"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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Your Morning Cup of Joe Kool-Aid

On September 25, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the new president of the NEA, appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe show (see embedded video below). The display of ignorance by the host and his "reformer" sidekick was breathtaking and began almost immediately.

One would think that before you start an interview with someone you would make sure you are informed of the facts. Joe Scarborough and Steve Rattner hadn't done their homework. Instead they stuck with "reformist" talking points. Scarborough focused on the "failure" of American public education. Rattner focused on the nation's poor showing on PISA, and both of them fought desperately to defend the nation's chief "reformer," Arne, never-attended-or-taught-in-a-public-school, Duncan

Early on Lily made reference to the Kool Aid...it was flowing freely.


At 1:43 Joe said
Obviously the reason why we started trying to figure out how to have a better way to measure student success and teacher success and school success is because of the failure of public education.
and a bit later, 2:27
You can't just come on here and ignore the plight of working class Americans and those in poverty who have horrific circumstances in their schools.
and 4:40
You have people so obsessed about the scores...
Much as she might have wanted to, Lily couldn't (or wasn't given time, or wouldn't) answer those claims. Perhaps it was just too much ignorance coming at her all at once.

First, the failure is not with public education, it is, instead, the nation's failure at dealing with the high rate of child poverty. Can we improve public education? Of course we can, though not by defunding, deprofessionalizing, and privatizing. We can improve it by making an investment in our future. See chapters 21 through 33 of Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools for just one example.

Second, we can't ignore the plight of working class Americans and those in poverty...and Lily didn't do that. She correctly responded to this insulting implication by saying, "Nobody did that [ignore the plight...], nice straw man." This was probably the most effective response she had the whole morning, though it happened so quickly I doubt it registered with most watchers.

Third, people are so obsessed about the scores on standardized tests because NCLB and RttT have incentivized that obsession. If Joe had done his homework, and learned about the system of rewards and punishments instituted by the obsession with testing in this country, he would already understand that. Maybe it's because NBC, the parent company of his show, has a financial interest in school reform.


Enter Steve Rattner, another apparent shill for "reform." If you watch the video below pay close attention to how he dismisses everything that Lily says in response to his comments by saying things like, "yeah, yeah, but..." and "okay..." Perhaps, we shouldn't be surprised by this disrespect. Disrespect of educators is common with "reformers" (see the Straw Man incident, above). We are, after all, "only teachers." Kudos to Lily for not punching him in the nose.

He said, (4:51)
The US has fallen further and further behind other developed countries if you look at PISA.
He brings up Common Core -- because we all know that anti-common core sentiment is only present in whacky, lunatic fringe, right wingers. (NOTE: No one mentioned Common Core up to this point.)
I don't think you're going to blame the Common Core.
If the man had done his homework, he would have known that Lily doesn't hate the Common Core and in fact thinks it's just swell...it's just the testing issue that's a problem for her.

Lily told him that the reason Finland, Singapore et al are doing so well is because they are doing the opposite of us -- no privatization, no defunding, and no tossing untrained teachers into the highest need schools -- "There is no Teach for Finland."

Not to be distracted, and apparently ignoring everything she just said with yet another, "yeah, yeah, but...", Steve goes back to PISA...
We used to be here and now we're here.
Lily responds that the other countries improved. We didn't get worse.

And then, in a response that elicited a Chicago-esque phrase expressing dissatisfaction from me, Rattner said,
Finland moving is the same as saying we moved.
He had no response to the statement that high achieving nations are improving their public education systems instead of killing them by false "reforms." He had no response to the obvious conclusion that we have wasted billions of dollars and dozens of years on those false "reforms" while other nations did things which worked. He seemed to have no clue -- or else didn't care -- that there is a correlation between poverty and achievement.

He could only say, "yeah, yeah, but..."

[Insert a second Chicago-esque phrase here.]


Steve, you're right, we have "fallen further and further behind other developed countries if you look at PISA." Unfortunately, you're wrong about what it is we have fallen behind in. We haven't fallen behind in our education. We've fallen behind in the level of poverty in the United States and the level of Child Poverty specifically.

The PISA scores show a direct correlation to the level of poverty in the U.S. If you disaggregate the U.S. PISA scores by poverty level you'd find that our low poverty schools score at the top of the world on PISA...and even our high poverty schools score in the middle of the pack. The problem is that we have such a high rate of poverty compared to the high achieving nations that our average score is much lower.

And Steve, your statement that "Finland moved, so we moved" seems to imply that you're more concerned about our national rank on the tests than what is actually being learned in school. Finland moved up, so we moved down. You're right. You don't get to shout, "USA, USA, We're #1, We're #1!"

Unless of course, you're talking about childhood poverty.

It's fairly clear that Lily Eskelsen Garcia was discussing education policy with people who had no basis in fact for their opinions and weren't really interested in hearing what she had to say.



Mel Riddle, writing for the National Association of Secondary School Principals explains it so that even Steve and Joe could understand it...

PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’
...notable is the relationship between PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty. While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.

...Schools in the United States with less than a 10% poverty rate had a PISA score of 551. When compared to the ten countries with similar poverty numbers, that score ranked first.

...In the next category (10-24.9%) the U.S. average of 527 placed first out of the ten comparable nations.

...For the remaining U.S. schools, their poverty rates over 25% far exceed any other country tested. However, when the U.S. average of 502 for poverty rates between 25-49.9% is compared with other countries it is still in the upper half of the scores. [emphasis added]
Diane Ravitch explained the PISA scores...

My View of the PISA Scores
The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile.

...The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.
She went on to pull 4 lessons from the scores...
Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past dozen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty would improve their academic performance.

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.


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!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Retention Wars: Blaming Children


In the recent film, Rise Above the Mark, Linda Darling Hammond said,
The problem we have with testing in this country today is that...we're using the wrong kinds of tests, and...we're using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.
More than a dozen states, including Indiana punish third grade children -- 8 and 9 year olds -- for low reading achievement by forcing them to repeat third grade. Retention in grade doesn't work...and we have known it for decades.

In the past, parents, teachers, and administrators used to make the decision to retain a student in his current grade. Now it's state legislatures, governors, and departments of education. We have allowed the wrong people -- politicians and policy makers -- to determine the academic placement of our children using the wrong kinds of tests in the wrong kinds of ways.


Recent research in retention in grade mirrors past research from the last century. We do know that intense intervention helps...but, as a nation, we're not willing to spend the money to provide it for our children. We know that lowered poverty rates help, but, as a nation, we're not willing to face the fact that we have failed to reduce poverty in our country, and in fact, it continues to grow.

Yet state after state continues to force school systems to hold children back in third grade causing unnecessary academic and emotional damage by labeling students as failures. This is no more effective in helping children learn than was the 19th century dunce cap.

Oklahoma partially repealed their third grade punishment law last May. They are still doing the wrong thing, requiring children to be punished for low reading achievement, but at least now, they are letting parents and local educators have some input into the decision.

Of course some legislators, who claim to be for "local control" during campaign season, were not happy to yield to actual local control...

Legislature overrides Fallin veto on reading bill; Barresi calls decision a 'pathetic' step back
[The] bill shifts promotion-retention decisions about third-graders who score unsatisfactory on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test to teachers and parents.

The existing law required students not covered by certain exemptions to be retained.

...Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa said "...the decision that a child needs to be held back won’t come down to a single high-stakes test. It allows for a series of assessments throughout the school year and gives our local schools, professional educators and parents greater input.”
Notice that in Oklahoma the argument wasn't against retention, but was for local control. The change to the law requires local folks, parents and teachers, to decide whether or not to retain a child instead of the no-excuses policy of retaining everyone who can't read by third grade.


One problem with retention in grade is that it is supported by a large number of educators.

Many teachers don't believe the research and instead rely on "anecdotal evidence." An elementary teacher in a K-5 school building, for example, might retain a child and assume that all is well because the child does better the second year...and perhaps the following year as well. Unfortunately, the gains are usually short-lived.

Keeping children back a year doesn’t help them read better

(See also Does holding kids back a year help them academically? No. But schools still do it.)
...some studies have found academic improvement in the immediate years after retention, these gains are usually short-lived and tend to fade over time.
By the time the students start to lose the gains they have made -- and end up further behind than before -- they are often in another school, or too far away from the retaining teacher for her to continue to keep track.
...two problems lie in the popularity of such grade retention policies. First, while the Florida model has significant bi-partisan support among both Democrats and Republicans in the US, reviews of the outcomes of the Florida policy show research on it is misrepresented and inconclusive, at best.

Alongside this, 40 years of research into the policy of holding children back a grade refutes the practice.
In Florida, the gains of students who were retained were held up as an example of the success of retention, however, those gains from retention were supplemented by intensive interventions which could have, and should have been used without retention.


In American public schools, when something goes wrong the tendency is to blame someone else...and retention blames the student.
Despite a well-established research base discrediting the practice, the policy appears to endure for two reasons. A political and public faith in punitive educational accountability sits alongside a straw man argument that advocates keeping children back instead of “social promotion”, where they are automatically passed onto the next grade regardless of student achievement.
Teachers aren't given the training, support, and additional help they need to help struggling students. When a child fails to learn the response is often based on the false dichotomy of retention versus social promotion. "What else can we do?" What indeed...

The answer is to invest in public education...

Holding Kids Back Doesn't Help Them
Happily, there are more effective and less expensive alternatives. The cost of having a student repeat 3rd grade is several times greater than alternatives such as tutoring or small-group interventions, summer school, or high-quality pre-K. These approaches don't have the negative side effects associated with retention.

Instead of giving children the same treatment that failed them the first time, alternative strategies provide different kinds of learning opportunities.

Interventions should also begin long before 3rd grade. Research has provided compelling evidence that investments in preschool can reduce retention and have positive long-term payoff for individuals and society, in contrast to the negative long-term effects of holding a student back later.
Intervention costs money and America is so deeply invested in corporate welfare that public education and our children's future is being shortchanged. Today's education "reforms" are proof of the nation's desire to disinvest in our children.

We are giving the wrong kinds of tests. We're using them in the wrong kinds of ways. And we're hurting our children in the process.


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, September 16, 2014

2014 Medley #21

American Teachers, SSR, School Prayer, Duncan, Poverty, Charters, Closing Schools


A series of articles about America's teachers.

We find that experienced teachers are leaving the profession. They're leaving not because the job is difficult...it's always been difficult...but because the federal and state governments are doing what they can to destroy public education and the profession of teaching in America. The plan is...
  • tell teachers what to teach.
  • tell teachers when and how to teach it.
  • blame teachers when it doesn't work.
The results of the study quoted below aren't surprising.

High-stakes testing, lack of voice driving teachers out
Contrary to popular opinion, unruly students are not driving out teachers in droves from America's urban school districts. Instead, teachers are quitting due to frustration with standardized testing, declining pay and benefits and lack of voice in what they teach.

So finds a Michigan State University education scholar -- and former high school teacher -- in her latest research on teacher turnover, which costs the nation an estimated $2.2 billion a year.

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, assistant professor of teacher education, conducted in-depth interviews with urban secondary teachers before they quit successful careers in teaching. In a pair of studies, Dunn found that despite working in a profession they love, the teachers became demoralized by a culture of high-stakes testing in which their evaluations are tied to student scores and teachers have little say in the curriculum.
Next we learn that the nation's teacher bashers...those who complain that teachers are overpaid and lazy...are wrong. American teachers don't get paid more than others with similar training and background. American teachers spend more time teaching than other teachers around the world.

The constant whine from the anti-public education crowd is to get rid of the bad teachers. Where are all the "great teachers" going to come from when teaching is a job from which you can be fired at will, a job where you are told what and when to teach by people who don't have any experience, and a job where requirements are based on the assumption that "anyone can do it?"

American Teachers Spend More Time In The Classroom Than World Peers, Says Report
A study from the Center for American Progress in July found that slow teacher salary growth contributes to high turnover. Research shows that 13 percent of teachers each year move schools or leave the profession.

"The bottom line is that mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence," says the report.

It continues: "As a nation, we need to do far more to attract -- and keep -- mid- and late-career teachers. In the end, if we truly want to retain top talent in our classrooms, we need to offer top-talent salaries.”
Teachers, when was the last time a politician spent a week shadowing you in your classroom? Those who complain about how weak the teaching profession is...and how lazy teachers are...are not willing to experience what teachers experience every day. For the most part, they're looking at public education from the point of view of the child they were when last they set foot in a public school.

Now that a teaching shortage has hit how many of those complainers are going to move into the "easy" world of public education with its 180 day work year and short school days.

The Cruel Myths about Teachers
Often, those who complain the most are those who were average or below-average students who blame teachers, not themselves, for their mediocrity. Although most claim to be strong free-market capitalists, they believe teachers should not have much higher wages and benefits than they do, a philosophy bordering on socialism.

Why aren't there more men in teaching? Public school teaching is still a "mostly-female" profession. Think about what that might mean in a nation which still has a serious gender wage gap and a general disrespect for women.

Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?
...men can earn much more, on average, outside of teaching, while women’s teaching salaries more closely match the average pay for women outside of education.

...Teachers unions argue that the swift adoption of new academic standards, the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers’ job performance and efforts to overhaul tenure all make teaching a less attractive career for anyone.

“The reality of teaching right now is that it’s always been a hard job,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union. It’s “harder now than ever before, with less and less respect,” she said.
The internationally high ranking Finns have found that having plenty of collaboration time for teachers to talk to each other, to compare teaching and experiences, and for planning lessons, has contributed to higher achieving students. Are we in the U.S. just beginning to discover that?

Do students learn more when their teachers work well together?
...researchers found that “the structure and content of relationships among teachers (teachers’ social capital) significantly predicted school-level student achievement [as measured by their test scores in both reading and math].”

Importantly, these effects were consistent across grades, and were sustained over multiple years...


Sustained Silent Reading after the National Reading Panel: Alive and Well

The failure of the National Reading Panel (NRP) was well documented by Gerald Coles in Reading, The Naked Truth and Elaine Garan in Resisting Reading Mandates. Among other things the NRP foolishly rejected research about sustained silent reading (SSR). I have written about SSR before, but it's nice to see Stephen Krashen write in support of it, too.

The public schools of America have been obsessively focused on the five aspects of reading instruction named by the panel since the NRP report was released in 2000 -- phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. No one denies that those are important, but it's clear that the NRP only reported on those aspects of reading instruction because those are the easiest to measure via testing (see DIBELS), and indeed, the five were specifically included in No Child Left Behind.

Something was missing, though, which reading teachers understood...purpose, motivation and opportunity for reading. Richard Allington wrote The Five Missing Pillars of Scientific Reading Instruction soon after the NRP report was released. It's a two page addition which includes important aspects of good reading instruction.
  1. Access to interesting texts and choice.
  2. Matching kids with appropriate texts.
  3. Writing and reading have reciprocal positive effects.
  4. Classroom organization: Balance whole class teaching with small group and side- by-side instruction.
  5. Availability of expert tutoring.
All the phonics, vocabulary and comprehension instruction in the world isn't going to be as effective if students aren't given opportunities to read texts of their choice and at an appropriate difficulty level. That's what SSR does. It gives students the opportunity to choose their own books and read them at their own rate.
Contrary to the conclusions of the National Reading Panel, study after study supports the practice of sustained silent reading in school. Some of my responses to the panel were published in Education Week, and others appeared in the Phi Delta Kappan and Reading Today (International Reading Association). I also discussed the panel's errors in The Power of Reading (2004).

In short, the panel missed many many studies, and misreported several others. In my first response to the panel (Kappan, 2001), I reported that sustained silent reading (SSR) was as effective or more effective than comparison groups in 50 out of 53 published comparisons, and in long-term studies, SSR was a consistent winner (Phi Delta Kappan, 2001).


Right-Wing Firebrand Rick Santorum on His New God Doc

From an interview with Rick Santorum...
The movie argues that the observant are being forced to practice in private, for few hours in church on Sundays. But on a personal level, can’t you observe your religion wherever you want?
Not necessarily. You can’t pray in school, but it’s good to have prayer. Are people offended by prayer? Sure. But the constitution gives us the right to offend. There are a lot of things today in America that offend me.

Right, but isn’t school different? There are lots of rules in school that don’t apply to the rest of society.
This is a fallacy. By making such a judgment, you’re communicating what’s good and bad. Not having the Bible taught in school is a mistake. The Bible is the basis upon which Western civilization was built. It is the most influential book of all. And yet it’s not taught. In school, they can’t talk about the impact of this book. This is, in fact, putting forth a view of history that is ahistorical. It’s hard to not look at the history of Western civilization and not see faith.
Rick Santorum is absolutely wrong and he probably knows it. It's completely legal to pray in public schools as long as 1) the government (in the form of the teachers or administration) doesn't choose, mandate, or lead the prayers and, 2) as long as students who are praying are not disrupting the education of others or themselves.

In 1995, thirty-five organizations, ranging from Americans United for Separation of Church and State to the National Association of Evangelicals to the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (Sikh), joined as signatories to a Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools. In the statement they agreed that,
Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate. [emphasis added]
Santorum is also wrong about the Bible being taught in school. Again, the Joint Statement...
The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature (either as a separate course or within some other existing course), are all permissible public school subjects. It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries. One can teach that the Pilgrims came to this country with a particular religious vision, that Catholics and others have been subject to persecution or that many of those participating in the abolitionist, women's suffrage and civil rights movements had religious motivations. [emphasis added]
As is common with some politicians, Santorum misrepresents the truth. What he really meant to say was that schools can't lead children in the prayers he wants, and can't teach his religion using the Bible.

Now where was it that I read about "not bearing false witness?"


Duncan Threatens to Withdraw Florida’s NCLB Waiver over ELLs

Arne Duncan needs to be fired. President Obama's education plan needs to be overhauled...
Duncan took away Washington State’s waiver because the legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to student test score...Duncan took away Oklahoma’s waiver because the Legislature repealed the state’s participation in the Common Core, and the governor signed the law.
Editorial: Federal education enforcers out of line
Duncan's staff has put Florida on notice that the state is at risk of violating NCLB standards that require all children to be counted equally in accountability formulas. Earlier this year, with the support of educators and advocates, the Legislature agreed to give non-English-speaking students two years in a U.S. school before including their standardized test scores in school grading formulas. The change was an acknowledgement of the huge learning curve such children face and that schools should not be penalized if those students can't read, comprehend and write English at grade level within a year.

Yet to the federal bureaucrats enforcing the unpopular NCLB law, such common sense doesn't matter. They have given Florida a year to make changes or risk losing its NCLB waiver, which has allowed the state to substitute its own accountability efforts for some of the most unworkable federal mandates. Those include the idealistic but unreasonable federal standard for 2014 that each child at a school must be working at grade level for the school not to be deemed "failing."


By the Numbers: US Poverty

An update for your information...
Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39.6 percent of African-American children and 33.7 percent of Latino children. Children are the poorest age group in the US


CPS outpaces charter schools in improvements, especially in reading

Mayor Emanuel's rubber stamp school board closed 50 schools last year because they were underutilized. Then they opened dozens of charter schools to dump public money into the pockets of political supporters. Now we find, unsurprisingly, that the charter schools did no better than public schools.
Chicago’s public neighborhood elementary schools improved greatly in reading and slightly in math, outpacing average charter school growth last year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of recently released testing data.


Mayor Emanuel, and Arne Duncan before him, closed dozens and dozens of neighborhood schools in Chicago. Here we read about the pain and stress that closing schools has on families and children.

Closed charter schools have a ripple effect
“It is a painful, really agonizing process to close a school,” Harris said. “The people who are there are choosing to be there. No one wants to see it happen.”

...“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

...it still created upheaval for families.
“It’s a significant disruption of their life,” Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth said.

...For those children, catching up academically will be as difficult as grappling with the loss of their school and adapting to a new environment.


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, September 14, 2014

A Place to Vent

Today is the 8th "blogoversary" of this blog. This morning, as I was thinking about all I've learned over the last 8 years, I reread some old posts and thought about the reasons I wanted a web presence in the first place. My purpose in starting and continuing this blog was and is to provide myself an outlet for the frustrations of teaching and learning under an increasingly damaging set of rules. I had (and still have) no plan for this blog in terms of longevity. I just want to have a place to vent about things such as...


The rules began with No Child Left Behind...and have since spread to Race to the Top, and the Common Core. Locally the rules have been amended by the Daniels/Bennett/Pence plan for education in Indiana which mirrors the national rules. Indiana's plan includes
  • transferring public money from public schools to privately run charter schools and to parochial schools through vouchers
  • complaining about all the "bad" teachers in our schools, while at the same time lowering the standards for entrance into the teaching profession

Local school boards get less and less of their district's tax money back from the state -- a big chunk of the money now comes in the form of increased costs for tests and test prep materials. They are under more restrictions dealing with the working relationships with teachers, the establishment of school curricula, and the adoption of assessment tools. Local school boards are also now obligated to use those tests to assign grades to schools and evaluate teachers.

"School Choice" apparently doesn't include public education.

Nationally the attack on public education has been bipartisan. In Indiana it has been led by Republicans like Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, Mike Pence, Bob Behning, and Daniel Elsener. They have been supported by their colleagues in the state legislature and the state board of education (and now in Governor Pence's expensive duplicate Department of Education, the Center for Education and Career Innovation).

It's ironic that the removal of local control of education should be led by Republicans, who so frequently decry the intrusion of "government" into our local lives. It's disheartening that both Democrats and Republicans throughout the nation are buying into the corporate line. "Educational leaders" are no longer educators, but instead are billionaires and their mouthpieces like Bill Gates, the Walton Family, Rupert Murdoch and the biggest cheerleader for the school corporatization/privatization movement in the country, Arne Duncan. None of today's loudest voices touting the "School Reform Party" line have ever taught in any of America's public schools. They do, however, control a huge chunk of America's money.


For the last several decades, the movement to end public education has called all the shots nationally and locally, giving less and less input to those people who actually work with students every day. When those misguided state and national plans for public education fail, the local schools and teachers are blamed.

Publicly, the "reformers" expect teachers, as Bill Moyers put it,
...to staff the permanent emergency rooms of our country's dysfunctional social order. They are expected to compensate for what families, communities, and culture fail to do. [emphasis added]
Social scientists, politicians, parents, the media, even many educators believe there's a "crisis" in education - especially in the public schools. That's only true insofar as schools reflect the world around them. The crisis is in our society and since no one takes responsibility for our nation's enormous inequities, it is blamed on public schools and public school teachers.


We are obsessed with testing and insist that schools are "accountable" to the greater society. Where, however, is society's accountability? Why is it that we can spend billions of dollars on a contrived war, and ignore the "economy gap" in our society? Why is it that educators have to accept No Child Left Behind in order to eliminate the "soft bigotry of low expectations" yet local, state and national governments don't (or won't) accept their responsibility for the "hard bigotry of urban failure?"

There are achievement gaps in our society, but they are not in schools. The real achievement gaps are:
  • the gap between what our leaders say they will do and what they do
  • the gap between what we as a society value, and what we are willing to spend to get it
  • the gap between what we're willing to spend to "promote democracy" around the world and what we're willing to spend to equalize our democracy at home

John Kuhn said it very well...
I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read “exemplary” in the suburbs and “unacceptable” in the slums?

Let us label lawmakers like we label teachers, and we can eliminate 100 percent of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and preventable illness by 2014! It is easy for elected officials to tell teachers to “Race to the top” when no one has a stopwatch on them! Lace up your sneakers, Senators! Come race with us!


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, September 10, 2014

Another American Hero

In 2008 I wrote about two teachers who jeopardized their jobs because they wouldn't subject their students to high stakes tests.

Doug Ward was a special education teacher in North Carolina and refused to administer the tests to his students with disabilities.

Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher in Seattle refused to subject his students to the Washington State test, the WASL.

Today, a new teacher has stood up to the national testing insanity, this time a Kindergarten teacher in Florida. She refuses to waste a week of instructional time giving 45 minute one-on-one computer-based tests to her students.

Putting Job At Risk, Kindergarten Teacher Refuses to Administer Standardized Test

It's not about me, says 59-year-old Susan Bowles, this is "about teachers all across the country who are fed up with testing and who can’t teach their students.”

by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams staff writer
Fifty-nine-year old Susan Bowles is joining the call of other educators who refuse to sacrifice critical learning for hours of high-stakes testing. (Photo: Sarah-ji)
Risking her job and life passion, a kindergarten teacher in Florida is taking a stand against the high-stakes takeover of the public school system by refusing to administer the state-mandated standardized test to her young students.

In a letter posted to her personal Facebook page this weekend and later re-posted on the blog Opt Out Orlando, 59-year-old Susan Bowles of Gainesville, Florida explained how the FAIR assessment—which this year was revamped to be a computer-based test—is difficult to administer, unfairly tests the young students' computer abilities, and ultimately consumes hours and hours of critical classroom time.

Bowles wrote:
This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!
Encouraging others who are equally frustrated with the increasing number of standardized tests to contact Republican Governor Rick Scott and voice their complaint, Bowles adds, "This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem."

Though some Alachua School Board members have expressed support for Bowles' action, district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson told the Gainesville Sun that, "Until Florida law changes, we’re under legal obligation to administer (these tests).”

Bowles says she is likely in breach of her contract by not administering the test and is "heartsick over the possibility of losing my job." However, Bowles she "cannot in good conscience" submit to losing up to six weeks of instruction. She concludes by citing as motivation a similar protest made by a friend and fellow educator "who quit teaching because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning — in the name of education."

Bowles later told the Sun that her protest is "not about one kindergarten teacher in Florida. It’s about teachers all across the country who are fed up with testing and who can’t teach their students.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


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!


Battle for the Net

Monday, September 8, 2014

REPA III - Deprofessionalizing Education


This weekend Anthony Cody posted the following video on his new blog site...

The three minute talk by Visiting Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Howard University, Denisha Jones, speaks right to the heart of the matter of allowing (or encouraging) people to walk into public school classrooms unprepared.

Dr. Jones (Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University) focuses her comments on the 5-week TFA (Teach For Awhile?) training program which places minimally trained college graduates in public school classrooms. In its early years, TFA aimed to fill unfilled positions in low income neighborhood schools. Now it's also being used to replace laid off teachers with cheap temps in school districts around the nation.

On the other hand, REPA III, which was adopted last week by the Indiana State Board or Education, doesn't even require 5 weeks of pedagogical training before you can be hired to teach in one of Indiana's high schools. You have to be well trained or experienced in your subject area, but developing the skills needed to transfer knowledge and develop understanding to the students in your classroom is apparently not necessary. If an unlucky high school does hire you to teach, only then do you have to start your training in pedagogy. You can "learn how to teach" from...
...school-based professional development, college or university-based course work or professional development, an entity that is not an institution of higher education, or a professional education organization
This pedagogical training must start within the first month you enter the classroom. The seven members of the State Board of Education who voted for REPA III apparently believe that you can 1) make it through the first month in a high school classroom without any knowledge of how teaching actually works or 2) learn how to teach instantly once you are exposed to "pedagogy training." [Note how the language in REPA III allows you to get your "training" from virtually anyone...like Pearson, perhaps]


Allowing untrained "experts" to teach on the REPA III plan is simply the logical next step in the privatization of public education and the deprofessionalization of teachers in Indiana and across the nation.

In contrast, Finland has improved its schools and national education, not by testing every child yearly and using tests to punish students, teachers and schools, or by reducing funding for education resulting in lower or frozen teacher salaries. It hasn't removed collective bargaining rights for teachers, or taken away teachers' due process rights. What Finland has done, among other things, is to elevate the profession of teaching to such a high level that the "best and the brightest" want to pursue careers in education. The Finns have improved teacher training by increasing, rather than decreasing the requirements needed before one can step in front of a classroom. They require educators to understand their subject area, of course, but they also require them to be well trained in pedagogy. They give their teachers plenty of time to collaborate and plan lessons so their students need less in-school time than their American counterparts. They pay their teachers well, and even pay them during their training.

What does all this investment in teacher training and professional development yield?

Academically, Finland is one of the highest performing nations in the world.


We hear so much about how American schools are failing because our students don't score high enough on international tests and how we should learn from those successful countries so that our students will be able to "compete in the global marketplace."

Then we turn around and underfund our schools, overwork our teachers, blame public education for the failure of policy makers to deal with issues surrounding poverty and sell off the education of our children to private and charter schools with little or no public oversight.

The final step in making our public schools as much unlike successful nations' schools as possible, is to demoralize teachers and deprofessionalize the field of education. Instead of increasing requirements for becoming a teacher, we decrease them. Instead of doing what we need to do to attract the "best and the brightest" to our public school classrooms we make a career in the field of education so difficult and so filled with mind-numbing test-obsessed insanity that fewer and fewer students are going into teaching and older, experienced career teachers are leaving the field in greater and greater numbers.

REPA III requires training in some "related field." Would any of the seven REPA III supporters on the Indiana State Board of Education want to be treated for an illness by say, an anatomy professor who never attended medical or nursing school, but who promised to learn how to practice medicine within a month? Would any of them go to a former police officer for legal help, for example, if the officer decided that s/he wanted to practice law and would start on her/his law degree during the first month of handling their case?

Do any of them send their own children to schools with untrained teachers?

Dr. Jones said,
...this is what makes one a professional. They have completed a course of education deemed appropriate by the leaders in their field, and they have demonstrated a readiness to enter the profession. [emphasis added]
The seven pro-REPA III members of the Indiana State Board of Education are not leaders in the field of education despite some of their credentials. They have demonstrated that they are unqualified to have anything to do with public education.


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!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

REPA III - The Wrong Direction

Yesterday, by a vote of 7 Ayes to 3 Nays, the Indiana State Board of Education passed REPA III, rules which define the qualifications for public school educators. This version contains the Career Specialist Permit which gives non-educational professionals the right to teach in Indiana high schools.


Why did David Frietas, a lifelong educator who has spent much of his professional career working with educators, vote for this. Referring to REPA III he said,
"We give a lot of lip-service to local control of public schools and I see this issue as an opportunity to reinforce and affirm our great school principals, great school board and great superintendents to make that decision for allowing people to have a pathway into the profession," Freitas said. "But the gatekeepers should not be at the state level. ... That is best done by the local school board."
Does he really believe that or is he being disingenuous? Consider...

Does he believe that testing requirements should be under local control? Does he believe that local school systems should choose what tests to use, how often to administer them and what to do with the results?

Does he believe that curriculum decisions should be under local control? Does he believe that local school systems should choose their own textbooks and standards?

How is REPA III different than any other aspect of public education which is decided at the state level? Why isn't he pushing to remove state involvement from other areas of public education? Why did he agree to sit on the state board of education where he is part of a group which makes policy decisions "at the state level." If he is in favor of local control, why did he accept appointment as one of the state level "gatekeepers?"


Thanks to professional educators Glenda RitzBrad Oliver, and Troy Albert, who voted against REPA III. It dilutes the quality of teaching in Indiana's high schools, insults the thousands of education professionals in the state who earned their credentials, and experiments with the quality of education for our students. Those three educators understand that you don't just walk into a public school classroom, begin disseminating information and call that teaching.

They understand that lowering standards for public school teachers won't help students learn or raise student achievement.


Linda Darling Hammond is a Professor of Education at Stanford University and a researcher in education policy and reform. In the film, Rise Above the Mark, she said,
What do we know about what works?

We know that high achieving systems are equitably funded whereas we fund our schools very inequitably. They take care of children with health care and preschool education, they have very low rates of childhood poverty whereas we have the highest rate in the industrialized world.

They invest in very well trained teachers and administrators who are extremely professional and well supported and knowledgable, and then they let them make decisions about what to do. They have a lean curriculum guidance some curriculum suggestions about what should happen each year but then people in the schools develop that into real curriculum and programs.

They use assessments that are authentic, performance based, open ended, essays, oral examinations, projects, scientific experiments all of those. Many fewer tests much more thoughtful, and at the end of the day they're really aiming to enable all of their kids to be successful in the public system. [emphasis added]
Having very well trained teachers and administrators in Indiana is something that the majority of members of the State Board of Education apparently don't believe in.


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!