"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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Break From Politics...

While the Indiana Legislature is poised on the brink of the destruction of the state's teaching profession...and the US DOE continues it's all out attack on teachers...I have something else I want to write about.

First, if you're from Indiana, go HERE and tell your legislators not to destroy the teaching profession in our state...

Second, here are some blogs and articles I considered writing about:
Read them...become enraged or motivated...and then use your voice.

Now...to today's topic...teachers and all they do.

I read Mrs. Mimi's blogpost today, Blood, Sweat, Tears and Many, Many, MANY Dots and was impressed by the list of things that teachers do.

I remember all those things...and more...that took up my time every day. The little things...sorting books, putting up bulletin boards, picking up pencils off the floor, cleaning off the chalk board tray, a million other little tasks every day on top of planning, teaching, grading, phoning parents, collaborating with colleagues and recess duty (If I tried to include everything there wouldn't be room for anything else).

Mrs. Mimi made a comment in her entry today...
People [meaning non-teachers] can sympathize with the behavioral issues. They can sympathize with the hours of grading papers. They can try and understand how unappreciated teachers are. They can feel for our early wake up times.
First of all, I understand that many jobs have their little tasks that threaten to overshadow the important things that people do...and the old adage "walk a mile in my shoes" is completely true. No one knows what another person's day is like unless they've experienced it. I rant about politicians and political appointees not having any idea what it's like in a classroom (yes, you, Secretary Duncan), but I understand that I am in the same position with regards to others' work.

That's why it's so important for teachers to support each other. Who knows better than another teacher what you go through every day? Who knows better than another teacher the stress of trying to actually teach while being interrupted, pressured, twisted and thrown about. Again, from Mrs. Mimi...
But I don't think any non-teacher will truly understand how much time and energy teachers spend organizing, cleaning, lifting, moving, hanging, stapling, taping, cutting, running, bending, wiping and basically doing anything and everything that needs to be done. Whether it feels professional, in our job description or even clean. We just roll up our sleeves and get it done.
Here's to the teachers who try to teach their children while being pummeled by the outside world.

Here's to the teachers who KNOW that what they're being asked to do is NOT in the best interest of their students so they work twice as hard to actually teach, as well as getting all the crap done that the administration (or state DOE, or US DOE, or whoever is bashing teachers today) requires.

Here's to the teachers who, despite all the pain, stress, disrespect, and insults from those who haven't a clue, still get up every day and greet the children in their care with smiles, patience and professionalism because they love what they do.

Make it a point to tell a teacher something supportive every day...That in itself might be all it takes to turn American education around...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Education Is Not a Business

Diane Ravitch posted this trailer for a documentary currently in production. It's 8 minutes long...worth watching.

Education is Not a Business


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Klein Shows his True Nature: Hypocrite

Don't miss this great article, Pensions for teachers vs. chancellors, by Valerie Strauss. Blatant hypocrisy! Here's a teaser...
It seems fair to note that after making a public stink about the awfulness of pensions for public school teachers, former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein has himself accepted a $34,000 pension check.

Klein recently penned an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Teacher Pensions Won’t Work,” in which he equates the pension system for New York City’s public teachers to a Ponzi scheme.

But apparently, he doesn’t feel the same way about pensions for former chancellors.

The New York Daily News reported that shortly before that op-ed was published, Klein “walked into the city's teacher pension office to collect his own annual windfall,” which was a pension check for $34,000.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inside Job

Waiting for Superman has gotten a lot of publicity from millionaires and billionaires who stand to gain (for their investments in charter schools). Inside Job, however, a documentary about the current economic crisis, is one I hadn't heard of yet.

Kevin Welner wrote about it at the Huffington Post.
It offers an explanation of how the current economic crisis came about, describing the securitization of mortgages; the extraordinary leveraging of assets; the regulatory capture by Wall Street leading to minimal enforcement of federal regulations -- a deregulation intended to spur innovation; and the fraud, greed, hubris and general belief among hedge fund titans and others in the financial services world that they are infallible. The film also points out the growing and now extreme inequality of wealth distribution in the United States.
I knew that the "rich were getting richer" but I didn't realize the extent of it until I followed the link to this one statistic...
The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation's pretax income in 2007 -- up from less than 9 percent in 1976
Welner looks at Inside Job, compares it to Waiting for Superman, and comes to the conclusion that the former does a better job of explaining the "school crisis." Again, from his article at Huffington...
Rather than addressing these poverty issues, Superman serves up innovation through privatization and deregulation. We're shown charter schools that give hope to these families. But what we're not told is that the extra resources and opportunities found in these charters are funded in large part with donations from Wall Street hedge fund millionaires and billionaires. Problems of structural inequality and intergenerational poverty are pushed aside in favor of a 'solution' grounded in the belief that deregulation will prompt innovation, all the while guided by the infallible judgment of Wall Street tycoons.
The money to be made from charter schools is a lure that the rich can't ignore. America's public schools are paying the price.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE

Last Tuesday, January 11, 2011, Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, gave his State of the State address to the dominantly Republican Indiana state legislature. You can read the entire address here.

Much of the Governor’s speech dealt with Education. He made some points that I was expecting...he mentioned charter schools, collective bargaining, and evaluating teachers using test scores -- among other things.

Continuing to look at his points one at a time...

We know what works. It starts with teacher quality. Teacher quality has been found to be twenty times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed. Class size, by comparison, is virtually meaningless. Put a great teacher in front of a large class, and you can expect good results. Put a poor teacher in front of a small class, do not expect the kids to learn. In those Asian countries I mentioned, classrooms of thirty-five students are common, and they‘re beating our socks off.

We won’t have done our duty here until every single Indiana youngster has a good teacher every single year. Today, 99 percent of Indiana teachers are rated “effective.” If that were true, 99 percent, not one-third, of our students would be passing those national tests.
First, "they're" not "beating our socks off." Our students who don't live in poverty score highest in the world on standardized tests.

Still, I agree with part of this comment. I know that teacher evaluation can be improved. No one wants poor teachers in the classroom. Schools have to come up with ways to evaluate teachers. Administrators have to use the evaluation tools to help teachers improve and document their attempts. If teachers don't improve then they should find other work.

However, the number of so-called "failing schools" identified using test scores can't be explained simply by teacher quality. As we approach 2014 and the NCLB deadline requiring all schools in the country to be "successful" the number of schools on the "failing" list skyrockets. Unless someone would want to argue that a huge percentage of the teachers in the country are ineffective then there must be some other factor involved besides teacher quality.

Just how important is teacher quality in the grand scheme of things? Diane Ravitch, in a review of Waiting for Superman wrote:
...teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
Blaming teachers is easy. The level of poverty in the United States is shameful...and politicians don't want to acknowledge responsibility for that. Instead of getting parents, teachers, communities and civic leaders together to attack the issue of poverty, it's much easier to say, "fire bad teachers."

Today’s teachers make more money not because their students learned more but just by living longer and putting another certificate on the wall. Their jobs are protected not by any record of great teaching but simply by seniority. We have seen “teachers of the year” laid off, just because they weren’t old enough. This must change. We have waited long enough.
First, schools in states with weak unions have the same problems that schools with stronger union contracts have.

Second, tenure is simply due process. If a teacher is not performing it's the administration's responsibility to show proof through documentation. The days of firing teachers just because the superintendent's spouse doesn't like them...or just because they are female...or black...or in a wheelchair...are over. Due process protects the rights of teachers. If a teacher is not doing the job, help them improve. If that doesn't work, and the administration can prove a teacher's incompetence, then tenure doesn't matter.

Third, does seniority hurt students? Stephen Krashen wrote:
In an interview (The New Advocate, "Teacher seniority under fire "September 12, 2010), researcher Michael Hansen said that improvement between year 3 and 25 was four percent, which he regarded as "trivial." But if valid, it means that more experienced teachers are slightly more effective. The only reason to ignore seniority as a criterion for retention in hard times is financial.
Hansen also pointed out that "This trend is actually common to most professional fields." The obvious implication is that if seniority is to be abandoned in retaining teachers, it should be out the window everywhere, based on quantitative evaluations similar to value-added, including writing newspaper articles.
But, in this new world of accountability, it is only fair to give our school leadership full flexibility to deliver the results we now expect. Already, I have ordered our Board of Education to peel away unnecessary requirements that consume time and money without really contributing to learning. We are asking this Assembly to repeal other mandates that, whatever their good intentions, ought to be left to local control. I am a supporter of organ donation, and cancer awareness, and preventing mosquito-borne disease, but if a local superintendent or school board thinks time spent on these mandated courses interferes with the teaching of math, or English, or science, it should be their right to eliminate them from a crowded school day.
Our students have already gotten educationally shortchanged over the last 10 years focusing on "the tests." We need Social Studies, Science, Civics, Foreign Languages, Art, Music, Physical Education. There's more to life than standardized tests. Alfie Kohn...
From atop Mount Olympus, where no children live, it may seem reasonable to demand "tougher standards" and to recite slogans such as "accountability." But in real schools, things look quite different. We need to think carefully about the tradeoffs the current school-reform movement entails.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that higher scores in a given school or community may actually be cause for concern. Reports of rising test performance should lead us to ask, "What was taken away from my children's education in order to make them better at taking standardized tests?"
Indiana has lagged sadly behind other states in providing the option of charter schools. We must have more of them, and they must no longer be unjustly penalized. They should receive their funding exactly when other public schools do. If they need space, and the local district owns vacant buildings it has no prospect of using, they should turn them over.
Charter schools are NOT better than traditional public schools. On an individual basis there are specific charter schools which help students grow more than specific public schools, but the opposite is also true. In the article referenced above, Diane Ravitch wrote:
the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.
The Governor is simply parroting the discredited talking points coming from the US Department of Education, the White House, and the Congress. Taking money from already shortchanged public schools and giving it to private companies who, as a whole, do no better is irresponsible for someone who claims to be a fiscal conservative.

Diane Ravitch wrote this morning about giving economists too much power over public education. The same is true of politicians, political appointees (I'm looking at you, Arne Duncan), and billionaires (and you, Bill Gates) who have no experience or background in education.
If we step back a bit...don't you think there is a certain kind of madness in thinking that economists who never set foot in a classroom can create a statistical measure to tell us how best to educate children? It seems some will never be satisfied until they have a technical process to override the judgments of those who work in schools and are in daily contact with teachers and children. I don't know of any other nation in the world that is so devoted to this effort to turn education into a statistical problem that can be solved by a computer. It is not likely to end well.
As she says, it's madness.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana

Last Tuesday, January 11, 2011, Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, gave his State of the State address to the dominantly Republican Indiana state legislature. You can read the entire address here.

Much of the Governor’s speech dealt with Education. He made some points that I was expecting...he mentioned charter schools, collective bargaining, and evaluating teachers using test scores -- among other things.

Let's look at his points one at a time.

Governor Daniels said:
One, I just mentioned; no tax increases. Can I get an “amen” to that?
I think it’s important that people understand that you have to pay for services. The tendency in the United States is towards a knee-jerk reaction against taxes. I know taxes are no fun, but they pay for what we need. You want good roads, good schools, national guard, fire and police protection, and clean parks? You want the health department to make sure restaurants and grocery stores are clean? You want our soldiers to be well equipped when we send them off to war? Then you have to pay for them. If we don’t, we’ll end up like the guy who watched his house burn because he hadn’t “hired” the fire department for $75.

If you don't want services from the government you can get away without paying taxes. Think about that.

Governor Daniels said:
We put an end to practices like raiding teacher pension funds, and shifting state deficits to our schools and universities by making them wait until the state had the cash to pay them. That’s a form of waiting we should never impose again.
I just retired. I’m glad he said he was going to leave the pension fund alone. But, where’s the money going to come from for schools and universities, though? And let's not forget libraries...See #1.

Governor Daniels said:
So let’s start by affirming once again that our call for major change in our system of education, like that of President Obama, his education secretary and so many others, is rooted in a love for our schools, those who run them and those who teach in them. But it is rooted most deeply in a love for the children whose very lives and futures depend on the quality of the learning they either do or do not acquire while in our schools. Nothing matters more than that. Nothing compares to that.

Some seek change in education on economic grounds, and they are right. To win and hold a family-supporting job, our kids will need to know much more than their parents did. I have seen the future competition, every time I go abroad in search of new jobs for our state, in the young people of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China. Let me tell you—those kids are good. They ought to be. They are in school, not 180 days a year like here, but 210, 220, 230 days a year. By the end of high school, they have benefited from two or three years more education than Hoosier students. Along the way, they have taken harder classes. It won’t be easy to win jobs away from them.
Well, I agree that we should focus on what’s best for students. I spent 35 years in public education. I lived through the rich times and the poor times. I had classes as large as 38 and as small as 15. I was a classroom teacher and a specialist working with 1 to 5 students at a time. Unlike the President, Governor, and Secretary of Education I know what it's like to work in a public school. They don't have to talk to me about wanting to do what's best for children. They don't have to remind me that the adults who work in our public schools are dedicated and hard working.

Now, about the foreign students - the kids in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China (and let's not forget Finland) are good at taking tests. They score among the highest in the world. If you're looking for high test scores then those countries do well. I don't disagree with that. Actually, so are we in the US. When you look at the test scores of our students in schools with low poverty rates you’ll see that they are the best in the world.

Diane Ravitch wrote:
We have many outstanding schools and students, but our overall performance is dragged down by the persistence of poverty. Poverty depresses school achievement because it hurts children, families, and communities.
Ravitch continues…
At a time of fiscal stringency, it seems crazy to talk about helping lift children and families out of poverty. Critics say, "We can't afford to do anything anymore," "Sorry, the money is all gone," "No one should pay any new taxes," "This is not a time for social innovation; it is a time for educational innovation." But in light of the overwhelming evidence of the dire consequences of persistent poverty, it seems even crazier to ignore it and to assume that we can reach the top of the international achievement tables by closing schools, firing teachers, and hastening privatization. These strategies will shatter already fragile communities. They will not give us schools that foster the creativity, originality, self-discipline, and initiative that we claim to value. They are strategies that avoid the hard, incredibly hard, task of economic improvement. Today's school reformers scoff at the idea of attacking poverty; it is so much easier to fire teachers. So long as we continue to avert our gaze from the festering problems bred by deep poverty and racial isolation, it seems unlikely that any school reform agenda can produce the transformation that our society seeks.
Researchers at the National Association for Secondary School Principals have a very informative article in which they have disaggregated the PISA scores by income. Definitely worth reading.
President Bill Clinton is famous for his campaign slogan, "It's the economy stupid!" When it comes to student achievement and school improvement, it's poverty not stupid! Researchers report that perhaps the only true linear relationship in the social sciences is the relationship between poverty and student performance. While there is no relationship between poverty and ability, the relationship between poverty and achievement is almost foolproof. To deny that poverty is a factor to be overcome as opposed to an excuse is to deny the reality that all educators, human services workers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and religious clergy know and have known for years.

PISA reports average scores. The problem is that the U.S. is not average. While the U.S. is the top country in global competitiveness, we also have the highest percentage of students living in poverty and, regretfully, poverty impacts test scores.
It would be nice if the policy makers were brave enough to admit that the largest obstacle facing achievement in the country (as based on standardized test scores) was something that was out of the realm of the public schools to fix.

President Obama (or Bush, or Clinton) and Governor Daniels, let's have no child without adequate health care...and no child going hungry...and no child living through violence...and no child homeless...then we'll be able to have No Child Left Behind.

Oh...and one more thing that goes in this section:
"If people want higher test scores, they'll get higher test scores. I just hope they don't complain when that's all they get." -- Richard Mandl
Next time I’ll continue with responses to other assertions Governor Daniels made during his speech.

His belief about the importance of Teacher Quality.
The assertion that teaching experience is not worth paying for.
His desire to weaken the rights of teachers to full collective bargaining.
His implication that charter schools are “the answer.”

Read more in Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana Part 2


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't be an educator

You want to make a difference in education? You want to effect society and how students learn on a large scale? You want to be an education reformer? Take the advice of Gregory Michie, who teaches in the Department of Foundations, Social, Policy and Research at Concordia University Chicago. Don't be an educator!
In the current upside-down world of education policy, there's one foolproof strategy for being taken seriously as a reformer: Make sure you're not an educator.

Urban districts nationwide, with Chicago leading the way, have hired those with business or legal backgrounds to head their school systems. Major voices in the reform conversation such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and philanthropist Eli Broad have never been teachers. And when Oprah wants to talk about schools, she invites Bill Gates or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg -- all the while reminding her audience how much she loves teachers.
Michie didn't mention Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, but of course, he has no education credentials either.

Michie, on the other hand, does have education credentials. He spent 10 years teaching in Chicago...and is now an Education Professor. Those qualifications won't get him time on the Oprah show, but they will give what he has to say some real meaning.

Read his article about "Performance Counts," the Illinois legislation which focuses on what teachers "should" do. The problem, according to the "reformers" is bad teaching.
A big part of the problem is that the conversation has been hijacked by corporate leaders who think they know best how to improve our schools. I'll concede that some of these "new reformers" may have good intentions. But their arrogance is astounding, and their lack of interest in the wisdom of those who spend their days in classrooms speaks volumes.

The thing is, it's tough to understand the complexity of teaching if you've never done it. Sure, it's possible to come up with catchy slogans like "performance counts." But what exactly is teacher performance? For most of the business-minded reformers, it means raising student test scores. They may nod toward multiple measures of assessing teachers, but they're really looking at "the data," the bottom line.

During the decade I spent teaching in Chicago, I came to understand that being a good teacher is about far more than that. It's taking time after school hours to get to know the community in which you teach. It's figuring out how to create an opportunity for learning when one of your students uses racist or homophobic language in class. It's effectively planning research projects when your classroom has just two computers for 31 kids. How does "performance count" in situations like these?
The "reformers" don't talk about poverty except to say that it shouldn't be an excuse. They all know (or they should by this time) that there is an established, direct correlation between poverty and achievement, but they say, since our society won't deal with poverty, we need to focus on improving teaching and schools.

There's some truth in that...Our society doesn't deal well with poverty. It's been up and down over the years like a yo-yo. No permanent solution has been found.
In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4 percent, or 39.5 million individuals. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million individuals, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent.

For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, increasing to 15.1 percent, or 39.3 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000. From 2000 to 2004 it rose each year to 12.7 in 2004.
Today, the poverty rate for children in America is 20.7 percent (for 2009). One fifth of our children. We can't solve all the problems which come with poverty by getting better teachers.
Duncan gives the impression that "overcoming poverty" happens all the time under his administration. There is no real evidence that it happens at all.

There is no evidence that extensive testing does a better job than teacher evaluation done by professionals who deal with children daily.

There is no evidence that there is a crisis in teacher quality, no evidence that teacher quality has declined.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Newbery Medal

I've always been interested in the Newbery Medal. I was an avid "Reader out loud" to my students (and my children). Early in my career I was influenced by Jim Trelease whose Read Aloud Handbook not only influenced me academically, but shaped my entire career (see HERE, HERE and HERE).

I used the Read Aloud Handbook to choose books to read to my classes...and it directed me to the Newbery Medal winners. Those two sources made reading aloud to my students the most important part of my classroom teaching career.

It also became an important part of parenting. We read to our children...and, like Trelease says (quoting Becoming a Nation of Readers), "The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children." It worked. All three of our children are, like their parents, life-long readers.

I was seriously impressed when my son, Sam, was selected to be on the Newbery Selection Committee for this year. I blogged about it here and at my retirement dinner I announced it for everyone to hear. I suppose it seems a little much, but, to a teacher interested in children's literature, the Newbery Medal is like the Pulitzer Prize for Literature...or the Nobel Prize. It's the top of the heap. Getting on the selection committee is quite an honor (besides...as a parent it's my right and responsibility to brag about my kids!).

For the last 6-8 months Sam (a classroom teacher turned children's librarian) has been reading and writing. He's had to read every new children's book eligible for the medal and has written extensive notes and reviews so he could remember which he liked and why he liked them.

Today the medal was awarded. The information about all the awards in children's literature can be had at the ALA web site. I know Sam's glad that the pressure is off and he can go back to reading for fun again. It's been interesting hearing him talk about reading all the books. He hasn't been able to tell us anything about any of them. The committee rules are very strict -- no telling anyone anything about what you think about the books. Now that it's over, though, I'm hoping that he can direct me to the ones he thinks I might like.

Over the last few years I've included information on this blog about the importance of access to books on student achievement. I'm thankful to public libraries for providing that access...to librarians like Sam who help patrons find what they need, instill the magic of books in children, and help teachers do the same...and to the writers who continue to entertain, teach and capture us with their stories. This is what real education is, not competition, standardized tests, or scripted packages.

Sam, I'll see you this weekend...I'll expect a list of "books I think Dad would like..."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Superman/A Duncan-Krashen Conversation/Q & A

Three important items...

Fact-Checking Waiting for Superman

Has anyone bothered to check all the facts in Waiting for Superman? A case for teaching critical thinking. Thank you Leonie Haimson.


Arne Duncan/Stephen Krashen "conversation."

1. by Arne Duncan: School Reform: A Chance for Bipartisan Governing
...no one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures...
...many people across the political spectrum support the work of 44 states to replace multiple choice "bubble" tests with a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know...
...teachers, parents, and union and business leaders want a real definition of teacher effectiveness based on multiple measures, including student growth, principal observation and peer review...
School districts and their local partners in inner cities and rural communities are overcoming poverty and family breakdown to create high-performing schools, including charters and traditional public schools.
2. Krashen's response
...research indicates that there are very few high-performing schools in high poverty conditions...
Duncan gives the impression that "overcoming poverty" happens all the time under his administration. There is no real evidence that it happens at all.
There is no evidence that extensive testing does a better job than teacher evaluation done by professionals who deal with children daily.
There is no evidence that there is a crisis in teacher quality, no evidence that teacher quality has declined.
3 and 4. Duncan's "response" via CNN and Krashen's comments


Wrong Questions = Wrong Answers

Newsweek journalist Daniel Lyons posed a series of questions recently to Bill Gates, a leading and powerful voice in the new school reform movement, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers—highlighting not what we need to address in our public schools but proving further that the media, celebrity/billionaire experts, and bureaucrats are themselves incompetent and should not be leading a discussion about education.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

America's Disdain for its Children

America's Disdain for its Children by Valerie Strauss
If we did actually give a hoot about kids: 
  • We would never tolerate a poverty rate among children of 21 percent.
  • We would never pretend that any single institution, especially public schools, can overcome the problems caused by a life in poverty. 
  • We would stop our hypocrisy over standardized tests.
  • We would not demonize teachers, but rather treat them as professionals.
  • We would stop thinking that we can tell anything about really young kids by subjecting them to silly tests...Quality pre-kindergarten would be a national priority.
  • We would stop underfunding public school systems. 
  • We would stop pretending that charter schools are the be-all and end-all of public education.
  • We would stop pretending that teachers unions are the cause of all of the ills of public education,
  • We would really try to consider what kids need and think.
  • We would remember that the public school system is our most glorious civic institution.
Valerie Strauss shows once more why she's one of the most important voices in education today.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Battling the "Bad Teacher" Bogeyman

Anthony Cody wrote this for his blog, Living in Dialogue. It's a must read for teachers. We're being beat up, ridiculed, and told that our training doesn't matter. Why do billionaires think they know more about education than we do? Why do politicians think they know more about how children learn than we do? It's time to fight back. Here are some important excerpts.

Click on this link to read the whole thing. Thanks for this one, Anthony.

In the narrative being driven by "education reformers," the "bad teacher" has emerged as the greatest threat to our future. This threat is being used to justify a wholesale attack on the teaching profession. With our rights and even the institution of public education in danger, why have teachers been so slow to respond?
Educators are unlikely warriors. In our classrooms we depend on the authority of the school as we exert our own authority to maintain order. Accustomed to our place in the hierarchy, we serve "under" the supervision of our principals, as our students work under our supervision. This deference to authority is perhaps one reason teachers have been so slow to understand the systematic attacks we face as a profession. But make no mistake, our profession, our retirement funds, our schools, even the classrooms in which we teach - all are under a systemic and coordinated attack.
In the next 12 months we are likely to see:
Class sizes increase dramatically  
• More public dollars going to privately managed charter schools
• Teacher retirement funds attacked as being overly generous
• Due process for teachers done away with in order to get rid of "bad teachers."
• Seniority eliminated since expensive experienced teachers do not raise test scores any more than novices proficient at test preparation.
But our foes will never admit they are attacking us. They will smile in our faces, as Oprah did last fall, and sweetly reassure us that they LOVE good and great teachers. It is just the louses responsible for poor test scores that they despise. One of the academic architects of many of these policies is the Hoover Institute's Eric Hanushek. Dr. Hanushek authored a rather discredited study in 1992 that purported to prove that class size was not a critical factor in student achievement. Recently Arne Duncan and Bill Gates have both given speeches suggesting that class sizes be increased to cut costs. More recently Dr. Hanushek has been focusing on teacher quality.
In his essay at Education Matters this month, Dr. Hanushek writes,
"This is not a war on teachers en masse. It is recognition of what every parent knows: Some teachers are exceptional, but a small number are dreadful. If that is the case, we should think of ways to change the balance."
Those of us who spent hundreds of hours documenting the effectiveness of our teaching to achieve National Board certification were apparently wasting our time. Hanushek does not need such overkill. Last February, he explained how we could tell good teachers from bad ones:
"Good teachers are ones who get large gains in student achievement for their classes; bad teachers are just the opposite," explained Hanushek, who said he uses a simple definition of teacher quality. Looking at data from a large, urban school district, he found that effective teachers at the top of the quality distribution got "an entire year's worth of additional learning out of their students, compared to those near the bottom."
Here are the problems I see with his approach.
Problem One: He assumes that test scores alone are an appropriate means of determining who the best teacher is...
Problem Two: He assumes there is a ready supply of highly effective teachers to replace the bottom rung he suggests we cast aside each year..
Problem Three: He proposes that we improve by focusing on the negative. I really wonder what sort of environment Dr. Hanushek grew up in. In my classroom, I encouraged my students by focusing on the positive, by grouping students together so weaker students could learn from leaders. The teaching profession is no different. We can gain so much more by focusing on creating a collaborative culture where teachers are observing one another teach, sharing and reflecting together through processes such as Lesson Study and Collaborative Action Research.
...Of course, Dr. Hanushek does not see this as a "war on teachers." He is one of the architects of this campaign, and he sees it as a sort of purification process. He is not against ALL teachers, only the "bad" ones with low test scores.
I was on a panel at a forum last fall focused on "grading teachers," and Dr. Hanushek was on the panels before and after mine. I directly confronted his line of reasoning, and accused the LA Times of being part of a war on teachers. I believe this encounter is one reason he wrote this defensive piece.
...he says "As a nation, if we could be Finland, which is at the top of these scores, there's pretty strong evidence that the present value of future gains to the US economy is $100 trillion dollars." At this point I interrupted him from the audience to point out that Finland has a child poverty rate of about 2%.
Hanushek responded by saying:
"There is no doubt, no researcher that I know that has ever said, that family background [note that he refuses to use the term "poverty."] is not extremely important. It's not an issue. We understand that. We don't have the means to change families. Or we're not willing to use that as a nation. We DO have the means to adjust what our schools do. That's our public policy instrument. That's why some of us spend all of our time not looking at how to change families, but how to change the schools. There's absolutely NO evidence that if we gave $10,000 a year more income to poor families that the achievement of those kids would increase. There's absolutely none. That's not to say we might not, for societal purposes, and I believe it, that we should worry about the income levels of the poor people. But not because that's the way to solve our school problems, or that we have to wait until we equalize incomes to address some of these achievement problems that are extraordinarily real."
Richard Rothstein was also on this panel, and offered this rebuttal:
"I'd like to take up Rick's comment, that the choice is between equalizing income or improving educational achievement. That's not the choice. The choice is between doing SOMEthing about the family circumstances of children who come to school not ready to learn, and not doing anything about it. We'd get a lot more purchase out of doing something about it then we would out of many of the school reforms that are being advocated. If I had the money to reduce the principal/teacher ratio to a reasonable level where you could evaluate teachers, you'd get much more bang for the buck from taking that money and building a health clinic in those schools than you would by putting more principals in the schools."
This is precisely the issue. Leaders like Hanushek systematically lead us away from real solutions that they have decided society is unwilling to contemplate. His views are guiding the education "reformers" - you will hear him cited by Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. Reducing class size is too expensive. Likewise quality pre-school, libraries, dental care, health care, nutrition, etc. They actively ignore themany things along these lines that their chosen role model, Finland, has done. Simply offer a bonus for higher test scores, fire the bottom five percent, and you have the perfect combination of carrot and stick. And vilify anyone, especially our teachers' unions, that say this is not the best way to improve our schools, by accusing them of protecting bad teachers.
A year from now, if we do not confront these attacks, our classes will overflow, our retirement funds will be decimated, and our due process rights removed. Our public schools will be de-funded, even as the billionaires funding "school reform" insist they are acting in the interests of the poor. This is a fight for the future of education in America, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

1/5 of American Children Live in Poverty

We've been talking about teaching credentials.

Teachers can have bachelor's degrees, master's degrees or doctoral degrees (E.D. or PhD.) but by themselves, the qualifications of teachers won't make up for the fact that 20% of our children live in poverty.

It doesn't matter what Arne Duncan or Bill Gates say. We know what the problem is and we've known for a long time. Not only do we know it, but people all over the world know it. It's poverty.
"The relationship between SES [socioeconomic status] and achievement was consistent across all 20 countries. Students with highest levels of SES, as measured in this study, had an educational advantage over their lowest SES counterparts. This reinforces the associations previously documented in the literature both in the United States and abroad between SES and student educational achievement."
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, April 2006)