"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 12, 2012

Testing, Texts and Tenure

In this era of tweets, texts, emails and blogs it's easy to forget that there is another means of expression still available to us as citizens -- Letters to the Editor. Here are some letters to various newspapers around the country dealing with some current educational issues.

Stephen Krashen on Tests

Stephen Krashen is a prolific letter writer frequently sending his thoughts to various newspapers throughout the country. The federal and state departments of education insist that teachers and schools use research-based programs and interventions with students. Krashen cites real research, by real researchers to make his points. Unfortunately his work isn't always published (From SusanOhanion.org).
Submitted to Baltimore Sun but not published

To the editor

We should all worry about overwhelming students, schools with tests (2/7/12).

As the Sun points out, the new testing will be extremely time-consuming. There is no scientific evidence, however, that increasing the amount of testing done will increase student achievement.

As the Sun points out, the new tests need to be given online, and schools don't have the technology needed to administer the tests. Not to worry, the test publishers and computer companies will be happy to sell it to them, as well as sell them costly new equipment as the old equipment rapidly becomes obsolete.

As the Sun points out, the tests will be used to evaluate teachers. Study after study, however, has shown that this kind of evaluation does not produce reliable results. It also encourages pumping up test scores without real learning.

We all understand the need to assess students and evaluate teachers, but the brave new online tests are not the way to do it.

— Stephen Krashen
Books Before Bytes

Technology has always lured educators. Like the general public, administrators and teachers alike are enamored with the latest bells and whistles. Technology is also a way of acquiring grant money for schools. Tech companies, too, enjoy the tax write off that comes with "helping schools into the 21st century." So it's significant that a tech company entrepreneur is the one who suggests that new technology can wait. Libraries and student health come first (From SusanOhanion.org).
Submitted to Los Angeles Times but not published

To the editor

Kudos to Michael Hiltzik for his column (Hyping tech will not help students, February 5) criticizing federal officials for overselling the benefits of technology to K-12 schools. As co-producer of the most popular educational podcast in the world (ESLPod.com's English as a Second Language Podcast), I'm no enemy of new technology.

But our students need nutrition, health care, quality teachers and librarians, and (especially here in California) something to read in their near-empty school libraries, the worst in the nation. iPads, iPods, and Kindles are great, but first things first: books before bytes.

The writer is Co-producer of English as a Second Language Podcast, former Associate Professor of Education, California State University, Fullerton, and author of "The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions" (1998)

— Jeff McQuillan, Ph.D.
Poverty matters, and the United States, as Stephen Krashen has so often pointed out (HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example), has the highest poverty rate among industrialized nations. Filling a school with iPads and Kindles might work for some things. Students can read books on them (whether that's good or not is debatable and not the subject of this posting), but they can't replace years of neglect, avoidable illness, lack of resources and malnutrition brought on by the high rate of poverty in America.

Letters: Teacher tenure helps promote good education

USA Today published three letters having to do with teacher tenure. The first hints at the de-professionalizing of public school teachers. Taking away teachers' job protections is a major step in turning the profession into a job. Teachers didn't cause the economic meltdown. Teachers unions don't automatically mean lower test scores (Schools in states with union teachers, for example, out perform schools in non-union states), but the privatizers can't stand unions protecting the rights of their members. Corporations buy politicians who then can't wait to bust unions. Fewer college students are going into Education. Teachers are retiring in large numbers. Nearly half of all beginning teachers still leave the profession in less than 5 years. Who is going to staff our schools?
The security that tenure brings adds to the effectiveness of a teacher's practice. Always worrying about pleasing whoever is in charge at the moment and stressing over one's future would certainly detract from the attention that a teacher gives to her or his studies, teaching and students ("States weaken tenure rights for teachers").

Doing away with tenure for public school teachers, combined with low pay and increased surveillance of performance, would add to the exodus of the best teachers from the profession. And those teachers who persevere would need to stick to the status quo or risk being fired for political reasons. This likely is behind much of the call for scrapping tenure.
Political control is increasing all around us, and the schools are a primary and convenient site for this. Without tenure, harassment could turn to termination of employment, and consequently lead to the hiring of robotic yes-people. This would encourage an increase in the mindless reduced-to-the-test, so-called education that's being forced upon teachers already.

Paula Meyer; San Diego
In the next letter, Stephen Krashen once again cites research to back up his claims. Evaluation of teachers using student test scores is not valid.
Need for better evaluation system

The article "States weaken tenure rights for teachers" emphasizes the importance of evaluating teacher effectiveness. A major problem is that these evaluations are often based on students' gains on standardized tests, called "value-added" measures.

A number of studies have shown that value-added measures are very unstable: Teachers' ratings based on previous years are weak predictors of test scores at the end of a year with new students. A teacher who succeeds in boosting scores with one group will not necessarily succeed with others. Different tests can result in different scores for the same teacher.

Value-added evaluations also ignore the huge impact of factors beyond the teachers' control. Finally, there are ways of pumping up test scores without student learning, including teaching test-taking strategies and making sure weak students don't take the test.

Nobody objects to teachers being evaluated on their effectiveness. Using gains on standardized tests is a bad way to do it.

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus; University of Southern California; Los Angeles
In contrast, the third letter denounces tenure as an expensive luxury.
A factor in rising cost of education

A major factor in the rising cost of higher education is teacher tenure. Tenure basically means that after several years as a full professor, an individual who meets certain standards is guaranteed that job for life.

Those teachers are granted "academic freedom," so they can teach when and how they see fit. It's very difficult to fire them. A lot of them spend much of their time writing books or memoirs, not teaching our young students.

This is similar to the problem with teachers retiring at age 55 with generous pensions and health care benefits for life. It is unsustainable.

Dickie Benzie; Charlotte, N.C.

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