"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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obama Criticizes DOE Plan

On March 28, President Obama uttered the words we have been waiting for. Speaking at a Univision Town Hall, he said,
Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

....one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.
This is, finally, the same man who as a candidate said,
"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."
The irony of the President's newest statement, however, is that his own Department of Education is doing just what he said it shouldn't. Does he even talk to Secretary Arne Duncan? Anthony Cody asks:
Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.

As someone who campaigned and raised money for Obama, I find both of these alternatives unacceptable.

Is President Obama aware:
  • that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
  • that his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
  • that his administration's plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all -- where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the President rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
  • that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the "value" each teacher adds to their students?
If he really means what he says, then we'll see a change in the direction the Department of Education is going. We'll see real progress in finding ways to evaluate students and then use the information to drive instruction, not to rank schools, close schools, fire teachers or principals, or hold students back a grade. If President Obama is serious about other criteria being used then we'll see fewer tests, not more...we'll see more time dedicated to instruction and learning rather than test-prep and testing. We'll see teachers using professional judgment and developmentally sound activities. We'll see teacher evaluations based on teaching, learning, professional development and the ability to reach students...

...and it would be nice if we could see it soon.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Indiana Democrats Home - Walker Gets His Wrist Slapped

Indiana Democrats Come Home

On March 28, Indiana House Democrats came home from their political exile in Illinois. They're returning because of some concessions from the Republican majority.
Here are two big highlights from compromise, provided to TPM by a Democratic source:

• Labor: Republicans have agreed to scrap the controversial right-to-work law that led the Democrats to shut things down back on Feb. 22. Republicans have also pledged not to pass a law making the state's existing ban on collective bargaining for state workers, created by Daniels executive order, permanent.

Daniels had suggested the legislature not take up the bill in the first place, saying he supported it but that it could "wreck" his goals of making the session about education reform and other top priorities for his administration. So the deal to take labor off the table can be seen as a victory for both the Democrats and Daniels, who's eager to move on to other things, possibly in advance of a run for the White House.

• Education Daniels' signature policy agenda for this legislative session was a proposal to create a state-funded private school voucher system for low- and middle-income families. That plan will be curtailed considerably in the deal with House Republicans.

The compromise calls for strict caps on the number of vouchers the state can give out the program's first two years, denying, as a Democratic source put it, "the largest voucher program in the nation the Republicans originally wanted." Under the new plan, vouchers will be limited to 7,500 students in the first year and 15,000 in the second year.

Other concessions in the deal call for the abandonment of [a] plan to let private companies take over failing public schools.
Judge Warns Walker

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi warned the state against further implementation of the law restricting collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.
"Those who act in willful and open defiance of a court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions,” Sumi said. “They also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin."
Governor Walker had the law published on the internet despite the court's initial ruling, and then claimed it was published and therefore had the force of law. The rebuke from the court seems to deny that.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Test Teacher Sing Along

From Education Rumination...

“Test teacher, test teacher
Teaching to the test
Work on math and English
And forget about the rest”


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Newbery committee member Sam Bloom gets a write-up!

Last August I wrote about my son, Sam, who was on the 2010 Newbery Medal selection committee. (Unfortunately the article referenced in my blog post is no longer available)

When the award was announced in January I took the liberty as a parent to brag about him and posted this entry about the Newbery Award, reading aloud to children, and, of course, Sam.

Last week we got a link to blog entry on Cincinnati.com about Sam and his experience on the Newbery committee.
Groesbeck librarian helps select Newbery winner

Samuel Bloom spent last year in over his head … in books.

The books read by the children’s librarian of the Groesbeck branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, if stacked atop one another, would be as tall as a two-story house.

Generally an avid reader, Bloom kicked his reading into high gear in 2010 as a member of the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal selection committee.
Since internet publications are not always permanent I've made a copy of the entry this time. However, for as long as it's on the internet you can access it HERE.


Grade-In in New Jersey



Friday, March 25, 2011

The Roar of an Educator -- John Kuhn

The inspiring video below is of John Kuhn, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District speaking at the Save Texas Schools rally. He is speaking to teachers in Texas, but his message is appropriate for all of us who have chosen education as a career. It's only 8 and a half minutes long...you have time for that!

Be sure to read his Alamo Letter and the interview at Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue Blog.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Powerful Voices for Children

Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling-Hammond continue to fight for rationality in education policy. In two powerful, separately written pieces, they pull together to focus on the mistakes being made in the national quest to "reform" education.

In Darling-Hammond: U.S. vs highest-achieving nations in education Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, and director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, reports on
The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City...
She writes about how corporate "reformers" in the US like to refer to the success of other countries on international achievement tests and about how those same "reformers" seem to be doing whatever they can to learn nothing from the way the successful countries are making progress.
...it was, perhaps, the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world’s educational leaders...

...with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts. It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared...

...Meanwhile, some policymakers argue that we should eliminate requirements for teacher training, stop paying teachers for gaining more education, let anyone enter teaching, and fire those later who fail to raise student test scores. And efforts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining create the prospect that salaries and working conditions will sink even lower, making teaching an unattractive career for anyone with other professional options.

The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.
Meanwhile, at Education Week's Bridging Differences Blog, Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education who is now a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, writes about trying to decide if we're living in an age of national insanity, national stupidity or national meanness and hypocrisy.
...it seems insane to think that we can improve our nation's schools by attacking teachers and the education profession and by turning public funds over to the private sector. After I reflected a bit more, I began to wonder if we actually live in an age of national stupidity, because our policymakers are pursuing policies that have no evidence to support them; this is what they think of as "innovation." When a policy fails again and again (like merit pay) and you push it through anyway, that's not "innovation," it's willful ignorance and stupidity...

...I have concluded that we also live in an age of hypocrisy. We see governors and legislatures claiming the mantle of "reform" as they slash school funding, increase class size, attack teachers' benefits, and hack away at the programs and services available to children.
She goes on to talk about specific plans around the country. Plans which would
  • in Detroit: close half the public schools and increase class sizes to 60.
  • in Florida: eliminate teacher tenure and base 50 percent of teachers' evaluations on standardized test scores. The legislation also calls for merit pay for test-score gains and requires districts to develop tests in every subject that is taught, including art, band, choir, physical education, and on and on. Critics warned that the legislation was a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate, because the legislature is not providing funding for merit pay or for test development
  • in South Carolina: cut $12 million from funding for physical education and guidance counselors...yet manage to find $25 million to fund new charter schools
  • in Wisconsin: curtail collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions...permit the governor to sell public utilities without competitive bidding...lift the income cap on vouchers, so that everyone can attend non-public schools at public expense...increase the number of charter schools...and cut the budget for public education by $900 million.
She ends...
An age of insanity? No, these are rational people. An age of stupidity? No, these are people who could probably do quite well on an IQ test. An age of hypocrisy? Yes. An age of meanness? Yes.
Also See:

Diane Ravitch's address to the American Association of School Administrators. It's in three parts. All three links are below:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

5 myths about teachers that are distracting policymakers

“The courage of a common school teacher”: THIS is what a leader sounds like


Tuesday, March 22, 2011




On Praising and Bashing Teachers

Larry Cuban has a post about praising teachers while, at the same time, bashing them.
I know from teaching for nearly 15 years and research that there is much variety among teachers in effectiveness as there is among lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, and CEOs. I know that figuring out fair and equitable ways of determining success among these professionals goes far beyond looking at numbers. I also know that the anti-union hostility is anchored in error and ideology.

One only has to contrast right-to-work states with those allowing collective bargaining to determine whether the absence of contracts has improved schools and made them more solvent financially, or, better yet, raised teacher salaries and demonstrated more trust in teachers. They have not.

One only has to look at the dominant metrics that command attention from reform-minded policymakers and business-driven coalitions. Standardized test scores come into play constantly in plans to evaluate and pay teachers. No measures of the student-teacher relationship or what students learn exist beyond the narrow band of knowledge and skills captured by multiple-choice test items. Nothing else counts.

One only has to look at zero tolerance policies on discipline and drugs where automatic penalties strip away principal and teacher judgment when students break school rules.
People writing comments discussed the difficulty of evaluating teachers. It was a thoughtful exchange and I left a comment of my own...(edited a bit since I've had time to read it more carefully):

The evaluation of teachers is difficult. As we all seem to agree, numbers don't tell the whole story. Teachers have to be counselors, nurses, and parents during their work day. Reaching students takes more than just "telling students" what they need to learn. The process of evaluation is dependent on more than just what happens in the classroom. A competent evaluator is a necessity. Principals have to be trained to give helpful feedback. A poor teacher is often ignored by an equally poor administrator.

Teachers have an incredible work load. Most teachers don't have the luxury of telling their secretary, "Please hold all calls and don't let anyone bother me. I have to get this paperwork done." The paperwork is usually done during short "preparation periods" (guaranteed by union contracts) or at home. It's not just a question of looking at student work and grading it either...it has to be analyzed and the analysis needs to be incorporated into the next day's lesson plans.

Students and their parents also need to be accountable. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" is a truism when it comes to trying to educate our children. Sometimes the parents and students have no choice or options...children who come to school hungry or traumatized will not think about subject matter so much as survival.

One important aspect of teaching that I find missing in most discussions, however, is the human factor. Teachers are human...and have different styles of teaching and different ways of relating to students. A teacher who is a life-saver for one child, may not be able to reach another. My own children had good and bad teachers, too, but some of those teachers were the same person. Even a SUPER teacher might be mediocre for some students. To think otherwise is to deny the reality of the classroom. I have watched a lot of teachers teach...the last 15 years of my career was as a pull out teacher for students who were having difficulty in the classroom. I've seen excellent teachers, yet even the best teachers failed with some students. True, it's a teacher's responsibility to do everything she can to help a child succeed, but it's impossible to do that 100% of the time. The greatest teacher in the world may not be able to overcome the challenges of poverty, parental indifference or antagonism, ADHD, childhood depression and a host of other things which prevent a child from learning.

It's not possible everywhere, but to the extent it is, parents should have a hand in choosing their child's teacher. Current year's teachers should also have input into whose class a child will be in the following year.

Finally, over the course of my career I have worked in four schools with probably 150 different teachers. I would agree that about 10% are either bad or mediocre. I can count the bad ones (at least in my opinion) on one hand...and even the mediocre ones often had students who soared under their care. On the other hand, one thing I am unable to do is name a teacher or principal I worked with who didn't care about his or her students.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Krashen on Video

Here's an interview with Stephen Krashen (29 minutes)

  • America's international test scores are "mediocre" (not bad) because of the high number of students in poverty, not because our schools are "failing."
  • Research shows that education can be improved by counteracting the effects of poverty. He speaks specifically about access to books, reminding us that access to books increases the amount of reading (pleasure reading is the key)...the quantity of reading improves reading and a host of other benefits.
  • Poverty, the percentage of children who were allowed to do free reading (pleasure reading) in school, the presence of school libraries of more than 500 books, and access of books in the home are proven to improve reading scores.
  • Teacher evaluation of students (formative testing) is more accurate than standardized testing.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

National Insanity

I had my own little tantrum yesterday...last night, actually...and posted an emotional, whiny, "Won't someone please think of the children..." rant on these pages...

Luckily, there are cooler heads than mine in the national debate over education.

Valerie Strauss for example...

In her Answer Sheet blog entry of March 15, Obama and Boehner: Education nonsense, she discusses (quite calmly) the differences between the President's words and actions.
Speaking directly to teachers, for example, he said that while the country needs better assessments to figure out how students are progressing, “I’m not talking about more tests. I’m not talking about teaching to the test.”

Really? Then why have his policies pushed states and school districts to evaluate and pay teachers according to students’ standardized test scores, which is resulting in the development of new and more tests to assess kids in subjects not covered now by such exams? And when teachers’ livelihoods depend on test scores going up, does he really think teachers are not going to “teach to the test?” It has already become commonplace in public schools, one of the unfortunate consequences of No Child Left Behind.
Since President Obama doesn't have anyone with teaching experience advising him, he must not realize that his policies are having the opposite effect on public education that he verbalizes. Race to the Top has so many problems that I often don't know where to begin when talking about it -- the fact that it relies more than NCLB on testing, coerces states into grading teachers using student test scores, manipulates states to increase charter school funding even as they reduce money for public schools...

Ms. Strauss then takes on House Speaker Boehner...who hypocritically wants to cut funding "across the board" except for the areas of discretionary spending that he likes.
According to a story by my Post colleagues Ben Pershing and Paul Kane, Boehner credits Catholic schools with helping him become the most powerful member of Congress, and wants to give low-income D.C. kids a chance to escape what he calls “one of the worst school districts in the country.”

He has called the nation’s $14.1 trillion debt “a mortal threat to our country” and has said that all discretionary programs -- except for the few that he especially likes -- are at risk of being cut.
Like his colleagues in Governor's offices across the nation (Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Florida, Oklahoma...) Boehner is all for slashing school budgets...as well as for increasing funding for charters and vouchers.
Obama himself didn’t exactly address in his speech the slashing and burning going on in public school districts today -- not the plan just announced in Detroit to close half of all public schools and create high schools with classes of 60 kids, and not the stripping of most collective bargaining rights for teachers in Wisconsin and other states, and not a plan in Idaho to lay off hundreds of teachers and have students take a few courses on line...

Instead, he said, somewhat inexplicably, that while he is determined to cut the deficit, “I refuse to do it by telling students here who are so full of promise that we’re not willing to invest in your future.”
She ends by reminding us...and hopefully President Obama, that students are not as stupid as he apparently thinks.
Obama doesn’t have to tell kids that if he doesn’t want to; they can see what’s going on in their schools. They know when their teachers pay out of their own salaries for paper and pencils. They know when their class sizes soar. They know what’s going on, even if Obama doesn’t want to mention it.
Another voice has called the current public education crushing fad, "a moment of national insanity."

In one of her recent entries, Diane Ravitch referred to three events that took place during the last week of February:
  • In Detroit, the school system will reduce its deficit by closing half the city's public schools and creating classes of as many as 60 students. These are among the poorest and lowest-performing students in the nation. Parents and teachers should be rioting in the streets of Detroit, along with everyone who cares about these children and our future. This is an outrage.
  • The school board of Providence, R.I., voted to fire all of its teachers to address its deficit. Most will be rehired, but now the board has maximum flexibility to choose which ones. At the same time, Providence's leaders are humiliating every teacher, breaking the bonds of trust that are essential for the culture of a good school. Will anyone hold these reckless, heedless, unprofessional "leaders" in Rhode Island to account?
  • And, in Idaho, the state superintendent of education has proposed a plan that would lay off 770 teachers over five years, banking on students taking more online courses. Do they know there is no evidence for the efficacy of virtual learning? I don't think they care. For them, this is just a cost-cutting measure. And it's other people's children who will get this bargain-basement training, not their own.
She reminds us what's really going on...
What do we hear from the corporate reformers? Merit pay. Really? Bonuses for some, layoffs for others? Fire teachers with low value-added scores? Ah, more teaching to the test, more narrowing the curriculum.

Nothing to improve education. Just "innovation" (i.e., no evidence) and "disruption" (I.e., firing the whole staff, closing the school).

Our schools remain subject to a failed federal accountability system. We are packing children into crowded classrooms, ignoring the growing levels of child poverty (the U.S. now leads all advanced nations in infant mortality), and putting fear into the hearts of our nation's teachers. Who will want to teach? How does any of this improve schools or benefit children? Do you understand it? I don't.
It's the "Shock Doctrine" at work.



Friday, March 18, 2011

A National Tantrum

Matthew Rothschild, of the Progressive Magazine, wrote a story about an apparent suicide which he connected to Wisconsin Governor Walker's cuts to public education.
Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over Walker’s Cuts

Jeri-Lynn Betts, an early childhood teacher in the Watertown, Wisconsin, school district, died on March 8 of an apparent suicide.

A colleague says she was “very distraught” over Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector workers and public education.

Betts, 56, was a dedicated teacher who was admired in the Watertown community.
The article goes on to discuss the cuts...the teacher...the relationship between her suicide and the anti-public union sentiment coming from the governor's office and the Republican legislature.

What is most disturbing about this is not the relationship between the political situation and the suicide, though it's hardly fair to blame a suicide on one incident or situation. Usually someone who is at the point of suicide has had a history of depression. The catalyst that pushes them over the edge can hardly be labeled "the only cause."

It's not the tragedy of the suicide itself, though it is, indeed tragic when someone is so overwhelmed with hopelessness that they see no other solution besides taking their own life.

The most disturbing thing related to this story is the level of anger it has prompted. A look at the comments following the story will give you a taste of the pent up rage.

The author is denounced...the woman who committed suicide is berated...the anger against the teachers, the union, the workers, is toxic and vicious...

We've become a nation of cruel, angry, screamers. The national discussion has become nothing less than a national tantrum.

There's no room for compromise...no room for discussion. There's no time for sadness at the death of another human being. There's no place for cooperation...no desire to work towards a common goal, or define a common good.

Find someone to blame. Lash out blindly.

This country needs some serious therapy.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Horse Isn't Dead

[NOTE: Don't miss the video at the end of this post]

You'd think that after all this time someone would hear what's being said. Stephen Krashen has been hollering it for years...Gerald Bracey before him...and others.
It's the economy, stupid!
That famous statement from the Clinton Campaign is still true today...but not for the reason you might think.

The economy is bad...we all know that. Unemployment is high (but dropping) and the media/politicians/super-rich are doing a good job of pitting one segment of the middle class against another (public workers vs. private worker, for example). The current joke going around the internet is:
"A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, 'Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.'"
But the real tragedy in our economy is the approximately 20% (and growing) of our children who live in poverty.

Why are our international test scores so low? Why do we continue to have "failing" schools? It's the poverty, stupid! I'd say this was beating a dead horse, but since nothing has changed, the horse isn't dead yet.

Some recent posts by Stephen Krashen (and dozens of not so recent posts) tell the story.

The most recent, titled, Let's blame (1) teachers (2) schools of education (3) the decline of the US (4) lack of a national education program (5) parents, but not the real culprit: POVERTY, gives us some guidelines for how to address the problem.
...When students are hungry, have serious health problems, and have not read much because of the absence of books in their environment, all the determination, hard work and inspired teaching in the world will be of little use.

A modest proposal:
  • No child left unfed (Susan Ohanian): In addition to free/reduced price lunch, a good breakfast.
  • Better health care: More school nurses in high poverty schools.
  • Improve school and public libraries, especially in high poverty areas.
  • Pay for this by reducing testing (NUT = No unnecessary testing, posted at http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4)
In response to a teacher blaming parents for low school achievement Krashen wrote Don't blame parents, blame poverty. In it he said,
"...There is, however, no evidence showing that parents today are any less or more committed to their children than in previous decades...

...Instead of forcing often overworked and exhausted parents to do school duties, let's help them out...we must protect children against the effects of poverty by making sure all children have adequate diets, health care, and access to quality libraries.
In response to a Thomas Donlan's editorial in Barron's online, In Search of Excellence Krashen wrote One More Time: It's Poverty and said,
The difference in achievement among states is largely because of poverty. The correlation between the percentage of children in poverty and grade 4 2009 reading NAEP scores is high (r = .52). As Donlan notes, Massachusetts is a high-scoring state: Their NAEP reading score was the highest in the US. But Massachusetts also has one of the lowest rates of child poverty.

Poverty means hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, and little access to books, and studies have shown that all of these are related to school achievement. (Krashen, 1999, Martin, 2004, Berliner, 2009).

Research shows that middle-class American children in well-funded schools, who don't have these barriers, score at the top of the world (Payne and Biddle, 1999; Bracey, 2009; Berliner, in press).

...The solution making sure all children have adequate food...medical care, and access to good school and public libraries.
Finally, it's not just Krashen. An estimated 16 million children in the United States live in poverty -- the highest percentage of any industrialized nation. How can children learn when they're hungry? How can they concentrate on reading when they don't know where there next meal is coming from? How can they learn multiplication tables when they witness their parents fighting over money or lack of it? How can they focus on standardized tests when they have to live in their cars and vans? A recent edition of 60 Minutes aired a segment on homeless children in the United States. It's 13 minutes long. It's a MUST SEE!

Listening to the children in this episode of 60 minutes I'm reminded of Charlie Bucket...
And now, very calmly, with that curious wisdom that seems to come so often to small children in times of hardship, he began to make little changes here and there in some of the things he did, so as to save his strength. In the mornings, he left the house ten minutes earlier so that he could walk slowly to school, without ever having to run. He sat quietly in the classroom during recess, resting himself, while the others rushed outdoors and threw snowballs and wrestled in the snow. Everything he did now, he did slowly and carefully, to prevent exhaustion.
Charlie was lucky enough to find a Golden Ticket.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lily Advocates for the Students

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to talk about the effects of budgetary cutbacks on teachers and students.

This is a long program...listen to it!



Wisconsin and Idaho Fall...

Updates in the national war against public schools and public school teachers...


Wisconsin's Governor Walker claimed over and over that his fight with public unions was about money...but yesterday the Republicans in Wisconsin proved that was not the case.

The Senate in Wisconsin has been on hold since the Democrats escaped to Illinois. A quorum was needed to pass the current legislation and without the Democrats, the Governor's plan to gut public unions was put on hold.

But, Republicans found a way around it. It seems that a quorum is needed ONLY if the bill contains fiscal policy. Yesterday, the Republicans in the Senate removed all the fiscal aspects of the law and passed the bill taking collective bargaining rights away from Wisconsin's teachers and other public employees. You can read about it HERE and HERE.

Now the bill will go to the House where it will likely pass. The governor, of course, will have no trouble signing it into law.

The fight is not over, but this move by the Republican majority in Wisconsin makes one thing very clear. The fight has not been about money.

The purpose of this legislation is obvious now. The target is not the budget...it's the unions. Governor Walker and his supporters in the legislature have claimed that this was a budget issue for weeks...The truth is, they don't care about the budget. Early in the conflict the unions agreed to the fiscal aspects of the bill.

  • The unions agreed to the insurance, pay, and other fiscal sacrifices they were asked to make.
  • The Republicans, led by Governor Walker, have refused to negotiate any other parts of the bill.
  • The fiscal elements of the bill were removed and the anti-union remains were passed by the Senate.
Teachers and public employee unions are, and have been, the target.


The Idaho legislature passed a bill limiting collective bargaining for teachers to salaries and benefits. The bill also removed teachers' rights to tenure and limit teacher contracts to one year.

Tenure, which, in most places simply gives teachers the right to a hearing before they are dismissed for cause, is one of those issues that corporate education "reformers" have been harping on for years.


Is this the way to attract the "best and the brightest" to a teaching career?

With public opinion running 2-1 against legislation designed to destroy unions what's going to happen to these state legislatures in the next round of elections?

Is it paranoid to think that this is part of a larger plan to privatize education and government services in general?

Let's be honest here...will the governors who are still trying to destroy public unions and teachers' rights admit now that the purpose has never been the budget?

Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Florida...?


Monday, March 7, 2011

One thing I wish I had known...

What's one thing you wish you had known before you started teaching? The Whole Child Blog of the ASCD asked that question. Below are some answers...you can see them all HERE.

It's interesting when you look through the responses...not one person said anything about how to get all the students on the same page at the same time. No one said anything about standardized tests...
...taking the time to get to know the child and having a conversation with him/her is more important to the child’s growth than the guided reading lesson that is on the lesson plans.

[the] University taught me Thorndike and Piaget’s theories but didn’t tell me that I’d be the Mom….wiping noses, doing up snaps on clothes, putting on bandaids, tying boots/shoes, soothing hurt feelings...

I wish I would have understood that a great deal of learning happens well after the lesson has ended...

As hard as it is, you will not be able to “fix” everything for every child. Give it your best and ensure every child is happy, healthy, and well cared for while he/she is in your classroom.

I wish I would have known that I was going to care so much about other kids, other than my own, and that I would be taking each one of them home with me daily, on the weekends, during breaks and summer vacations.

I wish I had known just how much interpersonal communication and building relationships comes into play with day to day interactions with staff, students and members of the community.

...that tomorrow is another day, that I am allowed to be human, that a relationship goes a long way, and how much is misunderstood about what we do.

Teaching is 10% instruction and 90% “caregiver.” Students need to know you care about them all day, every day!
Support the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action! July 28-31, 2011
End 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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Sad Commentary on What We Value

A year ago this month I decided to retire. My school system offered an incentive for teachers who were at the top of the pay scale (old folks) and I took it. I wrote a post explaining why I had mixed feelings about retirement. Emotionally I was ready...professionally I wasn't.

Since then I taught one semester at a local community college and didn't like it. I worked in a department where students took courses to improve their academic skills. One of these days I will write about it...for now, it's enough to say, "I didn't like it."

After I ended my short, but unfulfilling stint as a community college instructor, I began volunteering in first grade classes at a couple of elementary schools. As I walked out of the school after my first day of volunteering I felt like I had "come home."

Yesterday, I came across a blog from a teacher who is in the same position that I was last year. As I read her post I could feel the pain she was expressing. I felt it last year. It's a beautiful expression of how much she loves her children...and her profession and a commentary on the damage being done to teachers and students all over the country in the name of "reform."

She isn't ready, though.
Never once in the past 34 years of teaching did I ever want to quit. I even told my husband that if we won the lottery, I’d keep teaching. My students would just have all their own computers, art supplies galore, and any book we wanted to read as a class.
But things have gotten too hard for her.
Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we aren’t allowed to call a basal reader. Maybe it’s the look in my student’s eyes when we’re reading the newly required dry textbook when I’m used to wild and crazy discussions about amazing novels.

Maybe it’s that for the first time, our school didn’t meet AYP because two few English Language Developing students in the entire school didn’t pass their reading benchmarks.

Maybe it was the e-mail I got saying that the department of education in Oregon has raised the cut scores again this year by six or seven points per grade level, even though they just raised them a couple of years ago.

Maybe it was one of the two parents who contacted me in the first few days of school to tell me that their child doesn’t particularly love my program this year. I’m so not used to that. I’ve always had kids achieving highly and loving my class. I’m just not sure how I can use the mandated materials in the required time periods, focusing on the required skills and still get kids to really love it.

Maybe it’s the fact that I lost a third of my retirement when they reformed our Public Employee Retirement System a few years back and now I keep reading about how they want to slash it even more because of the greedy teacher unions and how this is the main reason for the budget problems in our state.

Maybe it’s that I haven’t gotten a real raise in a really really long time, or that we had to cut eight days again this year to solve our state’s budget problems. So I’m taking a big hit again, and nobody seems to notice or care.
I know this story is being repeated all over the country. Good, dedicated teachers are calling it quits because the world is closing in on them, tying their hands and destroying their ability to teach. We need to be fighting back...but not everyone can. Sometimes it's too hard to do anything but quit.

Here are a couple of the comments in response...
What angers me is that this is happening to teachers while our politicians give lip service to wanting to create this amazing education system. How? Obama wants 100,000 of the top students in math, science and technology to become teachers? Not a snowball's chance in hell. Why? To be underpaid and disrespected and told you are to blame for intractable social problems and if you even mention it, you are attacked by people who don't know the difference between an "excuse" and a "reason"?

I just wish our politicians would admit this country has lost the will to provide a decent education and that every kid is on his own.
...and this one...
What a sad commentary on what we value in 21st century america.
No kidding...
Support the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action! July 28-31, 2011
End 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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Daily Show: Diane Ravitch - Teachers vs. Wall Street

Last night Diane Ravitch was a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Some of her points included:
  • Our schools as Test Prep Factories.
  • Finland's successful schools without standardized tests, and with fully unionized teachers.
  • Low poverty schools are succeeding...the high poverty and racially isolated schools are the ones with poor performance. If you're homeless and hungry learning is more difficult.
  • The whole public monologue has been blame the teachers for everything. The focus has been on how to find bad teachers. America is not overrun with bad teachers - it's overrun with children living in poverty.
  • We need to make sure that our children all have adequate health care, food, shelter and access to literacy.

Earlier in the show Stewart had a segment showing the hypocrisy in the media which claimed that teachers are overpaid, while Wall Street companies bailed out by the taxpayers still needed to give their CEOs and Execs bonuses. One of the contrasts was between the $50,000 (plus about $30,000 in benefits) salary of teachers in Wisconsin - which was presented as excessive, and the reasons why the "poor folks" making $250,000 a year should continue to reap the benefits of the Bush tax cuts.

According to what Stewart presented, Governor Walker (R-Wisconsin) is going to cut $800 million over the next two years...from the education budget in the state. Meanwhile he is pushing for more tax breaks for wealthy people.

I can see the result now...
  • Lower taxes have resulted in
  • Drastic cuts in education funding, which will result in
  • Lower test scores, especially from children in poverty, which will result in
  • More public school and teacher bashing which will result in
  • Less support, politically and economically, for public schools which will result in
  • The continued destruction of Public Education in Wisconsin, and by extension (since similar scenarios are being played out all over the country), America.
Here's a link to Ravitch's book...The Death and Life of the Great American School System


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Closing Schools

Making a decision to close schools is never easy. Schools are not just buildings, they're living, breathing entities with an atmosphere defined by the people, adults and children, who work within.

Last night, our local school board of education voted to close two elementary schools at the end of this year. The closings were prompted by economic troubles. Our school system, like most around the state and the nation, is facing serious economic shortfalls and the board decided that closing some schools would be the best option.

After a series of town meetings, the board agreed to a plan presented by the school board to close six of the eleven elementary schools and change one of the five high schools to a college-prep magnet school. The citizens of the district who attended the meetings were adamant that their local high schools be kept open. The debate, then, centered around which schools to close.

No one wanted the high school in their area of the district closed. No one was willing to sacrifice. The school board, feeling the pressure to solve the economic crisis, decided on closing six elementary schools over the next few years instead.

The administration believes it has a plan which will provide appropriate instruction and atmosphere for all the students. It involves, when it's finally finished, creating "K-12 Campuses" around the district and busing students to central locations. The first closings will occur at the end of this year...and the two schools slated to close will, in a few months, send students home for summer vacation for the last time.

I taught at both of the schools which will close this year...on opposite sides of the district. I started at Monroeville Elementary School in 1976, my first full year of teaching, and remained there for 11 years. A few years later I transferred to Harlan Elementary School and spent the last 19 years of my career there. Both schools were well respected within their own communities. Like the Gallop Poll on Public Education consistently reveals, most people are very pleased with their local schools and the communities these two schools were no exception.

It's unfortunate that these two schools, so important to their communities, have to close at the end of the year. The teachers will adapt. I know from experience that it's possible to change schools and continue one's career...it's hard...but it can be done. The children will adapt as well. I have some doubts about the K-12 Campus configuration that's planned for the future, however, I know the teachers in our school district. I know they will adjust over time and focus on the most important issue, the success of our students.

This solution to the economic crisis in our local district, however, is proof that the national and state legislatures and leaders are not strong enough...not honest enough...not ethical enough, to deal with the real problems facing the nation. The children of our district, just like children around the country are being forced to take the brunt of the damage caused by Wall Street. Legislators and political executives are frantically pointing fingers at everyone else, and schools, teachers, and teachers unions are at the center of the target. No one wants to blame the corporate culture which caused the crisis. Politicians get elected because they take money from those same corporate interests. Once in office, they are obliged to do the bidding of those who put them there.

The people who brought us our current "Great Recession" are still living in luxury while the number of children living in poverty in the US climbs. They still get their millions of dollars in bonuses and tax breaks, while funding for programs for children and schools are cut. The attack on the public schools of America continues because of the greed and selfishness of the super-wealthy.

The closing of our two schools is a local tragedy, and pulls apart the heart of the community, but it is just a logical consequence of the nation-wide attacks against American public schools and the children we serve.

UPDATE: The school board has decided to close 6 elementary schools in total. Four after the 2010-2011 school year and two the following year.


Jon Stewart Takes on the Teacher-Bashers.

Jon Stewart on Monday's (February 28) Daily Show took on the teacher-bashers.

In an earlier portion of the show, he admitted that his mother was a teacher. Maybe he could be the next US Secretary of Education. Arne Duncan's mother was a teacher, too...apparently that's a sufficient background to lead the nation's public schools.

You can see the whole episode (contains language some might find offensive) at:


Be sure to watch Thursday night when his guest is Diane Ravitch.