blueprint (op.cit.), p. 9.

New York CIty budget: New York Times, "In city schools, tech spending to rise despite cuts," March 30, 2011.

School nurses: Berliner, 2009 (op. cit.)

Libraries: Krashen, S. 2011. Protecting students against the effects of poverty: Libraries. New England Reading Association Journal 46 (2): 17-21. Available at www.sdkrashen.com.

Friday, December 9, 2011

2011 Medley #15

Testing, Video Games, Learning in Utero, Facebook, Evaluations, New York's Teachers, Status Quo

Do You Believe in Miracles?
...We know that there is a strong and undeniable correlation between family income and test scores. This correlation appears on the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP, and every other standardized test.

Corporate reformers claim that great teachers alone can close achievement gaps, and recently it has been the vogue to make bold claims for "miracle schools," where dramatic gains supposedly happened either because the school was a charter without a union or because the school was "transformed" by using federal funds to fire the staff and start over. If only it were that simple!

Violent Video Games Alter The Brain
After just one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week without game play, the changes to the executive regions of the brain were diminished.

You would have to wonder as well, if those who watch 10 hours of violent movies per week, might also exhibit a similar change in the brain.

What we learn before we're born
Pop quiz: When does learning begin? Answer: Before we are born. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul talks through new research that shows how much we learn in the womb -- from the lilt of our native language to our soon-to-be-favorite foods.
After women repeatedly read aloud a section of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat while they were pregnant, their newborn babies recognized that passage when they heard it outside the womb.

Friendly Advice For Teachers: Beware Of Facebook
Don't ever friend or follow your students on Facebook or Twitter, never post during work hours or using work materials such as a school computer, and certainly never post anything about your job online, especially about students

New York Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations
...one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

Are half of New York’s teachers really ‘not effective?’
Last Thursday, he told an MIT conference audience how to quickly improve public schools. “I would, if I had the ability – which nobody does really – to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.” 
The mayor never cites any research to support his claims about what’s a good deal for students. Nor does he explain a sensible way to determine the bottom half of teachers — the ones who would be sent packing. But he should be forgiven on this point since there is, in fact, no such research and no such sensible way.

Insanity: Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results: HOW MANY DECADES BEFORE "REFORM" BECOMES "STATUS QUO"?
Our nation's current school reform agenda dates back to a time when U.S. Secretary of Eduction Arne Duncan was an underclassman at Harvard, a time of "Billie Jean" and "Flashdance." This hoary education "change" agenda that began with the wake-up call in the report "A Nation at Risk" has survived the passing decades, blossomed as No Child Left Behind, and re-emerged in the Obama administration's Race to the Top. Such reforms, advanced as offering an exciting, untraveled pathway, are more accurately described as driving along the same old road, just with our foot pressing down harder on the pedal. 
When approaches have been tried unsuccessfully over a couple of decades with less-than-stellar outcomes, we might expect the next policy, or at the very least the next "change," to lean in a new direction. But the seemingly permanent wave of test-based accountability, privatization, and choice has managed to soar past its silver anniversary almost entirely unscathed by the depredations of time and evidence.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gates Foundation Funds ALEC

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been battling public schools for a while now (See HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). Last month, the Foundation took another step towards privatizing public education by issuing a grant to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Gates Foundation Grant is for more than $375,000 and will go to
...educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement.
That sounds suspiciously like developing state laws which require the "evaluation of schools and teachers using student test scores" as well as methods for cutting state education budgets.

What is ALEC?

The short answer is that ALEC is
a corporate-funded conservative advocacy group that specializes in lobbying state legislatures for enactment of favorable legislation.
The truth, though is much more complicated.

ALEC is a "corporate run organization which provides state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line." The web site, ALEC Exposed explains it this way...
Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law.
What corporations support ALEC?

The list of corporate supporters of ALEC reads like a Who's Who of the corporations against public education. Its supporters include the Koch family, Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and the Walton Family Foundation.

(Click HERE for a complete list of non-profits affiliated with ALEC)

Why is Bill Gates giving money to ALEC?

While others have focused on union busting, one of the goals of ALEC legislation, Bill Gates has focused more on the privatization of public education. Profit is the primary goal of privatizers and Bill Gates, while claiming to support public education, is more likely interested in seeing public education become a profit making enterprise.

Bill Gates is in this for the money, not philanthropy. In a must-read article titled Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools in Dissent Magazine, Joanne Barkan wrote,
I’ve heard, “They do good work on health care in Africa. Leave them alone.” But the Gates Foundation has created much the same problem in health funding as in education reform. Take, for example, the Gates project to eradicate malaria.

On February 16, 2008, the New York Times reported on a memo that it had obtained, written by Dr. Arata Kochi, head of the World Health Organization’s malaria programs, to WHO’s director general. Because the Gates Foundation was funding almost everyone studying malaria, Dr. Arata complained, the cornerstone of scientific research—independent review—was falling apart.
Gates' most infamous case of screwing up public education was the funding of the Small Schools Initiative. Again, Barkan wrote...
In November 2008, Bill and Melinda gathered about one hundred prominent figures in education at their home outside Seattle to announce that the small schools project hadn’t produced strong results. They didn’t mention that, instead, it had produced many gut-wrenching sagas of school disruption, conflict, students and teachers jumping ship en masse, and plummeting attendance, test scores, and graduation rates. No matter, the power couple had a new plan: performance-based teacher pay, data collection, national standards and tests, and school “turnaround” (the term of art for firing the staff of a low-performing school and hiring a new one, replacing the school with a charter, or shutting down the school and sending the kids elsewhere).
Now, the Gates Foundation is sending its money to the place where state legislation is written. Supported by people like Charles and David Koch, Richard de Vos, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana Superinttendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett and others, ALEC has even more money with which to achieve its goal of privatizing public education.


You might also want to read this...

Gates Foundation Grants ALEC A Hefty Sum For 'Education Reform'

Monday, December 5, 2011

Excuses, excuses!

Our schools have been labeled as failing by people who have never stepped foot in them. The favorite weapon of these 'reformers' is test scores.
Michelle Newsum, Teacher at Coos Bay (Oregon) School District, continued,
* American kids in schools with less than 10% poverty far outscore all
other nations
* Kids in schools with up to 50% of students living in poverty score
well in comparison to the international average
* Only American students in schools with more than 75% poverty score
below the international average

This trend holds true for virtually all major standardized tests. On the TIMSS, PISA, SAT and NAEP low poverty schools do well and high poverty schools do not.
Stephen Krashen has made this point repeatedly, but as teachers know, it takes as many as twenty repetitions for students to learn something and some may need more. It takes even more repetitions to overcome misinformation such as these comments from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from 2009 in Atlanta...
...[Education Secretary] Duncan noted while striding through Atlanta’s Grady High School...“You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make a difference if teachers don’t believe their students can learn.”

...[Duncan] has no patience for teachers and schools that tick off all the reasons that their poor or minority students can’t achieve.

He doesn’t accept the excuses that their parents don’t care, their homes lack books and no one takes them to museums or plays.
Secretary Duncan, in misinforming the American people, doesn't seem to know the difference between understanding that all children can, indeed learn at their own rate, and the fact that the condition of poverty interrupts the education process.

In The Year They Began Calling Poverty and Homelessness an 'Excuse' Mike Klonsky wrote
Duncan has chosen to ignore poverty's downward effect on test scores and focus entirely on what he calls "bad teachers" and "failing schools." Recently confronted by educators teaching in some of the nation's highest-poverty areas about the need to do something about the living conditions of their students, Duncan cynically responded, "poverty is not destiny."
Yes, Secretary Duncan is correct, poverty is not destiny, but as Gerald Bracey said,
[Poverty is] like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.
Duncan's assertion that poverty is not destiny, while true, minimizes the role the government has played in increasing poverty over the last 10 years, and the lack of progress in reducing it. He has essentially said that "bad teachers" and "bad schools" are at fault for not reducing poverty in the United States.

The last two years, especially, have see a surge in family poverty.
The poverty rate increased from 13.2% to 14.3% between 2008 and 2009, representing an additional 3.7 million people living in poverty for a total of 43.6 million in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate for children was 20.7% in 2009, representing 15.5 million kids living in poverty. In 2009, over one-third (35.5%) of all people living in poverty were children.
Unlike Secretary Duncan, most people understand that poverty has a deleterious effect on people, especially children.
In 2009, over one-third of black children (35.7%) and nearly one-third Hispanic children (33.1%) were living in poverty. Families (with children) headed by single mothers hit 38.5% in 2009. Of the 6.6 million families living in poverty, 3.8 million of them were headed by a single mom.
Schools can't provide everything needed to heal children from the effects of poverty. Families are the most important part of a child's life. If the family is not functioning properly due to a lack of food, heat, medical and dental care, or emotional support then schools will have difficulty doing their job...especially as money for education decreases and class sizes increase.

In Waiting for a School Miracle, Diane Ravitch wrote
Families are children's most important educators. Our society must invest in parental education, prenatal care and preschool. Of course, schools must improve; every one should have a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources and a balanced curriculum including the arts, foreign languages, history and science.

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved.
The so-called "reformers" are trying to tell us that if we improved the education of children then poverty would disappear. However, it's the opposite which is, in fact, true. The education of the majority of poor children in the United States will improve once their poverty is reduced.

Blaming schools and teachers is the excuse used to cover up the failure of our society to deal with the growing poverty rate in our nation. When the billionaires (Gates, Broad, Walton), their foundations, their mouthpieces (Duncan, Obama, Klein, Bloomberg, et al), along with their state government lackeys (Walker, Scott, Kasich, Snyder, Daniels et al) direct the course of public education in the nation then something's wrong. None of them have ever taught in a public school...indeed, many of them, like Secretary Duncan, never even attended a public school. Their lack of experience in and knowledge of teaching and schools should disqualify them from affecting the direction of education in the United States.

What have any of these people done to reduce our nation's poverty? Susan Ohanian put it best:
When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Health Care and No Child Left Homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 Medley #14

Charters, Evaluations, Teacher Certification, Poverty's Influence on Education, Gifted Students, Economy

Should Schools Be Run for Profit?
Led by Patricia Levesque, an experienced lobbyist...the campaign has scored notable successes in the past year, promoting for-profit virtual charter schools...Levesque recommended that "reformers should 'spread' the unions thin 'by playing offense' with decoy legislation...allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, 'even if it doesn't pass ... to keep them busy on that front.' She also advised paycheck protection, a union-busting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly 'under the radar.'"

Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations
...President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history...658 principals around the state [NY] had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

Degrading Teacher Certification
...there's a big difference between knowing a subject well and knowing how to teach it well. For example, before Evan Hunter became famous as author of "The Blackboard Jungle," he taught English in a vocational high school in New York City. When asked in an interview years later why he quit after a short stint, he replied: "I was trying, but they weren't buying." Clearly, Hunter knew how to write, but that was not enough.

‘Broader, bolder’ strategy to ending poverty’s influence on education
To ignore [the reality of poverty] and make bold assertions that all children can achieve while doing nothing to address the outside-of-school challenges they face is neither fair nor a sound basis for developing public policy

Is giftedness always a gift?
the challenge for families and individual children can be immense. “Some bright kids will do well regardless: they are resilient. But for many more the lack of stimulation in school will actually lead to underachievement. A percentage will fall in with the mainstream and never perform to their ability. Another percentage will become so frustrated that they will withdraw altogether. They think the system is just not designed for them. Then you hear the comment, ‘Well, maybe she wasn’t that bright to begin with.’ It’s a terrible waste of potential.”

Neuroscience & The Classroom: Making Connections.
Insights drawn from neuroscience not only provide educators with a scientific basis for understanding some of the best practices in teaching, but also offer a new lens through which to look at the problems teachers grapple with every day. By gaining insights into how the brain works—and how students actually learn—teachers will be able to create their own solutions to the classroom challenges they face and improve their practice.

For Business, Golden Days; For Workers, the *Dross
For companies, these are boom times. For workers, the opposite is true...effective tax rates, both corporate and personal, are well below where they were during most of the post-World War II era.
*Dross n.
1: the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal
2: waste or foreign matter : impurity
3: something that is base, trivial, or inferior

From Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's not an excuse. It's a condition.

From SOS Million Teacher March on Facebook. Click the cartoon for the link.

In 2007 Gerald Bracey wrote,
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."
"Corporate Reformers" like to call the labels on the backpacks of the children in the above cartoon 'excuses' but teachers know first hand how outside influences affect children's achievement.

In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success (2009) author David Berliner wrote,
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 [Out-of-School-Factors] that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.
Read about Berliner's report at Blame for School Achievement Gap Misplaced.

...and here are some links to information about the "excuses."

Absent Parents
Lack of role models

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Testing Insanity Grows

Field Elementary School in Dallas, Texas took the "teach to the test" concept a step further than most schools. The third graders were taught only reading and math...nothing else...for most of the year. According to the Dallas Morning News
The students learned only math and reading for most of the school year, while teachers were pressured to fabricate grades for science, social studies and enrichment courses like music. Some of the grades were given by teachers who had never taught the subjects.
This is just one more example of the unintended consequences of the "testing culture" created by NCLB, Goals 2000 before that, and now, Race to the Top. Cheating scandals (Atlanta, Washington D.C.), gaming the system, teaching to the test...it's all because of our obsessive reliance on achievement tests. Does anyone who has any common sense think this is going to get better now that test scores are being used to evaluate teachers?

The news about Field Elementary School's particular method of getting students to "pass the test" brought indignation and derision from editorial pages around the nation, including the Dallas Morning News.
In third grade, the world opens to children. They learn about magnets and volcanoes, frogs and ladybugs, the marvels of the solar system. They are introduced to biographies and to the lofty concept that people can, through their deeds, change communities. These essential lessons in science and social studies build on themselves, year after year.

It is only when you look at this rich curriculum that you can appreciate the injustice inflicted on the children at Tom W. Field Elementary School in northwest Dallas. For an entire year, third-graders were essentially denied science and social studies instruction in favor of math and reading, all so they could improve their scores on standardized tests and earn the school a high ranking.
The newspaper clucks it's editorial tongue at the cheaters of Field Elementary. They continue...
Until the formal inquiry began, no teacher at Field had sounded the alarm and no administrator seems to have had a clue that this extreme policy was in place.
Should teachers have blown the whistle. Of course...but the nation's education policies caused this situation.

The most meaningful response came from a reader -- KAHDallas. In the comments following the above editorial he wrote:
"Until the formal inquiry began, no teacher at Field had sounded the alarm and no administrator seems to have had a clue that this extreme policy was in place."

So the [Dallas Morning News] is aghast that teachers didn't sound the alarm at Field Elementary? Really? Really?

Go back through ALL your editorials advocating school change and reflect on your bias against teachers. Revisit your promotion of "business" models that promote more power to principals over those pesky teachers. Applaud your stance on increasing teacher accountability (DISD is spending $1.2 million to develop a new evaluation model) with no mention of increased pay.

This paper, the State of Texas, the DISD trustees, the business community, and the public have subjugated teachers to the status of factory labor (with no right to strike!) and are then incensed when they don't rise to report abuse of policy! You want top-down management of education but are bewildered when events unfold as they have at Field Elementary. You want teachers to shut up and do as they're told and then fulminate when they protect their income rather than speak up. You asked for this mess and now you've got it!

And here's another news flash: The practices at Field Elementary are MUCH more the rule than the exception in DISD schools than anyone outside the system dares to imagine.

Since another ingrained DISD policy is to intimidate whistle-blowers and protect management at all costs, guess we'll just have to rely on the integrity of those in administration and the trustees to set the standard for a high level of integrity in the schools. ...how's that been workin' for ya so far?
I have a series of quotes elsewhere on this page. One of them, Campbell's Law reads:
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
We use achievement tests incorrectly -- to label, judge and evaluate teachers and schools. The importance given to those tests far outweighs the value to be gained from them. Teachers know that public schools in the US have been damaged by the obsession with testing. Our students have been hurt and their learning stunted. Yet the insanity surrounding public education in America continues to expand with Race to the Top and even more testing.

As long as I'm dropping quotes perhaps a couple of them from (or attributed to) Albert Einstein are appropriate at this point.
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.