"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

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!


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