"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hypocrisy Again

Walt Gardner in his Reality Check blog takes the "backlash" to task for hammering teachers for their "cushy" jobs. If teaching is such a great job, why is there a 50% dropout rate among beginning teachers?

The backlash should be against millionaires and billionaires who brought us the "Great Recession."

Walt says it best. Hypocrisy of Education Free Marketeers:
The rolling demonstrations that began in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights for public sector unions have been the subject of exhaustive coverage by the media. But there's one aspect that so far has escaped their examination: The reaction to the protests by supporters of free markets exposes the basic contradiction of their position.

The essence of the backlash is that in the Great Recession teachers have it too good at a time when employees in the private sector have it very bad. They get Cadillac pensions, enjoy lavish benefits, have summers off, go home at 3:00, and receive substantial salaries.

If all of these things are true, then why don't these critics become teachers? After all, if teaching is such a sweet deal, then in a free market it should be attracting overwhelming numbers of applicants. That's how the law of supply and demand works. It's the basis for claiming that competition between schools and parental choice will result in good schools thriving and bad schools closing.

These free marketeers, however, engage in selective perception. They could have become teachers if teaching were the plum job they imagine. Instead, they chose to work in the private sector for reasons known only to themselves. No one forced them to follow that route. But rather than looking inward, they misdirect their anger and frustration at teachers, who fought for what they have over the decades through their unions. If unions are as powerful as they maintain, then why don't they form their own unions and fight for similar benefits?

The fact is that these critics would be shellshocked if they were to become teachers. They would quickly find out that their conception of teaching is a fantasy. It is damn hard work that nothing in their years of experience in business every prepared them for. Otherwise, why would teacher turnover be so high? No business reports a 50 percent churn rate in personnel in five years. In some urban districts, the time frame is three years, according to a 2006 study by the Haberman Educational Foundation. Even Teach for America, which recruits only the elite of the elite, can hold on to only 17 percent of its graduates beyond their two-year commitment.

Teaching is neither for missionaries nor mercenaries. It is a career for those who understand from the outset the sacrifices and payoffs. Whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages is a personal decision. But remember that no career is without tradeoffs. That's something for critics of the demonstrations to bear in mind.
By the way, teaching is a great job...if you have the patience, intelligence, and perseverance to do it well. The rewards are priceless. That's why I did it for 35 years.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Support Unions and Collective Bargaining

Mr. Talk at Accountable Talk brought this video to our attention. It's a video of Candidate Obama...the same one who said this about NCLB:
Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next. Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do...
In the following video, then Senator Obama talked about the rights of American workers to collectively bargain...the very right that is being threatened by state legislatures and governors around the country. As President, Mr. Obama has come down, softly, on the side of the workers...but we haven't heard anything from him since the first day of the Wisconsin situation. Listen to what he said as a candidate...

"And understand this, if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the white house I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I'll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America, because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner." -- Barack Obama, Spartanburg SC, 11/3/07
This man...this candidate would get my vote. Where is he?

Mr Talk had this to say to the President.
Mr. President, we can't wait for you to find that pair of comfortable shoes. In fact, there's no need for you to picket for hours on end--teachers and other union members will do that. But if you would just go to Wisconsin and stand with the picketers for one minute--one minute--and voice this same kind of support for collective bargaining that you promised us as a candidate, you would change the game immediately.

This action doesn't require 60 votes. It doesn't force you to choose between extending the Bush tax cuts or extending unemployment benefits. So there's no excuse not to live up to your promise. All you have to do is stand up and say a few words.

And you are good at words. Now let's see some action.
It's time that the President puts his political money where his mouth is.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's Spreading

The Main Street Movement is spreading. In Indiana House Democrats have left the state -- most joining Wisconsin's Democrats in Illinois -- to prevent the passage of "worker unfriendly" bills.

Both Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have blogged about Wisconsin on their shared Bridging Differences blog.

Failing Schools has also stepped in writing about Due Process, one of the rights that teachers have been asked to give up as a "Reform."

The voices are finally getting louder all over the country -- Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Idaho, Georgia, Montana, and Washington. It's about time, too.

The news from Wisconsin tells it all. The unions have agreed to the monetary demands made by the Governor, but that's not enough. Governor Walker won't back off of the demand that collective bargaining be eliminated. It's not just the budget, despite what the governor has said. His drive to "bust the union" is now apparent. He has threatened to lay off workers unless the Democrats return and do his bidding. He, like his colleagues in other states, is a bully, determined to get his way no matter what the cost.

When will teachers stand up?

Today...now. Finally.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Diane Ravitch...Follow Up

Diane Ravitch has an opinion article on CNN today.
Why America's teachers are enraged

(CNN) -- Thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers have camped out at the Wisconsin Capitol, protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to reduce their take-home pay -- by increasing their contribution to their pension plans and health care benefits -- and restrict their collective bargaining rights.

Republicans control the state Legislature, and initially it seemed certain that Walker's proposal would pass easily. But then the Democrats in the Legislature went into hiding, leaving that body one vote shy of a quorum. As of this writing, the Legislature was at a standstill as state police searched high and low for the missing lawmakers.

Like other conservative Republican governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, the Wisconsin governor wants to sap the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers' union, since public education is the single biggest expenditure for every state.

Public schools in Madison and a dozen other districts in Wisconsin closed as teachers joined the protest. Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that were equivalent to the value of their givebacks.

The uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation's teachers. They have grown angry and demoralized over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated.

The much-publicized film "Waiting for 'Superman'" made the specious claim that "bad teachers" caused low student test scores. A Newsweek cover last year proposed that the key to saving American education was firing bad teachers.

Teachers across the nation reacted with alarm when the leaders of the Central Falls district in Rhode Island threatened to fire the entire staff of the small town's only high school. What got their attention was that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama thought this was a fine idea, even though no one at the high school had been evaluated.

The Obama administration's Race to the Top program intensified the demonizing of teachers, because it encouraged states to evaluate teachers in relation to student scores. There are many reasons why students do well or poorly on tests, and teachers felt they were being unfairly blamed when students got low scores, while the crucial role of families and the students themselves was overlooked.

Teachers' despair deepened last August when The Los Angeles Times rated 6,000 teachers in Los Angeles as effective or ineffective, based on their students' test scores, and posted these ratings online. Testing experts warn that such ratings are likely to be both inaccurate and unstable, but the Times stood by its analysis.

Now conservative governors and mayors want to abolish teachers' right to due process, their seniority, and -- in some states -- their collective bargaining rights. Right-to-work states do not have higher scores than states with strong unions. Actually, the states with the highest performance on national tests are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire, where teachers belong to unions that bargain collectively for their members.

Unions actively lobby to increase education funding and reduce class size, so conservative governors who want to slash education spending feel the need to reduce their clout. This silences the best organized opposition to education cuts.

There has recently been a national furor about school reform. One must wonder how it is possible to talk of improving schools while cutting funding, demoralizing teachers, cutting scholarships to college, and increasing class sizes.

The real story in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members' hard-won rights. It is about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession. A large group of National Board Certified teachers -- teachers from many states who have passed rigorous examinations by an independent national board -- is organizing a march on Washington in July. The events in Madison are sure to multiply their numbers.

As the attacks on teachers increase and as layoffs grow, there are likely to be more protests like the one that has mobilized teachers and their allies and immobilized the Wisconsin Legislature.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Diane Ravitch Speaks in Colorado

This video posted on Sabrina's Failing Schools Blog is about 90 minutes long, but it's worth it. In it, Diane Ravitch outlines the corporate attack on public education and public school teachers. During this talk she covers, among other things...
  • Waiting for Superman -- She debunks it detail by detail, and gives herself credit for preventing it getting an Oscar nomination.
  • Poverty and how it affects education in America.
  • Charter schools and how they are not better than regular public schools. Charters have become a stand-in for vouchers.
  • The corporate reform movement demoralizes teachers and is doing "incalculable damage to public education."
  • The status quo. She reminds us that she is NOT defending the "status quo." But she says schools should not be "reformed" by non-educators. The status quo is defined by No Child Left Behind.
  • Schools for poor kids. What kind of school should we have for poor kids? We should have the "same kinds of school that's available for rich kids."
  • Race to the Top. Closing schools is not a school improvement strategy.
  • Voucher schools. She reports that "voucher schools" did not improve education in Milwaukee.
You're going to say, "This is too long...I don't have time to listen to it." But...you need to watch this. You need to pass this on to your friends, family, teachers, administrators, and political leaders. We need your voice. Watch 20 minutes each day for 5 days if you have to...

Click below to join others in helping to save public education in America. Tell corporate America, tell politicians: Enough is Enough!




Saturday, February 19, 2011

Business and Politics...as usual

The general public doesn't know this stuff. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (along with the Broad and Walton Foundations) donate billions to "help" schools in the US. Except they're not really helping. Their "good intentions" are destroying the public education system in the United States and President Obama along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (a former board member of the Broad Foundation) are letting it happen...going along with it...encouraging it.

In Race to the Bottom: Ravitch Says ‘School Reformers’ Scapecoat Teachers, Ignore Poverty, Diane Ravitch is quoted,
"[C]orporate reformers are pursuing a strategy based on ideology, not on evidence," she charged. "It is demoralizing teachers and setting up public schools to be de-legitimized, as they are called upon to meet impossible goals. This is not an improvement strategy, it is a privatization strategy."
And it's not just public schools -- it's the entire teaching profession. Blaming teachers for the failure of society is a convenient way to de-legitimize a profession, bust unions, and take the nation's education out of the hands of educators.

The Broad Academy takes business leaders, military leaders and politicians and with 6 weeks of training turns them into "Superintendents." Large urban school systems are run by politicians and business leaders…Chicago, New York, Washington DC. Even the nation's department of education is run by a non-educator.

Their business model is to take education out of the hands of educators, using the rationale that educators have failed, when in reality, it's society that has failed.

In Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools, Joanne Barkan writes
The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty.
Here in Indiana, the legislature made a sharp right turn in the last election, as did state legislatures throughout the country. These politicians are poised to "punish" the teachers (and teachers unions) in the state by moving money from regular public schools to charter schools, gut the collective bargaining law so teachers lose any leverage in contract negotiations*, introduce school vouchers to further drain money from public schools, and in a punitive and blatantly anti-teacher move, the House Labor Committee amended a bill to eliminate payroll deduction for teacher union dues**.

(* If negotiations do not result in a contract before the old contract expires, school boards can unilaterally impose a contract on teachers.)

(** Other payroll deductions are not being targeted. Donations to United Way, Insurance payments, Retirement plan payments, etc., would not be affected…ONLY union dues.)

A Clarion News Editorial, Conservatives' bull's-eye miss targets states,
Gov. Mitch Daniels talks a mean pro-education game, but we have seen how concerned he really is. Just down the road in Floyd County, we watched as four good elementary schools were closed last year. One of them, Galena Elementary, was considered one of the best in the region. And there have been other school closings across the state, as well. And Daniels' property tax initiatives and $300 million cut to schools have seriously crippled many school corporations and now even libraries are receiving less support and funding.

Daniels has been in office long enough to have really made some positive progress in the state's schools. But he hasn't shown even the slightest interest in doing so. Now, all of a sudden, he wants to rip the current system to shreds and make life miserable for every teacher in the state so he'll be able to brag about his fiscal policies during the next presidential election. And everything he does this year will be focused that way.
Here's one thing we can do...

Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action!
We, a collection of people from all walks of life and every corner of this nation, embody a mixture of ideas and opinions regarding how we can improve educational opportunities for all children. We stand united by one belief – it’s time for teachers and parents to organize and reclaim control of our schools.

As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Third Grade Reading Test for Indiana

How does retention affect children? The National Association of School Psychologists, in the paper, Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes, refers to a higher dropout rate among students who have been retained.
Analysis of multiple studies of retention indicate that retained students experience lower self esteem and lower rates of school attendance, relative to promoted peers (Jimerson, 2001). Both of these factors are further predictive of dropping out of school. Indirectly, low self-esteem and poor school attendance influence adult outcomes. Students who ultimately drop out of school without a diploma face considerable difficulty finding and maintaining employment for self-sufficiency and experience higher rates of mental health problems, chemical abuse and criminal activities than do high school graduates.
Retention leads to dropping out of school, which leads to adult problems.
...retained children are subsequently overage for grade, which is associated with deleterious outcomes, particularly as retained children approach middle school and puberty (stigmatization by peers and other negative experiences of grade retention may exacerbate behavioral and socio-emotional adjustment problems).
In a synthesis of Grade Retention Research, Shane Jimerson made the following conclusions:
  • Achievement for retained students is lower than if they had been "socially" promoted.
  • Emotionally, retained students have poorer social adjustment, attitudes toward school, attendance, and more problem behaviors in comparison to matched controls.
  • Retained students had lower levels of academic adjustment at the end of 11th grade, were more likely to drop out of high school by age 19, were less likely to receive a diploma by age 20, were less likely to be enrolled in a post- secondary education program, received lower education/employment status ratings, were paid less per hour, and received poorer employment competence ratings at age 20 in comparison to a group of low-achieving students.
A massive amount of research is consistent. Retention in Grade doesn't help and, in fact, hurts students (See the sidebar of this blog for RESEARCH ON RETENTION IN GRADE).

Last week the Indiana Board of Education proposed a plan in which third graders would have to pass a test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. Indystar.com reports:
All third-graders would be required to pass a new statewide reading test before advancing to the fourth grade under a proposal the Indiana State Board of Education approved Tuesday.

Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to approve the plan, which would take effect for students finishing third grade in the spring of 2013 -- curtailing the so-called "social promotion" of third-graders.
Why? Where's the research which shows this to be an effective practice? It didn't work in Chicago or New York City. Why should we expect it to work in Indiana?

A common response from proponents of retention is that social promotion doesn't work so retention is "the only thing left." I agree that social promotion isn't necessarily best for students (though the research in retention shows that it is better than holding students back), but it's wrong to assume that social promotion and retention are the only choices. The National Association of School Psychologists continues:
Early identification (through assessment) for prevention and intervention is essential, whenever a student is struggling. Several school-based supports have been found to be effective in assisting children with educational difficulties. These include various reading programs, summer school and more direct instruction (teacher to student). Tutoring, well-designed homework activities and after- school programs have also been demonstrated to be beneficial. Other helpful strategies include encouraging parents to communicate regularly with the school and to become involved through attending student study team (SST) meetings, participating in training programs and exploring behavior management strategies if appropriate. Most important is to advocate for implementation of educational interventions that are supported by research first, continue monitoring the child’s achievement trajectory, and then revisit the progress made. A coordinated system of comprehensive support services aimed at addressing the academic, socio-emotional, behavioral and psychological needs of the child will help promote healthy adjustment and achievement among children at risk for grade retention.
When weighing the pros and cons of a decision to retain or promote a student, it is critical to emphasize to educators and parents that a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention over promotion to the next grade for any group of students. Instead, we must focus on implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies to promote social and cognitive competence and facilitate the academic success of all students.
One sentence in the above paragraph bears repeating:
...a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention over promotion to the next grade for any group of students.
Interventions cost money and are difficult. America doesn't care enough about their children to invest in them. Instead, as is the trend in state and national departments of education, executive offices and legislatures, the choice is to punish not support. Punish students, schools and teachers for "failing."

...and I haven't even addressed the issue of basing retention on the outcome of one test!

What do schools do if they can't afford research-based intervention? In my opinion, and from the research, it's clear that retention is more harmful than social promotion.

The Indiana Department of Education, is proposing to do significant damage to children in Indiana. The Governor is going to go along with it. The truth based on research, it seems, doesn't matter.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Parents Across America: National Group Launches

Parents Across America: National group launches to give parents a voice in the education debate


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Parent advocates from across the country converged on New York City on Monday, February 7 for the first national forum of Parents Across America, a parent-led movement to make parent voices heard in the national debate over education reform – and to promote positive, common-sense solutions that will improve public schools nationwide.

A Gallup poll released this week showed that the majority of Americans want major revisions to No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law that imposes rigid testing and accountability mandates on schools.

“Parents are a sleeping giant,” nationally known education commentator Diane Ravitch said at the event. “If the sleeping giant awakens, we can take back education.”

“Parents Across America is an opportunity to use our collective voices on a national level,” said founding member Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent activist, “to inform the policies that drive the decision making in our each of our communities and nationwide. We will no longer allow our children to be subject to large-scale experimentation in the name of supposed ‘innovation,’ without our consent, when we know these policies have no backing in research or experience.”

At the forum, held at PS 89 in New York City’s Tribeca, Ravitch – author of the best-selling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” – warned in her keynote speech about the harm done by excessive reliance on standardized tests, privatization through charter school expansion, and the growing influence of wealthy private foundations on education policies. Those forces, Ravitch said, are undermining education and failing the children who are most in need.

“We need to do what works: early childhood education. Parenting workshops. Lower class size. For teachers, more professionalization, not less,” she told the 350 people who packed the school auditorium.

Founding members of Parents Across America (PAA) also spoke about the issues confronting their local schools, which reflect larger challenges nationwide.

Harper Royal, who works with New Orleans’ Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, described the turmoil created by charter schools, which will soon enroll nearly 85 percent of New Orleans students. “Children with disabilities and behavior issues are being pushed out of schools and are forced to attend the lowest performing schools in the city,” she said. “Under the guise of ‘choice,’ many children with disabilities have attended three or more schools in the five years since Katrina. This was not their parents’ ‘choice’.”

Seattle parent activist Sue Peters echoed Ravitch on the influence of private wealth and venture philanthropy on education policy. “As a parent, I am very disturbed to discover that private billionaires with foundations and agendas and zero expertise in education are largely determining national public education policy right now,” she said. “Why should Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more of a say in what goes on in my child’s classroom than I do?”

Chicago activist Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education spoke about the damaging impact of high-stakes testing on children. Haimson, founder of New York’s Class Size Matters, emphasized that corporate reformers are advocating for increases in class size, despite clear evidence from research and experience that smaller classes are key to improving opportunities for children.

“We should be looking at the model of Finland’s schools, a system based on cooperation rather than competition, trusting and respecting teachers rather than scapegoating them, de-emphasizing standardized testing and providing small classes,” Haimson said. “Which, sadly, is the opposite direction of the one in which our country is moving now.”

Other founding members of PAA at the event included parent activists Mark Mishler of Albany, N.Y.; Pamela Grundy of Charlotte, N.C.; Dora Taylor of Seattle; Sharon Higgins of Oakland, Calif; Caroline Grannan of San Francisco; Natalie Beyer of Durham, N.C.; and Andrea Mérida of Denver, who delivered the closing speech. Beyer and Mérida were elected to serve on their districts’ school boards.

The audience included Philadelphia parent activist Helen Gym and San Francisco PTA leader Shellie Wiener, as well as members of Rochester, N.Y.’s Community Education Task Force, and New Jersey’s Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools.

PAA founding member Rita Solnet of Boca Raton, Fla., later summed up the group’s commitment. “Parents will no longer sit on the sidelines and accept the dismantling of their children’s public schools. Enough is enough!” she said. “These are our schools, and our children, and our voices must be heard.”

“We will persist in our mission to provide every child with a high-quality education.”
Read about Parents Across America on their web site.
Join Parents Across America on Facebook.
Follow Parents Across America on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Teacher's Letter to the President

In this heartfelt letter, a teacher explains why one size doesn't fit all. Does President Obama get it? I think he does...I think he's ignoring it.

His plan, the corporate-political-Democratic-Republican plan is:

Punish teachers and students for the failings of society.

A Letter to My President—The One I Voted for...

Published in Education Week
Dear President Obama

I mean this with all respect. I'm on my knees here, and there's a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don't get it.

Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You're hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I'm teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They're 5th graders. That means they're 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word "parents" with my kids because so many of them don't have them. Amanda's mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their "Grams," six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So "parents" is out as a descriptor.

Here's the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member.

Do you and your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, understand the significance of that? I'm afraid not. It's not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It's pure, raw poverty. We don't teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities. It's called the ZIP Code Quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high scores; if they live in a ZIP code that's entombed with poverty, guess how they do?

We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven't had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don't meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That's like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.

It's not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It's pure, raw poverty.

You lived in Indonesia, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are akin to those in the third world. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. (We were supposed to say it was half full.) Too many of my kids don't even have the glass!

Next, gangs. Gangs eat my kids, their parents, and the neighborhood. One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead by the police. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He'll be 27 in November. I've been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in the maximum-security section of Salinas Valley State Prison. He's a major gangster.

Do you get that it's tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren't the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much. And you want to give us merit pay? Anyway, I think we really need to talk. Oh, and can you pull the knife out while you're standing behind me? It really hurts.

Sincerely yours,

— Paul Karrer
Paul Karrer is a 5th grade teacher at Castroville Elementary School in north Monterey County, Calif. He is a union negotiator and was the League of United Latin American Citizens' 2009 teacher of the year for north Monterey County.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Can't they hear?

Editorialists, politicians, and pundits...non-educators all...can't seem to hear or admit out loud that one of the biggest problems facing American schools in the 21st century is poverty. It's been said over and over and over again, yet it needs to be repeated again and again. Thank goodness that Stephen Krashen keeps saying it.
Not Just Cleveland

Poverty is the major factor everywhere, not just Cleveland.

Sent to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 5, 2010

When discussing the Cleveland schools, Brent Larkin understands that it is hard to improve school achievement in the presence of "abject poverty" ("Peter Raskind starts atop bottomed-out Cleveland public schools," Feb. 5). But when Larkin discusses American students' performance on international tests, he appears to be unaware that the same factor is at work.

On the recent PISA tests, American 15-year-olds attending schools with less than 10% of students living in poverty averaged 551 on the reading test, second in the world. Our overall scores are unspectacular (tied for 10th out of 60 countries on the reading test) because we have a high percentage of children living in poverty, over 20%. This is the highest among all industrialized countries. In contrast, child poverty in high-scoring Finland is less than 4%.

For Cleveland and for the US as a whole, the major problem is poverty. Before we worry about teacher quality, institute longer school days, and increase testing, we need to make sure that all children are protected from the effects of poverty: This means adequate health care and nutrition, and access to books. When we do this, American test scores will be at the top of the world.

Stephen Krashen

Original article at:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Company he Keeps

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, has been telling teachers what they're doing wrong since he was elected. He's knee deep in the "Schools are failing and it's because of bad teachers and their unions" reform movement and is pushing for charters, teacher pay based on test scores, union-busting, and experience doesn't matter pay schemes for Indiana public schools.

Now he has a "situation" on his hands which throws some light on what happens when the business community moves into public education. Profit and money become the bottom line...not students and learning.

Karen Francisco wrote in Fort Wayne's Journal Gazette on Sunday, February 6,
One year ago, the Indiana Department of Education hyped 2010 as the “Year for Science Education Reform” and kicked off with a science summit featuring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Eli Lilly officials and “national experts.”

Among those experts was Michael Klentschy, Ph.D., a researcher and retired superintendent of schools in California’s El Centro Elementary School District. Panelist information for the summit touted his research in the “longitudinal effects of inquiry-based science education on language minority populations and with the science-literacy connection in North Carolina, Idaho, New Mexico and California.”

It also noted that he served as principal or co-principal investigator on several National Science Foundation-funded elementary science initiatives.

Over the next few months, references to Klentschy appeared on numerous education department notices, including an October reminder in Bennett’s weekly mailing to school superintendents that Klentschy would speak at a $140 teacher workshop at the Wabash Valley Education Service Center. “This is a chance to hear and ask questions about notebooking, inquiry, and best practices utilizing science kits,” Bennett’s e-mail said.

Klentschy was named a budget partner in the $18.4 million proposal for the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition. Purdue University was lead partner in the request for an Indiana Science Initiative program to “validate a statewide K-8 science education reform based upon scaffolded guided inquiry.” Other partners included the Indiana DOE, Ball State University and several school districts.

A link to a video featuring Klentschy boasting of the results of his “inquiry-based science curriculum” work still can be found on the website for NISTEM, the Northeast Indiana Education Resource Center.

But Klentschy’s name appears on another interesting document: a federal indictment from a 2009 grand jury inquiry alleging that he and two colleagues stole $5.4 million in grant money from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. A separate indictment naming Klentschy alone alleges that he falsified standardized testing results supporting his own “special” kit based on “scaffold guided inquiry” in teaching elementary school science.
This reminds me of the Reading First scandal of a few years back where the Federal program was only accepting certain programs and assessments from states...which "just happened" to be in the economic interest of some of the Reading First developers.

Francisco went on...
Since he took office in 2009, the superintendent has made unrelenting demands on Indiana schools to adopt his approach or face consequences.

He fired most of the experienced educators in his department and assembled a young team of officials who spout the current buzzwords in school improvement. The “we’ll work with you” style of his predecessor has been replaced by “trust us – we know best.”
To me this looks like Tony Bennett is just another anti-public education politician who wants to convince the public that teachers don't know anything about education, that training doesn't matter, and that the business community knows best. It looks like he's in it for the money and we all know there's a bundle of money in school budgets. People like him -- the Duncans, Gates, Broads, Waltons, Obamas and other "reformers" -- want their cut of the education loot and they're willing to throw public education under the bus to get it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Retention, Promotion and the Testing Frenzy

I've discussed Grade Retention before (See HERE and HERE) and I have a section in the menu to the right devoted to it (which I updated today). It's time to look at it again and see what's changed...if anything.

The quick answer is...nothing's changed. No new research shows that grade retention helps students.

Recent reports tell the same story. Children who are retained don't achieve more than if they were promoted.

In a 2005 study on Kindergarten retention the authors concluded that,
According to our analytic results, the average effect of the kindergarten retention policy, as compared to a policy that banned retention, was null or very small. Nor did we find any evidence that the policy would benefit those children who would be promoted if the policy were adopted. These results cast doubt on the proposition that a policy of grade retention in kindergarten would improve instruction by creating classrooms that are more homogenous in academic ability.

We did find evidence, however, that children who were retained would have learned more had they been promoted. This was true in both reading and math.

Hong, G. & Raudenbush, St. (2005). Effects of Kindergarten Retention Policy on Children's Cognitive Growth in Reading and MathematicsEducational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Fall 2005, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 205-224
The result is the same...and the recommendations are the same. Don't retain students. Social promotion doesn't work either, so don't promote failing students. Once more the average classroom teacher is stuck -- retention hurts the student -- or at best does not help -- and promotion doesn't really help either.

The suggestions which are always made are to provide intense intervention for struggling students before they fail. With budget cuts, program and personnel reductions, finding ways to help struggling children is difficult. There's little if any funding for extra help for students.

The big push now is for more accurate referral of students for special education...tightening up the requirements and using a Response to Intervention (RtI) process which provides high quality general education instruction to children who are having trouble. The burden is more likely than not on the classroom teacher. In this time of budget cuts, class sizes are growing...in response to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, classroom documentation is also growing. Teachers have more to do than ever...with less support.

Intense intervention could be provided using a variety of programs. The US DOE web site, What Works Clearinghouse, has reviewed programs and graded them. Things like Reading Recovery can help, but they cost money.

Stephen Krashen, quoted in Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue blog has a way to come up with some of the money for these and other programs.
the exit exam costs the state [California] about $600 million per year. Studies of high school exit exams show that they are useless: They do not lead to higher employment, higher earnings, or improved academic achievement. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a high school exit exam.
$600 million a year can buy a lot of Reading Recovery teachers. At an average salary of about $50,000 a year California could afford about 12,000 Reading Recovery teachers. End the standardized testing frenzy and let's go back to teaching.