"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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Include Us!

In response to Sara Mosle's What Should Children Read?, Susan Ohanian wrote (quoted in Schools Matter)...
Regrettably, Mosle perpetuates the myth that non-teacher David Coleman has a clue of what is developmentally appropriate to students needs, and it is worse than a mistake that she fails to include the judgments of experienced teachers or researchers.

I wonder why The New York Times gives so much space to the opinion of amateurs without even a nod to professionals in the field.

Education is one of the few industries where the current practitioners' opinions are not solicited or respected. The New York Times is not alone in ignoring the advice and expertise of current practicing professional educators.

The position of US Secretary of Education has rarely been filled by a practicing teacher. While presidents would never think of appointing someone other than a lawyer as the Attorney General or a doctor as the Surgeon General, for some reason, the Secretary of Education doesn't need to be trained in the field of education. Margaret Spelling, George W Bush's second Secretary of Education wrote on her Department of Education bio that she was qualified for the position because she was "a mom." Her degree was in Political Science. Arne Duncan, the current Secretary has a degree in Sociology. He is, apparently, qualified because his mom ran a tutoring program in Chicago.

It's not surprising, then, that a group focused on education, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, would hold a National Summit, yet invite no practicing teachers to be on any panel, or give any presentation.

Instead the keynote speakers and strategy session panelists and moderators at the summit are a mixture state and national politicians (including such notables as Condaleeza Rice and Jeb Bush), current and former state and federal commissioners of education (including US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett),  think tank pundits, and billionaire foundation representatives.

I looked through the list of sessions with names like, Implementing Bold Teacher-Effectiveness Reform, How to Prepare for Common Core Assessments, and Developing and Retaining Teachers We Can't Afford to Lose. Not one of them had a practicing K-12 teacher listed among the panelists or moderators. It's as though the actual practitioners in the field of education don't exist. Why?

There are over 3 million education professionals in America's public schools...professionals who spend their days working with all children, rich and poor, housed and homeless, and with special physical, academic or emotional needs. America's teachers provide parenting, instruction, moral leadership, discipline and structure to the lives of our children. They support the weak, and encourage the strong. They coach athletic teams, and academic teams, develop artistic talents and inspire future social workers and poets. They teach children how to stand up to bullies and how to nurture a hurt friend.

Yet, in America, teachers...those who know the children, the curriculum, and communities best...are not included in the educational conversation. The experts in pedagogy, discipline, and motivation are not included in the discussion of how to improve our public schools.

This is short-sighted, foolish and self-defeating. As an educator I'm outraged. As an American I'm offended.


Indiana Residents: Did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Sign the petition at:


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

This is Why I Stayed Home All Weekend

I first saw this video on a science blog I read. I'm sure it's not the only one of its kind.
This is evolutionary psychology at work, but instead of the meat from a felled mastodon, the modern humans are fighting for consumer goods.
These people are fighting for Christmas presents right? Peace on Earth? Good will towards men?

Warning: Disturbing images of humans acting like crazed lunatics.

[UPDATE: 5 horror stories from Black Friday 2012

  1. Two people were shot in Florida
  2. A man in Texas pulled a gun on a line-cutter
  3. A boy in Massachusetts was abandoned
  4. A masked gunman shot up a ceiling in Colorado
  5. A woman pulled a gun on a cop in Michigan


Indiana Residents: Did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Sign the petition at:



Stop the Testing Insanity!


Grading Schools Shows "Reformers" Failure

Standardized test scores have been consistently misused for the last thirty years. They have been used to rank students, teachers, schools, and school systems. This is the status quo of public education as promoted by the educational establishment (aka "reformers") consisting of federal and state departments of education, federal and state commissioners of education, governors and presidents, federal and state legislatures and super-wealthy educrats.

The correlation between poverty and achievement is well known. A quick internet search for the "relationship between poverty and educational achievement" will yield several million hits. On the whole, children who live in poverty do not achieve as well as children from higher income levels.

Poverty is reflected in standardized tests. Children who live in poverty generally have lower scores and therefore the ranking of students, teachers, schools and school systems reflects the prevalence or absence of poverty. Those schools and school systems with higher percentages of students who live in poverty score lower than schools and school systems with lower levels of poverty (See below for a sampling of articles discussing this relationship). A frequent theme on this blog is the fact that pundits, politicians and policy makers seem to exclusively blame teachers and public schools for the low achievement of children in poverty rather than admitting that their own inadequate policies (if any) designed to eliminate or reduce poverty also contribute to the problem.

Grading schools based on achievement test scores, by using a simplistic letter grade or descriptor has become commonplace among the states. Michael Brick, in an oped in the NY Times writes about grading schools by test scores in When ‘Grading’ Is Degrading: Grading Schools isn't the Answer. It's the Problem,
For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.

So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
In his article Mr. Brick doesn't disaggregate the test results used to yield our "anemic international rankings" in science, math and literacy. If he had, he could have reported a consistent correlation between poverty and performance. Our students from low poverty schools score at the top of the world's "rich" nations. The fact that here in the US we have a child poverty rate closing in on 25% means that our average scores are much lower.

The "reformers want to improve achievement in the following ways...
  • evaluate teachers using student test scores
  • close "low achieving schools"
  • fire teachers and principals
  • close regular public schools and open more charter schools
  • use tax money for vouchers

None of those "reforms" have been shown to improve achievement for America's children. Instead we should put in place the suggestions made by Diane Ravitch in her speech to the Opportunity to Learn campaign. We need a systemic change in American society.
  • Every pregnant woman should have good pre-natal care and nutrition so that her child is born healthy. One of three children born to women who do not get good prenatal care will have disabilities that are preventable. That will cost society far more than providing these women with prenatal care.
  • Every child should have the medical attention and nutrition that they need to grow up healthy.
  • Every child should have high-quality early childhood education.
  • Every school should have experienced teachers who are prepared to help all children learn.
  • Every teacher should have at least a masters degree.
  • Every principal should be a master teacher, not a recruit from industry, the military, or the sports world.
  • Every superintendent should be an experienced educator who understands teaching and learning and the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a health clinic.
  • Schools should collaborate with parents, the local community, civic leaders, and local business leaders to support the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a full and balanced curriculum, with the arts, sciences, history, civics, geography, mathematics, foreign languages, and physical education. Every child should have time and space to play.
  • We must stop investing in testing, accountability, and consultants and start investing in children.

Susan Zimmerman in Comprehension Going Forward reminds us...
"Somewhere along the line we've forgotten that education is not about getting this or that score on a test, but it is about enlarging hearts, minds, and spirits. It's about fulfilling human potential and unleashing human creativity. It's about helping children understand that the world is a place full of wonder, truly wonder-full. It's about giving children the tools they will need to participate in a complex global world where we can't imagine today what the next twenty years, let alone century, will bring."
It's time to change the status quo in American Public Education.


Poverty and Achievement

Indiana Residents: Did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Sign the petition at:



Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Karen Lewis Takes Down the Status Quo

In this video, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, addresses business leaders at the Chicago Club.

Jim Horn at Schools Matter posted this as well. His comment is right on target.
You won't get this kind of honesty and genuine care from the mealy-mouthed sellouts who run AFT and NEA.
Diane Ravitch, who also posted a link to this speech wrote,
Please watch this speech! It is a brilliant dissection of why "reform," as presently defined, is failing. And it is a clear and realistic description of what students and teachers need to succeed. If you take the time to watch this, it will make your day.
President Obama needs to listen to this...and then fire Arne Duncan. Lewis is honest, blunt, and correct. Things need to change, now.

Karen Lewis spoke to the Chicago Club on November 20.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Punishing Low Achievers

A very disturbing item in the news a few days ago...

Idaho Teacher in Face-Marking Incident Faces Probe
A southern Idaho teacher whose students used a permanent marker on the faces of classmates who fell short of reading goals is the subject of a formal complaint.

...One 10-year-old came home in tears after his entire face, including his eyelids, had been scribbled on with green, red and purple markers.
According to the article, the teacher allowed her students to choose their own "incentive" for their Accelerated Reader goal. The incentives the class chose were 1) staying in from recess until the goal was met or 2) having their faces drawn on with markers by peers who met their goals.

The parties involved have kept fairly quiet about the incident since it's a personnel issue...however parents brought the issue to the public eye, including a petition to the school board.

First of all, the obvious problem with the incentives put in place is the poor choice made by the teacher. I understand and can appreciate the positive learning opportunity of giving children choices, but as the adult in charge it's the teacher's job to monitor those choices and make sure that they are appropriate. The students chose to punish their peers who didn't (or couldn't) reach their goal. Punishment for failing to achieve an academic goal is not appropriate.

Second, some questions...

Were the students actually allowed to set their own goals? What if a student chose a goal of not reading any books at all? Would the teacher have allowed that?

Were all the student goals realistic? Some students, especially students with learning problems, often can't accurately determine their own limits. In that case it's up to the teacher to help them make appropriate goals.

The students chose the "incentives" based on the assumption that reaching a reading goal was a choice. This might not have been true if students weren't able to pick a realistic goal for themselves.

Finally, what's the atmosphere in this classroom that allowed the teacher to choose a punishment as an incentive? I tend to differentiate between "incentives" and "consequences." The former should be something positive. The Accelerated Reader documentation also suggests positive rewards as incentives.
Consider reinforcing meeting individualized goals with certificates, bookmarks, pencils, or other items. Some teachers allow students to enter their names in a drawing every time they score 100 percent on a quiz for a book within their ZPD. Prizes might include a free yearbook or free admission to a basketball game, prom, or other special event. Ask students to help you identify the most appealing prizes.
...prizes, not punishments.

[Although Alfie Kohn has argued against both punishment and rewards in his book Punished by Rewards. See articles HERE and HERE.]

Letting students choose incentives is fine, but punishing students for not achieving is inappropriate at any level. Punishments masquerading as "incentives" should be avoided.

The publicity which this story received makes it clear that many people think the teacher made a mistake. It's likely that some "reformers" might use this story to illustrate how much we need to fire "bad teachers." It's ironic, however,  that the teacher was just following the lead of education "reformers". The federal government as well as many state governments have been punishing students, teachers, and school systems for low achievement for nearly a dozen years, through No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and a variety of state-based initiatives (such as IREAD-3 in Indiana).

Neither classroom based punishments, nor government supported punishments are appropriate for improving academic achievement.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 Medley #23

Indiana, RttT, Finland, Charters*,
Professional Educators, Evaluations, Politics.


‘The de-professionalization of teaching’

This is an older posting, however, with the vote of REPA2 coming up early in December it's time for a review.
...among the new proposals is the creation of an “adjunct” teacher permit that would be awarded to anyone holding a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 grade point average who passes a content test – even though that person may have no preparation to be a teacher.

REPA2 also makes it possible for teachers licensed in any subject at any level to add other licenses, including special education, fine arts, early childhood and elementary licenses, by simply passing a standardized test.

And it drops the requirement that special education teachers, who under REPA2 would be licensed to teach special education from pre-school through high school, also be licensed in a content area.

REPA2 also lowers the bar for principals and other school administrators in the state.
INDIANA RESIDENTS: It's time to contact your State Board of Education (SBOE) member. Urge them to table the vote on REPA2 so as not to saddle the newly elected state superintendent  with policies which are not needed or supported by voters.

Click here to contact your SBOE member

Here are some talking points you may want to use when contacting your SBE members.
  • Do not act in December. In the strictest sense, you may have the authority but in the broadest sense, you do not have the support.
  • The election results have warranted a moratorium on unilateral changes to policy without taking into consideration the public’s concerns. If they weren’t before, the public is “tuned in” now.
  • No consensus on these changes has been demonstrated.
  • In fact, no bona fide need has been proven for these proposed licensure changes.
  • Let REPA 1 become effective first. You are making changes before REPA 1 (which was developed within the last 2 years and with broad-based input) takes hold.
  • REPA 2 would allow individuals who have never spent one moment studying pedagogy (teaching methods) to become fully licensed with all of the powers and responsibilities of those who have been fully trained. (under Adjunct Faculty).
  • REPA 2 would allow the DOE to approve virtually any organization as a teacher training institution. While the make-up and attitudes within the DOE will now likely change, this is still not advisable policy.


Call the White House. A national campaign to stop Race to the Top

Click the link to find your state's designated day to contact the White House. Indiana is Tuesday!
Contact the White House weekly at 202-456-1111 on your state’s designated day.

Message: Give all students the same education your girls are getting! Abandon Race to the Top and stop privatizing public schools.


Finland's Secret Sauce: Its Teachers

The "reformer's" love affair with Finland has faded somewhat of late, however, those who are really interested in improving America's public education system (as opposed to those interested in profiting from it) can learn something.
...Finnish teachers are not highly paid. But they are highly respected and treated far more like professionals than American teachers. Finnish teachers are on their feet in front of students for fewer hours every week, teaching only three to four hours per day. The rest of their work time is spent in preparation, working with colleagues, marking papers, and doing other duties assigned by their heads. Unless they have to teach a class, they are not required to be at the school.

Just as Americans had lessons to learn from Germany and Japan, now it's time to consider Finland's success and determine what we could learn from that tiny nation. In the words of Leo Pahkin, "Money is not the secret of good results. The secret lies somewhere else."


Researcher: Florida District Schools Outperform Charter Schools On Average

What a surprise...charter schools have the same problems that regular public schools have. They can do better than regular public schools if they skim off the best students from the public school system, however, once the playing field is equalized, the results show that charters are no better. Here is yet another study showing that charters do no better than regular public schools.
The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses. When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.


Is it worse to be called a "bitch" or to be treated like one?

[NOTE: The language used in this posting may be offensive to some people. It's my opinion, however, that the way America treats its children is even more offensive.]

There's plenty of money to bail out those who brought the world to its economic knees, however, for public schools...not so much. Our priorities are crystal clear. American children just aren't that important to us.
...lest society as a whole think they are without sin, let us hold a mirror up to America's face. Hi America, here is what your stewardship of our economic and education system has wrought. In a recent Daily News article Juan Gonzalez revealed how employees at AIG enjoy many free perks. Perks such as free Snapple, Starbucks, soda, Tylenol and Advil. The company also buys breakfast and lunch several times a week for its employees. The insurance bastards, who were saved from bankruptcy by sucking $182 billion from the public teat, have funds for this nonsense but at Intermediate School Who Gives A Fuck, teachers have to buy their own paper. What the hell, America? Get your priorities straight. Teachers who want to take their students on a trip to the theatre, ballet or Statue of Liberty must beg at the altar of Donors Choose because there is no money for such unholy "extras" but inept corporations (of which we still own 52%) get no oversight. Bitch.


The newest rhetoric on teacher evaluation — and why it is nonsense

Carol Burris takes on three fallacies perpetrated in the Kappan magazine.
...perhaps we all could back off and allow teachers to enjoy the same humanity we seem to graciously grant to others. Teachers aren’t perfect, but I must tell you that nearly all of the teachers that I have met over the years are darn good at what they do. And the variation in their skill is no wider than the variation that I have observed in other professions whose evaluations we never seem to discuss. Let’s look to improve evaluation systems as well as other parts of our schools. But could we stay within reasonable bounds of critique based on fact and research? If we do not stop this constant drumbeat of criticism there will be no one left to evaluate with our new excellent-every-hour-every-day evaluation systems.


Phony school “reform” agenda takes a beating

Glenda Ritz wasn't the only one to "beat the 'reformers'" in the last election.
That these results have been largely ignored by the same media and political establishment demonizing teachers, promoting technology as a panacea, and championing privately run charter schools only underscores their importance. Simply put, the election outcomes are ignored because they so powerfully expose the lies behind all the “reform” propaganda coursing through the media and treated as unquestioned fact in our politics. Indeed, just as the larger national election results exposed conservative news outlets as prioritizing ideologically driven wishful thinking over reporting on what was actually happening on the ground, so too do these results expose the “reform” coalition for what it really is: not a popular mass movement, but another profit-driven elite-crafted scheme, one with little proof of educational success and even less mass support throughout America.
President Obama Re-Elected, and Now…

Diane Ravitch gets the last word today.
Now that President Obama has been re-elected, supporters of public education must redouble our efforts to end educational malpractice and rejuvenate American education.

It’s time to stop the privatization of public education.

It’s time to stop using invalid methods to judge teacher quality.

It’s time to stop high-stakes testing.

It’s time to stop closing schools.

It’s time to stop teaching to the tests.

It’s time to end the obsession with data and test-based metrics.

It’s time to support students and teachers and public schools.

It’s time to enrich the curriculum with the arts, history, civics and foreign languages for all children.

It’s time to think about what’s good for children, what will really improve education, and what will truly encourage creativity and ingenuity.

It’s time to think about reviving the spirits of educators and the joy of teaching and learning.

The election is over. The struggle for the heart and soul of American education continues.

*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!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

How did Ritz win in Indiana

The Governor, Governor-elect, some members of the legislature, and the rest of the pro-"reformers" in Indiana can't admit that Glenda Ritz, the Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect was elected because of dissatisfaction with the pro-privatization status quo which includes 1) a massively invasive testing program stealing time from students' instruction, 2) a voucher program which is stripping Indiana's public schools of funds, 3) pro charter and privatization initiatives from the superintendent's office, 4) the dismantling of the profession of teaching in Indiana, and 5) the takeover of local schools and the threatened takeover of entire school corporations. Instead they blame an imaginary misinformation campaign.
In a meeting with The Journal Gazette editorial board today, Gov. Mitch Daniels continued to insist voters' rejection of state Superintendent Tony Bennett was not a rejection of the aggressive education agenda they shared, but instead the result of underhanded campaign tactics.
GOP firm despite education coup

If the idea of a misinformation campaign doesn't convince you, then how about this? The Speaker of the Indiana House claims that it was simply a personality clash between teachers and outgoing superintendent Tony Bennett.
“This is not an indictment in any way of reforms,” [GOP House Speaker] Bosma said. “Some of the education reform controversy deals with the tone and presentation of the reforms and how it’s explained. Occasionally the discussion moved into arenas that teachers found offensive.”
Did Bennett Really Lose in Indiana?

Still not convinced? Bennett himself said it was the fault of the state teachers union...and the enemies of reform who don't want the common core standards.
The reason, Bennett said, is that he knew the Indiana teachers' unions would be "formidable foes" in any election fight, and that his policy initiatives in the last four years would generate strong opposition from some in the state education establishment. Bennett is a big national voice on issues prioritized by so-called "education reform" advocates, but his education stardom wasn't enough to satisfy Hoosier voters, who gave Ritz 52 percent of the vote and Bennett 48 percent...

Let's get this straight...Glenda Ritz, who got more votes than Governor-Elect Pence, won the office of State Superintendent because 1) voters were misinformed, 2) Tony Bennett has an unpleasant and abrasive personality and 3) the state teachers unions influenced enough people to cross party lines and vote for a Democrat in this race (but not the race for Governor).

I don't think so.

What's more likely is that a coalition of teachers, parents, and concerned citizens participated in a grass roots campaign which educated people around the state about the pro-privatization and anti-public education policies of the current administration. The excuses from the privatizers are just that...excuses. The Republican leadership in Indiana doesn't want to admit that they were beaten on the issues. They would rather pretend that something else happened...an anomaly...cheating...misinformation...anything to explain away their loss after spending 4 times as much money ($1.5 million, much of it from out of state) as their opponent.

Maybe they don't want the grass-roots success of Glenda Ritz to catch on...maybe they don't want the citizens of Indiana to realize the power they have to change things.

Diane Ravitch has an explanation...

How Did David Beat Goliath in Indiana?
...teachers, principals and superintendents were angry, but that would not be enough to beat him.

The unions were angry, but that would not be enough to beat him.

Parents were angry at the avalanche of testing. There are lots and lots of parents. That would matter.

Hoosiers who graduated from public schools, who loved their teachers, who respect the importance of public education figured out that he was doing his best to turn it over to entrepreneurs.

Maybe that’s what did it.
Ritz ran on a platform of less testing and more teaching, public money going to public schools, local control (which I always thought was a Republican talking point!) and an end to the privatization of public schools. Daniels, Pence, Bosma, et al, ought to join the grass-roots effort to change the direction of public education in Indiana before the people turn on them.

Other comments from around the web...

LETTER: Ritz win a blow to bullies

This letter writer scolds the "bullies" who are claiming that Ritz's election is not a mandate for change from the "putting private schools first" agenda of the state.
The election of Glenda Ritz was an enormous victory for our public schools. The "Putting Private Schools First" agenda and those who developed it were sent a strong message that our teachers know what is best for education in Indiana. The voters who crossed party lines to remove the thorn in the side of public schools should be commended and their voices not silenced. To say that you will continue the current reform efforts and downplay the significance of the defeat of its poster boy does not seem like a wise choice. I would expect a person in the highest position in the state to listen to the experts in the field, not direct them to the sidelines and show your backside.
Glenda Ritz: I knew I was going to be elected

She knew it all along...
We organized grassroots coalitions and energized people through the social media. It just got broader and broader to the point where when you put a message on Facebook that says, “Take your signs to the polling places,” and people just do it. We only had 2,500 yard signs statewide. It got to the point where we said, “Call 25 of your friends,” and they’d call 50. Whatever we put out, people went and did. I knew a month out that I was going to be elected. I was traveling all over the state and it was energized. It was exciting. Our Facebook page visits have gone up tremendously since the race. My husband was posting at 6 a.m., before school, about what I was doing each day and we’d get lots of hits instantly. We’re still doing that. I knew the base was huge. I would have been shocked if we lost. I was telling people for weeks I was going to win and they were like, “yeah, right.”
Can Glenda Ritz Work With A New, Pence-Appointed State Board?

One of the biggest challenges facing state superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz is the fact that the governor's office, the state school board and the legislature are all against her and her policies. How will she handle that challenge?
In the early stages of her campaign, state superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz knew that defeating well-funded and highly-visible incumbent Tony Bennett would only be her first challenge.

The next challenge — barring fellow Democrats retaking Indiana’s General Assembly or governorship — would be winning over the State Board of Education, the executive panel charged with overseeing Ritz’s work.

Republican Governor-elect Mike Pence, who opposes Ritz’s stances as much as Bennett, appoints the members of that board.
Governor Daniels, Governor-elect Pence, the Indiana state legislature: Honor our 1,300,000 votes for Glenda Ritz

The grass-roots movement hasn't quit...here's a petition on change.org asking the Republican leadership to accept the fact that Ritz's victory was a victory for a change to the "reformer's" status quo.
Indiana voters elected Glenda Ritz as our new Superintendent of Public Instruction by a large margin. She received roughly 1,300,000 votes--about 100,000 more votes than the governor-elect, Mike Pence. Now, however, Governor Daniels refuses to acknowledge that our election of Glenda Ritz sent a clear message on the direction of school reform, saying instead: "The consensus and momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid." Governor-elect Mike Pence is also choosing to interpret the election results as a "strong affirmation on the progress of education reform in this state," (Journal Gazette 11/8/12). On the contrary: when Indiana voters elected Glenda Ritz as superintendent, we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Mapping The ‘Campaign In A Box’: How Glenda Ritz Won Indiana

Ritz upsets Bennett in Indiana superintendent race

Glenda Ritz wins surprise state superintendent victory over incumbent Republican Tony Bennett

Glenda Ritz Wins Superintendent Job In Indiana, Upsetting Republican Incumbent Tony Bennett


Readers from Indiana, did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Click here to sign the Petition!

1.3 million signatures by Thanksgiving!!


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, November 16, 2012

We All Benefit From a Healthy, Educated Citizenry

In the grand American tradition of pontificating about things you don't understand, movie critic Roger Ebert takes on American education. Since he's not rich like Bill Gates, or doesn't have billionaire friends like Arne Duncan, Ebert's comments will not be the basis for the next "reform" movement. However, he makes some sense and his article...a letter to President Obama telling him what we need to do to "fix" education...is worth reading.

Hello, Mr. President? It’s me, Roger Ebert

The first thing he says displays his lack of knowledge about the the current state of American public education.
I would ask the president for an emergency education program. Our students at every level are below American historical norms and global standards.
This is wrong. Our students "at every level" are not below American historical norms. American students today are achieving at or above where they were in the past. Diane Ravitch gives the data.
American students are at their highest point in history, as recorded on the only longitudinal measure of performance, the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Our students "at every level" are not below "global standards" -- if by global standards he means how we score on international tests. Stephen Krashen says,
Studies show that middle-class American students attending well-funded schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on these tests.
Like most people who get their information from the daily newspaper or the "reformers," Ebert either ignores, or doesn't know that there's a high correlation between achievement and poverty. And, since the US has the highest level of child poverty of all advanced nations, our average achievement is lower. What to do about this? Ebert's solution is to lower class sizes and pay teachers more.
What I think we need are smaller classrooms, better pay for teachers and an emphasis on fundamentals rather than frivolity. Although I am in favor of physical education, I believe most school sports foster a flawed culture. The news that Allen, Texas, has constructed a high school stadium costing $60 million filled me with incredulity. What does that have to do with education? I was much cheered by the new documentary “Brooklyn Castle,” about how a team from an inner-city junior high school won the national high school chess championship, and didn’t need a stadium at all. They were coached by a couple of great teachers.
Agreed! I believe that the public schools must keep sports programs for the "body smart" among our children. Some kids will only stay in school because the athletic program (or the arts program, or the music program) gives them something they can excel in. We can't, and shouldn't do away with those programs. They're essential to a complete education. He's right, however...$60 million for a new stadium for a high school shows seriously misplaced priorities...unless of course, millions for academic resources and the arts are also available.

So, I agree that we should spend money to support our public schools, but I think the basis for his opinion...that America's public schools are failing, is faulty. The "reformers" have done their job of convincing the American people, and Ebert specifically, of the big lie of failing schools. The failure is, in actual fact, a failure of the politicians, pundits and policy makers to come up with ways to reduce child poverty. Instead of supporting our struggling schools and the students within them, we reduce their funds, fire their staffs and close them down. The children who are living in poverty end up being shuffled somewhere else and the cycle repeats itself.

One of the comments to Ebert's article...by DMichael...struck me as being right on target. We need to focus on helping all students achieve.
...I don't know why people don't understand this: there are 2 things we could do, almost immediately, to dramatically improve both life in the US in general, and our ability to compete in the world at large. In both cases, we're falling behind.

Universal health care, universal education.

Note that I did not say *free* health care or education. Everybody who pays taxes pays into our health and education. And what do we get as a nation, in return?

We get healthy citizens. People whose income doesn't stop them from preventative treatment, which keeps them out of the emergency room for a headache. People who don't wander the streets shouting at their shoes, until they snap and pick up a semi-automatic.

We get a work force that is in excellent health, in better physical condition, and producing much healthier children in the process.

We get healthy citizens, who are able to be educated to the limits of their intelligence and ability. That might mean being a great mechanic, or the woman who grew up in poverty but who finds the universal cure for cancer—because she was smart enough not rich enough to attend the best schools.

We, as a society, benefit from a health[y], educated citizenry. We do NOT benefit when people are sick, or undereducated, or dying—just because they are not financially well off.

There is no way we do *not* benefit. Healthier people in general means insurance risks are lower, which lowers the cost of health care—even while covering more people.

Public education that is of the same high quality, whether you're living in the inner city or a gated community, benefits every single American in the long run, with a more educated work force, higher quality products, and much less reliance on foreign brain power.

[Other wealthy nations have] figured it out. It's time for us to join the 21st century.

Readers from Indiana, did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Click here to sign the Petition!

1.3 million signatures by Thanksgiving!!


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Don't Major in Education?

Valerie Strauss printed an excerpt from 60 Minutes -- an interview with historian David McCullough. See Historian David McCullough: No ‘professional teacher should major in education’

She wrote,
Everyone’s a critic about the teaching profession. That includes award-winning historian David McCullough, who was profiled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday by correspondent Morley Safer. Along with talking about teacher education, he noted that young Americans are “historically illiterate” — and it’s not just the fault of teachers, but parents too.
What makes McCullough an expert on public education? He's America's Greatest Historian, according to his publisher, but I don't see any experience in his bio to indicated any experience in education, primary or secondary. He's apparently well respected in his field, but I don't understand why that gives him the expertise to pontificate about education training. I might have opinions about how to write a history book, or interpret an event in history, however, those of you who read this blog regularly (anyone? anyone?) will note that I don't write about history...and especially don't write about how historians should be trained or educated.

Here's what McCullough said which upset me...
David McCullough: ...I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. “Show them what you love” is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.
This is just another instance of not respecting teachers. Arne Duncan claims that advanced degrees don't matter -- perhaps because he doesn't have one. McCullough takes it one step further and claims that education degrees don't matter.

And here's the comment I left on the web site. I've edited it a bit in order to correct a couple of things, but it's essentially the same.
In my district elementary teachers usually teach all subjects...which, I believe, is fairly common around the country. It's the norm for an elementary teacher in our district to teach 6-8 different subjects...English, Reading, Writing, Spelling, aka Language Arts, along with Math, Science, Health and Social Studies.

Are we supposed to major in 5 different fields in order to teach a class of first graders?

It seems to me that McCullough, as well as many others, confuse content area knowledge learned through degree programs with educating students. I agree that a high school history teacher (or math teacher, or science teacher etc.) who teaches 120-160 kids the same (or similar) subject all day every day needs to have specialized training in their subject area, but McCullough's comment that no professional teacher should major in education is just plain ignorant. An education degree, if it's done right, includes teaching methods, child development, child psychology, curriculum development and a myriad of other things that subject area specialists, like professional historians, don't get exposed to. Educators don't fill up students with knowledge. They teach children how to learn.

If he's talking ONLY about secondary teachers then let him say so...instead of ignoring the millions of pre-k to grade 5 teachers. On the other hand, I'm not sure I agree with him even if he IS talking only secondary.

One of the problems in the public debate over education is the proliferation of experts...seemingly everyone who attended school - except teachers - Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and now David McCullough.

Increase content requirements for subject area teachers if needed, but don't blame teachers for anecdotal lack of content knowledge. I wonder how long a history major would last in a class of 40 kindergartners in the Chicago Public Schools...

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Petitions to Support Public Education in Indiana

Some folks have started a petition to ask the governor and legislature to acknowledge that Glenda Ritz, the Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect was elected to change the plan which Tony Bennett has been pushing in Indiana.

Click HERE to sign the petition.

Here's the content:
Indiana voters elected Glenda Ritz as our new Superintendent of Public Instruction by a large margin. She received roughly 1,300,000 votes--about 100,000 more votes than the governor-elect, Mike Pence. Now, however, Governor Daniels refuses to acknowledge that our election of Glenda Ritz sent a clear message on the direction of school reform, saying instead: "The consensus and momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid." Governor-elect Mike Pence is also choosing to interpret the election results as a "strong affirmation on the progress of education reform in this state," (Journal Gazette 11/8/12). On the contrary: when Indiana voters elected Glenda Ritz as superintendent, we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Petition Letter

Dear Governor, Indiana Legislators and D.O.E. Board,

Indiana voters elected Glenda Ritz as Superintendent of Public Instruction by a large margin. She received roughly 1,300,000 votes--about 100,000 more votes than the governor-elect, Mike Pence. We call upon Governor Daniels, future governor Mike Pence, the D.O.E. Board, and our legislature to respect voters' clear message on the direction of public education in Indiana. We affirm our support for our candidate and her platform:

"More time to education, less time to testing" The use of high-stake testing to judge children, schools, and communities harms the process of teaching and learning.

"More control to local school districts to implement state and federal standards" Local schools need resources and support, not rigid dictates.

"Clear the barriers to quality vocational education" Schools must be given the flexibility to support a vibrant curriculum for high school students' vocational interests.

"Make teacher licensing and evaluation standards top in the nation" All children should be taught by qualified instructors. Effective teacher preparation programs are vital, and teacher licensing should be based upon comprehensive, effective teacher preparation.

"Stop the flow of public tax dollars to private education companies running take-over schools"

We believe public tax dollars belong in public schools. All school districts in Indiana deserve equitable funding.

The vote for Glenda Ritz is a mandate for the protection of the child's constitutional right to a free, high-quality public education as articulated in Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana State Constitution, funded by tax dollars.

[Your name]

And here's another one which seems to be specifically directed at supporters of Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor-elect.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, November 9, 2012

The Daily Show Focuses on Public Eduction

Valerie Strauss posted this on her Answer Sheet Blog...Thanks to Jon Stewart for bringing this to the public attention. Intermediate School 318...
On “The Daily Show” Thursday night, Jon Stewart did a segment that focused on public education — the impact of budget cuts, how kids learn, teachers. This was all in his discussion with director Katie Dellamaggiore and student Pobo Efekoro about their documentary film “Brooklyn Castle,” which details how budget cuts affected a highly successful chess program at a New York City middle school.

Stewart notes the illogic of axing the chess program, the heart of the school, while money for standardized tests was not in jeopardy because of the budget cuts. Efekoro, who was a student at the school, says: “The teachers were fabulous. A lot of my teachers that I had, according to the city they are bad, but the fact of the matter is that I loved them.” And Stewart said: “Because they are being graded on a criterion that is much more mathematic….”
There's no logic to how the "reformers" deal with public schools. The goal is to dismiss, de-professionalize and privatize...not educate. 

The documentary, Brooklyn Castle, tells the story of how chess transformed an entire school.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Did Bennett Really Lose in Indiana?

Tony Bennett and the state Republican leaders are full of excuses as to why Glenda Ritz pulled off the upset of the billionaire-backed Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ritz raised less than $400,000 in her quest for office, while Bennett raked in over $1.5 million from rich, out of state "reformers" like the Walton family and New York Mayor and public education privatizer, Michael Bloomberg. While Bennett was schmoozing the rich and raising money, Ritz was talking to teachers, parents and concerned citizens about the corporate takeover of public education in Indiana.

Now Bennett claims that the Common Core standards are in jeopardy of being lost in Indiana...and it was the fault of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) that he lost.

Tony Bennett Says Common Core in Jeopardy in Indiana
The reason, Bennett said, is that he knew the Indiana teachers' unions would be "formidable foes" in any election fight, and that his policy initiatives in the last four years would generate strong opposition from some in the state education establishment. Bennett is a big national voice on issues prioritized by so-called "education reform" advocates, but his education stardom wasn't enough to satisfy Hoosier voters, who gave Ritz 52 percent of the vote and Bennett 48 percent...
Notice the subtle language choices..."opposition from some in the state education establishment." He's referring to the ISTA, even though the state education establishment has been the forces of "reform" (including his DOE, the charter board, and the Indiana State Legislature) for the entire time he's been in office.

Fellow blogger, A Huntington Teacher responded with another view...
...Indiana teacher unions were not, in entirety, his foes. Yes, it was a union per se; a union of teachers, parents, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and everyone who knew what was really happening in education under Bennett.

...Bennett thinks Common Core's survival in Indiana, and also that privatization and vochers are in jeopardy in Indiana. That we can agree on. The difference - I'm not worried about it. I'm hopeful for it.
Ritz's supporters (and I'm one of them) have said that Bennett's claim that the ISTA beat him is wrong and, in truth, he beat himself. He, along with the legislature and governor, spent his term of office working to make teachers lives harder and public education weaker by supporting unproven "reforms" like vouchers, teacher evaluations based on the test, the end of collective bargaining, a state based teachers contract (as opposed to locally developed contracts), high stakes consequences for third graders and extensive support for charter schools at the expense of support for regular public schools. The reforms were popular with the billionaires who financed his campaign, but with the average teacher...and the average parent who appreciated their children's teachers...the average public school advocate...not so much.

But is that true? Is it true that Ritz was elected on a referendum on Bennett's policies?

The incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction will have a tough time changing things. The Republican leadership in the state is excusing Bennett's loss as due to his personality rather than his policies.

GOP firm despite education coup
Top Republican officials, including the current and future governor, argued vehemently Wednesday that their education reform mandate is intact despite the defeat of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

“The consensus and the momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said.

“Every other factor that matters is aligned in this state in the direction of progress and change and reform, of teacher accountability, of more choices for families, more ability for school leadership to lead.”

Gov.-elect Mike Pence said his election on an agenda of education change, as well as the House’s picking up a supermajority of members, points to Hoosiers supporting continued progress in the area...

“This is not an indictment in any way of reforms,” [GOP House Speaker] Bosma said. “Some of the education reform controversy deals with the tone and presentation of the reforms and how it’s explained. Occasionally the discussion moved into arenas that teachers found offensive.”
Electorally, they are correct. Those who voted against Bennett blamed him for all the losses felt by the public schools in Indiana...the difficulties at the local school level of finding enough money to keep programs alive and schools open...the takeover of local public schools by corporate charters...the loss of money to public schools due to vouchers...the pressure to adopt the Common Core. Nevertheless the people of Indiana voted the politicians who legislated the destruction of our public schools into law right back into office.

The voters in Indiana, while scapegoating Bennett for the attacks on public education which he articulated and represented, ignored the legislators who also made it happen. The GOP leadership is right to believe that "Hoosiers [support] continued progress in [education]" -- meaning that by our votes, we've agreed that everything Bennett did should continue.

The legislature passed Indiana's voucher program.
The legislature gutted the collective bargaining law for teachers.
The legislature established the Indiana Charter School Board.
The legislature voted into law teacher evaluation and performance based on test scores.

The legislative agenda of Tony Bennett and his Department of Public Instruction was upheld and approved by the voters in the last election.

Glenda Ritz may have been elected because people didn't like Tony Bennett. I know she wants to change those policies he put in place...but it's going to be tough for her to change the ones which have already been turned into law, because the voters spoke clearly on November 6th. School "reform" in Indiana got the go-ahead at the ballot box.

I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to see Superintendent-elect Ritz give us real school reform...more support for struggling schools instead of closures and punishments...real teacher evaluations based on professional development and "best practices" instead of student test scores...smaller class sizes...local control of schools and finally, less testing and more teaching. But I doubt that she can do it alone...with the Governor and a Supermajority in the legislature bound to stick to the status quo.

Her campaign literature emphasized things like...
  • more control to local school districts
  • stopping the flow of public money to private companies
  • preventing the lowering of standards for teachers
  • improving career and technical education
Those of you who voted for Ritz...but then voted for your legislator who did exactly the opposite of what she wants...it's time to start writing to your state senators and representatives. Tony Bennett's agenda is alive and well in the state legislature.


...and just for the record...

...vouchers don't help public schools improve by creating competition.
...teachers unions and contracts don't lower student achievement.
...a charter school is not a guarantee of better performance.*
...using test scores to evaluate teachers is invalid, inappropriate, and scientifically without basis.

Other articles about the Indiana Election

Bad losers in Tuesday’s election

Don't Count Your Chickens Before Elections: Tony Bennett's Defeat in Indiana

Major school reformer ousted by teacher as Indiana schools superintendent

The Most Important Education Vote Yesterday

A call for Obama to change course on ed reform

*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!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Win for Ritz and I'm a TV Star!

Educator Glenda Ritz overcame huge donations for her opponent and unseated Indiana's incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett. Ritz got support from teachers of all political persuasions through social media and small rallies throughout the state...while still teaching part time.

Bennett was a strong "reformer" pushing merit pay (teacher evaluations based on student test scores), vouchers, school takeovers, and corporate charters...none of which have been shown to help student achievement.

From State Impact (NPR)...

What Glenda Ritz’s Victory Over Tony Bennett Means For Indiana Schools
“This [race] is definitely being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Mike Petrilli, the executive vice president of the right-leaning Fordham Institute and Bennett ally, told the Associated Press. “If Tony Bennett can push this kind of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.”

The Indy Star‘s Scott Elliott posits Bennett will land on his feet. But what about the national education policy circles who supported him? As Andrew Ujifsa writes at State EdWatch:

This has to be a major blow for charter, school choice, and the general “education reform” community. Bennett was an outspoken champion of big changes that happened in the Hoosier State and others around the country, and he was also a strong GOP voice for things like the Common Core State Standards. What will his loss mean for that community going forward?

As Indiana Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Brinegar summed it up for Inside Indiana Business, “virtually all the legislators who voted in favor of education reform were re-elected and the Superintendent of Public Instruction was not.”

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette...

A mandate for Ritz
Ritz’s victory has much more to do with the grassroots efforts of classroom teachers and public education advocates across the state.

Bennett’s loss has national significance. The state superintendent promoted his legislative success across the country last year, earning awards from conservative groups.

His campaign chest of about $1.5 million included contributions from billionaires and hedge-fund managers far from Indiana.

“If Bennett loses, this is a huge defeat for the right-wing reform agenda of teacher bashing and privatization,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” “Last year, the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute honored Bennett as the ‘reformiest’ state superintendent. He has a national profile for his hard-driving agenda of charters, vouchers and high-stakes testing. A loss for Bennett means that Indiana voters are not willing to hand off public education to for-profit corporations or to allow Bennett to dismantle the teaching profession.”

From WANE.com, Fort Wayne...

Check out this clip from WANE TV in Fort Wayne. Some of us from Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) attended a rally for Glenda Ritz last Friday at Friends, Too Restaurant in Fort Wayne on November 2.

As the camera pans from left to right, my washed out image, pans from right to left. I'm wearing my green NEIFPE shirt.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - Nov.2012

Here are some pictures, graphic images and cartoons from FaceBook -- plus my own 2 cents worth of comments. Click on any image to see the full sized version.

On Being a Teacher

Teaching to "the test" is not included!

Bipartisan Agreement

This is my "election day" thought. No matter who wins today's Presidential election, unless we, as teachers, parents, and concerned citizens, do something to change people's minds, nothing will change. The selling/privatization of the nation's public schools is a mistake.

Who Will Choose to Teach?

Teach Them to Think...

...not just bubble an answer. Critical and creative thinking aren't being measured by today's tests, yet critical and creative thinking are essential for the success of our society.

Shock Therapy

I'm reminded of the discussion in The Shock Doctine, about shock therapy used on individuals and societies as a means to privatization.
...those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic and extreme free market economic policies...
such as mayoral control of school systems, instead of elected school boards...corporate charter boards instead of elected school boards...

Public School Teachers: Miracles Performed Daily

We have millions of dedicated, hard working, competent teachers in public school classrooms around the country. They deserve better than to be mis-characterized as lazy, incompetent, money-grubbing, selfish union thugs. We teach because we value learning and children.
“I touch the future. I teach.” -- Christa McAuliffe



We teach reading to create a society of life-long learners.


What does our society value?

Do we value creativity? Understanding? Or do we value money and power. Why are billionaires who have never attended or worked in a public school accepted as experts on education? Why do politicians, pundits and policy makers ignore the experience of teachers when they make their punitive attacks on public education, public school teachers and public sector unions? Why aren't the people who caused our current economic problems held accountable?

Why does one of the richest nation's on Earth allow a fourth of their children to live in poverty?


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 Medley #22

Politics, Testing, Professional Educators,
Lead, Libraries and Privatization.



It's crunch time in Indiana. The election is tomorrow and there is a close race between the incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, and his challenger, Glenda Ritz. If you live in Indiana and haven't voted yet, be sure to pull the lever next to Ritz's name.

Give more control to local school districts
Stop the flow of public tax dollars to private education companies running take-over schools
Stop the lowering of standards for teacher licensing and evaluations
Clear the barriers to quality career and technical education


Politics and school reform: Power, ideology and the use of evidence

Larry Cuban, writing in Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet, wants to believe that the privatizers will finally look at evidence...and that public education will be transformed because the evidence shows that privatization, charters, and vouchers don't help.
Republican legislators had pressured the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service into withdrawing a report that reached a conclusion about tax rates and economic growth that undercut a central GOP philosophy. -- Valerie Strauss
The rational part of me still expects top decision-makers, even ex-governors, to use the best evidence available to support proposed directions. The real-world political part of me, however, recognizes that policy elites cherry-pick studies and facts to support decisions already determined. I guess I am still innocent enough to expect top decision-makers faced with an accumulation of evidence that runs counter to their advocacy of technology policies, at the very least, would pull up their socks and admit that they either goofed or would reconsider their decision. They won’t because Oops! is taboo in policymakers’ vocabulary.

I would find the expression of honest doubts about policies derived from facts, not faith, to be both refreshing and courageous. -- Larry Cuban

Ann Romney: We Need To ‘Throw Out’ The Public Education System*

Ann Romney echoes her husband's feelings about public schools. She blames the unions, of course. How does she (or her husband) explain that their home state of Massachusetts has such a successful school system while being heavily unionized?

How many public school advocates will vote against their own interests tomorrow?
The charter schools have provided the answers. The teachers’ unions are preventing those things from happening, from bringing real change to our educational system. We need to throw out the system. -- Ann Romney
This attack on public school teachers echoes one that has been frequently heard in her husband’s stump speeches and debates. In his Friday economic speech, he said “It matters for the child in a failing school, unable to go to the school of his parent’s choosing, because the teacher’s union that funds the President’s campaign opposes school choice.”

Both Romneys have it wrong. President Obama has also consistently supported charter schools as a supplement to traditional schools. In May, he declared in his “Charter School Week” proclamation, “charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country.” Obama has opposed, however, proposals to take taxpayer money out of public schools and to fund private and parochial schools that do not have to achieve the same standards. Romney has embraced a risky school voucher scheme. Studies have also shown that charter schools may not necessarily improve children’s education.


Point Person: Our Q+A with John Kuhn on school’s over-reliance on testing (Requires paid subscription)

John Kuhn denounces the overuse and misuse of testing.
Question: How does this [focus on standardized testing] affect how a teacher teaches?

Kuhn: Teachers face a perverse incentive to drill and kill in the classroom and focus intensely on the narrow curriculum that is tested. Principals face the temptation to enforce scripted approaches that overemphasize test prep. Marketers are pitching materials keyed to STAAR with great zeal; districts face an onslaught of big promises: “Raise STAAR Scores Now!” Some teachers and schools resist a test-centered approach in favor of a child-centered approach; but with livelihoods on the line if scores don't rise, it’s as if teachers are being asked to teach under hanging anvils.

Teachers and administrators agree with the need for accountability and want to be held accountable for our results. What we ask for are honest measures that take into account all factors that contribute to our success or failure. Educational outcomes do not solely hinge on teacher quality. There are home and community and funding factors in play, but accountability gurus are happy to leave those variables out of their formulas. No one but the teachers are up for criticism in their world of selective accountability.

The U.S. Department of Education has chosen to set a 100 percent standardized testing pass rate as the goal, with constant classroom duress as the main motivator for teachers and students and absolutely no pressure on legislators to provide equitable resources from school district to school district. We shouldn’t be surprised to see unintended consequences as schools struggle to attain the impossible: getting 100 percent of their kids to pass the almighty bubble test by 2014. What's good for test scores isn't always what's good for kids, but our punitive accountability fetish has established test scores as the measurably more important of the two.

Question: But aren't there poor teachers who fail to prepare their students, and don't test scores help establish that?

Kuhn: Yes, poor teachers exist. No, a poor test score doesn’t establish poor teaching. It’s not that simple. A terrible teacher in an $8,000-per-pupil school may obtain higher scores than a wonderful teacher in a $4,000-per-pupil school. Those extra funds impact outcomes by providing smaller classes, fewer leaks in the roof, more and newer instructional materials, and various supports that aren’t available at the other school.

Our current system dissuades the best teachers from teaching in our toughest schools because they will be facilely scapegoated for things outside their control. Pinning everything on the classroom teacher lets policymakers and budget writers off the hook pretty easily. Accountability only falls on teachers, and politicians laugh all the way to re-election.


The 'Natural' Teacher
The best advice I can give teachers today who face demands I never did during the 28 years that I taught is to try to form bonds with students. As I wrote before, "there has to be chemistry between teacher and students" ("What Jaime Escalante Taught All of Us," Apr. 5, 2010). Although multicultural classrooms can enrich learning, they can also make it hard to understand students whose backgrounds are different. But it's important not to give up trying to reach them. Teachers may find, as I did, that my students taught me more than I taught them.


If the goal is 100% "failure" then we're almost there

Mike Klonsky talks about how lead poisoning is still an issue in the Chicago Public Schools. How does this fit into the test-score-based-evaluation of teachers?

There's not better example of these negative external poverty-driven forces than the fact that Chicago has the distinction of being home to more cases of lead toxicity than any large city in the U.S. One in 12 of the city's children is lead poisoned. Megan Cottrell makes the link between lead poisoning and under-performing students in the Nov. 1 issue of The Reader.
A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the blood lead levels of third graders between 2003 and 2006—students now likely to be roaming the halls at CPS high schools. It turns out that at three-quarters of Chicago's 464 elementary schools, the students' average blood lead level was high enough to be considered poisoned, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although lead poisoning is rarely mentioned in the debate on how to improve schools, the UIC research shows just how much it may be damaging kids' ability to succeed. According to the study, lead-poisoned students in Chicago Public Schools are more likely to fail the third grade and score notably lower on their yearly standardized tests.


New PA Study Shows Full-time School Librarian Boosts Student Achievement

This supports everything we already know about the importance of libraries in public schools...and gives strength to the argument in favor of public school libraries. This is research that matters...will the "reformers" listen?
“The overall findings fit with research we’ve seen in other states—access to a full-time, certified school librarian significantly impacts students achievement in reading,” said Debra Kachel, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Legislation Committee Co-Chairperson. “What stands out to me is the impact on writing scores,” she said. “We haven’t seen that data before, and it underscores the larger impact having a full-time, certified school librarian has on skills, such as writing, that prepare students for college and the workforce.”


Recipe for Privatization of Public Education
Here is a satirical “Recipe for How To Change The Nation’s Schools.” I am a 33 year classroom teaching veteran currently working on the campaign to stop the charter school initiative in WA state. It doesn’t look good as Bill Gates and friends spend $9 million on ads (we have no ads).

RECIPE for Taking over a Nation’s Public Schools

  • A Few Super Wealthy Families (that have never attended public schools)
  • Powerful Religious Groups convinced that what is wrong with the nation is caused by public education.
  • Lobbyists for Private Corporations Waiting To Cash In on Public Money.
  • A Political System that allows legislation to be “bought” where campaign money is uncontrolled.
  • The illusion that the Public School System is Broken (despite the fact that it has steadily gotten better over time according to the NAEP)
  • A few convincing movies to create a negative version of public schools to sway public sentiment.
  • A pretense at reform by mandating progress on test scores with unattainable, unsupported goals that ensure turmoil and failure. Tie funding to those scores so they become all consuming. Also, remember that testing is big business for our friends.
  • Someone to Blame: Teacher Unions (this is an especially important ingredient since they are the only organization with enough influence to stop the process of taking over the public schools)

Put all the ingredients together, stir well. When the time is right, buy legislation with millions and millions of dollars that puts into place the kind of privately controlled schools you really want. Also, do this in a way that further weakens neighborhood public schools by stealing their funding and resources.

Finally, sit back and enjoy you what you have created: A new version of Public Schools where teacher’s cannot unionize, where creationism can be taught as scientific truth with public funds, and where corporations can better control education of the public more to their liking while their friends cash in on the profits.

The frosting on the cake: Yes, it was a little expensive buying these ingredients, but now we have the public permanently financing our project!

Personal Note
Diane, thanks for all your years of kind, patient and compassionate service to struggling learners (and their teachers!). You brought that same kind, patient and compassionate bearing to the friendships you offered so freely. Thanks for brightening our lives with your smile, your understanding, and your supersized heart. You will be missed by all who knew you. 

*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!