"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, June 27, 2013

2013 Medley #13

Public Involvement, Poverty,
ALEC, Privatization


Reclaim the conversation.

The "reformers" own the media and their words get the publicity. Lately, though, the voice of teachers and students are being heard, for example...

This is what Chicago Democracy Looks Like.
Badass Teachers Association on Facebook.

It's about time that those directly involved in public education, the teachers, parents and students, reclaim the conversation about America's schools from the likes of Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee.

NEA Set to Launch Educator Led National Movement for Public Education

It's about time. I've been disappointed with the NEA leadership under President Dennis Van Roekel. NEA has the opportunity to lead the re-professionalizing of the teaching profession. Let's hope that the new leadership does a better job.
The foundation of the Raise Your Hand campaign rests on the strong belief that educators – not politicians or self-proclaimed “reform” experts – know what works and they are the ones to lead and act for student success.
Well-Behaved Educators Rarely Make History

Why aren't more educators speaking out? The national movement is, after all, moving towards the destruction of their livelihood and career. It's mostly fear.

In numerous conversations I've heard teachers and administrators say things like, "I really agree with you, but..." They follow with things like, "...the state is forcing this on us," or "...this is coming from the superintendent's office," or "...in order to keep our funding..." The pressure that the legislatures and pundits have put on public education doesn't give educators the option of fighting back.
Teachers feel stifled, and children are at risk of being educated on a production line. Although many teachers and school leaders are taking one step forward and trying to innovate through all of this, mandates and accountability force them to take two steps back.

Educators are rule followers by nature. It's just who they are. They believe following rules is an important part of learning. This goes for administrators as well. Unfortunately, many administrators enforce rules they don't believe in. They abide by rules in the hallway and complain about them behind closed doors. That rule following doesn't create necessary change and its helping make education worse.

But what can educators do? They don't want to lose funding. They don't want to get in "trouble."

Many teachers don't feel as though they can speak out for a variety of reasons. They may not know where to begin, have a deep fear of saying something negative, or have an unsupportive administrator. They fear being moved to another school or being given an unfair observation that punishes them for being too vocal. Some administrators are fearful too. They work for superintendents who are too political and care less about speaking out against mandates and accountability that is unfair to students.
See also Why Aren't More School Leaders Fighting Against Ed Reform?

The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do

Read through some of the (hundreds! of) comments to this post to get an indication of the reasons that educators are afraid of speaking out. Someone needs to do a psychological study about why so many people hate teachers.
I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail.

Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”

And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills….

Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class.

Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?”

And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….


As Poverty Increases, Reformers Cling to the “New Status Quo”

"Reformers" like to say they are fighting the status quo, but the overuse and misuse of testing began after A Nation At Risk* in the early 80s. Punishment for low test scores was added with No Child Left Behind in 2001. ALEC has been writing anti public education legislation which states have been passing since it started in 1973. The beating up of public education using testing as a club has been the status quo for a long time.
According to its 2013 Condition of Education report, one in five schools in the United States are considered high poverty. Twenty percent of public school students attended these schools in 2011, considerably more than the 12 percent who did in 1999–2000. That year, 45 percent of students attended a low-poverty school. Now only 25 percent do. Overall, approximately 10.9 million school-age children are from families living in poverty, a four percent increase from a decade earlier.

The trend is stark – poverty is affecting more and more students. And yet, the debate over education – at least how it plays out in the national media and many legislatures across the country- continues to freeze out substantive discussions about poverty and its obvious impact on student achievement. The ongoing fascination with market-driven education reform proposals and their media-savvy boosters leaves room for little else, although recent scrutiny over faulty standardized tests is reason for encouragement.
*A good response to A Nation At Risk is the book, The Manufactured Crisis by David Berliner.

Under GOP Plan, States Would Be Free To Take Money Away From Poorest Schools

The Federal government has a role to play in the lives of Americans. The Jim Crow laws might still be on the books in the "Old Confederacy" if not for Federal intervention. Sometimes the states need to have their arms twisted to do what's right. The same is true for public education.

Unlike what the right wing seems to believe, the government is not always bad.
The measure represents the conservative establishment’s answer to the failures of the Bush-era education reforms known as No Child Left Behind. Proponents argue it would close achievement gaps by freeing states to spend federal money allocated to poverty-stricken schools without being bound by the conditions of current education laws. But as a ThinkProgress guest blogger wrote in 2011, the bill would “widen achievement gaps rather than close them” because states are unlikely to maintain funding levels for poor schools if given the freedom A-PLUS provides:

"The sad fact is that states don’t always take actions to support their most vulnerable children. Texas officials recently battled over whether education money should be used to actually provide education services to children, a standoff that ended after nine long months. As budget cuts force increasing numbers of states to wrestle with funding challenges, federal Title I funds must remain a stable source of funding for students who have the least access to resources."
Comments on Sirota and Strauss: ML King was right about poverty and education

High achieving nations already understand this. We need to take care of the basic needs of our citizens.
Studies have failed to find a correlation between improved test scores and subsequent economic progress and have also shown that job loss results in depressed school performance. In one study, job losses affecting 3.4% of state's population predict a decline of 10 points on standardized math tests.. Their results also indicated that "downturns affect all students, not just students who experience parental job loss."

This data strongly suggests that reducing poverty helps raise educational levels, not the other way around. It means that Martin Luther King was right:

"We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).


Vulture Capitalism in Education with ALEC
Dennis Van Roekel, who now represents 3 million educators as president of the National Education Association, said, “if just one percent of K-12 education spending were diverted to private profits, it would mean $5 Billion a year in someone’s pocket.” Is it any surprise that there are so many Charter Schools and Virtual Schools popping up all over the country when the research has not shown any greater student achievement scores for children in Charter Schools over students in public education?
Exposing ALEC's Agenda to Defund and Dismantle Public Education
So the core of ALEC's education agenda is about vouchers and privatization. Of course, since educators have unions that resist vouchers and privatization, they will do anything in their power to weaken our unions and silence our voices. That's why ALEC backs anti-union measures like the attack on workers' right to collective bargaining. They want to strip away our ability to negotiate not only for salary and health care for our families, but also for things that affect our students, like smaller class sizes.
Full Show: United States of ALEC — A Follow-Up

Moyers' documentary on ALEC, expanded and updated. Comments about Alec's involvement with the privatization of public education starts at about 11:45. Keep watching...there's more that starts at about 23:30. At this point it delves into the question of privatization of public education and the corporate interests behind the move towards privatization.


Charters* not outperforming nation’s traditional public schools, report says

Charters have improved, but are still doing about the same as public schools. The 2009 study said the same things with similar numbers.

The problem is not public school teachers, or public schools. The problem is that there is a segment of our society which wants control of the money going to educate our children.
The nation’s public charter schools are growing more effective but most don’t produce better academic results when compared with traditional public schools, according to a report released Tuesday.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.
Bill signing highlights state support for sectarian schools

The so-called "Choice" movement claims to give choice to parents, but actually, with the voucher program, the choice is that of the school, not the parent.
The setting was significant Thursday when Gov. Mike Pence signed House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s school voucher program. He signed it at Calvary Christian School, a small Pentecostal school on the south side of Indianapolis that enrolls voucher students.

The governor praised the voucher expansion for giving more “choice” to parents and students. However, you can only choose Calvary Christian if it chooses to let you in. “Families expect a higher level of achievement and behavior at CCS,” the school’s handbook says, “and as such the admission process requires that incoming students’ records be carefully reviewed.”
OP-ED | A Window Into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Dystopia

Public schools need public oversight. Private schools and corporate CMOs shouldn't be receiving public funds.
Alfie Kohn, a leading author and lecturer on education, is even more blunt.

“Anyone who punishes children by suspending them repeatedly, confining them, or stigmatizing and publicly humiliating them is either deeply ignorant about how to help kids or is more concerned with the adults’ convenience than with doing what’s in the best interest of the students. Or I suppose there’s a third possibility, which is that the school deliberately mistreats challenging kids in the hope that they’ll give up and withdraw, thereby allowing the school to weed out students with special needs so Achievement First can boast about its results. If the Gates Foundation is funding schools that engage in practices like this, that’s a strong argument for us to resist its involvement in education.”

*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.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Open Reply to President Obama

I write to President Obama regularly. I've been speaking out to him against his destructive privatization scheme labeled Race to the Top run by the Broad-trained Arne Duncan, his Secretary of Education with no public school teaching experience. The response I get is usually canned, scripted, filled with meaningless references to "improving schools," "global competition," "world class education" and "strengthening the teaching profession." His administration has set forth a plan which promotes privatization and guarantees a weakened teaching profession, and the continued achievement gap between rich and poor.

I have decided that it's time to respond to the administration's canned answers and to the damage their Race to the Top is doing to public education. So here, then, is my response. The President's letter, which will be included in its entirety, is in italics. My responses and quotes from others will be in unitalicized print.


Dear President Obama,

Thank you for writing. My Administration is working to ensure America’s young people have educational opportunities worthy of their potential, and I appreciate hearing from you.

There is no stronger foundation for success than a great education. We must provide our children with the world-class education they need to succeed and our Nation needs to compete in the global economy. Our classrooms should be places of high expectations and success, where all students receive an education that prepares them for higher learning and high-demand careers in our fast-changing economy.
Have our classrooms become places of high expectations?

If you believe that standardized tests increase expectations then I suppose that's correct. However, your use of the phrase high expectations reminds me of President Bush's (43) use of the phrase, "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

In Bush's case I would respond that the "soft bigotry of low expectations" is compounded by the hard bigotry of poor opportunities. Public schools for students living in poverty need more support, not what they usually get, which is less. Teaching to the tests, and scripted instruction don't improve learning. Dilapidated physical environs, rapid teacher and administrator turnaround, and lack of supplies aren't enough to help students fight off the detrimental effects of poverty.

In 2000 Alfie Kohn wrote,
Fact 2. Noninstructional factors explain most of the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared. A study of math results on the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the combination of four such variables (number of parents living at home, parents' educational background, type of community, and poverty rate) accounted for a whopping 89 percent of the differences in state scores. To the best of my knowledge, all such analyses of state tests have found comparable results, with the numbers varying only slightly as a function of which socioeconomic variables were considered.
Apparently we haven't learned his lesson of 13 years ago...and the definition of high expectations continues to be "the responsibility for improving achievement falls 100% to public schools and public school teachers. None of the responsibility seems to belong to policy makers...or to parents...or to students...or to anyone else."

High expectations should include the attempt by policy makers to end all the other societal gaps as well as the achievement gap -- the income gap, the nutrition gap, the health care gap, the incarceration gap, the homeowner gap, the poverty gap, and the unemployment gap. Schools can't do it alone.

Martin Luther King Jr. said,
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.... We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.
Mr. President, you say that our classrooms should be places of high expectations and success. I'm afraid that the success will be difficult to find without high expectations of our policy makers for the other problems of our nation.

Equipping young Americans with the tools for success must start at the earliest possible age. Today, fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program—and for many children, this lack of access to preschool can leave a shadow that lasts a lifetime. That is why I have proposed working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, and reducing crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, students grow up more likely to read and do math at their grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form stable families of their own. So we must do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life behind.
I agree. NEAToday wrote...
Under the president’s plan, states will be eligible to receive new federal dollars in return for investing their own dollars. And while the federal government will ensure that state programs meet high quality standards, states will continue to run their own programs.

This state-federal partnership would cover all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. The federal resources would also free up state dollars to reach 3-year-olds and children from higher-income families and to provide full-day kindergarten.

High quality early childhood education represents one of the best investments our country can make, and the National Education Association believes it’s a common sense investment we can’t afford to pass up.
My Administration continues to make historic investments to strengthen our public education system, including our Race to the Top program—a competition that spurred states to make comprehensive reforms of their public school systems to prepare all students for college and career. Race to the Top focuses on what is best for our students by engaging state and local leaders and educators in adopting better standards that prepare students for college and career, turning around our lowest-performing schools, developing and rewarding effective teachers and leaders, and implementing meaningful assessments to track the progress of our students. Building on this ambitious program, I announced a new initiative to provide high school students with challenging and relevant academic and career-related learning experiences that prepare them for success in higher education and the workforce. With funding I have proposed in my FY2014 budget, we will reward schools that redesign teaching and learning in high schools to foster new partnerships with colleges and employers and strengthen classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills students need to thrive in a high-tech world.
Where do I being with this paragraph? There are so many untruths, errors and misrepresentations in one paragraph that choosing which one to rebut first is a challenge. I don't want to take the time and space to reproduce all the information included in the following links, but I hope you'll take the time to read some of them so you can understand how your Race to the Top is hurting America's public schools.
1. My Administration continues to make historic investments to strengthen our public education system...

Your administration hasn't strengthened our public education system. If anything, you've weakened it...significantly...in what seems to be an attempt at privatization.
2. ...Race to the Top program—a competition that spurred states...

Race to the Top is a competition and it did spur states on to make reforms, but the reforms are damaging public education. We know that schools can't change the out-of-school factors which contribute in a large part to the achievement of students. Since schools can't change those factors, competition, with its winners and losers, is not appropriate to public education.
3. ...adopting better standards that prepare students for college and career...

There is no basis to the belief that the "better standards" will prepare students for college and career. I think you're referring to the so-called "Common Core State Standards." These standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. No one knows how they will affect students, teachers, or schools.
4. Your method of turning around our lowest performing schools seems to consist in closing them, or having states close them, and opening charter schools which, as research has shown, don't do any better than traditional public schools.
5. Your method of rewarding effective teachers is by using test scores as the basis for merit pay for teachers. We know from research that this doesn't work. We know that test scores are closely tied to family income and rewarding effective teachers means that teachers who teach the most educationally needy students will not be rated as "effective." This is just one more way to undervalue and under support schools in poor communities.
6. I'm sorry, Mr. President, but the standardized tests now being used in my state and many others cannot be called meaningful assessments. They're being used because you can get a number from them with which to grade students, teachers, schools and school districts. The number, while convenient, doesn't always reflect what a student knows or what a teacher and school have taught.
7. Your plan to reward schools that redesign teaching and learning sounds suspiciously like rewarding schools for high test scores. I hope that isn't true.


Mr. President, I applaud your desire to reform No Child Left Behind. The Bush (43) education law has carried the test and punishment plan to privatize public schools and deprofessionalize the teaching profession for the last decade. The insane obsession with testing and subsequent punishment for low test scores is the status quo, not the cries for rational assessment, for a reduction in child poverty and for support of public school teachers and public schools by public school advocates. Beginning with the first Bush (41) administration and the response to A Nation At Risk, followed by the Clinton administration and Goals 2000, standardized testing became the method most used to evaluate schools in America. With No Child Left Behind, the goal of grading, ranking and punishing students, teachers, schools and school districts became entrenched. It is now the status quo.

Has your education policy eliminated the most damaging impact of No Child Left Behind?
To further reshape our educational system, we also need to reform the No Child Left Behind Act—a law that has helped advance accountability and expose disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes, but has labeled too many schools as failing and imposed too many unworkable remedies. Because America’s students cannot afford to wait any longer for Congress to act to fix No Child Left Behind, my Administration launched a new Federal-State partnership to provide states with flexibility to advance needed educational reforms in exchange for a commitment to raise standards for all students, improve accountability for low-performing schools, and help teachers and school leaders become more effective. A majority of states has now been granted flexibility from No Child Left Behind, and while states are required to maintain a focus on underserved students, they can move away from one-size-fits-all interventions and mandates to advance locally tailored solutions to do what is best for students.
I'm glad that you understand why No Child Left Behind needs to be reformed. It has an unreachable goal -- 100% proficiency by 2014 -- and it has the consequence of forcing schools and their teachers to teach to the test.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, your waivers which free schools from the Annual Yearly Progress aspect of NCLB will cause standardized testing to be even more important...more pervasive. Read Federal Action and Inaction Produce Testing Deluge.
To earn “waivers” from Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), win Race to the Top grants, and receive Teacher Improvement Program grants, the federal government is requiring states to use standardized test scores as “a significant part” of all teacher evaluations.
The waivers don't help...they make things worse. Diane Ravitch, in an interview with Anthony Cody, said,
One of the many problems with NCLB is that it came packaged with unrealistic, expensive and heavy-handed federal mandates. It put too much emphasis on testing and punishment for failure to reach impossible goals. The waivers now offered by the US Department of Education require the states to comply with other mandates, still tied to the NCLB-style accountability framework. The emphasis on testing under the waiver plan is as heavy-handed as it has been under NCLB. Many schools with high numbers of low-scoring students will be subject to firings and closings. They need help, not punishment. One of the lessons of NCLB is that the federal government does not know how to improve schools.
If you had wanted to help you should have lessened the importance of standardized tests, not increased it. You know that...you've said that is what you want to do.

If you want to learn about the damage caused by high stakes testing you should read one or both of the following...


Your words as a candidate and as the President have suggested that you're against too much testing in our schools, yet your actions as the President say just the opposite.
The future of America’s economic strength is determined each day in classrooms across our Nation. To remain a global leader, we must cultivate a learning environment with an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every school. Supporting a strong teaching workforce and inspiring school leadership is a top priority for my Administration. In these challenging financial times for state and local budgets, we have worked to help schools keep teachers in the classroom, preserve or extend the regular school day and year, and maintain important afterschool activities. My Administration has also put forward robust plans to strengthen and transform the teaching profession through a series of investments to help states and districts pursue bold reforms at every stage of the profession. This includes attracting top-tier talent and preparing educators for success, creating career ladders with opportunities for advancement and competitive compensation, providing meaningful evaluation and support for the development of teachers and principals, and getting the best educators into the classrooms of the students who need them most.
The learning environment of Race to the Top is one in which states are coerced into using student test scores to evaluate their teachers. I admit though, that some states, like my own, extremely "reformy" Indiana, don't need coercion. The last four years of Indiana's "Mitch and Tony Show" followed by the supermajorities in the house and senate along with a friend in the governor's mansion have provided everything that the "reformers" want; vouchers, an independent charter board, no more collective bargaining for teachers...all the good stuff that Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michelle Rhee have been saying is so important for our children.

However even though you, Mr. President, have said that we have too much testing, your Race to the Top program requires teachers to be evaluated using student test scores. Standardized tests used to evaluate student achievement were not made to evaluated teaching and learning. I don't know if you learned anything about tests and measurements when you were in law school, but if you did you would know that tests should only be used for that for which they were developed. If you develop a test for use as a measure of student achievement, then that's what it should be used for...and only that.

There are other things included in the teacher evaluations...and in some places around the country the Value Added Model (VAM) is used. Unfortunately, using VAM to evaluate teachers is unreliable and invalid...just like the tests themselves. Alfie Kohn wrote,
Question 1: Does [VAM] provide valid and reliable information about teachers (and schools)? Most experts in the field of educational assessment say, Good heavens, no. This year's sterling teacher may well look like crud next year, and vice versa. Too many variables affect a cohort's test scores; statistically speaking, we just can't credit or blame any individual teacher.
Take some time and read the research.

Leading experts caution against reliance on test scores in teacher evaluations
Student test scores are not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness, even with the addition of value-added modeling (VAM), a new Economic Policy Institute report by leading testing experts finds. Though VAM methods have allowed for more sophisticated comparisons of teachers than were possible in the past, they are still inaccurate, so test scores should not dominate the information used by school officials in making high-stakes decisions about the evaluation, discipline and compensation of teachers.
You have said that we shouldn't do too much testing, yet Race to the Top requires that the testing continue unabated. We know that using test scores for teacher evaluations (and schools and school districts) is invalid, yet Race to the Top coerces states to use test scores for teacher evaluations.

Do you see the problem here, Mr. President? Your words don't match your actions.

I know that you want to fill schools with effective teachers. Here are some articles about what makes effective teachers...and none of them include anything about teaching to the test or using test scores to evaluate teachers.
The bold reforms you're putting into place with Race to the Top are not reliable, aren't supported by research and are damaging schools. It's time to stop.

Across our country, young people are dreaming of their futures and of the ideas that will chart the course of our unwritten history. A world-class education system will equip our Nation to advance economic growth, encourage new investment and hiring, spark innovation, and ensure the success of the middle class. Preparing our students for higher education and rewarding careers fulfills our promise to our Nation’s youth and strengthens America for generations to come.
You say you want our children to have a world-class education. If so, we have some models to follow because there are many countries which do a better job than ours...Finland, for example. What do the Finns do that makes their education system so much better? Keep in mind children in Finland don't start school till age 7, and they don't spend money to administer standardized tests until the children are in their teens.

For one thing, they have a much lower level of childhood poverty -- about 5% compared to ours of nearly 25%. They keep the poverty level low and this helps to increase achievement...not the other way around.

Second, teachers in Finland are chosen from the highest levels of academic success. Once they have been accepted into the teaching field at the university -- something which is not easy -- they are trained well...and are required to get masters degrees. You won't find any math-major-who-decided-he-wanted-to-be-a-teacher getting a temporary license to teach. Teacher education is serious...and you have to be educated as a teacher (Indiana legislators and state school board members take note!). How are teachers selected, trained and motivated in the US?

Third, the Finns have free schooling from preschool through the university. No college loan debt hanging over your head for 20 years after you graduate. Preschools are universally available and teach no academics...they teach children social skills and how to play.

Fourth, and this is an important one. Competition is not only not a part of education, it's actively avoided. The Finns know that learning is helped by collaboration not competition. Schools, students and teachers aren't ranked. There's no Race to get funding. Schools are fully funded.

There are more...I urge you to read, Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg.

Here's a video if you think that will help, too. It's long...but it explains very well how a nation has changed their society in order to increase learning and improve education.

Now I know that Finland is a small country, with little diversity which makes it unlike the large and diverse USA. Still, we can learn from them. We should learn from them.

Thank you, again, for writing. To learn more about my Administration’s work, please visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/issues/education.


Barack Obama
Mr. President, I don't disagree with everything your administration has done in the area of education policy. I applaud your call for universal preschools. I support your effort to reduce student loan costs. However, Your Race to the Top is a path which supports the privatization of public education through corporate charters, furthers the test and punish aspects of No Child Left Behind, doesn't provide the most money where it's most needed, and coerces states to introduce policies unsupported by research.

Here are some things which I think will go along way to improving our school system. I understand that you can't do this alone, and need the congress, as well as state legislatures to cooperate, however, you can use the position of the President as a moral leader to convince the country of the wisdom of these actions.

Diane Ravitch listed these steps to improve public education in a speech to National Opportunity to Learn Summit in 2011. She wrote,
  • 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 understand 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.
Let's end the Race to the Top and collaborate to create a strong public school system.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Saturday, June 22, 2013

It's Not Valid to Begin With!


Yesterday representatives from CTB/McGraw-Hill reported to the Indiana legislature about the technical problems with the state test, the ISTEP+...

ISTEP+ vendor apologizes, admits errors
CTB has agreed to pay for a third-party validity study and that the company’s $95 million, four-year contract with the state allows for penalties and fines.

...The Indiana Department of Education has since hired an outside consultant to review the validity of scores for tens of thousands of students.

Depending on the results, all or some of those tests could be thrown out.

ISTEP+ scores are used in part to determine teacher performance and compensation. And they determine each school’s A-to-F accountability grade. The accountability grade can be used to eventually close failing schools or allow more students to take vouchers without first attending public school.
Before the "outside consultant" can determine if the tests are valid let's look at what "valid" actually means in the assessment world. Here is the definition of validity (click the quote to read about reliability).

[Note: in assessment there is more than one kind of validity: content validity, face validity, criterion-related validity (or predictive validity), construct validity, factorial validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity and divergent (or discriminant validity). The definitions below are generalized. Furthermore, to be valid an assessment must also be reliable, though reliability is not sufficient to make an assessment valid. Clear?]
...validity refers to the extent we are measuring what we hope to measure (and what we think we are measuring).
What, then, is the ISTEP+ supposed to measure? The following is from the 2012-2013 Indiana Assessment Program Manual.

ISTEP+ Grades 3-8
The purpose of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+) program is to measure student achievement in the subject areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. In particular, ISTEP+ reports student achievement levels according to the Indiana Academic Standards that were adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education.
Appendix H of the program manual reports on the reliability and validity of the test. Unless you're trained and interested in tests and measurements you're not likely to care much about the discussion in this section of the Program Manual. However, for those who understand the statistics involved and are interested, this appendix explains how the state has determined that the test is reliable and valid.

The outside consultant hired by the state will determine whether the validity of the test has been compromised by the testing irregularities caused by the technical glitches.


The ISTEP+ purports to be a valid measure of student achievement with respect to the Indiana standards. Good testing practice dictates that it should be used only for determining student achievement. Other uses have not been validated and variables which would influence the test's validity in other areas have not been taken into account. Therefore...

1. It's not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. It has never been validated for that purpose. (It's also not a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness since reliability has never been determined either.)

2. It's not a valid measure with which to "grade" schools ("A" to "F").

All that's ever been provided for the ISTEP+ is it's (supposed) validity as a measure of student achievement. Using it for any other purpose is not valid. Period.


Back in 2000 Alfie Kohn wrote an article, Standardized Testing and Its Victims, in which he listed reasons why standardized tests are not just inadequate for evaluating students (and schools), but downright harmful. He lists some facts (in the original all facts are explained in more detail.
Fact 1. Our children are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world...Few countries use standardized tests for children below high school age—or multiple-choice tests for students of any age.

Fact 2. Noninstructional factors explain most of the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared. A study of math results on the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the combination of four such variables...accounted for a whopping 89 percent of the differences in state scores.

Fact 3. Norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching.

Fact 4. Standardized-test scores often measure superficial thinking...it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.

Fact 5. Virtually all specialists condemn the practice of giving standardized tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old.

Fact 6. Virtually all relevant experts and organizations condemn the practice of basing important decisions, such as graduation or promotion, on the results of a single test. The National Research Council takes this position, as do most other professional groups (such as the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association), the generally pro-testing American Federation of Teachers, and even the companies that manufacture and sell the exams. Yet just such high-stakes testing is currently taking place, or scheduled to be introduced soon, in more than half the states.

Fact 7. The time, energy, and money that are being devoted to preparing students for standardized tests have to come from somewhere. Schools across the country are cutting back or even eliminating programs in the arts, recess for young children, electives for high schoolers, class meetings...discussions about current events...the use of literature in the early grades...and entire subject areas such as science...

Fact 8. Many educators are leaving the field because of what is being done to schools in the name of "accountability" and "tougher standards."
[NOTE: Remember, Kohn's article was written in 2000, before No Child Left Behind became law! ISTEP+ is a criterion-referenced test, not a norm-referenced test. Criterion-referenced tests are "intended to measure how well a person has learned a specific body of knowledge and skills." Furthermore, the ISTEP+ is a particular variation of a criterion-referenced test known as a "standards-referenced test" or "standards based assessment" because it measures the accumulation of knowledge of the Indiana Standards.

Nevertheless, Fact 3 can correctly be rewritten as: Criterion-based tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching.

The main point of Kohn's article is not simply to suggest that standardized testing is inappropriate as a high stakes measure, but to emphasize that those children who need the most help -- children who come to school with fewer skills, i.e. children of poverty -- are hurt the most by the emphasis on testing. He writes.
*The quality of instruction declines most for those who have least. Standardized tests tend to measure the temporary acquisition of facts and skills, including the skill of test-taking itself, more than genuine understanding. To that extent, the fact that such tests are more likely to be used and emphasized in schools with higher percentages of minority students (a fact that has been empirically verified) predictably results in poorer-quality teaching in such schools. The use of a high-stakes strategy only underscores the preoccupation with these tests and, as a result, accelerates a reliance on direct-instruction techniques and endless practice tests. "Skills-based instruction, the type to which most children of color are subjected, tends to foster low-level uniformity and subvert academic potential," as Dorothy Strickland, an African-American professor at Rutgers University, has remarked...

*Standards aren't the main ingredient that's in low supply. Anyone who is serious about addressing the inequities of American education would naturally want to investigate differences in available resources. A good argument could be made that the fairest allocation strategy, which is only common sense in some countries, is to provide not merely equal amounts across schools and districts, but more for the most challenging student populations. This does happen in some states—by no means all—but, even when it does, the money is commonly offered as a short-term grant (hardly sufficient to compensate for years of inadequate funding) and is often earmarked for test preparation rather than for higher-quality teaching. Worse, high-stakes testing systems may provide more money to those already successful (for example, in the form of bonuses for good scores) and less to those whose need is greatest.

Many public officials, along with like-minded journalists and other observers, are apt to minimize the matter of resources and assume that everything deficient about education for poor and minority children can be remedied by more forceful demands that we "raise the bar." The implication here would seem to be that teachers and students could be doing a better job but have, for some reason, chosen not to do so and need only be bribed or threatened into improvement. (In fact, this is the tacit assumption behind all incentive systems.) The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.

To make matters worse, some supporters of high-stakes testing have not just ignored, but contemptuously dismissed, the relevance of barriers to achievement in certain neighborhoods. Explanations about very real obstacles such as racism, poverty, fear of crime, low teacher salaries, inadequate facilities, and language barriers are sometimes written off as mere "excuses." This is at once naive and callous, and, like any other example of minimizing the relevance of structural constraints, ultimately serves the interests of those fortunate enough not to face them.
Finally, testing in Indiana, as in most other places around the country, has become the "end" of education, not just a method of measuring learning. For the state, scoring well on the test is the goal. This forces schools to emphasize them or be punished (as opposed to being offered more support). In the conclusion to an article titled, The Limits of Standardized Tests for Diagnosing and Assisting Student Learning the authors at Fairtest.org wrote,
When standardized tests are the primary factor in accountability, the temptation is to use the tests to define curriculum and focus instruction. What is not tested is not taught, and what is taught does not include higher-order learning. How the subject is tested becomes a model for how to teach the subject. At the extreme, school becomes a test prep program – and this extreme already exists.

It is of course possible to use a standardized test and not let its limits control curriculum and instruction. However, this can result in a school putting itself at risk for producing lower test scores. It also means parents and the community are not informed systematically about the non-tested areas, unless the school or district makes a great effort.

To improve learning and provide meaningful accountability, schools and districts cannot rely solely on standardized tests. The inherent limits of the instruments allow them only to generate information that is inadequate in both breadth and depth. Thus, states, districts and schools must find ways to strengthen classroom assessments and to use the information that comes from these richer measures to inform the public.
In its ignorance and arrogance the State of Indiana has elevated the state assessments, including ISTEP+, as the prime measure with which to judge students, schools, teachers, administrators, and school systems.

The current uproar over the technical glitch debacle during the last ISTEP+ administration window is just a distraction from the real issue of our overuse and misuse of testing. It has become an argument over how best to misuse testing in our obsessive quest for data.

The whole discussion about the technical glitch during the ISTEP+ is irrelevant.

For more about testing see The Case Against High Stakes Testing


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Weakening the Teaching Profession

I posted a list by Bonnie Lesley of “Texas Kids Can’t Wait” -- of the steps being taken around the country to privatize public education.

One of her items -- number 5 -- dealt with the deprofessionalizing of educators.
Fifth, de-professionalize educators with alternative certification, merit pay, evaluations tied to test scores, scripted curriculum, attacks on professional organizations, phony research that tries to make the case that credentials and experience don’t matter, etc.

Among the obstacles standing in the way of privatizing public education are public educators. People become educators for a variety of reasons, but it usually has to do with one or more of the following. People become teachers...
  • because they were inspired by a teacher during their student years and want to provide the same inspiration to others. Ask any teacher why they chose that career and they will usually name one of their own teachers as a major influence.
  • because they enjoy being around young people. They enjoy watching children grow -- physically, academically and socially.
  • because, in the words of Christa McAuliffe, they want to "touch the future."
  • because they want to give back to the community in some way
[People who go into teaching because "it's easy," "you get your summers off" or "it pays well," are likely included in the nearly 50% of teachers who don't last more than 5 years.]

In order to weaken public schools to the point where privatization is possible "reformers" understand that they must weaken the influence of those who devote their lives to working with children. This is done by
  • minimizing the value of experience and preparation. Lower (or remove altogether) the requirements for becoming a professional educator.
  • weaken the teachers unions by blaming them (and their members) for the economic ills of the nation.
  • place the entire responsibility for student achievement on teachers while minimizing or ignoring out-of-school factors which contribute to learning

Stephen Krashen explains it in more detail.
What the war on education is all about

Stephen Krashen - The goal of the war against teachers is to eliminate the concept of teaching as a profession, to be replaced by temps (e.g. Teach For America) and eventually be replaced largely by technology (ultimate goal of flipped classrooms). The reason is 100% financial -- so that the .01% can grab nearly all of the money teachers earn as well as profit from electronic/virtual teaching.

The plan

1. Keep pressure on teachers by making their lives as difficult as possible and their task totally impossible. The common core standards and tests are a major part of this.

2. Continue to attack the teaching profession: The message will continue to be that the US is in economic trouble because of bad education, which is because of bad teachers.

3. The public, media, and politicians will have no sympathy for teachers’ pointing out how difficult teaching has become, This will be seen as whining, and teachers will then resign/quit in greater numbers.

4. Continue to stress the importance of teacher evaluation, This sends the message that teachers are not doing their job and that there are a lot of bad teachers out there who must be identified and fired.

5. Continue to push the idea that TFAs as just as good or better than experienced teachers.

6. Do not reward teachers for experience, for years of service. This will also encourage more experienced teachers to retire/resign, creating more room for lower-paid temps in the system.

7. Gradually increase the percentage of teachers who are temps as teachers retire and as they leave the profession because of frustration, This releases money because experienced teachers cost much more than temps. The result is more money for technology.

8. Continue to convince the public that all technology is wonderful. Use this to push flipped classrooms and glorify the Khan Academy. The role of teachers will then be diminished to the equivalent of TA's. This reduces time spent in classrooms (lowers salaries even more), and lowers the status of teachers even more, as well as saving more salary money and increasing teacher frustration. Hire part-timers (no benefits) to serve as supplements to virtual teaching. This will be promoted as expanded opportunity for jobs, no teaching credential required. The public will accept this because they will have lost all respect for teacher credentials.

Look for even more attacks on teachers and teachers unions. This makes sure there is no sympathy for teachers when they complain and no public outcry when teachers leave the profession and are replaced with temps and part-timers.
Education researcher Richard Allington commented on Krashen's list...
I would add that eliminating teachers as full-time employees would save states lots of money that now goes to support teacher pensions and health insurance. Make teaching worse than a blue collar job in terms, salaries, benefits, and autonomy and you won't have to worry about any surplus of folks who want to become teachers.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Killing Public Education in Ten Easy Steps

While the public schools are struggling with inadequate funding, legislators in Indiana are considering forgiving loans to "failing" privately run charters*...and private schools are getting a significant increase through Indiana's expanded voucher plan.

There's an open movement to privatize public education (as well as just about everything else) in America. Those who favor privatization are clear that their goal is to remove public control. One of my posts about privatization got this response from "tiffany"...
Like all rational individuals, I do not support public schooling, I do not support charters which are a pitiful compromise, I do not support vouchers which are a frivolous waste of administrative time and resources. I support 100% private education and home education, because that is the only moral education. I support this the same way I support 100% private food service, hotel service, tanning service, and any other service provided by anyone. This is the only correct position – it’s not a conclusion, it’s the starting place for the discussion. Anything less than this is theft and therefore evil.
While not all pro-privatizers would consider all tax money as "theft" the purpose is clear...to remove public control of institutions and place it in private hands. Their point is, I think, that "the market" always does better than the government in everything.

To that end, the governors and legislators of states like Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have crafted legislation (or taken legislation crafted by ALEC) to "redistribute" public funds from public education to private schools and privately operated charter schools.

A reader of Diane Ravitch's blog listed the steps being taken by pro-"reform" legislatures to destroy public education. Much of the following Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education has been put into practice (and not just in Texas). Even with the widespread community and parent backlash in places like Chicago and New Jersey, the privatizers are making progress...pushing their agenda.

Obviously many people are in favor of privatization. Those of us who oppose it have less money to buy politicians. The election in Indiana of Glenda Ritz over privatizer-pet Tony Bennett shows, however, that a strong, hardworking group of people can overcome the privatization-based money bent on destroying public education.

Texas: The Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education
What keeps many of us fighting 20 hours a day and digging into our own pockets to fund the work is our understanding that these bills are not the end game. We’ve read the web sites, beginning with Milton Freidman’s epistle on the Cato Institute’s website, that lay out the insidious plan we are seeing played out. We have also read Naomi Klein’s brilliant book, Shock Doctrine.

[emphasis added]
  1. First, impose ridiculous standards and assessments on every school.
  2. Second, create cut points on the assessments to guarantee high rates of failure. (I was in the room when it was done in the State of Delaware, protesting all the way, but losing).
  3. Third, implement draconian accountability systems designed to close as many schools as possible. Then W took the plan national with NCLB.
  4. Fourth, use the accountability system to undermine the credibility and trust that almost everyone gave to public schools. increase the difficulty of reaching goals annually.
  5. Fifth, de-professionalize educators with alternative certification, merit pay, evaluations tied to test scores, scripted curriculum, attacks on professional organizations, phony research that tries to make the case that credentials and experience don’t matter, etc.
  6. Sixth, start privatization with public funded charters with a promise that they will be laboratories of innovation. Many of us fell for that falsehood. Apply pressure each legislative session to implement more and more of them. Then Arne Duncan did so on steroids.
  7. Seventh, use Madison Avenue messaging to name bills to further trick people into acceptance, if not support, of every conceivable voucher scheme. The big push now as states implement Freidman austerity budgets to create a crisis is to portray vouchers as a cheaper way to “save” schools. The bills that would force local boards to sell off publicly owned facilities for $1 each is also part of the overall scheme not only to destroy our schools, but also to make it fiscally impossible for us to recover them if we ever again elect a sane government. Too, districts had to make cuts in their budgets in precisely the areas that research says matter most: quality teachers, preschool, small classes, interventions for struggling students, and rigorous expectations and curriculum. See our report: http://www.equitycenter.org. Click on book, Money STILL Matters in bottom right corner.
  8. Eighth, totally destroy public education with so-called universal vouchers. They have literally already published the handbook. You can find it numerous places on the web.
  9. Ninth, start eliminating the vouchers and charters, little by little.
  10. And, tenth, totally eliminate the costs of education from local, state, and national budgets, thereby providing another huge transfer of wealth through huge tax cuts to the already-billionaire class.
And then only the wealthy will have schools for their kids.
During the last presidential election Mitt Romney gave voice to the effect of privatization on America's public education system. He said,
I want to make sure we keep America a place of opportunity where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they're able to get...and if they have a willingness to work hard and with the right values they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot at realizing their dreams. [emphasis added]
The phrase, as much education as they can afford has, as its corollary, the fact that those who can't afford it won't get it. So the Romneys, the Obamas, the Gates, the Emanuels and the Duncans will continue to attend expensive private schools while those who have no money will have to make do with whatever "they can afford." That's the definition of Romney's "fair shot."


Shopping for Legislators

How School Privatizers Buy State-Level Elections
A fundamental struggle for democracy is going on behind the scenes in statehouses around the country, as a handful of wealthy individuals and foundations pour money into efforts to privatize the public schools.

The implications are huge. But the school privatizers, and their lobbyists in the states, have so muddied the waters that the public does not get a clear picture of what is at stake.

So it was fascinating when investigative reporter Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ripped the veil off a secretive organization and its hidden political activities by publishing a copy of the American Federation for Children's "2012 Election Impact Report."

The report, which was clearly meant only for members and donors, outlines how the American Federation of Children pours millions of dollars into state races around the country to back candidates who support school vouchers and other measures that siphon public money private schools.
Addendum to The Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education
5a. Claim that "poverty is not destiny" and use that as an excuse to ignore the high levels of child poverty in America and it's relationship to lowered achievement.
Krashen writes,

To the editor
Re: Obama wants faster Internet in US schools. Would you pay $5 a year for it? (June 6). Twenty-three percent of American children now live in poverty, the second highest among 34 economically advanced countries. In comparison, Finland has less than 5.3% child poverty. Poverty means poor nutrition, hunger, and inadequate health care; all of these have a profound negative impact on school achievement.

Instead of 99 percent of American students connected to the internet with the latest, but soon-to-be-obsolete technology, how about making sure that 100 percent of American children are protected from the impact of poverty?

Next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless are of little help when children are hungry or ill.
What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?
In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

*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.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!

Friday, June 14, 2013

2013 Medley #12

According to Arne Duncan, "Poverty is not destiny..." Jerry Bracey would respond, "Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition. It's like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty."

I accept that "poverty is not destiny," however, while Duncan and the "reformers" are quick to give examples of high poverty children and schools which have succeeded, they ignore the effect that poverty has on the millions of children who are struggling. They use outliers as "proof" that poverty doesn't matter when we (and they) know that it does.

Spouting phrases like "poverty is not destiny" is an excuse to ignore it...to ignore the fact that our legislators, governors, and presidents have failed to resolve issues like poverty. It's much easier to find fault with America's public schools than to take on the difficult issues facing the country.

We are a profoundly divided nation...and the greatest divide is economic. While politicians try to destroy each other...while lobbyists buy legislators...while the wealthiest individuals control more and more of this country's resources...more than one fifth of our children live in poverty and attend underfunded schools. We know that there is a high correlation between a child's family and his/her academic achievement, yet, instead of providing health care, counselors, transportation, and other wraparound services, such as those suggested by the Chicago Teachers Union, we close schools, which punishes students for living in poverty, and punishes teachers for dedicating their lives to helping at-risk children.

Politicians and policy makers don't want to accept the fact that it is they who have failed, so they look for a place to lay the blame.

Privatizing hasn't helped. Closing schools hasn't helped. High-stakes testing hasn't helped. The source of the problem is child poverty.

Valerie Strauss

The biggest scandal in America

Valerie Strauss is one of public education's strongest voices...
There are many ramifications for this in the realm of public education. Because public schools are largely funded by property taxes, schools in high-poverty areas have fewer resources. Federal dollars appropriated to help close the gap don’t come close. Furthermore, if there is anything that education research has shown consistently and conclusively, it is that student achievement is linked to the socioeconomic level of families. Students who attend low-poverty schools do well on international test scores, as well as students in any other country.

Jonathan Kozol

Here is Jonathan Kozol's speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011. No one over the last 40 years has spent as much time advocating for poor children as Kozol.

Stephen Krashen

Protecting Students Against the Effects of Poverty: Libraries
  • Children of poverty are more likely to suffer from "food insecurity," which means slower language development as well as behavioral problems (Coles, 2008/2009).
  • High-poverty families are more likely to lack medical insurance or have high co- payments, which means less medical care, and more childhood illness and absenteeism, which of course negatively impacts school achievement. School is not helping: Poor schools are more likely to have no school nurse or have a high ratio of nurses to students (Berliner, 2009).
  • Children of poverty are more likely to live in high-pollution areas, with more exposure to mercury, lead, PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) and smog, all of which influence health and learning, and often impact behavior as well (Berliner, 2009, p. 23; Martin, 2004).
  • Children of poverty have very little access to books at home and in their communities, with less access to good public libraries and bookstores (Neuman and Celano, 2001).

Protecting children from poverty a better investment than the common core.
The major reason for our unspectacular school achievement is our level of child poverty, now 23%, the second highest child poverty level among 35 “economically advanced” countries. Poverty has a devastating impact on school performance. When we control for poverty, American children's international test scores are near the top of the world.

There is no evidence that more rigorous standards and increased testing improve school performance.

There is strong evidence that that protecting children from the effects of poverty will increase school performance: Strengthening food and health care programs, and providing better support for libraries and librarians is a much better investment than the common core.

Alfie Kohn

Poor Teaching for Poor Children … in the Name of Reform
Those who demand that we “close the achievement gap” generally focus only on results, which in practice refers only to test scores. High-quality instruction is defined as whatever raises those scores. But when teaching strategies are considered, there is wide agreement (again, among noneducators) about what constitutes appropriate instruction in the inner city.

The curriculum consists of a series of separate skills, with more worksheets than real books, more rote practice than exploration of ideas, more memorization (sometimes assisted with chanting and clapping) than thinking. In books like The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol, another frequent visitor to urban schools, describes a mechanical, precisely paced process for drilling black and Latino children in “obsessively enumerated particles of amputated skill associated with upcoming state exams.”

Not only is the teaching scripted, with students required to answer fact-based questions on command, but a system of almost militaristic behavior control is common, with public humiliation for noncompliance and an array of rewards for obedience that calls to mind the token economy programs developed in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.

David C. Berliner

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success
...despite their best efforts at reducing inequalities, inequalities do not easily go away, with the result that America’s schools generally work less well for impoverished youth and much better for those more fortunate. Recent test results from America’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and from the international comparisons in both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) all show this pattern. Figure 1 (following), from TIMSS 2007, illustrates how closely linked school scores are to the school’s enrollment of low-income students. Comparing the scores of schools in 58 countries in the TIMSS pool against only wealthier American schools, instead of overall averages, makes the link clear. Looking first at the American schools with the lowest levels of poverty—where under 10% of the students are poor—we find that the average scores of fourth grade American students are higher than in all but two of the other 58 countries.6 Similarly, in American schools where under 25% of the students are poor, the average scores of fourth grade American students are higher than all but four of these other countries.

And others...

Hunger, Academic Success, and the Hard Bigotry of Indifference
Research on young children in several U.S. cities found that food insecure children were two thirds more likely to experience developmental risks in expressive and receptive language, fine and gross motor control, social behavior, emotional control, self-help, and preschool functioning. These outcomes held even after controlling for potential confounding variables such as caregiver's education, employment, and depressive symptoms. Other data from a study of 1,000 poor families identified associations between food insecurity and children's behavior problems, such as temper tantrums, fighting, sadness, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Map: How 35 countries compare on child poverty (the U.S. is ranked 34th)
UNICEF’s data is important for measuring the share of children who are substantively poorer than their national average, which has important implications for the cost of food, housing, health care and other essentials. Its research shows that children are more likely to fall below this relative poverty line in the United States than in almost any other developed country.

Does America Really Care About Its Children?
I'm really not interested in hearing politicians on either side of the aisle talk about "reform" when they can't even keep per pupil spending at least constant (and that's not even counting for inflation!). And I'm especially uninterested in hearing billionaires tell us their latest wacky schemes to "reform" our schools when the money that's not being spent on our children is winding up in their pockets.

More on Poverty...
No school can make up for years of neglect before a child reaches school age. No school can correct the damage done by lead poisoning or poor nutrition as the child grows. No school can teach a child who has been traumatized by violence. Closing public schools and opening militarized charter schools - such as our new Secretary of Education did in Chicago - do not solve the problem caused by years of social indifference. “Better” tests don’t improve teaching and learning. You don’t fatten the cow by weighing her with a better scale.

Schools need to be included as part of the solution to the problems of generational poverty, crime and malnutrition - absolutely…but someone has to carry the ball back to the children’s homes…and someone has to deal with the other 18 hours a day that the children are not in school.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.


Stop the Testing Insanity!