"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, August 30, 2012

Checking the Fact Checkers

FactCheck.org was at the Republican Convention when Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, gave his keynote address. They wrote,
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie largely avoided factual claims in a Republican convention keynote address that was heavy on generalities, opinion and platitudes.
That's true...but one of the purposes of political conventions is to fire up the troops, not to drone on about issues. The convention is an important part of the campaign...and part of its task is to get everyone excited about the candidates.

But I think FactCheck.org got it wrong,
Regarding teachers, Christie said he ended “the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance.” That’s correct. Christie worked with a Democratic Legislature to make significant changes to the tenure system — even providing a path to fire tenured teachers with negative evaluations.
The implications of the above sentences are two sides of the same coin. 1) Tenure guarantees teachers a job for life regardless of performance, and 2) once a teacher is tenured they can't be fired even with negative evaluations.

Those statements are false. I understand that part of the situation in New Jersey was that the dismissal process was long and cumbersome and that was corrected by the new legislation. However, streamlining a process is not the same as ending "job for life tenure" and "providing a path to fire tenured teachers." There is no such thing as a "job for life" for public school teachers. There already was a path to fire tenured teachers. There is generally no such thing as tenure for public educators.

Let me explain it one more time.

The statements made by FactCheck.org perpetuate misconceptions about teacher "tenure". Most public school teachers do not have anything like "tenure." What they have is "due process." Once a teacher reaches permanent status (which is defined differently in different states) they must be provided with due process before they can be fired. Tenure is not a guarantee of a job for life. Due process guarantees teachers a fair hearing before they are fired. As far as I know all due process laws provide that teachers can be let go if they get negative evaluations and do not improve.

There are no jobs for life. Teachers can be fired. Administrators need to do their jobs, evaluate teachers and document problems...just like teachers do with students.

Diane Ravitch had a guest blogger, Kenneth Bernstein who wrote an article, Why is there a movement to end tenure on her blog. In the article he wrote,
Tenure is nothing more than a guarantee of due process in disciplinary matters...“Tenure” for public school teachers does not prevent teachers from being dismissed for good cause, provided that administrators do their jobs properly. That would start with properly screening those who are hired, properly supervising them before they earn tenure, and documenting any incidents that might warrant disciplinary action after tenure is earned.
FactCheck.org, your implication that teachers had a "job guaranteed for life" is incorrect. Your implication that teachers were not able to be fired for poor evaluations is incorrect.

Please fact check this and see if I am correct.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Things teachers do...

I have posted this before...but since it's the beginning of the school year I thought it would be nice to put it up again. There's more to educating a child than getting them to pass the test.

Things Teachers Do...
  • Listen.
  • Give a hug to a five-year-old who scraped her knee.
  • Give notes to a 17-year-old who slept through the last lecture class because he was up all night working to support his family.
  • Care.
  • Coach the JV girls basketball team to a 3-14 season, but make the #12 girl on the squad feel like she was the deciding factor in those three wins.
  • Direct the seventh grade talent show, and watch as the other kids' jaws drop when that shy girl who always wears her hair in her face belts out a show-stopper.
  • Take the high road when, during a call about a seven-year-old's behavior problems, a parent breaks into an obscenity-filled tirade that ends in tears.
  • Teach a third grade class that putting away materials properly is the most important job an artist has.
  • Find a way for a kid with cerebral palsy to play kickball.
  • Command respect.
  • Counsel and console a first-year colleague who swore she'd never raise her voice in her classroom, but just did.
  • Volunteer to lead yet another committee on yet another state-wide initiative with yet another professional-development goal.
  • Bag everybody's jacket, hat, backpack, and mittens separately to prevent another outbreak of head lice.
  • Break up a fight before it starts between two two-hundred-and-twenty-pound football players over something so stupid that neither can remember exactly what it was.
  • Stand on conviction.
  • Share in the pride an eighth-grader feels when she finally figures out what "x" is.
  • Make pain au chocolat sound so good that it's worth learning French just to order it.
  • Help a 15-year-old see that he has something in common with Hamlet.
  • Move a class of six-year-olds around a mound of puke and out the door.
  • Listen.
Feel free to add your own...


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Ravitch, Rhee and Rankings

Recently, Diane Ravitch was interviewed by Randi Kaye on CNN's Newsroom. The interview took the form of Ms. Kaye making a negative statement about education and then asking Dr. Ravitch a question like, "How do you explain that?" or "How do you respond to that?" It was more a "third degree" than an interview. Fortunately, Dr. Ravitch responded well to the grilling.

One of the aspects of public education which Ms. Kaye focused on was low test scores. While America's performance on international tests wasn't specifically mentioned (or if it was, it was edited out), it's common among the PPPs (politicians, pundits and policy makers) to decry the low ranking of our students when compared to other nations. In another interview, this one with Michelle Rhee, Ms. Kaye asked,
...you point to a new Harvard study that ranks the US 25th internationally in education. What do you think it is that we need to improve?
Ms. Rhee's response...
People don't understand where we stand right now on international rankings on academics. We are behind countries like Hungary and Luxumbourg.
Rhee went on to claim that true school reform means getting rid of bad teachers and offering more choice to families. There was no mention at all of the effects of poverty on American students, no suggestion that students in poverty need more support, and no suggestion that we attempt to improve low performing schools instead of just giving them away to profit seeking corporate interests closing them.

The Harvard study which Rhee referred to doesn't even speak to academic achievement levels. Instead it focuses on the rate of academic growth for states and countries. Some lower performing states, for example, increased their achievement at a greater rate than higher performing states. Part of this may be due to the "catch up" factor. States which made large gains, such as Louisiana, Arkansas, and South Carolina, are still among the lowest performing states in the nation. In contrast, some of the states with the lowest improvement gains, Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota, for example, are among the highest performing states in the nation (see America's Smartest Kids). Furthermore, it's still true that students who perform better on NAEP tests tend to come from states with lower levels of student poverty.

Rankings, whether domestic or international, are good for identifying trends. However, there are many factors which go into the achievement levels of students in various geographic areas. Factors such as poverty, health care, economic and academic investment in schools and teacher training, and societal attitudes towards education and educators all make an impact on the nation's or state's test results. Using low rankings as a bludgeon to destroy public education is a misuse of test scores and a disservice to students.

The American obsession with rankings and "being number one" has damaged public education. We have never been number one in academic tests yet we've managed to lead the world economically and scientifically (among other things) over the last half century. How is that possible?

Do we blame doctors and hospitals because the United States ranks 37th internationally in health care (behind such places as Luxembourg, Columbia, and Singapore) or 34th in infant mortality rates (which puts us behind Iceland, Slovenia and Cuba)?

Do we blame psychologists and psychiatrists because the US ranks 11th in "happiness" (behind places like Israel, Austria and Canada)?

We don't have a nation-wide problem with failing schools. What we have is a problem with the failure of our leaders to address the issues facing schools with high levels of poverty. It's time to end the privatization of public education and focus on supporting public schools.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, August 24, 2012

Where are all the Bad Teachers?

Unlike politicians, pundits and policy makers (the PPPs), the American people trust their public school teachers. The PPPs give lip service to trusting, appreciating and even loving public school teachers, but their behavior speaks otherwise.

There are two things which the PPPs frequently claim...

1. Teachers are wonderful, but their unions are standing in the way of progress. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey even went so far as to call leaders of teachers unions "political thugs."

2. The biggest problem with American public schools is bad teachers.

I've written about unions before. The idea that teachers unions are the cause of school failure is simply false. As proof I offer the fact that there are states in which nearly all teachers are union members which have very high performing schools and states in which nearly all teachers are NOT union members which have very low performing schools. If teachers unions were to blame for failing schools then we would see a correlation between high teachers union membership and low performance. In fact, the exact opposite is the case.

In addition, teachers unions do not have as much power as the PPPs give them credit for. If they did then states would not have weakened or done away with collective bargaining laws and due process laws (mistakenly called "tenure"). Teachers unions, given the power, would not have let that happen.

What about bad teachers? I've often wondered, just how many bad teachers there are...and if there are so many why are there so many successful schools? Let's take a look at some facts.
It seems clear, then, that other factors are involved in low achievement...poverty, inexperienced teachers (not necessarily bad ones), and lack of resources. There undoubtedly are incompetent teachers, and no one wants to keep bad teachers in the classroom, not even "union thugs"...but "how many bad teachers are there" is a question that isn't really being addressed. The assumption is that student test scores reflect whether a teacher is bad or good. Research into Value Added Methods, however, has shown that test scores are not an accurate indication of a teacher's ability to teach.

I started this post claiming that the American people trusted American public school teachers. According to the latest PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools nearly 3/4 of Americans (71%) "have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools." It would also be interesting to ask what parents of school age children think about the teachers in their children's schools. We already know that 77% believe that the schools are doing a good job...it would be nice to know how the teachers fared among the people who knew them best.

I was also pleased to read in the poll that more than twice as many people (40%)
described the teacher who had the most positive influence in their lives with words such as caring, compassionate, motivating, and inspiring; while just 17% of Americans thought intelligent, knowledgeable, persistent, hard-working, and demanding were words that describe the teacher who had the strongest influence on them.
Of course it's important for teachers to be intelligent, knowledgable, persistent, hardworking and demanding (within reason), but if students are to grow up as life-long learners, and I believe that is what the goal of education should be, teachers who have the ability to motivate and inspire are an absolute necessity.

[During my years as a teacher I worked hard to motivate and inspire my students...to show them that I cared about them. The story of Ryan, one of my former third graders, comes to mind. I got a letter from him 20 years after he left my class. He wrote to thank me for something I had done for him...not for giving him an achievement test, or teaching him how to read or cypher, but something I had done which helped him make contact with his father. Despite his current situation, I was glad that he remembered me for that instead of something more academic.]

So, if teachers unions aren't the cause of low achievement and there aren't too many "bad teachers" teaching in the public schools, then perhaps our focus should be on...
  • poverty -- the disparity in our schools and our nation between those who "have" and those who "have not."
  • the overuse and misuse of standardized tests (see the link to the petition, below).
  • the lack of funding for public education.
  • the privatization of public schools and the focus on corporate profit instead of student well being.
If you're interested, here are some articles on the number of bad teachers in the public schools.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where are all the "bad" schools?

The PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools for 2012 are out. You can even get an app for your iPad/iPhone so you can look at the data on the run.

When I downloaded the files I looked where I always look first...how do parents feel about the schools their children attend. Like previous years, when asked, "Using the A, B, C, D, and Fail scale again, what grade would you give the school your oldest child attends?" parents overwhelmingly gave their children's schools a grade of A or B. 77% of parents (up 10% from last year) gave their children's home schools an A or a B. Read that again.

77% of parents with school aged children in America's public schools -- the people who are closest to the schools and know the most about what goes on within them -- assert that the public schools are doing an excellent (graded A and B) job of educating their children.

So why do only 19% of people give the nation's schools an A or a B? What happened to all those great schools...which 77% of parents scored so high?

Ask the politicians, the pundits and policy makers, and the news media. There is so much bad publicity, misrepresentation of facts, and outright lying about public schools that nationally people still believe that America's schools are failing.

They're not. America's public schools, as a whole, are NOT failing!

American students in schools with low poverty are among the highest achievers in the world. Are there schools which are failing or which need improvement? Of course. The schools most in need are in the same locations where government is failing...where politicians are failing...where our society is failing...in neighborhoods with high numbers of poor children and families.

Do you hear that Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Tony Bennett, Michael Bloomburg, Rahm Emanuel, the Gates, Walton and Broad Foundations, NBC, CNN, Fox News...and everyone else who blames teachers and their unions for the non-existent problem of the failure of America's schools!? The problem is poverty.

Can public schools be improved? Absolutely...by supporting them...by collaboration among teachers, parents and community leaders...not by closing them. You don't fix something by throwing it away.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Random Quotes

The Big Evil in U. S. Education: Teachers' Unions?
...If unions are the problem, how come unions in some places are so much more of a problem than in others...How did Vermont graduate 83% of its students in four years, and Wisconsin 81%, and North Dakota 80%, and why did Mississippi come in at 61% in 2008? If Louisiana was at 60% and South Carolina and Georgia were at 59%, maybe it wasn't unions. Maybe it was some strange phenomenon, related to flying the Confederate flag.

Most Charters Avoid Students with Special Needs*
We have seen this story again and again. A lawsuit against the charters in New Orleans and the District of Columbia filed on behalf of children with disabilities. A charter school in Minneapolis that literally pushed out 40 children with special needs, part of a pattern in which the nation’s largest charter chain–the Gulen-affiliated schools–keep their test scores high by excluding students with disabilities. Study after study showing that charters take fewer children with disabilities. Even a federal study by the GAO documenting that charter schools have a smaller proportion of children with special needs, to which the relevant federal official responded with a yawn and a promise to look into it someday.

Won’t Back Down’: Realities the movie ignores
...before our nation agrees that it is a neat idea for parents to demand takeovers, everybody has to know the real issues that caused the problems. People can choose to blame teachers unions, but they should remember that the problems people are trying to fix in public education are the same in states with unions and without unions.

“A Daily Act of Love”
It has always seemed to me that the things we care the most about, that are most important to us, are the most resistant to this sort of simplistic measurement. do we measure our marriages with a 4 point scale? do we “grade” the love we have for our children on a rubric? teaching is a daily act of love; love for our students, for their learning, for our colleagues, and for our communities. to think that we can measure our effectiveness as teachers with a 4 point scale is not only absurd, its insulting.

Truth about Policymakers?
Teachers focus on what is particular within their own classrooms; reformers focus on what is universal across many classrooms. Teachers operate in a setting dominated by personal relations; reformers operate in a setting dominated by abstract political and social aims. Teachers draw on clinical experience; reformers draw on social scientific theory. Teachers embrace the ambiguity of classroom process and practice; reformers pursue the clarity of tables and graphs. Teachers put a premium on professional adaptability; reformers put a premium on uniformity of practices and outcomes.

Imagine Schools and Romney's Bain Capital
Public money going directly to private business. No wonder the local Imagine Schools don't have the necessary educational resources that students need and probably never will...Imagine Schools is not entirely about education. It is about business.

Why Teachers Unions Are Losing Support
The leadership of teachers unions across the country needs to realize that public schools are at an historic crossroads. Whether they will even exist decades from now is uncertain. If they somehow manage to survive, however, I don't think they'll be recognizable. That's why teachers unions need all the support they can muster. They're certainly not going to get it by repeating what is taking place in California. It's no way to win friends and influence people.

The Paradoxical Logic of School Turnarounds: A Catch-22 (Tina Trujillo)
...the assumption behind school turnarounds—that rapid, dramatic changes in staffing and management can fundamentally improve persistently low-performing schools—is inherently paradoxical because the turnaround option rests on faulty, unwarranted claims. In fact, the policy exists despite evidence to the contrary. Such reforms engender the exact conditions that long lines of research have linked with persistent low performance—high turnover, instability, poor climate, inexperienced teachers, and racial and socioeconomic segregation.
*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It's Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Medley #16

Michelle Rhee, Testing, Vouchers, Corporate Reform,
A Teaching Career.


Michelle Rhee is Shameless

Michelle Rhee taught for two years...and joined the nearly 50% of all educators who get out of the classroom within the first 5 years. She moved from there to administration. She left teaching before she could experience it. She doesn't know enough about being a classroom teacher...

This ad begins with two false premises. First, that American schools were once "the best in the world." Second, that our schools are now failing.
It is disgusting.

It is a lie.

It smears America.

It smears our teachers and our students.

It makes fun of obesity.

Michelle Rhee's Shameless Ad, Again
...This is an insulting stereotype of a gay man.

If StudentsFirst has any wisdom, it would withdraw this ad.

First ever StudentsFirst video that I did not laugh at
It is also unfair to compare our scores to the scores of the other countries since we have 22% of our students in poverty compared to single digits in most of the top countries. In an interesting analysis here we see that if we compare our schools with countries that have similar poverty levels, we would be at the top of the world in every category.


PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid

The link in the article above deserves another mention...American schools with low poverty levels achieve at the highest levels in the world. When are the policy makers going to accept responsibility for the levels of poverty in the United States?
Truthfully, you and I know all too well that Secretary Duncan, who led schools in Chicago, is aware of the relationship between poverty and student achievement, but he doesn't trust us enough to tell us the truth. He is afraid that we will use poverty as an excuse and that we will forget about our disadvantaged students. Ironically, by not acknowledging poverty as a challenge to be overcome, Duncan is forgetting about our disadvantaged students. Duncan needs to deliver the message that all our students deserve not only access to an education, but access to an excellent education. He needs to repeatedly remind us that, when it comes to school improvement, it's poverty not stupid.

A Serious Design Flaw Is Suspected in State Tests

High stakes tests are not designed to evaluate teachers. They are designed to test students' learning. Using tests for other reasons than that for which they were intended is educational malpractice, yet the US Department of Education, in Race to the Top requires that teachers be evaluated on "student progress" -- interpreted by most states as using student test scores to evaluate teachers.
Now, in studies that threaten to shake the foundation of high-stakes test-based accountability, Mr. Stroup and two other researchers said they believe they have found the reason: a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction.

Texas Orders Up a New Test to Solve Problems Created by 32 Years of Testing

What better way to repair the damage done by decades of high stakes tests than to use another test.
Texas has been been doing more of the same standardized testing and expecting different results (see Einstein's definition of insanity) for 32 years now, and the children of the Lone Star state are as poor, malnourished, and miseducated as ever. One in four lives in poverty, just as one in four Texans has no health insurance. Poverty rates jumped by 9 percent in the last U. S. Census, while the national average was a 6 percent rise.


Louisiana Voucher Program Includes Schools That Teach Creationism, Reject Evolution

The truth behind the Louisiana voucher plan.
The program is the cornerstone of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's bold effort to reform public education in the state. Critics are concerned about funding and fairness -- vouchers would cover the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools, including small, Bible-based church schools. Jindal says the program will spur school competition and expand parental choice.

Several of those religious schools that will be receiving public funds to take in new students from public schools also teach curricula that question the age of the universe, defying scientific evidence and theory and promote religious doctrine that "challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms," according to the AP.

"What they're going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They're going to be getting religion instead of science," Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, told AP.


Med Reform

Are doctors blamed for their patient's medical conditions? If doctors were treated like teachers...
When professional doctors complain that they are not miracle workers and are unable to overcome all the out of hospital experiences that can shorten someone’s life, the med reformers tell them to stop making excuses. The med reformers are convinced that doctors can overcome every out of hospital experience because they have seen the miraculous results of charter hospitals and their young doctors who trained for just five weeks, but have managed to accomplish an amazing amount of years-added.

Rahm and Other People’s Children

When are the "reformers" going to acknowledge that they would never send their children to the schools they demand for everyone else?
One of the themes of the corporate reform movement is this:

“We know what’s best for other people’s children but it is not what’s best for mine.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children to [the University of Chicago Lab School]. Arne Duncan is a graduate of it.


On Obama’s call to states to save teachers’ jobs
By Valerie Strauss
In any case, the irony here can’t be overlooked: While Obama is, once again, calling for efforts to save teachers’ jobs (and that’s a good thing), his Education Department has over the past three years put forth policies that have been viewed by many teachers as nothing but an attack on them, including a misguided push to get districts to evaluate teachers by the standardized test scores of their students.

Public Education Being Set on Fire

Why are teachers leaving teaching? Where will teachers for the next generation come from? Why would someone want to become a teacher in this insane educational environment?
Of course I am going to keep battling on to work towards a better world, a place for educational equity…but I have to be honest, I am heavily discouraged right now. When people\current teachers would tell me, “I can’t believe you’re still going to be a teacher,” or when I’d receive e-mails and messages saying, “Do not go into the teaching field,” I never understood. Now I’m seeing why.

For the first time, I am struggling to get out of this idea that I have no chance against these big organizations that are able to keep flourishing and damaging our education system. Public education is being set on fire, and it is so sad how many people are just watching it burn and are absolutely ok with it. This just isn’t fair, it isn’t moral, and it makes me sick. It is not fair how many students of not only today but of our future are going to receive the impact from these constant attacks.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to School

Walk through any discount department store today and it's clear that it's "that time of year" again...time to buy school supplies.

I remember as a kid being excited each year when it was time to get new school supplies. I wasn't a great student, but each year was an opportunity to start over...a chance to do better. For me it was like baseball...no matter how much trouble a team had one year, the next year, when the season starts, everyone has an equal chance to become the champion. Every year is a fresh start.

There are some things I miss about teaching...

I miss the beginning of the school year.

What? It's monumentally stressful -- getting the room set up, counting out books, sorting out name tags/desk charts, making a schedule, going to meetings, talking to last year's teachers, the late nights/early mornings of seemingly endless preparation and paperwork -- the 12-14 hour days.

True...I don't miss all that, but I do miss the excitement of meeting new children. I miss the delightful experience of learning about young humans and their fresh minds, sharing new ideas and getting to know new senses of humor and interests. I miss watching them come into the building for the first time in the new year...the confused, and excited grins on their faces as they search for their classroom and their new teacher. I even miss the ones who come in terrified and lost...I miss how that fear changes to pleasure as they see the familiar face of a friend from the previous year, or to relief as they finally find their classroom and seat...their own personal space, safe and clean.

The newness of each school year is one of those thousands of little things which makes teaching so much fun and such a great adventure. Every year is a new beginning...a chance to start over...a chance to do better. Every year is a fresh start...for teachers as well as students.

In 1951 Isaac Asimov wrote a short story titled The Fun They Had*. It's the story of a young boy who finds a book...
The Fun They Had

The story takes place in the year 2157, where teaching is performed by computer-like robots with vast information stores. The protagonists of this story are two children, Tommy and Margie. Tom, the older child, finds a real book in his attic. He is very surprised by the object because the words on the page do not move like the words on the screen of their mechanical teacher.

The book describes the school from centuries earlier, where there was a real man as teacher that gave homework and asked questions to his students, and all the boys and girls went into a special building. Margie is very curious but her mother calls her because it is time for school. School for Tom and Margie takes place at home in a room where they do homework and hand it in via a proper slot in a mechanical teacher.
The teacher in Asimov's story was mechanical -- a precursor of today's online schools. Margie thought that it would be so much more fun to attend a school like in the old days...with real people, a human teacher and other children.

Walt Gardner, while scolding teachers unions for alienating their most logical supporters, wrote,
...public schools are at an historic crossroads. Whether they will even exist decades from now is uncertain. If they somehow manage to survive, however, I don't think they'll be recognizable.
Perhaps not...it's obvious that the public school system of the US is in flux...charters, vouchers, online schools...who knows what things will look like when Margie and Tommy find a real book about todays schools 145 years in the future.

But if they are so different that there's no interaction among children, if real live human teachers are distant or non-existent, then something more than simple buildings will have been lost. A school is more than just the building, the books, the pencils, and the iPads.

A school is a place where children and adults begin fresh each year to explore the world together. It's a place where one generation literally sits at the feet of their elders to be introduced to our cultures, our knowledge and our shared experiences. It's a place where wonder grows in a community of learners.

One cannot get that experience sitting in front of a computer at a virtual school.

Today I miss the beginning of the school year because I'm not there to enjoy it. I dread the possibility of a time when I might miss it because it no longer exists.

* According to Wikipedia, The Fun They Had was written as a personal favor for a friend, and became more popular than Asimov ever expected. It is the most anthologized of all his stories and has appeared in many publications outside of the science fiction genre. I first read it when I found it included in a basal reader from which I taught during my first full year as an elementary teacher.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Opposition to WBD and the Parent Trigger

Opposition to the movie Won't Back Down and it's falsified view of the Parent Trigger continues. Here are some of the latest references to the concert and movie...many have links with background information. Teachers and parents need to be prepared for this movie to elicit a lot of public attention directed towards public schools, teachers, and teachers unions...none of it positive.

Contact the people involved...Contact information HERE, and HERE.

Parent Trigger And Why We Need To Talk [Let's Be A Solution]
The crux of my argument against Won’t Back Down specifically is this: we should recognize that this movie will have a similar effect to what Waiting for Superman had on the general zeitgeist. While not very popular, WfSset a precedent for how many times a non-educator could ask a teacher (namely me) about what really happens under the presumption that the movie has more than an ounce of truth to it.

It had very little, but people bought it anyways, because the movie told them so.

I do get it, though. Parents across the country are in fact frustrated. So are many others. Many public schools aren’t working for kids, and the bureaucracy can frustrate even the most patient parent. It often feels like they get the run-around, and when they do protest, they’re often told about how poorly their child performs and that nothing can be done no matter what they say. Too often, even my colleagues fail to see that side, the side where we as educators have to be complicit in the crap when we rather not be.

Don't Back Down From Protesting "Won't Back Down" Movie

A page full of information about the parent trigger, it's connection with Walmart, the Broad Foundation, ALEC, Teach for America and charter school operators.

It's interesting that the parent trigger group, Parent Revolution was founded, not by parents, but by Steve Barr, a charter school chain founder. The parent trigger bills gives public schools to charter schools. One plus one does indeed equal two.

A commenter said...
There is also a FB page to Boycott Won't Back Down. Please try to get the number of LIKES in the thousands. I don't think it's a coincidence that the producers of "Waiting for Superman" are now using big name stars in this movie so they can promote their agenda to Main Street. We can't fight the money behind this movement, but we can fight it with our combined voices.


What Parents need to know: FAQ “Won’t Back Down” and Parent Trigger
How can we fight back? Last spring, Florida parent groups, including Parents Across America, banded together to fight Parent Trigger legislation that had been introduced in the state legislature. By holding rallies and press conferences, calling their elected representatives, and speaking out about how the Parent Trigger is a ruse devised by corporate reformers to benefit charter operators rather than children, Florida parents prevented the legislation from being passed.

Speak out for real parent empowerment. Spread the word on “Won’t Back Down” and Parent Triggers. We need real change in our schools, not false solutions.

Who Is Funding “Teachers Rock” and “Won’t Back Down”?
The parent trigger is a transparent attempt to fool parents into seizing control of their public school and handing it over to corporate charter chains.

So, the game is to fool the Hollywood crowd and to fool parents with deceptive packaging.

"Teachers Rock 2012": An Insult To Teachers
The entire thing is an insult to teachers. No one who cares at all about teachers should watch, and we should all be demanding that the stars who have aligned themselves with this thing immediately pull out and disavow any connection to it. Here's why...

What is the "Parent Trigger?

Why did Florida Parents reject the Parent Trigger bill?
The "Parent Trigger" is a political device created by venture capitalists and return-on-investment philanthropists looking for an effective way to rapidly expand for-profit charter school chains. Parent Trigger or "Parent Empowerment," depends on professional lobbyists and outside forces to persuade 51% of the parents in a struggling school to "pull the trigger," and transfer a valuable public asset from the jurisdiction of a duly elected school board into the hands of a proprietary corporation.

Parents are led to believe that by pulling the trigger and demonstrating "parent empowerment," they are providing something better for their children. However, once the deed is done, parents have very little say over how their publicly-funded neighborhood school will be run. In California, the process of gathering enough parent signatures to "pull the trigger" has led to fraud and deception. Parents were pitted against teachers, principals and one another, leading to parking lot fights, bitterness, broken trust and lingering divisiveness. Nearly every California parent trigger attempt has wound up in court.

The trick is clear. Ironically, the only true act of parent power is pulling the trigger. After the asset transfer, the parents lose all control. Private corporations do not have to disclose profits, methods or budget. Charter chains play by different rules. All fiscal information is considered proprietary and private. The Parent Trigger uses mothers and fathers to vote against their own interests to justify a corporate raid. Charter school developers have zero capital outlay, zero investment and 100% access to carving a profit from taxpayer dollars previously meant to educate each child. Who profits?

Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit Promoting Education Reform Film
Won’t Back Down is reportedly a highly sympathetic fictional portrayal of “parent trigger” laws, a major flashpoint in debates over education and collective bargaining. Under such laws, the submission of signatures from a majority of parents in a school triggers a “turnaround option,” which can mean the replacement of a unionized school with a non-union charter. Such laws have been passed in several states, but due to court challenges, the "trigger" process has never been fully implemented.

“It's another Waiting for Superman," says Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher and board member of the Center for Teacher Quality. "You have these popular actors, who as well-intentioned as they may be, they may not know all the facts, but they’re willing to back up a couple of corporate friends or people maybe they've become familiar with" in "trying to promote this sort of vision."

Parent trigger is one of the model bills pushed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Adamantly opposed by teachers unions, parent trigger bills (as I’ve reported for Salon) have often been spearheaded and supported by Democratic politicians. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed slamming teachers unions, Campbell Brown highlighted Won’t Back Down as evidence that “teachers unions have become a ripe target for reformers across the ideological spectrum” and Hollywood “has turned on unions.”

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Facts About the Parent Trigger

Caroline Grannan, a Parents Across America founding member, has a well documented list of facts about the Parent Trigger in an article at Parents Across America -- Beyond the parent trigger hype and propaganda: just the facts. Some examples...
The organization that created the parent trigger, Parent Revolution, organized [the California] parent trigger campaigns.

Parent Revolution has been inaccurately described as “grassroots” and as founded by concerned mothers. Actually, Parent Revolution was created by charter school operator Steve Barr, who founded the Green Dot charter school chain. Parent Revolution has a $1 million annual budget and 10 full-time staff members. Its funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and more.
References for these two items...
This Los Angeles Times article (May 11, 2009) describes how Steve Barr, founder of the Green Dot charter school chain, created Parent Revolution in 2009.

The Los Angeles Weekly (Dec. 9, 2010) described Parent Revolution’s funding: Parent Revolution, with 10 full-time staff members and a $1 million annual operating budget, is funded by blue-chip philanthropic endeavors, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
(See page 3 of the LA Weekly article, above, for links to the Wasserman, Broad and Hewlett foundations.)

This is just another example of how corporate charter operators manipulate and lie to pad their "bottom line" -- profits. The parent trigger is not about parental rights...or parental power. The parent trigger is a way for edupreneurs to take over public schools and reap a profit at public expense. It's not for the parents. It's not for the students.

Grannan added...
Public schools are almost always governed by democratically elected local school boards. Charter schools are often run by unelected boards that are not answerable to the parents, voters or the community.
The parent trigger bills don't give parents more control. They give parents less control. They allow 51% of current school parents to give away the public school to a charter operator. What happens in two years if 51% of the parents want to take the school back for the public schools? The parent trigger bills don't allow for that. Once the schools have been converted they're stuck with what they get. No parental rights. No public oversight.

How many of the stars in the Won't Back Down movie and the Teachers Rock concert know this? It's not too late to tell them. Go to time-to-tweet-the-stars/ for information and links.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Contact the Stars!

A few months ago, I wrote about the Parent Trigger movement and the upcoming movie, Won't Back Down.
Simply put, parent trigger laws allow 51% of parents of a given public school the right to close a "failing school" or replace it with a privately managed charter.
This is just another way of replacing public schools with corporate charters*. It seems to me that this sort of change would permanently eliminate any parent voice. Unlike elected school boards, corporations are beholden to their stockholders -- not to the parents of the children in their schools.

The real villain in the movie, however, is the teachers union,
No corporate reformer has yet been able to explain why, if unions are so bad, Massachusetts for example, where unions dominate public education, have successful schools based on the all important test scores and states that don't allow teachers unions like North Carolina and Texas rank so low in the test score contest.
In addition, take a look at the plan for reform published by the Chicago Teachers Union. It includes reduced class size, a full curriculum (including physical education and the arts), wraparound services which address poverty, age appropriate early childhood programs, well maintained facilities, increased support for teachers (and yes, it includes better pay) inclusion of parents in the education process, and full funding for education.
A country and city that can afford to take care of its affluent citizens can afford to take care of those on the other end of the income scale. There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve.
This is the kind of education that "reformers" want for their children and it's being promoted by a teachers union! Will corporate charters provide this type of education?

Occupy Education Reform a grassroots movement against the "reformers" said,
Parent Trigger Bills are not about choice. They are about closing public schools and corporate profit. Don't be a puppet for their agenda!
We need to speak out against the propaganda from ALEC and the corporate "reformers".

Parents Across America is trying its best to start a grass roots movement to publicize how wrong the Parent Trigger option is. Read Time to tweet the stars!
We know that most of the performers, like the actors in the movie, don’t have a clue how they are being used to promote school privatization in the guise of parent empowerment, but this concert and WBD movie are going to put the issue front and center and we need to make sure that our voices are heard.

Here’s what you can do...

...reach out to everyone you can about this movie and concert. This movie is designed to be even more powerful than Waiting for Superman, and we need to counter it with every thing we have. How do you fight Hollywood? Make the movie controversial, not feel-good. Take it to the stars who mean well but need to open their eyes to what they are doing. Everyone needs to write to CBS, too.

Everyone wants to write to a star, right? A list of contact info for a few of those involved in the Teachers Rock concert follows (gleaned from posters on Diane Ravitch’s blog). The easiest thing to do is to facebook and tweet them, keeping on mind that they are not the enemy. Post your thoughts on their facebook pages, twitter feeds, use their e-mails, write to their publicist! This is the big one and we need all hands on board!
Go to the web site for information on how to contact the stars and those involved. A sample letter to Meryl Streep is included...contact the stars...do something!

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It's Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Oppose Parent Trigger Propaganda

This is from Parents Across America. Click here for the full article.
Oppose parent trigger propaganda:

Tweet, Facebook, e-mail, call, write celebs, media, friends, family to protest phony "Teachers Rock" show and "Won't Back Down" movie

The propaganda campaign for the parent trigger law created by charter school operators and promoted by ALEC is in full swing.

The big kick-off event is a concert called "Teachers Rock." Like the "parent tricker" itself, this concert pretends to honor teachers while promoting a movie, "Won't Back Down," that is designed to get a lot of them fired and replaced by Teach for America newbies.

The concert will take place this Tuesday, Aug, 14th, at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. CBS will air a one-hour special using footage from the concert and the WBD movie, tributes to teachers from stars, etc. on Friday, Aug. 17th, at 8 pm EDT.

We know that most of the performers, like the actors in the movie, don't have a clue how they are being used to promote school privatization in the guise of parent empowerment, but this concert and WBD movie are going to put the issue front and center and we need to make sure that our voices are heard.

Here's what you can do:

We've written about the Won't Back Down movie in our newsletters before, but if you don't remember details, take a few moments to read PAA's review of the WBD movie trailer (which is all we have been able to see so far - we are requesting a screening) and fact sheet on the WBD movie.

Then reach out to everyone you can about this movie and concert. This movie is designed to be even more powerful than Waiting for Superman, and we need to counter it with every thing we have. How do you fight Hollywood? Make the movie controversial, not feel-good. Take it to the stars who mean well but need to open their eyes to what they are doing. Everyone needs to write to CBS, too.

Everyone wants to write to a star, right? A list of contact info for a few of those involved in the Teachers Rock concert follows (gleaned from posters on Diane Ravitch's blog here). The easiest thing to do is to facebook and tweet them, keeping on mind that they are not the enemy. Post your thoughts on their facebook pages, twitter feeds, use their e-mails, write to their publicist! This is the big one and we need all hands on board!

Here are a few message points:

The Won't Back Down movie and the 8/17 Teacher Rocks concert are propaganda for the parent trigger law created by charter school operators and promoted by ALEC.

Won''t Back Down is a "feel-bad" movie for parents and teachers who support public education.

The controversial WBD movie promotes charter takeovers of schools, yet charter schools are no better than our regular schools.

No real teacher was depicted in the filming of the WBD movie.

Parents won't be fooled by the "Parent Tricker" or the Won't Back Down movie.

Teachers Rock performers:

1. Dave Grohl: Manager-Gabby at 323-856-8222
2. Adam Levine: Receptionist will take message at 310-776-7640
3. Jack Black: email to sjackson_asst@WMEentertainment.com
4. Meryl Streep: publicist's voice mail at 212-277-7555
5. Viola Davis: email to ewolff@apanewyork.com
6. Morgan Freeman: email to stan@sra-pr.com stan@sra-pr.com

1. Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters - Agent: Don Muller - WME 1325 Avenue Of The Americas, New York, NY 10019 T.212.586.5100 F.212.246.3583
2. Adam Levine - Maroon 5 singer - Manger: Career Artist Management - 1100 Glendon Avenue, Suite 1100 | Los Angeles, CA 90024 | 310.776.7640 (p) | 310.776.7659 (f)
3. Jack Black - Agent: WME 1325 Avenue Of The Americas, New York, NY 10019 T.212.586.5100 F.212.246.3583
4. Meryl Streep - Publicist: Leslee Dart. Dart Group. 90 Park Avenue. 19th Floor. New York, NY 10016. Phone: 212-277-7555.
5. Viola Davis - Agent: Agency for the Performing Arts (APA) 45 West 45th St. 4th floor, New York, NY 10036 T. 212.687.0092 F. 212.245.5062
6. Morgan Freeman - Publicist: Stan Rosenfield and Associates, Inc., 2029 Century Park E., Suite 1190, Los Angeles, CA 90067, USA. Phone: (310) 286-7474, Fax: (310) 286-2255.
7. Josh Groban
8. Maggie Gyllenhaal (last, but not least)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kurt Schwengel: Occupy Kindergarten

It's time to return to developmentally appropriate Kindergarten. The obsessive focus on standards and the misuse of testing has turned Kindergarten into first grade. Instead of a place to grow socially and academically, Kindergarten has become a place of high pressure focus on assessment. Enjoy this Ted-Talk about what Kindergarten should really be like.

Check out Kurt's web site at www.RockAndRollKindergarten.com

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) supports developmentally appropriate kindergartens. See their web site for position papers, and research.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, August 6, 2012

Are Our Children Failing Math and Science?

Why are our children failing in Math and Science? This is the question that a Scientific American article, Building a Better Science Teacher (login required)
In recent years a mounting stack of research has shown that a good teacher is the single most important variable in boosting student achievement in every subject. A good teacher trumps such factors as socioeconomic status, class size, curriculum design and parents' educational levels. Stanford University's Eric Hanushek showed that students of highly effective teachers make about three times the academic gains of those with less talented teachers, regardless of the students' demographics. That is exactly the trouble with math and science education: there are too few teachers like Bellucci. The teacher dropout rate is high, and the education system rewards the teachers it has for the wrong reasons.
David Berliner, on the other hand, provides research which proves that a good teacher is the greatest in-school factor, but no matter how good the teacher is, out of school factors still account for a greater impact on a child's achievement.

Susan Ohanian deconstructs the article and reminds us that the author, Pat Wingert, was the co-author of the Newsweek piece, Why We Must Fire Failing Teachers in 2010. In that article Wengert and her co-author wrote,
The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation's future. Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations.
Diane Ravitch tells us, however,
the US was never first on international tests. When the first test was given in 1964 (a test of math), our students came in 11th out of 12.
It seems that Wengert's phrase once upon a time is indicative of a fairly tale, after all.

Newsweek continued,
For much of this time—roughly the last half century—professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language—but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.
Jim Horn at Schools Matter, responded...
Sadly, the group of educational antiquarians who have been in charge of national ed policy for the past 30 years continue to ignore the failure of their own failed and repeatedly failed test and punish policies that have turned American schools toward penal pedagogy as a solution to low test scores that are getting worse as poverty gets worse. The canaries in this deepening and empty mineshaft of the reform schoolers are, of course, the children, the poorest and the most vulnerable.
Newsweek went on...
It is difficult to dislodge the educational establishment. In New Orleans, a hurricane was required: Since Katrina, New Orleans has made more educational progress than any other city, largely because the public-school system was wiped out. Using nonunion charter schools, New Orleans has been able to measure teacher performance in ways that the teachers' unions have long and bitterly resisted.
The method used to "measure teacher performance" is undoubtedly using student test scores and/or VAM to evaluate teachers. We have discussed frequently how student test scores are an invalid measure of teacher effectiveness. Fair, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting had this to say...
Many of these ideas are the subject of intense debate–research on charter schools has generally not shown substantial improvement over conventional public schooling, for example. Experts and advocates disagree with the notion that New Orleans is a success story. But Newsweek presents little debate–sticking with the right-leaning narrative version of "school reform" that is primarily about bashing teachers.
[Interestingly enough, the Scientific American article discussed teacher education, and said,
Whereas TNTP—like Teach for America—gets criticized by advocates of teacher colleges for their condensed training schedule, alternative programs that recruit people with deep content knowledge are an essential piece of the STEM solution, Daly says. "If you don't offer alternative certification, will anyone volunteer to do this?" he asks. "I would argue that the answer is no—no one will take on midcareer financial hardship when they have a mortgage and a family to go back to school to become a teacher. The number interested in doing that is zero."
The author also emphasized the high turnover rate with beginning teachers. I am especially taken by the phrase, "no one will take on midcareer financial hardship." Going back to school to learn to be an educator isn't worth the money when "anyone" can do it.]

Stephen Krashen has written a letter in response to Scientific American...it was published by Susan Ohanian. There is no indication that it was published by Scientific American. Dr. Krashen wrote,
Scientific American thinks that high science standards are the reason some states do better than others on science tests (Can the US get an ‘A’ in Science? August 2012). There is no evidence this is so. The two top states, in science, as mentioned by Scientific American, are Massachusetts and Minnesota. They also rank near the bottom of the country in percentage of children living in poverty.

Study after study has shown that children who come from high-poverty families do poorly on standardized tests, and the factors related to poverty, insufficient food quality and quantity, lack of health care, and lack of access to books, have been shown to be strongly related to student achievement.

American children from middle class families who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on standardized tests, including math and science. Our mediocre overall scores are because of our unacceptably high level of poverty: 23% of our children live in poverty, which ranks us 34th out of 35 economically advanced countries.

The problem is poverty, not lack of high standards.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Notes and sources:

Massachusetts has only 14% child poverty, Minnesota, 15%.

Child poverty in the US, individual states: National Kids Count Program: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=43

Children from high poverty families:

Berliner, D.C. (2006). Our impoverished view of educational reform. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 949–995.

Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential;

Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.

— Stephen Krashen

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Can We Do About the Common Core?

Stephen Krashen posted this in a couple of places (HERE and HERE)...feel free to help out.
What Can We Do About the Common Core?
by Stephen Krashen

Here is the big question:

We are forced to teach under the standards. What should we do? We have the responsibility to do our best for our current students, and this takes all our time. Also, many teachers are afraid they will be fired if they ignore the standards in class, and if they speak out against the standards movement.

My response:

There are two ways we can try to help students survive under the common core, and I am in favor of doing both of them: IMPROVE the curriculum and the tests (e.g. adaptations for ELLs) and SUBVERT them (e.g. do things in secret that may not be allowed such as promoting free reading and when teaching English Learners use the first language in ways that make the curriculum more comprehensible).

Yes, we certainly owe it to our students to do this. But there are limits to how much we can really improve the common core. Also, if our subversions work, the common core gets the credit, which makes things worse for the future.

The solution: Continue to try to improve and subvert the common core, but at the same time HELP US END IT.

I am very aware that working teachers have very little time and are under tremendous pressure. This is why most of the activism is carried out by retired educators and tenured professors.

The biggest problem we have in ending the common core is that few people know the facts about it: what it is, and the massive evidence against it. Let me suggest a path that requires very little time, no money, and no risk.

1) INFORM YOURSELF. Here is a quick and easy way: Get on Susan Ohanian’s mailing list: www.susanohanian.org. The Ohanian website is the center of gravity of the resistance. In less than five minutes a day you will rapidly see and understand everything. Susan collects and comments on articles in the media (eg the "outrage of the day," "research that counts," "letters to the editor," and "notable quotes").

My view is that Susan Ohanian, along with Diane Ravitch, have presented massive evidence that the common core is a gigantic rip-off, designed only to take money from the needy and give it to the greedy. And highly respected Professor David Berliner has presented the research that is more than enough to destroy the common core.

If you have energy for more, I suggest following Valerie Strauss’ blog in the Washington Post (The answer sheet: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet) and Diane Ravitch's blog: http://www.dianeravitch.net.

If you do all this, in a week or so you will be much better informed that anybody on Arne Duncan's staff.

2) SHARE THE INFORMATION. If you see something interesting, post it on listservs, facebook, twitter, or just tell your friends. The internet is our underground.

Also: Make comments on newspaper articles on the newspaper website. Right now, nearly all the comments posted are anti-teacher. I do my best, comment all the time, but I don’t think more than 20 people do this nation-wide.


Steps (1) and (2) are enough to stop the common core if enough of us do it. Right now, maybe 20-30 people in the entire country are doing it.


For those with the time and energy to do more (other retired people, like me): contribute to the discussion yourself. Letters to the editor, twitter, facebook, etc.

— Stephen Krashen

August 04, 2012

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, August 3, 2012

Selling America's Schools: Update

"big profit potential...tantalizingly huge market...entire ecosystems of investment opportunity"

Those were some of the phrases used by attendees at an investment gathering focusing on public education as a "market" for entrepreneurs.

The public education system has been set up for private takeover over the last dozen years by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT). That takeover has become a reality in more and more places thanks to financial and political encouragement for things like increased caps on and tax incentives for corporate charters, vouchers for private schools, reduced funds for public education systems, attacks on unions and the de-professionalization of public school educators.

The problem, according to a Reuters article about the gathering titled, Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools, is that public education has been a difficult "market" for private enterprise to intrude on.
Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into -- fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.
"Fragmented into thousands of individual schools and districts?" We used to call that "local control." Before NCLB, states and local school boards determined what their local schools were doing. Local school boards ran the schools and answered to the parents and taxpayers of the local communities for the success or failure of their policies.

With NCLB, however, power over what happened at the state level and in local districts was transferred to the US Department of Education and the former "keep-the-feds-out-of-my-hair" crowd began the process of destroying public education in America. The "no federal intrusion" folks didn't seem to have a problem with the federal takeover of education since that just made it easier to privatize the system.

The assumption, of course, is that the private sector is more efficient and better at managing everything.
"Education is behind healthcare and other sectors that have utilized outsourcing to become more efficient," private equity investor Larry Shagrin said in the keynote address to the New York conference.
Yes, we all know how efficient and cost effective America's health care system is compared to elsewhere in the world. [sarcasm intended -- See The U.S. Health System in Perspective: A Comparison of Twelve Industrialized Nations. Even Mitt Romney noticed that we spend an excessive amount on health care. See Socialized medicine gets rave review from Mitt Romney]

NCLB and RttT have made it all but impossible for public schools, especially those with high levels of poverty to succeed. Enter the venture capital wolves...
They're pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.
The important phrase in that sentence is "aim to profit." That's what they're after. Unlike local school boards, who have families and livelihoods rooted in their communities, the private enterprise folks are after the bottom line -- profit.
The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.
They are achieving their goal by buying legislators of both parties. Diane Ravitch is quoted...
Vendors looking for a toehold in public schools often donate generously to local politicians and spend big on marketing, so even companies with dismal academic results can rack up contracts and rake in tax dollars, Ravitch said.

"They're taking education, which ought to be in a different sphere where we're constantly concerned about raising quality, and they're applying a business metric: How do we cut costs?" Ravitch said.
We can cut costs by getting by with fewer teachers. Personnel has always been the highest cost item for school systems, so when you're looking to cut costs do it by cutting teachers. That method has already saved millions of dollars for states and school systems who get rid of older teachers. Without collective bargaining due process rights disappear leaving the door open to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scales. Experience and advanced degrees don't matter. Hire cheaper teachers. But don't stop there...
Education entrepreneur John Katzman urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day, driving down labor costs.
Teaching becomes, not only short term employment, but a part time job as well.

There's no pretense any more of trying to emulate high achieving nations like Finland. There are several reasons why we can't keep up...the most important is that our level of childhood poverty is so much higher (more than 20% for us, vs. less than 5% for them).
At the more than 5,500 charter schools nationwide, private management companies -- some of them for-profit -- are in full control of running public schools with public dollars.

"I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us," Ravitch said. "Why is that?"
The answer to that question is simple. As a nation we're more interested in profit than in the well being of our children.

See also http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/02/profiteers-circling-the-schools-looking-for/.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Garden Interlude

Our family gardner found this visitor in the bergenia (pigsqueak) this morning (click for larger image)...

(Photo taken with my little Nikon Coolpix S8100)

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who Takes Responsibility for Classroom Conditions?

Education "reformers" are consistent in at least one thing. The "failure" of American schools is the fault of bad teachers.

You might remember the cover of Time Magazine featuring Michelle Rhee with her broom...ready to sweep away the bad teachers -- and the cheating scandal in D.C. schools uncovered after she was "swept" out of office hasn't seemed to stop her...

...or the Newsweek cover article which claimed that the "key to saving American education" was to "fire bad teachers."

Some "reformers" focus their blame on the evil teachers unions rather than the teachers themselves...and the fact that it's impossible to fire bad teachers because they have jobs for life (despite the fact that only about 50% of teachers make it past five years in the profession).

One current focus of "reformers" is to evaluate teachers by using test scores. Forget that it doesn't work..."we need to do something" to identify those bad teachers and get rid of them. We can improve teaching by putting more untrained teachers into classrooms, or lowering standards for entrance into the teaching force. (Yes, you read that right. Check out the push by Indiana's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett to lower the standards for entrance into the teaching force in Indiana.)

"Reformers" seem to believe that teachers have 100% control over student achievement.

The fact is that, while teacher quality is the greatest "in-school" factor for student achievement, out of school factors account for a much greater impact on students success in school.

Of course we want only good teachers in classrooms...and we need to identify and remove or retrain teachers who are incompetent or burned out. However, like most professions, the number of "bad" teachers is small (most of them get weeded out in the first five years) and getting rid of them, while desirable, won't "save" American education.

The vast majority of public school teachers are competent professionals who work hard every day and provide the best education they can for their students. But are teachers responsible for the so-called failure of public education in America? How much control does the average classroom teacher have over what gets taught (and how) in their classroom? The answer to that is a resounding "not much." "Reformers" are blaming teachers for variables that are out of their control inside the classroom...as well as outside (see The Blueberry Story).
  • Teachers don't choose the standards taught in their classrooms and often don't get to choose the materials used to teach those standards.
  • Teachers don't choose the standardized tests being used to evaluate their students, themselves and their schools.
  • Teachers are often told that they must spend a certain number of minutes doing test prep.
  • Teachers don't choose how much money is available for supplies (though teachers as a group spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of their own dollars each year to supply America's public school classrooms).
  • Teachers don't make laws governing public education.
  • Teachers don't often get to choose what equipment is provided in their classrooms.
  • (Feel free to add your own)
Often new technology is dumped into classrooms by administrations or school boards without input from teachers. Smart Boards and iPads might be helpful teaching tools when used correctly, but teachers are often bypassed in discussions of what technology should be purchased for their classrooms. In The Paradox of Teachers and Technology in the U.S., Larry Cuban explains the impact on schools of keeping teachers out of the decision making process.
[Teachers], professionals with advanced degrees, have little say in determining access or use of hardware and software in their classrooms. Policymakers decide, not teachers, to buy and deploy new technologies for classroom use.

School boards buy iPads for kindergarten teachers. Superintendents contract with companies to supply every classroom with interactive whiteboards. Sure, maybe a few teachers show up on a district-wide committee that advises the school board and superintendent but decisions to spend and distribute machines are seldom made by teachers, the foot soldiers of reform who are expected to use them in lessons.
As is so often the case, teachers are treated differently than other professionals.
Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants working either as solo practitioners or in small groups decide which new technologies they will buy and use. In most public and private organizations that pay salaries to professionals, in hospitals, top decision-makers often meet and confer with doctors. Ditto for engineers and architects in big companies, and senior lawyers in firms. But not in school districts.

...Treating teachers as undeserving to be at the table when decisions are made about the buying and deploying of hardware and software reflects the low esteem that policymakers have for teachers.
Teachers are not afraid of accountability...but they have little control over that for which they're held accountable. Teachers should be accountable for their work, but policy makers must also accept some of the responsibility for the conditions under which teachers work.


Stop the Testing Insanity!