"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, October 31, 2013

2013 Medley #22

Reign of Error, Choice, Neil Gaiman,
Bill Gates, Teaching Profession.


On her book tour Diane Ravitch is pounding home the facts.
  • America's Schools are not failing.
  • The achievement problem with America's schools is rooted in poverty, not bad teaching.
Here she is on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


…is for private and charter schools, not students or parents. Public schools work with whoever enters their doors. There are no requirements to pass "the test." Private and charter schools, on the other hand, get to "choose" whether or not to keep students who are difficult to teach.

Florida Charter school, get your kid FCAT tutoring or we will kick them out!
From the Cornerstone Charter Academy in Orlando Florida.


The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Humans, like all other animals on the earth, need time to develop. Trying to teach children things before their brains and/or bodies are ready is like expecting a butterfly to fly while it's still a caterpillar.

We understand that concept when it comes to talking and walking. Rarely do parents try to hurry up their children in those areas…most of us are content to let our children's physical development with talking and walking develop at it's own rate. Learning should be the same...
When we ignore or interrupt healthy development, we tend to have problems. Exposing kids over the long term to environments, programs, and expectations that are not appropriate to their development has some clear effects...an increase in behavior problems...it often overlooks the foundational skills that are typically developed in early childhood.

...If we look at other countries that top the US in the international metric (PISA scores), it seems we’re trying to catch up to them by doing the opposite of what they’re doing.

...If we are indeed so anxious about our children becoming academically successful, why would we push increasingly for models that seem to directly contradict the programs that have been proven to yield the results we desire?


Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
Gaiman's thoughts are reinforced by Stephen Krashen in The Case For Libraries and Librarians.
Research shows that better public and school libraries are related to better reading achievement. The reason for this is obvious: Children become better readers by reading more (Krashen, 2004), and the library is a major source of books for children.


Bill Gates tells us why *his* high school was a great learning environment

Bill Gates loves the opportunities he had at Lakeside school…
  • average class size of 16
  • nearly 80% of the faculty with advanced degrees
  • drama, chorus, jazz band, chamber orchestra, as well as other bands and arts
  • 24 varsity sports
Bill says Lakeside was great because the teachers pushed the students to achieve...
Bill says Lakeside was great because the education was relevant to real life…
Bill says Lakeside was great because of relationships…
Bill says: I want as many students as possible, from as many different backgrounds as possible, to enjoy a Lakeside education…
Gates believes everyone should get the same benefits…except for public school students, that is.
Bill says for ordinary students, class size doesn’t matter.
Bill is funding Teach for America, because for ordinary students, teacher training and advanced degrees don’t matter, 5 weeks of training and a BA is plenty.
Bill is funding high-stakes testing…
Bill is also funding Common Core…
Bill thinks when schools and teachers fail his tests, the school should be dissolved, the teachers should be fired...
Bill Gates wants to keep a central database of all student information.
Bill is going to make a lot of money on all the things he’s imposing on ordinary students...


Teaching is so easy, anyone can do it!

Forget college teacher training programs. We don't need to require students to spend 4 (or more) years learning about and practicing teaching.

Training teachers is a waste of time. So says Anthony Seldon in Teaching is like parenting: you don't need to have a qualification. He tells us that all you need to be a fantastic teacher is on the job training because, after all, it isn't a profession like being a doctor or a veterinarian. It's more like being a parent…you learn it by doing it. No special training required.

A college professor in Minnesota disagrees...
...teaching itself is a skill. It requires constant work and adjustment. In my introductory classes, I’m comfortable with the content and it requires only a little attention to keep up to date on the science, but I’m constantly fretting over how to communicate concepts better this time around. There actually is a teaching literature, you know, perhaps Mr Seldon is unaware of it. There are always new and better ways to instruct coming out and being tested, and there is academic knowledge behind it.
Another view from across the pond

Do teachers need to be qualified? Don't ask such silly questions
Teaching is hard, students can be challenging, the job can affect you in ways you never expected. Working towards a qualification prepares you for this.
I trained alongside some incredible people at university; people that ran their own tech companies, computer programmers, some trainees with first-class degrees – people who, on paper, would be far better teachers than me...The problem is, many of them did not cope well. They found it hard to deal with behaviour and students' social problems. They struggled to communicate their vast knowledge to students. Lots of people drop out. If they had been employed by a school straight away rather than starting a PGCE they would have quit, leaving students without a teacher.

Is it not fair on the unqualified teacher, their colleagues or students to employ them without having proof that they can meet a national minimum standard. We should not be experimenting with this.


A dozen basic guidelines for educators

Alfie Kohn provides us with a sample list of guidelines for educators, parents and students. Numbers 11 and 12 are at the top of my wish list...
  1. Learning should be organized around problems, projects, and (students’) questions — not around lists of facts or skills, or separate disciplines.
  2. Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  3. The primary criterion for what we do in schools: How will this affect kids’ interest in the topic (and their excitement about learning more generally)?
  4. If students are “off task,” the problem may be with the task, not with the kids.
  5. In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  6. Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
  7. When we aren’t sure how to solve a problem relating to curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom conflict, the best response is often to ask the kids.
  8. The more focused we are on kids’ “behaviors,” the more we end up missing the kids themselves — along with the needs, motives, and reasons that underlie their actions.
  9. If students are rewarded or praised for doing something (e.g., reading, solving problems, being kind), they’ll likely lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  10. The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.
  11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure — and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.
  12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.


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!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Who Will Staff Tomorrow's Schools, Part 3


Over the past few years I've written repeatedly asking where tomorrow's teachers will come from. The current trend of public school teacher and teachers union bashing has reduced the number of teaching candidates in America's colleges of education (see HERE and HERE. Need more? There's also HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

Diane Ravitch posted yet another comment from a teacher who has decided to leave the profession...

Teacher: Why I am Leaving Teaching
Seventy hour work weeks, failing technology, rotating cast of half my class load with various medical conditions that impede cognitive function. Adaptable, hard working, using differentiated learning and hands on learning/multimodal approaches does not mean jack now. Teachers are not able to control the tests, cannot develop multiple means for students to demonstrate mastery. So half my well meaning students will christmas tree their end of course test and my own family will suffer the consequences when I lose my job. Bleaker future than the past five with consistent pay cuts and benefits cut. Furloughs are a yearly experience now.
(to "christmas tree" a standardized test = marking bubbles on an answer sheet to create a visual pattern, rather than attempting to answer the questions)

Other times I've posted on this topic...
(There may be more I didn't find…if you see any others, let me know and I'll add them to this list. I'm not very good at tagging posts)


The vast majority of so-called "failing schools" are schools which have high numbers of students living in poverty. If "failing schools" = "poor teachers" how did it come about that all the bad teachers ended up in those schools and all the good teachers are employed in areas without high poverty?

"Reformers" will frequently harp on getting rid of all the bad teachers as the way to improve the nation's schools. If all the teachers at "failing schools" are fired, where are the "good" teachers going to come from?

There's a direct correlation between family income and achievement test scores. The lower the family income the lower the scores. This is true world-wide. The only solution that other nations have found has been to relieve the conditions of poverty. How will firing all or most the teachers in "failing schools" change the conditions of poverty for students? How will firing all or most the teachers in "failing schools" improve student test scores? If there's a statistical correlation between test scores and family income, how is it statistically valid to blame teachers for low test scores?

"Bad teachers" are frequently being defined as teachers who have decided to dedicate their careers to teaching children with special learning problems or children from less advantaged homes (or no homes at all).

In the latest Federal funding bill compromise (10/16/2013) included a provision which allowed the phrase "highly qualified teachers" to include students still in teacher training programs, including Teach for America novices. How does that improve teacher quality? How is the definition of "highly qualified teachers" related to the debt ceiling, the Affordable Care Act, or anything else related to the latest government shut down? Why was the phrase "highly qualified teachers" included in the No Child Left Behind Act?

In what other profession is there an effort by administrators or boards of directors (school boards) to remove the most experienced workers and replace them with poorly trained novices?


Much has been made of the fact that Finland is a "high achieving" nation. Their students are recognized as among the best in the world on international tests. One of the things which Finland worked on and improved was the way their teachers approached teaching.

The Finns understand that good teaching doesn't just take place within the classroom. Preparation, collaboration and professional development are all important if teachers are going to be expected to provide high quality lessons.

One of the most difficult problems facing American teachers is having enough time to do their jobs. Developing age-appropriate lessons, project based activities, lectures, in-class assessments, presentation materials, hands-on activities and other in-class activities for students takes time. Assessing student progress is also time consuming...grading tests, homework or in-class assignments, and projects.

Teachers in the US are traditionally allowed one class period a day as a preparation time. It's easy to see how a normal secondary teacher's student load of 150-200 students would generate a large volume of out of class work. It's also similarly easy to see how an elementary teacher with 25 students, who has to teach Math, Reading and English, Science, Social Studies, and Health would also have a lot of work in researching, collaboration with colleagues, planning and assessment.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, teachers in Finland spend a little less that 700 hours with their students annually. The balance of their work time is spent on curriculum development, professional development, collaboration, research and all the other administrative chores required. American teachers, on the other hand, spend nearly 1100 hours a year with their students. American teachers don't have the time during the school day to take care of all the things they need to do. That's why teachers stay late, work on weekends and/or take tote-bags laden with paperwork home with them in the evenings.

It's easy to see why a major complaint of American teachers is lack of time to do their jobs. The simple fact is that American teachers are not given time to do their jobs.


Teachers in America's public schools are being crushed under a mountain of paperwork and regulations resulting from the passage of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top -- the administration's current program -- and now, the adoption by many states of the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers are being blamed for the nation's economic crisis because many states have pension plans for public school teachers (in many states, Indiana included, these funds are paid for by the teachers themselves).

Teachers are being punished for the failure of students who have multiple learning problems caused by the physical, emotional and academic damage done by the massive levels of child poverty in the United States over which they have no control.

State legislatures around the nation are removing job benefits for teachers and teachers unions which, in Indiana, include, collective bargaining rights and local control over teacher evaluations.

The privatization of public education is leaving public schools with the more difficult and more expensive to teach students while state legislatures are redirecting public money to charter schools and vouchers for private schools. There is no proof that charter schools on the whole do better than public schools teaching similar students and no proof that either charters or vouchers improve student achievement through "competition."

Experienced teachers are being forced out of their teaching jobs by evaluations based on test scores and school turnover -- the closing of public schools which are being replaced by private or charter schools.

Merit pay plans -- evaluations based on test scores and rewards for higher test scores -- punish teachers who teach in poor communities or teachers who teach students with special needs and lead to school turnovers and "churn."

America is systematically destroying it's teaching profession.

You might also be interested in...
Pasi Sahlberg: What Can the US Learn from Educational Change in Finland?
Teacher Education in Finland


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!


Diane Ravitch on Melissa Harris Perry - MSNBC

Diane Ravitch is on her book tour talking about her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. Yesterday (October 26, 2013) she visited Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC. The following three videos contain an excellent discussion of what's happening in American Education. Three videos follow...

Melissa Harris Perry interviews Diane Ravitch: The case against school privatization
Former Asst. Secy. of Education under President George H.W. Bush, Diane Ravitch, discusses why she became a critic of “No Child Left Behind” after supporting it, and she discusses her new book “Reign of Error.”

A panel discussion with Diane Ravitch: How charter schools can lead to disparity
The MHP panel continues its discussion on education and school privatization and why charter schools aren’t necessarily the way to fix problems with public schools. Pedro Noguera and Trymaine Lee discuss.

The panel discussion continues: Poverty and its impact on education
President Obama spoke this week about education at a New York school affiliated with IBM. But is an IBM-sponsored education a solution or a problem?


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, October 25, 2013

Growing Poverty Affects Schools


It's not even debatable...it's a fact. Child poverty in the United States, "the world's richest nation," is embarrassingly high. We rank 34th out of 35 "developed" nations in child poverty -- trailing nations like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, and Slovakia. Only Romania is worse.

"Reformers" like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan claim that privatizing public education by demonizing teachers, transferring public money into privately owned charter schools or to private schools through vouchers, will improve schools, and thereby improve the lot of children in poverty.

Ok, they didn't phrase it quite like that…actually what they say is that the way to reduce poverty is through education.

Nevertheless, the status quo of American Education over the last two decades has been the "reformer's" test and punish, privatize and charterize plan. Yet child poverty in the United States is increasing. Apparently their plan isn't working...

I'm not blaming Rhee, Duncan or any "reformers" for poverty. I'm just saying that schools can't do it alone…and shouldn't be blamed for failure because students who live in poverty score lower (on average) on standardized tests.

The privatization of America, along with increasing economic inequity, has created a two-tiered system of education. Eventually students who are difficult and expensive to educate -- those who live in poverty, those with IEPs -- will be relegated to the cash-starved public schools, while the children of the wealthy and high achievers will be skimmed off into the private school system (which includes so-called public charters. See HERE to discover that many corporate charter schools are just private schools running on public money -- their definition).

That's not just a prediction. It's happening now.


Research Report Update: A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and Nation - October 2013

Public school systems in some states report poverty levels as high as 70%. The report concludes
Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States.With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.
What we're doing now in terms of our educational policy isn't working.
There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem.The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.

Without fundamental improvements in how the South and the nation educate low income students, the trends that this report documents will ricochet across all aspects of American society for generations to come.As a wise American leader once reminded a troubled nation:“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The "how" includes programs to reduce poverty…not just more test prep and testing. Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, suggests some good beginnings.
  • Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
  • Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.
  • Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum…
  • Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
  • Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.
  • Provide medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
Here's another response to the report about increased poverty in public schools...

Study: Poor children are now the majority in American public schools in South, West
“When you break down the various test scores, you find the high-income kids, high-achievers are holding their own and more,” Rebell said. “It’s when you start getting down to schools with a majority of low-income kids that you get astoundingly low scores. Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the U.S. overall, it’s the growing low-income population.”
We're not addressing poverty. We're in the midst of a plan to move higher achieving and wealthier students out of public schools.
Most of those changes, including the rise of standardized testing, holding teachers accountable for their students’ academic performance and rewriting math and reading standards don’t address poverty, Rothstein said.

“If you take children who come to school from families with low literacy, who are not read to at home, who have poor health — all these social and economic problems — and just say that you’re going to test children and have high expectations and their achievement will go up, it doesn’t work,” Rothstein said. “It’s a failure.”
And another...

As Poverty Grows, the Claims of “School Reform” Fade

Diane Ravitch pulls no punches.
Every dollar that fattens the educational industrial complex–not only the testing industry and the inexperienced, ill-trained Teach for America but the corporations now collecting hundreds of millions of dollars to tell schools what to do–is a dollar diverted from what should be done now to address directly the pressing needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children, whose numbers continue to escalate, demonstrating the utter futility and self-serving nature of what is currently and deceptively called “reform.”


A common response from "reformers" to the cry of "poverty" is that we are already spending so much money for public education and it's not working. Here are two responses to that.

1. Spending money for test-prep materials and excessive standardized testing isn't spending money on public education. It's transferring public funds to test manufacturers.

2. Schools in high poverty areas get less.

Does Money Affect Children's Outcomes?
This review identified 34 studies with strong evidence about whether money affects children’s outcomes. Children in lower-income families have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics...

The impact of increases in income on cognitive development appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children’s well-being...

Money in early childhood makes most difference to cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference to social and behavioural outcomes.

Longer-term poverty affects children’s outcomes more severely than short-term poverty.
Does money matter? Ask the "reformers" who attended elite private schools (Rhee, Duncan, Gates).

Remember Diane Ravitch's list of things needed to eliminate poverty? Money does matter for
  • prenatal care for a pregnant woman
  • early childhood education
  • a school with a full, balanced, and rich curriculum
  • lower class sizes 
  • medical and social services for children

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, October 19, 2013

Compare and Contrast Assignment

1. Federal Politics
  • The Affordable Care Act passes the House and the Senate.
  • The Affordable Care Act is signed into law by the President.
  • The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of Affordable Care Act.
  • President Obama runs for reelection citing the Affordable Care Act as one reason to reelect him. He is reelected.
  • Opponents of the President's policies try to reverse them through repeated efforts to repeal the ACA, but are unsuccessful.
  • Opponents insist that the President re-negotiate the law. He refuses and this leads to an eventual shut down of the government.
2. State Politics
Compare and Contrast

Election Results: Changing the results of an election through political manipulation
A Legislature with a super-majority in both houses vs. a legislature with split control
-- Add your own here.


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, October 18, 2013

Reign of Error - Make Time to Read it

The last couple of decades have been hard for America's public schools and their teachers. We've been castigated for school failure, blamed for the nation's economic woes, accused of endangering the nation and caught in a tug of war between authentic education and the "reformer's" plans to privatize America's schools.

Diane Ravitch's new book, *Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, pulls away the curtain protecting "reformers." The vast majority of the nation's teachers who, despite what others might have us believe, are competent and hard working, will be pleased that someone has provided a well-documented defense against the attacks by "reformers" -- most of whom have no idea what it's like to teach.

Dr. Ravitch takes every misguided idea from the current "reform" movement playbook and provides facts denouncing them one after another...from the abusive misuse of standardized testing...to merit pay...to vouchers. She informs us about the misinformation used to manipulate parents into using parent trigger laws and the fact that charter schools are, on the whole, no better than traditional public schools. She provides a research based response to Michelle Rhee's anti-teacher/anti-union tedium and she reminds us that Teach for America has become the #1 supplier of cheap, inexperienced temps used to fill the nation's growing number of charter schools (and she does it without blaming the young people who are enticed into the program by the desire to help students in need).

Most important of all (at least to me), Reign of Error is a balm for battered and beleaguered public school teachers across the country. Schools are not failing. Teachers and schools do a good job in often extremely difficult circumstances. The problems facing America's public schools include our embarrassingly high child poverty rate, funding for education which is misdirected to standardized tests and test prep materials or lack of adequate funding altogether, interference by billionaire know-nothings who think that money equals expertise in education, and the fairly recent (since No Child Left Behind) overwhelming and inappropriate intrusion by the federal government into public education.

Teachers are not to blame when their students come to school hungry, traumatized or depressed...or don't come to school at all. Public schools are not to blame when inequity results in a direct correlation between family income and standardized test scores. The public schools aren't failing. Society has failed its children...

Reign of Error will provide support to teachers
  • who are tired of hearing about how horrible America's professional educators are
  • who find themselves frustrated to tears at the end of each school day because they are asked the impossible
  • who are belittled by family or neighbors for their selfishness about their high salaries, adequate health care or pensions
  • who fight their administrations for resources which will never arrive
  • who spend thousands of their own dollars each year for supplies for their classrooms and students
  • who are punished for teaching the most difficult to teach students by evaluation plans based on test scores, or
  • whose voices are excluded from the corporate board rooms and the statehouses where decisions and laws about education are made

This is a call to every public school educator who reads this blog: Read this book.* Don't wait till next summer. If you've ever felt discouraged by what legislators or tv pundits have had to say about public education this book will help you find the words with which to respond. It's important for you to know what's happening to public schools in America, even if you or you're school isn't affected yet, because it will affect you...eventually. You owe it to yourself...your family...and your students to be informed.

This is a call to every parent who reads this blog: Read this book.* Our public school system needs your help. It's important for you to know what's happening to public schools in America, even if your children are in a school which isn't affected yet, because it will be affected...eventually. You owe it to your children to become involved.

Yes. You do have time to read!

On October 16th Dr. Ravitch took a break from her book tour to participate in a tele-town hall. (You can click here to listen to the Tele-Town Hall with Diane Ravitch.) At the end a participant asked,
What are some specific examples of ways teachers can reclaim the educational agenda and elevate teaching as a profession?
Dr. Ravitch's response was encouraging. She responded,
...you have to believe in yourself and you have to maintain your wholeness as a human being and your professionalism. And no matter what they throw at you understand that someday all of these bad things that are going on now will pass...[**Martin Luther King] said the arc of history bends slowly but it bends towards justice. These people will get bored. They will at some point walk away from the mess that they've made, and you will all be left to pick up the pieces. It's very important that you stand strong in your professional beliefs and your understanding of what's right for children and who you are as a professional because when their efforts collapse you have to be there...

So, believe in yourself, be strong, and work with other people to keep their morale up and believe that the day will come when those values you hold dear will become the values that are recognized as true and real. [emphasis added]

For Further Reading:
The Education of Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch's blog


* The link I have provided for this book is to the publisher, Knopf, not, as so often is the case on the internet, Amazon.com. Use the public library instead...or buy the book at a locally owned book store. At the very least, read this about Jeff Bezos, the owner and CEO of Amazon.com before you buy it.

** The quote from Dr. King is, "...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."


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, October 16, 2013

2013 Medley #21

Reign of Error, Educational Professionals, Research on -- Poverty, Closed Captioning, Dyslexia, Aging Teachers, Bedtimes and Behaviors.


This Is Only a Test: ‘Reign of Error’

Diane Ravitch's new book is reviewed by Jonathan Kozol.

Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is. There are no failing schools...only a failing society which has selfishly allowed neighborhoods, communities and the public schools meant to serve them, to languish in poverty and inept governance.
If we are to cast about for international comparisons, Ravitch urges us — this is not a new suggestion but is, I think, a useful one — to take a good, hard look at Finland, which operates one of the most successful education systems in the world. Teachers there, after competing for admission to schools of education and then receiving a superb course of instruction, are “held in high regard” and “exercise broad autonomy.” They are not judged by students’ test scores, because “there are no scores.” The country has no charter schools and no “Teach for Finland.” But, as Ravitch reminds us, there is one other, crucial difference: “Less than 5 percent of children in Finland are growing up in poverty.” In the United States, 23 percent do.

Again and again, she returns to this: “Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation,” which make for a “toxic mix.” Public schooling in itself, she emphasizes, is “in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.” [emphasis added]


One NC husband who’s happy his overburdened wife is leaving teaching

There's an epidemic. Good teachers are leaving public schools because of the forces of privatization. Is that, perhaps what the reformers want?

Is there a public school in America which doesn't have teachers crying at the end of the day? Has any other country ever badgered and belittled their teachers into giving up like we have? Teachers are disillusioned, demoralized and dispirited.
After nearly seven years of her passion for teaching turning to dread, she is free to live her life unburdened by the oppressive hands of incompetent legislators and school board members who wish to micromanage education without actually getting involved with the people in it.

As each passing year of new policies and tests fails to deliver the results they desire, rather than reform their thinking, these officials create new policies and new tests and pile them on top of the old ones. They, with the raising of a hand and a stroke of a signature, applaud themselves for their feigned ingenuity without thought or regard for those who will have to bear the burden of it.
More stories of teachers who are quitting:

A Teacher explains why she gave up a career she loved
Why Teachers are Quitting
Why Teachers Quit
Challenges in St. Louis Schools have some teachers quitting
And I walk away, or How I Finally Decided to Quit Teaching
Tag Archives: Quitting Teaching
Excellent teacher's quitting leaves readers dismayed
I'm Quitting Teaching: The Impossible Demands of an Unforgiving profession
Nearly 30% more HISD teachers quitting this year
Global Teacher Status Index


States don't want to pay teachers for earning masters' degrees

When people like Arne Duncan who has no education credentials qualifying him for his jobs in education (CEO of Chicago Public Schools and US Secretary of Education) are given positions of authority in the field, it's clear that credentials -- and actual education -- mean nothing to "reformers." As more and more politicians, pundits, policy makers, billionaires, former TFA novice teachers and tv talking heads declare themselves to be experts in education, real educators' voices become swallowed up by the cacophony of ignorance spewing from the nation's media and corporate board rooms.

The education experts in Indiana -- florists and attorneys, auctioneers and politicians -- have arranged things so that you can get a temporary teachers license with a masters degree in anything. After five years you need to have "some training" to keep teaching. However, with the new rules, you could become a principal after only 2 years.

Lawmakers who have no educational experience are saying that further education isn't necessary to improve education in America...apparently unaware of the irony of their position.
Lawmakers in North Carolina, led by Republican legislators, voted in July to get rid of the automatic pay increase for master’s degrees. Tennessee adopted a policy this summer that mandates districts adopt salary scales that put less emphasis on advanced degrees and more on factors such as teacher performance. And Newark, N.J., recently decided to pay teachers for master’s degrees only if they are linked to the district’s new math and reading standards.

The moves come a few years after Florida, Indiana and Louisiana adopted policies that require districts to put more weight on teacher performance and less on diplomas.


Here are some articles of interest for teachers...

Brain Differences

EEGs show brain differences between poor and rich kids

Living in poverty does make a difference. Krashen has been talking about kids in poverty for years. Does it even matter to Americans that nearly 1/4 of our children are being shortchanged? Have we become so selfish that we don't care that 1/4 of our children live in poverty?

I got an email from a friend with a link to an anti-Obama video. One of the main themes was how American exceptionality and individualism made this country so wonderful. Well, it's not so wonderful for about a quarter of our children. Maybe it's time to move from the myth of American exceptionality and individuality to "We're all in this together."

"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." - Ben Franklin.
"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

"It's not a life sentence," Knight emphasized. "We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices."

Closed Captions for Comprehension

Video Captions Improve Comprehension

Here's a simple trick that teachers and parents can use daily. Turn on the captioning when available.
"Not only were students talking about how much having the captions helped them as they took notes, their test scores went up," Collins said. "During the baseline year, there were a lot of Cs. In the second years, they went from Cs, Ds and Fs to As, Bs and Cs. It was really significant improvement."

That improvement didn't just manifest itself in grades. Class discussions also became livelier and more detailed, with students recalling specific information shown in the videos such as names of people and places.

"We're living in an age where our students are so distracted by technology that they sometimes forget where they should focus their attention when engaged with technology or media," he said. "Turning on captions seems to enable students to focus on specific information."

As Teachers Age...

Teachers More Likely to Have Progressive Speech, Language Disorders

This needs more study. Why do people who spend their lives using words to explain things lose their words as they age?
"Teachers are in daily communication," says Dr. Josephs. "It's a demanding occupation, and teachers may be more sensitive to the development of speech and language impairments."

e-Readers can help dyslexics

E-Readers Can Make Reading Easier for Those With Dyslexia

Don't buy iPads for everyone without exploring the need or the cost, but when an ereader is useful as a tool, it's worth investing in.

Is it the size of the text? the length of the sentences? or just the flexibility to make the text larger or smaller as needed? Maybe it's the backlit screen...or the ability to adjust the brightness.

Whatever the reason, it's possible that further study will result in the technology which will make my job (my volunteer job, now) as a reading specialist obsolete.
The team discovered that when e-readers are set up to display only a few words per line, some people with dyslexia can read more easily, quickly and with greater comprehension.

Time for Bed

Irregular Bedtimes Tied to Kids’ Behavioral Problems

Just in time for parent teacher conferences. This might be a good article to place on the table outside your classroom door as parents are sitting waiting for their conferences.
The study found a statistically significant link between bedtimes and behavior, according to the researchers.

Irregular bedtimes affected children’s behavior by disrupting circadian rhythms, leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain, the scientists said.

As children progressed through early childhood without a regular bedtime, their behavioral scores — which included hyperactivity, conduct problems, problems with peers and emotional difficulties — worsened.

However, children who switched to a more regular bedtime showed clear improvements in their behavior.


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!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Developmentally Inappropriate? Follow the Money.

We've come a long way from Fredrich Froebel's "Children's Garden" in the early 19th century. Froebel's kindergarten was based on the belief that play is the real force in children's learning. Froebel focused his kindergarten on play and activities...and in the century and a half since then researchers have found that he was correct -- activity and play are essential parts of learning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a report titled, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, wrote
Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them...As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.

The first kindergarten in the United States was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in Watertown, Wisconsin, and for the next approximately 150 years kindergartens in America combined play, activities and the arts to foster children's growth in a developmentally appropriate atmosphere.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the picture in kindergartens across the country is very different. Many 4, 5 and 6 year old children in kindergartens around the nation are now asked to participate in long periods of large group instruction where they might be required to sit for long blocks of time working at desks completing worksheets. Experienced kindergarten teachers are scrambling to adjust the new curriculums in ways that are developmentally appropriate.
The most difficult barrier faced by the teachers was related to some mandate, expectation, or policy issued by the school system that teachers believed to be developmentally inappropriate for children. Mandates included the implementation of literacy programs, math programs, or writing programs. Inappropriate expectations for all children to master the kindergarten-level math skills...that all children would be reading by the end of the kindergarten year and would reach specific reading levels...Excessive assessments were required in several school systems.

The National Asssociation for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has written a 30 page Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. It includes a dozen "principles of child development and learning," and guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice in five different areas. The five areas are,
  1. Creating a caring community of learners
  2. Teaching to enhance development and learning
  3. Planning curriculum to achieve important goals
  4. Assessing children’s development and learning
  5. Establishing reciprocal relationships with families
There's too much written about developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood education for me to cover in a short blog post (or even a long one!). The 8 pages of notes and references in the NAEYC position paper ought to satisfy your curiosity if you choose to explore the issue further.

I do however want to focus on one area that NAEYC highlighted.


Here's a quick look at what NAEYC says about assessment...
Teachers cannot be intentional about helping children to progress unless they know where each child is with respect to learning goals.

Sound assessment of young children is challenging because they develop and learn in ways that are characteristically uneven and embedded within the specific cultural and linguistic contexts in which they live...sound assessment takes into consideration such factors as a child’s facility in English and stage of linguistic development in the home language. Assessment that is not reliable or valid, or that is used to label, track, or otherwise harm young children, is not developmentally appropriate practice.

Let's look at how they describe appropriate assessment...
  • Assessment of young children’s progress and achievements is ongoing, strategic, and purposeful.
  • Assessment focuses on children’s progress toward goals that are developmentally and educationally significant.
  • There is a system in place to collect, make sense of, and use the assessment information to guide what goes on in the classroom...
  • The methods of assessment are appropriate to the developmental status and experiences of young children...Methods appropriate to the classroom assessment of young children, therefore, include results of teachers’ observations of children, clinical interviews, collections of children’s work samples, and their performance on authentic activities.
  • Assessment looks not only at what children can do independently but also at what they can do with assistance from other children or adults...
  • ...input from families as well as children’s own evaluations of their work are part of the program’s overall assessment strategy.
  • Assessments are tailored to a specific purpose and used only for the purpose for which they have been demonstrated to produce reliable, valid information.
  • Decisions that have a major impact on children, such as enrollment or placement, are never made on the basis of results from a single developmental assessment or screening instrument/device...
  • When a screening or other assessment identifies children who may have special learning or developmental needs, there is appropriate follow-up, evaluation, and, if indicated, referral...
Keeping in mind the 4th, 5th and 7th bullets above (highlighted in red) look at this...


Kindergarten gets tough as kids are forced to bubble in multiple choice tests
Because of a tough new curriculum and teacher evaluations, 4- and 5-year-olds are learning how to fill in bubbles on standardized math tests to show how much they know about numbers, shapes and order.
In one sentence, the Daily News has encapsulated the complete inappropriateness of the assessment used.
  • The assessment is not appropriate to the developmental status of young children.
  • The assessment is not only used to evaluate children's progress, but to evaluate teachers as well
  • The assessment supports a curriculum which hasn't been researched or validated, therefore the validity of the assessment is questionable.

Reading further we learn that the assessment doesn't allow children to collaborate or get help from adults.

School officials said that the test was a good way for teachers to get information about their students. Teachers, on the other hand, didn't find the assessment useful...
Administering the exams is a complete headache, teachers said. “They don’t know how to hold pencils,” said a Bronx kindergarten teacher...“They don’t know letters, and you have answers that say A, B, C or D and you’re asking them to bubble in...They break down; they cry.”
The test isn't appropriate for children. It doesn't help teachers. Of what benefit is it, then?
One of three tests obtained by the Daily News is created by Pearson — which made the New York State third- through eighth-grade exams, including a ridiculously worded question about a talking pineapple last year. Pearson also makes the Common Core materials that most city schools have recently adopted. [emphasis added]
Just out of curiosity I checked out the math curriculum at one of the nation's most elite private schools. There's nothing about the Common Core. There's nothing about bubble tests. Unless they're hiding something those things aren't being used. The description, on the other hand, does sound developmentally appropriate. Do the educators at Sidwell Friends School know something that the State of New York doesn't?
Math: Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten

Through a variety of teacher-planned activities and self-directed learning stations, the pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten math program offers a stimulating environment for fostering emergent mathematical thinking. Teachers encourage the free exploration and manipulation of classroom materials, including pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, buttons, coins, shells, and seeds. Children are exposed to practical “daily life” math. Many activities involve counting, such as “counting around the circle” to determine daily class attendance. Classroom calendars are dated and tracked by students. Classrooms provide opportunities to sort, classify, and compare objects. Students work on assessing attributes, duplicating and creating patterns, building recognition of numbers and geometric shapes, estimating, and graphing. Group work and free choice activities offer times to practice number concepts, number writing, and oral number tasks. Skills such as exhibiting one-to-one correspondence, sequencing, and linking numeric symbols with quantity are regularly practiced in classroom programs.
A rich curriculum, appropriate instruction and developmentally appropriate assessment is good for the nation's wealthy who can send their children to schools like Sidwell. Money meant for students in public schools, on the other hand, is misspent on inappropriate materials and assessments which don't benefit the students...or teachers.

Follow the money from the taxpayers...
....to testing companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill
...and back to the politicians making the rules for public education.
Remember this when someone complains that "we already spend too much money on education" in the US.

Further Reading:
Education priorities have become disjointed
Dr. Joseph Ricciotti: How CCSS Ruins Kindergarten


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, October 5, 2013

Duncan Shows His Ignorance - Again

Emerson said, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" and Arne Duncan and the US DOE are proving the point.


What should the purpose of testing be in public schools? To hear US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, you'd think that testing was the goal of education...the only way that we can evaluate student progress. He apparently doesn't believe that teachers have the ability to evaluate students except through the results of yearly standardized tests.

California has decided to change the standardized tests they use and the legislature has chosen to skip testing for a year in order to ease the transition to the new, Common Core (CCSS) based exams.

U.S. secretary of education opposes California's testing plan
The proposed law would end the standardized exams used since 1999 and replace them next spring with a computerized system. The purpose is to advance new learning goals, called the Common Core standards, that have been adopted by 45 states.

California would be moving up its timetable for the computerized tests by a year, leaving some school districts scrambling to prepare. The plan also would result in the suspension of test scores for at least a year during a trial run of the new exams.
While one year of a "trial run" of the new tests isn't really enough to determine the validity of the CCSS it's clear that the California legislature learned from the New York experience with new CCSS-based tests.

Arne Duncan, however, sees it differently...
"Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools’ performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition," he said in a statement. "No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing."
The article continues...
"If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds," Duncan said.

The education secretary isn't demanding that every eligible student have test scores during the transition from old to new tests, said spokesman Massie Ritsch. But students either need to be participating in the official field test of the new exam or to be taking tests that will result in scores.
Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education are essentially telling California, "Test your students using a standardized test which will yield 'scores' or you don't get any money."

The sheer ignorance of this response takes my breath away. It shows that Duncan and his Department of Education know nothing about teaching and learning. It is insulting to teachers and parents alike and shows the contempt that they have for actual education professionals and their clients.

Arne Duncan, remember, has no experience in educating children. His stint as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was focused on closing public schools and opening privately operated charters. Duncan's college degree is in Sociology, the study of human social behavior, not education. His college and previous professional experience is in basketball. His closest brush with actual teaching was watching his mother tutor students. He never taught in a public school. He never even attended a public school.

It's therefore understandable that he knows nothing -- absolutely nothing -- about the process of teaching and about what goes on in the classrooms of America's public schools. He apparently doesn't know that teachers are constantly evaluating their students. Standardized tests are, of course, not the only way that student evaluation occurs (and by this statement I am making an unfounded assumption that standardized tests do, indeed, evaluate student learning). Teachers give tests, quizzes and homework, lead discussions and observe student behavior and work...and in doing so, gain an understanding of a student's progress.

Furthermore, teachers also report on their students' progress to parents through quarterly reports, mid-term reports, parent/teacher conferences, phone calls, emails and notes home. Parents also initiate face to face conferences, telephone calls and written communications with teachers.

To say that students won't be evaluated unless they produce "scores"...that students and their families won't be informed of student progress...is pathetically ignorant. To imply that teachers and parents won't communicate with each other about the progress of America's children unless they can point to and look at a printout from Pearson or McGraw-Hill is insulting to both teachers and parents.


The use of student test scores to evaluate teachers is inappropriate as most people familiar with testing and statistics will tell you. Tests are appropriate for that which they were intended. Standardized tests are designed to evaluate student knowledge (whether they do that effectively is another discussion entirely). They were not designed to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Proponents of Value Added Measures of teacher evaluation might argue that there has to be some way to measure teacher effectiveness and current teacher evaluation plans are inadequate to the task.

Whether this is true or not is debatable, but forcing everyone into a statistically unsound system is not the answer. Linda Darling-Hammond suggests seven research-based items necessary for effective teacher evaluation systems:
  1. Teacher evaluation should be based on professional teaching standards
  2. Evaluations should include multi-faceted evidence of teacher practice, student learning, and professional contributions
  3. Evaluators should be knowledgeable about instruction and well trained in the evaluation system
  4. Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, and connected to professional development opportunities
  5. The evaluation system should value and encourage teacher collaboration
  6. Expert teachers should be part of the assistance and review process
  7. Panels of teachers and administrators should oversee the evaluation process
"Reformers" use a false dichotomy of either VAM-based teacher evaluations or ineffective evaluations so more and more state departments of education are forcing all their public schools and public school systems to use student test scores as part of the teacher evaluation process.

This is despite the fact that there are evaluation processes which have proved very successful. For example, Peer Assistance and Review approaches to teacher evaluation, like that used in Montgomery County Maryland (see HERE and HERE), have proved to be valuable and effective.

Reliability and Validity of Inferences about Teachers based on student test scores

Research into VAM-based evaluation systems show that they come up short.
Teacher VAM scores should emphatically not be included as a substantial factor with a fixed weight in consequential teacher personnel decisions. The information they provide is simply not good enough to use in that way. It is not just that the information is [statistically] noisy. Much more serious is the fact that the scores may be systematically biased for some teachers and against others...

...VAMs may have a modest place in teacher evaluation systems, but only as an adjunct to other information, used in a context where teachers and principals have genuine autonomy in their decisions about using and interpreting teacher effectiveness esti- mates in local contexts.
In an excerpt from, The Mismeasure of Education authors Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn discuss teacher assessment using student test scores...

Case study: The false promise of value-added teacher assessment
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for states in the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant money, states like Tennessee rushed to implement a federally recommended system whereby value-added growth scores would come to dominate teacher evaluation for educators who teach tested subjects. And contrary to the most basic notions of accountability and fairness, two-thirds of Tennessee teachers who teach non-tested subjects are being evaluated based on school-wide scores in their schools, rather than their own.

...What value-added modeling has contributed to the testing fairness formula by acknowledging different starting points in the testing race, it takes away by helping to conceal the chasms that constitute the inequalities that mark the radically different starting points of the disadvantaged and the privileged. Meanwhile, Tennessee remains, by State Commissioner Huffman’s own admission, in the “bottom ten states in the country in educational outcomes,” even after twenty-plus years of corporate education reform and value-added assessment.
By forcing states who wish to get federal assistance for education into VAM Teacher Evaluation systems the US Department of Education is using the same coercive techniques that they used in the Bush administration's Reading First debacle. Instead of distributing federal education funds based on need, the DOE is coercing states to use inappropriate and inaccurate measures of teacher evaluation.

The US Department of Education is being run by small minds who don't know enough about education to keep from doing damage. We'd be better off without them entirely.


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!