"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, June 26, 2015

Under the Ravitch Umbrella

Diane Ravitch posted information about the AFT and NEA move to unionize teachers at charter schools.

What Happens When Charter Teachers Join a Union?
The NEA and AFT are actively trying to organize charter teachers. This is challenging because of high teacher turnover and often hostile charter management. As the numbers show, they have had limited success, but Cohen says that the unions have softened their opposition to charters in hopes of establishing unions in more charters.
Her post references an article at the American Prospect discussing labor's push to unionize charters...a distinctly non-union part of the education world.

When Charters Go Union
In 2014, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University released a report that documented a host of charter school problems, ranging from uneven academic performance to funding schemes that destabilized neighboring schools. The report laid out national policy recommendations designed to promote increased accountability, transparency, and equity.

The AFT and NEA came out strongly in support of the Annenberg standards, and have been working to promote them to state legislatures and school boards around the country. Leaders in the charter world, however, were less than pleased. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), an organization that seeks to influence the policies and practices of state authorizers, called the standards “incomplete, judgmental, and not based on research or data.” Michael Brickman, then the national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy think tank, said the Annenberg standards would stifle charters’ innovation by “bludgeoning them with regulation.” He accused the authors of “standing in the way of progress” with their “overzealous statutory recommendations.” (The president and CEO of NAPCS, Nina Rees, told me she actually likes the Annenberg standards, but doesn’t know if they should be adopted across the board.)
In response, Jim Horn, at Schools Matter, took time off from fighting the privatization of public education to update his attack on Diane Ravitch, the Network for Public Education, and Anthony Cody, claiming that they're pro-charter. [This is not the first time he's gone after the Ravitch branch of the pro-public education movement. See HERE and HERE, or just search his blog for Ravitch.]

Ravitch Rationalizes NEA/AFT/NPE Pro-Charter Position
The anti-reformy groups and self-promoting individuals that crouch under the Ravitch umbrella, along with the bloggers who are kept in line by NPE's censorious Anthony Cody and Jon Pelto, go about their business pretending that the corporate unions are allies of corporate education resistance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, I agree with Horn that the NEA and AFT are not as anti-reformy as I would like them to be. I've written against Dennis Van Roekel's support of CCSS and "reform" in order to get a "seat at the table," Lily's misguided support of the CCSS, how NEA endorsed President Obama in 2012 completely separating him from the work of his Education Department, and the fact that neither Randi nor Lily seems serious about rejecting corporate funding from "reformist" foundations.

However, I disagree with his description above about those who agree with Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. I'm a member of both the Education Bloggers Network run by Jonathan Pelto and the NPE that he references above. Neither Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Pelto nor Anthony Cody dictate what gets written on this blog, nor do I hesitate to disagree with Ravitch, Pelto, Cody, or anyone else if I choose to.

I also don't agree that the Education Bloggers Network or the NPE "pretend" that there is nothing wrong with the AFT and NEA positions on education reform. However, instead of lashing out angrily at them, those of us who are sometimes "under the Ravitch umbrella" understand that the unions are made up of teachers...and it's in our best interest to try to get them to change rather than just berating them because we disagree. That's why Diane Ravitch put both Randi and Lily on the spot earlier this year by asking them if they would refuse "reformy" foundation money. That's why the crowd cheered when they answered in the affirmative (even though Lily walked back on that position later). That's why thousands of us across the nation are working hard to influence voters, legislators, teachers, and parents to join us in the fight against privatization and "reform."

Furthermore, I don't think Horn's "my way or the highway" attitude is productive. Even if I do agree with his positions on school reform, I find his attitude towards the rest of us to be condescending and his language bordering on abusive. His attacks sound more like the anonymous trolls who populate the comments sections of political web sites rather than an educated, pro-public education advocate. If he doesn't like what you stand for he does indeed argue against you, often with good reason...but he paints with a wide brush and tells you to go to hell in the process. This is, of course, his right...it is his blog after all, and I'm sure he really doesn't care what I think, but it's counterproductive.

His attitude plays right into the corporate "divide and conquer attitude" so popular with "reformers." If we are busy blasting each other for not being "pure enough" in our pro-public education policy making, then we are that much weaker when we need to work together to end the misuse and overuse of testing, the destruction of the teaching profession and the privatization of public education.

Horn needs to quit playing the equivalent of the education "Hunger Games" by fighting those would should be allies instead of focusing his energy on Gates, Duncan, the Waltons, and the rest. It's helpful...and even important to speak our disagreement when we differ on particular issues, but we need to stand together against the real enemy.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015 Medley #20

Privatization, Poverty, Teachers, CCSS, Support for Public Education, End High Stakes Testing


Does the average American really understand what's happening to our system of public education? The common knowledge portrayed by the media and corporatizers is based on myths and outright falsehood. Such as...
  • ...the growth of charter schools and vouchers are necessary because public schools are failures. People believe this since the media blasts it out every chance it gets...the media supported and paid for by the privatizers, of course. The truth is that American public schools are not failing. American society is failing to deal with the level of poverty in our nation.
  • objections to privatization from teachers are suspect because teachers unions are "only in it for the money." The fact that states with strong unions have higher achieving students than states with weak unions doesn't get mentioned. Is it coincidence that lower achieving states, with weak unions, also have higher levels of poverty? Teachers and their unions aren't the problem. Poverty is.
  • teaching isn't really that hard to do...with short days, high pay, and summers off. No mention is made of the extremely high turnover rate in teaching (due to the difference between its perceived simplicity and its actual difficulty), the length of time teachers actually work on any given day, and the amount of work done during "vacations."
  • See (Myths and Facts)
  • K-12 tenure means that people believe teachers continue to teach even after they are past their prime -- and have a job for life no matter how ineffective they are. Tenure, in K-12 education, is simply "due process" which isn't explained well and is commonly misunderstood. Privatizers encourage this misunderstanding.
  • standardized testing is necessary to hold teachers and schools accountable. The fact is that tests are misused by people who should know better. Those who do -- the testing companies -- aren't going to cut into their profits by telling states and school systems to use fewer tests. No one admits that the tests are invalid for evaluating teachers and schools. Privatizers gloss over the fact that poverty level is the single most important factor in a child's score on a standardized test.
These myths are ubiquitous. How can we help people learn the truth beyond the corporate party line?

State throwing good money after bad

Privatization in Indiana continues. More and more money is being diverted from public education into a growing number of charter schools and the state's voucher program. Charter schools in Indiana, for example, got a raise this year including the opportunity to use $50 million in loans...on top of the $90 million of forgiven loans from 2013.
As the Indiana legislative session for 2015 entered its final hours, a last-minute gift was thrown into the budget for the state’s 79 charter schools. They were given a boost of $500 per pupil in new funding, along with the ability to tap into $50 million in loans for capital projects. The addition was made without discussion, without a hearing, without public input, and obviously without concern for the taxpayers.

Gov. Mike Pence has made it his mission to “improve” education in the state by taking money away from the public school system, rearranging funding to benefit suburban, affluent, predominately Caucasian schools, and otherwise bending the system to the advantage of those most likely to vote for him next fall. Meanwhile, public schools serving those students most in need of resources continue to struggle and are encouraged to compete against one another for the high-achieving students who bring with them the promise of greater funding via performance incentives.

Indiana: $50 Million Loan Program for Charters Needs Scrutiny
“The main concern: Who will be on the hook if charter schools don’t repay the loans?”

The usual answer: the taxpayers of Indiana.

“In 2013, the state forgave and paid off more than $90 million in charter school loans. The move drew protests from traditional public schools whose loans were not forgiven and consequently charter schools were no longer given access to the loan money.

“Kenley said Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma plan to do the same thing again with the new loan program — an assertion that neither denied outright.

“It’s always a possibility in the future,” Bosma said.

Report: Cost of school vouchers jumps from $16M to $40M

Indiana taxpayers are supporting religious schools...and that support (as well as support for secular private schools accepting vouchers) has increased from $16 million to $40 million in one year. The state supreme court has ruled that vouchers are not "tax supported religion" which would be disallowed by the state constitution, so the church (and synagogue and mosque) coffers continue to swell with our tax dollars.
The cost of Indiana’s private school voucher program jumped from $16 million to $40 million during the past school year, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Department of Education.

Critics of the voucher program say the report proves that subsidizing private education is costly and unsustainable. But supporters say the new figure is misleading.

At issue are publicly funded vouchers that families who meet certain income requirements can use to send students to private schools.

More than 29,100 students received vouchers during the recently completed academic year, up from about 19,800 the year before. Those numbers make Indiana’s program one of the largest in the nation.
What are the privatizers motives? For some, it's simply money. Textbook and test publishing companies like Pearson are reaping huge profits from the privatization of public education and the myth of public school failure.

For other privatizers the motive is ideological. Friedmanesque privatizers are true believers when it comes to the marketplace. They believe that the "free market," and only the "free market," will provide good results. My interpretation of what they understand as "good results" is "Them that's got shall have...Them that's not shall lose."

Religious privatizers believe that public schools teach communism, atheism, secular humanism, and other blasphemous philosophies. These theocrats want a church controlled nation with church controlled education.

Peter Greene gives us a good overview of the privatization movement focusing on the money motive...

Privatizing Primer
You may wonder how this is sustainable. It isn't, and it isn't meant to be. Charters routinely drop out of the business, move on, dissolve and reform under new names, getting out of Dodge before they have to offer proof of success. This churn and burn is a feature, not a bug, and it is supposed to foster excellence. To date, there is no evidence that it does so.

But in the long term, we get a two-tier system. One is composed of private, profit-generating school-like businesses that will serve some of the students. The other is a vestigal public system, under-funded and under-served, but still serving as "proof" that public schools are failure factories and so we must have a state-run system.


Poverty matters. Two more articles reminding us that the problem with America's public education system is not bad teachers or low test scores, but the fact that nearly one-fourth of our children live in poverty.

Stress in low-income families can affect children's learning
Children living in low-income households who endure family instability and emotionally distant caregivers are at risk of having impaired cognitive abilities according to new research from the University of Rochester.

Poverty's enduring hold on school success
...poverty remains a frustratingly accurate predictor of how well schools will perform. Schools full of middle-class kids rarely perform below average on state tests; schools made up of low-income kids rarely score above.

In fact, test score data in Illinois indicate that the degree to which poverty is tied to school performance is slightly stronger than it was a decade ago—despite reforms that have included school re-staffings, closures, consolidations, new state standards and more stringent guidelines for evaluating teachers. 


More and more teachers in Indiana opt for early retirement

The privatizers' plan for the teaching profession? Make teaching unattractive so professionals will leave or not even start. Lower standards to include inadequately trained personnel. Hire temps (TFA) at lower costs.

Not only are schools of education enrolling fewer teacher candidates, but more and more current teachers are leaving the profession early.
While some would argue this is only a short term problem, others say this makes teaching less attractive and creates another long term problem.

"They're going to have to find a way to make the profession attractive again for new teachers to say in the profession and for teachers who are experienced to stay in the profession until retirement," Lynn said.


Can We Rescue the Common Core Standards from the Testing Machine?

The Common Core is money machine...driving up profits for Pearson.
Well, if I am enriching above and beyond the CCSS, what do I need the CCSS for? If the CCSS is not laying out a path for a full, quality education, what path is it marking?

It’s laying out the path to the test. The CCSS are just the largest scale test-prep guide ever created. The CCSS tell us what we need to cover for the test, and the test tells us how well we covered it. If there were no test, the CCSS would not matter.

The CCSS are also, of course, about making money. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) also wanted to bust into the big piggy bank that is public school funding, but NCLB was a big, blunt hammer; CCSS is a more sophisticated machine with many interlocking parts.

In fact, the biggest reason that CCSS cannot be rescued is directly related to the difficulties those of us who write about education have had in explaining the problems with CCSS. And it is probably the biggest lesson that the powers that be learned from NCLB.


Teachers: Who’s on your side? Where can you go for people dedicated to truth-telling for democracy?

Here is where you can get information about the privatization movement and its impact on public education. Read and learn.
There are times when a teacher needs to have the facts, simple or complex. For complex information, very often there are multiple facets that need to be examined from different points of view. Who can you turn to when faced with the overwhelming problems that surround you? Who has no personal power base or money to gain from the information? What group of people will offer you unbiased facts and their experienced perspectives for you to consider?

The EduBloggersNetwork, a group of over 200 individual bloggers with solid education backgrounds and unique perspectives from schools across the country, are respected for their varied experiences and focus. They do not march in lock-step nor are they paid by billionaires and their tax-free mega-wealthy foundations which are heavily invested (for profit) in corporate education reform.

During one of the online conversations that questioned each blogger’s reasoning for blogging in support of teachers against incredible pressures backed by billionaire investors, one blogger’s comment in particular touched the heart of the subject.


NPE Forms Coalition of Education and Civil Rights Groups to Oppose High-Stakes Testing
We, the below undersigned organizations, oppose high-stakes testing because we believe these tests are causing harm to students, to public schools, and to the cause of educational equity. High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish Black and Latino students, and recent immigrants to this country.

We oppose high-stakes tests because:
There is no evidence that these tests contribute to the quality of education, have led to improved educational equity in funding or programs, or have helped close the “achievement gap.”

High-stakes testing has become intrusive in our schools, consuming huge amounts of time and resources, and narrowing instruction to focus on test preparation.

Many of these tests have never been independently validated or shown to be reliable and/or free from racial and ethnic bias.

High-stakes tests are being used as a political weapon to claim large numbers of students are failing, to close neighborhood public schools, and to fire teachers, all in the effort to disrupt and privatize the public education system.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Father's Day Reminder: Read Aloud to Your Children

I posted this last year on Father's Day...here it is again with slight modifications.


I started teaching elementary school in 1976 and from my very first day as a teacher I read aloud to my students. I had caught the read aloud bug from Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors and had it reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children. [I've referenced Jim Trelease quite a few times on this blog.]

I read aloud to all my classes because I'm convinced that reading aloud is one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us that
In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” [Emphasis added]

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” 
In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains...it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains...but, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:
  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model
Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their children become better readers.


In the newest edition of his book, Trelease devotes an entire chapter to fathers and reading aloud.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: CHAPTER 9: Dad—What's the score?
In case you’ve been off the planet for the past several decades, let me bring you up-to-date on our boys and their school woes.
  • In a 2008 study of reading tests in forty-five states, the girls exceeded the boys at every grade level.
  • Unlike four decades ago, it is now common for girls to dominate a high school’s highest academic positions (valedictorian), class leadership positions, advanced placement spaces, and school activities. While the girls are assuming responsibilities, the boys are playing sports or video games.
  • For the first time in history, women exceed their male counterparts in most collegiate achievements, from enrollment and graduation to earning advanced degrees, and the gap is widening annually. About the only significant area in which males dominate in college is “dropout,” where they lead by a 3:2 ratio.
(And an excellent pamphlet with important information specifically for dads....Fathers, Sons and Reading)

Boys, Trelease says, need their fathers to read to them. The relationship between fathers and sons has changed over the years, and not necessarily in a good way. Over the last few decades America's "male" culture has been dominated by sports and television -- ESPN (and ESPN2, ESPN Classic, etc.), Monday Night Football, and others -- and boys watch their role models carefully.
The landscape of the American male’s attention span was being dramatically altered and boys were soaking up the changes.
"Is there a connection," he asks, between the "decline in boys’ interest and achievement in school and the behavior of the male culture?"
Can a father play catch in the backyard after dinner and still read to the child that same evening? Can they go to a game one day and to the library the next? You betcha.
The question is...do they? Do fathers take part in their children's, and specifically their sons', intellectual development? Reading aloud to your child is an easy, fun way for fathers to have a positive academic influence on their children.
Dad—what have you done for your son’s head lately?
Make a Father's Day resolution. Read to your kids every day.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Friday, June 19, 2015

Random Quotes - June 2015


The Testing Circus: Whose Fault Is It?

Testing is being overused and misused. "Reformers" don't object to this...in fact, the overuse and misuse of testing is the tool of choice for the dismantling of public education and the profitization of the education "industry." Standardized testing is the very tool needed to prove that public schools are failing and that public school teachers are incompetent. It doesn't matter if the science is bad (VAM) or if the tests are inappropriate, unreliable, and invalid. All they need is a number for their sound bites.

from Peter Greene
...reformsters, who knew all along that the test would be their instrument to drive instruction, have pretended to be surprised testing has driven instruction and pep rallies and shirts. They said, "Get high test scores, or else," and a huge number of schools said, "Yessir!" and pitched some tents and hired some acrobats and lion tamers. Oddly enough, the clowns were already in place.

Punching the Eight Year Olds

I've spoken often about the bad science of retention in grade...and forced retention in grade, through legislation and based on one test, is even worse.

from Peter Greene
Mississippi is just open more example of a state that thinks eighth-year-olds need to be pummeled mercilessly so that they will stop holding out, because clearly any third grader who can't pass a Big Standardized Reading Test must not have been threatened enough. Clearly some folks believe that once facing the prospect of failure, a nation of third graders will declare, "Well, then, I'll stop messing around and learn how to read, because previously I had no interest in learning that fundamental skill-- at last not as much as I wanted to get into fourth grade." Yes, surely that's what will happen.


'Public education is the foundation of a democratic society'

Those of us who believe that public education is a public good need to speak out. There are those who believe that the only "public good" is selfishness and "every man for himself." Societies benefit from an educated populace and therefore should support a system of universal, publicly funded education.

from Joyce Luedke, Wausau
Our public schools are the heart and soul of our communities and serve all students and their families. Public education is the foundation of a democratic society. Previous generations made a moral commitment to us through their investments in public schools. Our generation must renew that moral commitment to our children by investing in their future and our representative democracy by funding our great public schools.

I Believe in Freedom of Choice

from Diane Ravitch
The taxes you pay support the common good, not your private preferences. They pay for highways you may never drive on, fire departments you may never call on, beaches open to all that you may never set foot on, public parks, and a range of services and facilities open to all without fee.

When it comes to education, there is a simple rule: public money for free, democratically controlled schools, private money for private, privately-controlled, and religious schools.


The Cost of Child Poverty

Poverty and inequity are a serious and real problem in the U.S. (and throughout the world). Societies which reduce poverty are better able to deal with other issues like universal education and health care. It's not surprising that the countries with the happiest people are the same countries with the lowest levels of poverty.

from Jeff Madrick in New York Review of Books
...years of research have made clear the direct connection between childhood poverty and social dysfunction, ranging from poor health outcomes to higher incarceration rates. Dozens of studies have reported that poor kids are more likely to have learning disabilities, language delays, behavioral problems, and to contract diseases such as asthma and diabetes. They tend not to do as well at school and are more likely to drop out of high school, or even grade school. Women more often have babies in their teenage years. The Children’s Defense Fund says the path to prison is often paved in these years. And, most important, neurologists have found virtually incontrovertible evidence that high levels of stress experienced from birth to the age of three can actually damage brain architecture...


All Teachers Are Assumed To Be Bad, But What If Everything You Do Works?

The general public believes that public education in the U.S. is a failure. They believe that not because it's true, but because they're constantly bombarded with stories about failure...from the media. The media, in turn, is being fed the stories from corporate interests who own them. The corporate interests have a vested interest in public education's failure because, the failure of public education is good for business. It means more media products sold and more public tax money going to corporate accounts.

Matt Amaral
Education is looked upon by the American public as being a failure. People have it in their heads that things couldn’t get any worse when in fact things might actually be better than they’ve ever been. That is what Diane Ravitch’s last book was about: We’re actually doing a better job of educating EVERYONE than at any point in human history.


Will Bernie Sanders Take on K12 Education Issues?

We were fooled in 2008 when candidate Obama told us that we didn't become teachers in order to test...we became teachers in order to teach.

Then, in 2012, some of us weren't fooled when NEA and AFT endorsed President Obama and his terrible education policies. That was a serious mistake.

Everyone who is supportive of public education as a public good can't afford to be fooled again.

From Anthony Cody
As we enter the campaign for the 2016 presidential race, educators and students are looking for a candidate willing to buck some very powerful trends. In 2008, we were led to believe that Obama would break with the disastrous policies of GW Bush, and bring an end to No Child Left Behind. But instead of change, we got NCLB on steroids through Duncan’s Race to the Top and NCLB waiver program. I think I speak for many when I say we will not be fooled again.

From John Kuhn in Heal Our Schools
Government officials, they never meet the child. They never see the child, speak to the child, touch the child. But they make policies that do leave their fingerprints on these children.

The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015 Medley #19

Privatization, NEA, Kindergarten,
Poverty, CCSS, Teachers


The Public’s Choice

The current trend in right-wing America (which each day seems to be more and more of the country) is to denigrate any and all government involvement in our lives. Our Founding Fathers, however, were not all anarchists and many of them believed that government has a legitimate purpose in building a better nation. One of those purposes is promoting the general welfare which, for most of our history, has included supporting an education system to benefit everyone (with notable exceptions...another topic altogether).

Providing schools supported by the general population -- as a public good --
Put another way in “Choice or Commonality” by Martha Minow, a law professor and inspiration to a young Barack Obama,

“if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, ‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose.”

So with federal education law originally meant to support the public education system in order to break the “poverty-ignorance-ignorance-poverty cycle” by providing ALL children with quality education, we know “choice” cannot logically get us to equal educational opportunity.
See also
Arthur Camins on Choice: a Letter to the Editor

John Oliver, Bail Bonds, Charter School Owners, ALEC and Privatization

Instead of investing in and fixing America's public schools we're moving slowly but surely to a system of privately run charters and schools which operate with little or no public oversight. The overreaction to "government interference" is driving this in part, as is the religious right's fear of anything not based on conservative Christianity. Jeb Bush regularly uses the term "government schools" instead of "public schools" because he wants to get the vote of those who hate everything "government" -- an ironic position from someone who comes from a family of government workers and who wants to run the government.

The debate today is over "big-government" vs. small or no government. That's the wrong focus. The debate should be over "good government" vs. "poor government." Big-government is not necessarily bad by definition if it serves the people well. Neither is privatization, by definition, good or bad, as long as the people are protected. Governments were developed so people wouldn't have to live in an "every man for himself," chaotic society. Working together we can accomplish more than fighting each other.

Charter schools are not, by definition, bad, however, public money does need public oversight...and that's missing in the charter industry right now. See also: Nonpartisan Report on Charter Schools: No Difference in Test Scores.
When I write about charter schools, which is often, BASIS is a regular part of the conversation. I think it helps us understand the underpinnings of the BASIS system to know something about its founders' ideology and affiliations. Michael Block's early associations with ALEC and his endorsement of privatization in the area of bail bonds give us a taste of what his views are concerning district-run, "government" schools and his vision for the future of education in the country. The ALEC/bail bond association makes his statement on the subject of schools and privatization in 2012 all the more telling. In a column by Robert Robb in the Republic, Block commented, "I would privatize the entire government school system." Here's the entire quote:
"I would privatize the entire government school system. I don't think you can actually run schools today with the amount of disagreement we have over the fundamental mission of schools. Is it social welfare? Is it academic excellence? Is it social justice? You can't possibly have an educational system if you have this amount of disagreement, so privatize it."
Along with privatizing, Block, like the bail bond industry, also believes in profitizing. Though the individual BASIS schools are nonprofit, BASIS.ed, which sucks up most of the taxpayer money that goes to the schools and runs their basic operations, is a for-profit enterprise. Much of what happens at BASIS is hidden behind BASIS.ed's for-profit fire wall. How much do Michael and Olga Block make each year? We have no idea. How much taxpayer money drawn up to the for-profit makes it back to the schools? Again, no idea. Did any taxpayer funds help subsidize the building and operation of the BASIS private schools in Silicon Valley, CA, and Brooklyn, NY (tuition: $24,000 per year)? No idea there either because the private, for-profit BASIS.ed operates without public scrutiny. And that's just how Michael Block likes it, both personally and philosophically.


At this year's Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago, Diane Ravitch asked both Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Randi Weingarten if their unions, the NEA and AFT respectively, would stop taking money from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation. Both said yes. Mercedes Schneider writes about how Lily Eskelsen Garcia is backpedaling from that promise.

I understand Lily's point...the NEA Foundation (which Lily said will continue to take money from "foundations") is not the NEA...they are two different, though related organizations. I think Lily would have done better to say something like, "I can't answer that question because, while I speak for the NEA, I don't make all the decisions on my own. I would have to check with the Executive Board (or the Representative Assembly, or some other group within the union)." That would have made more sense and been something I could accept.

But she didn't. She said yes.

Keep in mind that NEA under Lily and her predecessor, Dennis Van Roekel, 1) supported and still support the Common Core and 2) came out in support of Barack Obama in 2012 early, even after they had called for the resignation of Arne Duncan, and after four years of the disastrous Race to the Top. Endorsing President Obama was a mistake. Selling out for a "seat at the table" was a mistake.

NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia Remains Faithful to Gates Funding
[Quoting Diane Ravitch from the video, included] The Walton, Gates and Broad Foundations are at the forefront of the privatization movement. Will you commit not to accept funding from them and not to collaborate with them? [56:56]
She then asked for their “yes or no” answers:

Garcia: Yes.
A clearcut answer. Both presidents of the two largest national teachers unions said "Yes," their organizations would stop taking money from the billionaires.

A few days/weeks later Lily backpedals...
But Lily Eskelsen Garcia is willing to defend NEA’s continued receiving of Gates funding on a technicality:

NEA doesn’t directly receive the Gates funding. The NEA Foundation does.

And she completely glosses over her verbal agreement at the NPE conference to no longer even collaborate with Gates.

Nothing doing.

Her version of Ravitch’s question is botched on her blog, but the point of her unswerving Gates allegiance is clear:
I was asked at the NPE conference to give a simple answer to a question that is not so simple: Would my union, the NEA, accept Gates grants? The fact is that, no, NEA does not directly take funds from the Gates Foundation. … Our union organized an independent foundation for the very purpose of connecting philanthropists with the creative work of our member practitioners in classrooms across the country. … And in service to those members and those students, we will continue to work with powerful partners, foundations and institutions dedicated to educational innovation, educator empowerment, student health, and parent engagement. Over the years, we’ve helped educators connect with many donors, including the Gates Foundation….


Kindergartens Ringing the Bell for Play Inside the Classroom

Play is children's work and it should be pervasive in kindergarten...not work sheets, reading tests, and math facts.
Using play to develop academic knowledge — as well as social skills — in young children is the backbone of alternative educational philosophies like those of Maria Montessori or Reggio Emilia. And many veteran kindergarten teachers, as well as most academic researchers, say they have long known that children learn best when they are allowed ample time to go shopping at a pretend grocery store or figure out how to build bridges with wooden blocks. Even the Common Core standards state that play is a “valuable activity.”


National Survey of American Teachers by Communities In Schools

[Read a summary of findings at Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet, Student poverty, lack of parental involvement cited as teacher concerns.]

Teachers are united in their understanding of what is getting in the way of student learning in America...the fact that nearly one-fourth of our children live in poverty.
The key findings demonstrate that poverty and the manifestations of poverty are a critical impediment to education. In addition to the student impact, we have learned that teachers spend considerable amounts of time and personal resources to address these impediments. Teachers are also nearly unanimous in their preferred solution to addressing these challenges: a dedicated person to work with these students and their families.

What Poverty Does to the Young Brain

It's true. Poverty matters.
In a longer-term study published two years ago, neuroscientists at four universities scanned the brains of a group of twenty-four-year-olds and found that, in those who had lived in poverty at age nine, the brain’s centers of negative emotion were more frequently buzzing with activity, whereas the areas that could rein in such emotions were quieter. Elsewhere, stress in childhood has been shown to make people prone to depression, heart disease, and addiction in adulthood.

Is the Common Core killing kindergarten?

Questions: How many early childhood experts were on the team that developed the Common Core State Standards? How many people on the team had experience working with young children? How many people on the team understood child development from birth to age 5? In how many locations were the Common Core State Standards field tested for accuracy and appropriateness?

Answer to all questions: Zero.
Another Boston-area parent, Jennifer Debin, saw similar academic pressures put on her son’s kindergarten class in the Sherborn public schools. “It came as a surprise to me, during my observations of the classroom. There were a lot of work sheets, a lot of seat time, and it was all very teacher directed,” says Debin who volunteered as a class parent. “There wasn’t as much joy in learning, laughter, excitement, and just the noise and playfulness you’d expect in a place trying to get kids excited for that first voyage into school.”


Why so many teachers leave — and how to get them to stay

Teachers have a difficult job and most parents understand that, but many folks look at it from the outside and don't get it. The misunderstanding is epitomized by the contrast between this article and one of the commenters. First, the article -- click the link above, read the whole thing and then come back...
On paper, teaching seems like the perfect job. Summers off, a workday that ends at 3 p.m., time off when the students are off — and the daily opportunity to work with children all day long. What more could one possibly want? As with life, things are not always what they seem. Teaching is hard. Parenting is generally deemed the hardest job in the world — but teaching runs a close second. Teachers continue to leave the profession in droves because all of those “on paper” benefits aren’t the reality.
Next, the comment...Here is someone who believes, like Chris Christie (without the obvious bullying) that teachers are well-paid (#1) and underworked (#2) with huge pensions and six-figure salaries. She believes that experience and training doesn't count (#3) and that teachers use their advanced degrees only to "extort" more money. The big problem is evaluation, however. The current trend is towards evaluating teachers using test scores. The commenter extols inspiring teachers, but how do we measure inspiration (#4)? Is it like good art where "I'll know it when I see it?" How do you measure the influence a teacher has on his or her students? (See the section titled EVALUATE THAT, here.

Finally, the commenter tells teachers to be happy because parents praise them and buy them lunch "for goodness sakes." That, apparently, makes it all worth it. I wonder if private sector workers -- you know, the ones without the huge pensions -- would be happy with praise and a sandwich...
Virginia SGP

The idea of pairing junior teachers with senior ones and providing more collaborative lesson plans are very good. But the rest of this article is nonsense.

1. Teachers are paid well despite what they want you to believe. Teachers receive ~20% of their pay via a pension that virtually no private sector worker receives. They conveniently like to leave that out. In Loudoun County just outside DC, a masters degree teacher makes the equivalent of $64K-$130K/yr to teach. That is not "drastically underpaid".

2. Teachers work 200 days per year when other workers spend 235 days in their jobs. Just ask the school administrators who have to work 235 days if they would rather work a teacher schedule. If teachers don't think that matters, let's have teachers report for an additional 7 weeks (35 days) in the summer to have some real professional development.

3. The reason nobody respects the masters education degrees is because they have absolutely zero effect on student outcomes. Virtually no study has ever shown a masters degree helps a teacher. The dirty little secret is these are 1) easy to obtain and 2) a mere credential to receive more pay. Yet teachers brag about all of their degrees. Folks in other fields often don't get masters or doctorates because they are unnecessary and they can't extort extra pay from their employers with them.

4. Yes, we want teachers to inspire kids and not just be good in a theoretical classroom. Maybe that's harsh. But since we know some teachers are effective at communicating and inspiring kids to be interested, that is the benchmark for the best. Some quarterbacks have a lot of talent but for some reason can't perform well. They don't get a pass. Teaching is critical so we will continue to search for the most effective ones.

Teachers receive more praise than any profession. Parents bring you lunch for goodness sakes. We want great teachers and are determined to find the best ones for our kids.

America, Meet @GovChristie: Teacher Bashing Hypocrite

The king of teacher bashers is New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. Here, Jersey Jazzman provides an article and video showing the good governor at his best. I would just add a couple of things from the video which aren't fully covered...

At 1:50 in the video Christie says,
"It's the same as it was in the 1800's for God's sake...It's a row of desks facing forward to a black board or a white board...a person standing in the front of the room...talking to the people at the desks...

"And they do so from roughly 8:30 to roughly 2:30 or 3 o'clock, and they're off four months a year."
It's clear that Christie is either lying or doesn't know what he's talking about. The average teacher works longer than six hours a day...even if that's all he or she is paid for. There's preparation and grading for example. As a teacher I normally had several hours of work each day evaluating the work of students...I stayed late after school or took it home. I'm pretty sure I was not the only teacher who did that. Granted, I can't speak for every teacher in America, however, studies have shown that teachers generally work more hours than they're paid for each day...which more than makes up for...

...the time off in the summer. Maybe it's different in New Jersey, but here in Indiana (and in Illinois where I grew up) the "summer vacation" is between 8 and 10 weeks long, not four months. Next year (school year 2015-16), for example, my local school's year ends on May 27. The 2016-17 school year beings on August 8. A quick glance at a 2016 calendar puts that at 10 weeks and it doesn't include classes teachers must take to keep their licenses current, independent study and reading, summer jobs to supplement their income, and other school-related work. Even so, it's not 4 months as Governor Christie states. Maybe New Jersey needs to check its calendar. Liar? Bully? or just misinformed?

At 2:52 in the video he ups the ante...
"Why don't we have it? we don't have it because the teachers union likes to be off 4 - 5 months a year...they like to get a full time salary for a part time job...and the fact is they don't want to work longer hours either unless they get paid more even though they're getting paid essentially a full time salary for a part time job...so our k-12 education system is built for the comfort of adults rather than to exploit the potential of children."
With this the governor expands the summer break to four or five months and, of course, blames it on the teachers union. If teachers unions are so bad why do students in states with strong teachers unions (like New Jersey) consistently score higher on national tests than students in states with weak or no unions?

Finally, at 6:20 he says...
Imagine that we have all these old books that we're using in schools...lot of them...old...four years old, five years old...when we have available to us now the technology at a relatively same cost...why doesn't every kid have an ipad? Why doesn't every kid have an ipad and then you can download the most recent type of materials and use the technology...
Interesting question Governor. Where is the financial support for your schools going? You claim that the state is spending so much money on education, yet it can't seem to provide current and appropriate materials. Why not?

Jersey Jazzman takes over...
We Jersey folks have become used to this: after all, Christie has compared teachers to drug dealers, told students their teachers don't care about their learning, and excoriated teachers for using pronouns to describe their students.

...he has a personal beef with the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teacher union. The NJEA has not backed down to his bullying, and that pisses him off to no end...

Second, Christie needs a scapegoat for his many, many failures as governor. He has a terrible job creation record, a terrible tax record, a terrible record of management, a terrible environmental record, a terrible public health record, and a terrible disaster recovery record. Plus Bridgegate. And the ARC tunnel. And our tanking credit rating. And housing. And his personal greed....[see original for several embedded links]


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Saturday, June 13, 2015

Read Aloud...Just Because


Sometime after 1979, while teaching third grade in Monroeville, Indiana, I ordered a book from the Weekly Reader Book Club titled Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers. I had been reading to my classes since I started teaching...but I bought the book because it included a "Detailed guide to more than 150 read-alouds" and I welcomed the list of more books to read.

The Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers started me on a career-long fanship of Jim Trelease and Read-Aloud. I not only read to my students, I became an active advocate of Read-Aloud. I gave presentations on Reading Aloud, I talked to teachers and parents about Read-Aloud, and I began the tradition of giving a copy of the Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers (which has since been expanded and gone through 7 printings) to colleagues when they (or their spouse) gave birth to their first child.


Reading aloud to children helps improve reading.

In 1985 the report of the Commission on Reading, Becoming a Nation of Readers, had this to say about reading aloud (p. 23)...
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
Teachers know that motivation to read is self-perpetuating. Once you get someone hooked on reading, they teach themselves.
And how exactly does a person become proficient at reading?...
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
Better readers learn better, do better in school, and yes, even get better scores on tests. Reading aloud to students motivates students to read more, and it's corollary, SSR (Sustained Silent Reading)  gives them the opportunity to read just for fun, with no strings attached, no consequences, no book reports, no tests...just to read for pleasure. Both, in combination, contribute to improved reading and increased learning.

Is it ok to teach while you read aloud? to ask questions? to have students predict what will happen next? to do all the things that teachers do to help students become better and more efficient readers (or in the case of read-aloud, listeners)? Of course.

However, reading aloud doesn't always have to be connected to the curriculum or for some academic "purpose." Trelease makes a point to mention this in Ch 4 of the Read-Aloud Handbook, The Dos and Don'ts of Read Aloud.
  • If you are a teacher, don't feel you have to tie every book to class work. Don't confine the broad spectrum of literature to the narrow limits of the curriculum...
  • Don't impose interpretations of a story upon your audience. A story can be just plain enjoyable, no reason necessary, and still give you plenty to talk about. The highest literacy gains occur with children who have access to discussions following a story...
Discuss a book after it's finished...but don't interrupt the flow of the reading to ask questions. Let the students ask questions during reading if they want to...the teacher's job in reading aloud is to...Read. Aloud.


Reading aloud for pleasure is important so I understand why Nancy Bailey is outraged at an article in Education Week about reading aloud. In Stealing the Joy of Reading—How Common Core Destroys Reading Pleasure she comes down on the side of research-based reading for pleasure.
Education Week is having a webinar on new approaches to reading aloud in K-2nd grade (New Strategies for Reading Aloud to K-2 Students, Thurs. June 18, 2-3 p.m ET). The underwriting for the webinar is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and with Common Core the idea is that you must move away from the “cozy” reading gatherings to “crafting questions that guide children back to the text to build vocabulary, content knowledge, and evidence-based understanding of the text.”

What a complete lack of trust in children! To manipulate this sacrosanct process in honor of Common Core programming is nothing less than heresy!

As a parent and teacher I am here to tell you the most important thing anyone can do with a young child (and even an older one) is read aloud to them. It’s so simple—so pure in its intent and approach! Teachers, parents and librarians have been thrilling children for years by simply reading aloud. Questions flow naturally. It needs no fine tuning!

To make educators and parents feel like they must subscribe to constructing questions, and emphasizing vocabulary and content knowledge as they read, is harmful. To imply you require evidence the child obtained knowledge from the book destroys the sheer beauty of reading for pleasure.

There is a time and place for analyzing text—especially as children get older—but not during story hour. No way!
Sometimes teachers read aloud to their students for a purpose -- to introduce a theme, or to support curricular areas like science and social studies. But the true value of reading aloud is that it motivates students which encourages them to read more. That is what the research shows.

The article in Education Week, written by Catherine Gewertz, says this...

New Read-Aloud Strategies Transform Story Time
What's happening in Ms. Landahl's classroom at Ruby Duncan Elementary School reflects a major shift in reading instruction brought about by the Common Core State Standards. In place in more than 40 states, the standards expect children to read text carefully and be able to cite evidence from it to back up their interpretations. That approach requires teachers to pose "text-dependent" questions—those that can be answered only with a detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students' own experience. And it's not just for complex high school books; it's increasingly being used in reading stories aloud to young children...

Reading aloud to children has a long history as a powerful classroom technique to build foundational literacy skills. It exposes children to different kinds of text structures and language, builds awareness of how sounds are connected to words, and demonstrates phrasing and fluency. Most importantly, in the eyes of many educators, it can foster a loving—and they hope lifetime—relationship with reading.

Increasingly, K-2 teachers are using new questioning techniques as they read aloud to their students. They’re designed to focus children on the meaning of the text, rather than their personal reactions to it.

Some experts worry, however, that an approach like RAP's can undermine the joy of the read-aloud.

"We have to be very careful that we don't turn them off more than we turn them on," said Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook. It's important to prepare children for a challenging book by acquainting them with its new vocabulary, he said. But "breaking up the story constantly with, 'Let's talk about this,' and 'What about that?,' Well, gee, how about the plot? All that stopping and starting can become an impediment."
Is this a "major shift in reading instruction brought about by the Common Core State Standards?"

No. Absolutely not. Unless you call taking credit for something that teachers have been doing for years a "major shift."

Others noticed this, too. Take a look at a couple of the comments after this article...
"Early childhood teachers have been doing interactive read-alouds, with lots of time for discussion and deep comprehension, for years. Why this is being presented as a new and innovative thing is curious. It has nothing to do with Common Core, and everything to do with good teaching."
"Teachers have been using these strategies for years; the Common Core may have caused some school systems to focus on them, but they are hardly new or innovative."
The Common Core didn't introduce "'text-dependent' questions" or a quest for "detailed understanding of the material." Fact-based questions have been part of reading instruction and reading tests since I was a student in the 50s and 60s...and most likely earlier.

There is, however, something in the Education Week article that I object to...
..."text-dependent" questions—those that can be answered only with a detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students' own experience. [emphasis added]
They’re designed to focus children on the meaning of the text, rather than their personal reactions to it. [emphasis added]
I find this to be very disturbing, and perhaps this is what angered Nancy Bailey, as well. "Bringing personal reactions to [text]" is important. A "student's own experience" (aka prior knowledge), which Education Week seems to denigrate as not necessary, is vitally important to an individual's understanding of text. It's possible just to regurgitate facts from text -- answering "text-dependent" questions if one reads the text carefully -- but for a deep understanding one must react to the text.

I like to think that a good book is more a conversation with the author, rather than a lecture. In a conversation both parties participate. If you just want to learn facts to vomit back on some standardized test (pun intended) then participation is irrelevant. If you want to understand, then you need to be involved in the text, and that means you bring your own experience and reactions with you into the story [This also means that teachers when reading aloud, ought to bring their own experiences and reactions with them into the story as they read]. What Education Week appears to be suggesting is that the focus should only be on learning facts -- answers to "'text-dependent' questions." Higher level thinking through inferring, evaluating, comparing, etc., is not necessary.

My hunch is that this article in Education Week and the webinar that accompanies it are mostly about providing positive press about the Common Core to teachers. The webinar is, after all, underwritten by Bill Gates who has almost single handedly underwritten the Common Core itself (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).

Unfortunately, the Common Core is flawed...
Two committees made up of 135 people wrote the standards – and not one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood education professional. When the CCSS were first released, more than 500 early childhood professionals signed a Joint Statement opposing the standards on the grounds that they would lead to long hours of direct instruction; more standardized testing; and would crowd out highly important active, play-based learning. All of this has come to pass.


Teachers (and parents) ought to read aloud to their students.

They ought to discuss the books after they finish. They can use books in different ways to benefit their students. They ought to also activate prior knowledge before they start reading. They ought to encourage their students to bring their own feelings and experiences with them when they listen. They ought to -- and they have been -- for a long time.

Sometimes, however, it's nice just to read a good book together.

Just because.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!





Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2015 Medley #17

Testing, Poverty,
The Attack on Public Education,
Tomorrow's Teachers


‘We now know students cannot be tested out of poverty’

The number of American children living in poverty ought to be a national shame. Instead of taking responsibility we punish children because the adults in their lives and their nation can't provide for them.
We now know students cannot be tested out of poverty. While NCLB did take us a step forward by requiring schools to produce evidence that students were learning, it took us several steps backward when that evidence was reduced to how well a student performed on a standardized test.

It has long been acknowledged by many education officials that some of the goals set by NCLB — such as 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2014 — were unattainable. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education began to give waivers from that goal to states that agreed to implement specific reforms. Why not give parents the right to opt out of tests when they realize states have not done the work of guaranteeing their children are being adequately prepared?


College readiness declines when school's focus is improving test scores, study finds

Here's information that you won't hear any "reformers" repeating...when we test and punish (like we've been doing for the last 3 decades) we are actually damaging children's learning opportunities and stifling creativity.
Education reform policies that penalize struggling schools for poor standardized test scores may hinder—not improve—students' college readiness, if a school's instructional focus becomes improving its test scores, suggests a new study that explored efforts to promote a college-going culture at one Texas high school.


Distinguishing Truth from Deception

This article does a nice job of explaining how statistics can be manipulated to "prove" that schools are "failing" when, in fact, the opposite is true.
Deception: Standardized test scores accurately judge the quality of education.

The problem is, standardized tests were NEVER proven to be a great judge of quality education and our standards were NEVER proven to be the main problem. That’s where the deception comes in — over the two major factors upon which we now base not only accountability of the system, but also our theory of improvement. And we continue to ignore real solutions.

Deception: Test scores should be used to compare and rank schools.

To understand the ruse behind the misuse of test scores, you have to understand Simpson’s paradox. Like most of you, I am not a statistician so don’t let this scare you off. Basically, this paradox can happen when comparing two or more groups. A statistical trend may reverse or disappear when the groups are combined. At a glance, it is very counter-intuitive but is one reason why statistics are so susceptible to misuse and abuse.


The War of Attrition Over Public Schools

This is an important article. Anthony Cody correctly identifies the sources of the attack on public education.
On the “anti-government” side, billionaires like the Koch brothers and Walton family want to turn schools into a publicly-funded free market free-for-all...

On the “pro-government” side, the Gates and Broad Foundations have been working closely with the Obama administration and teacher unions to advance the Common Core and aligned tests as the new accountability system that will re-wire our schools and turn our classrooms into uniform “sockets” for technologically-based learning systems...

...The result of these attacks has been the unprecedented demoralization of the teaching profession. The number of applicants for teacher credentialing programs has plummeted in the state of California from around 77,000 around 2001 to fewer than 20,000 in 2012. According to the MetLife survey, teacher morale dropped from 62% in 2008 to 39% in 2012 – and I believe that morale is even lower today.

This is no accident. Teachers have been one of the chief obstacles to the dismantling of public schools from the start...


The previous article by Anthony Cody referenced the decline of teacher candidates in teacher education programs. This creates a national crisis of teacher shortages which I believe is being done on purpose. "Reformers" want to get rid of high paid, experienced teachers in order to lower personnel costs. They also want to destroy teachers unions in order to have complete control over schools. They have used a 3 step process:
1. Make the job of teaching impossible by placing all the responsibility of educating children on public school teachers. Deny that poverty or other out-of-school factors have any impact on student achievement.
2. Require "accountability." To do this, misuse student test scores as evaluation tools for teachers since there is no scientific basis for using test scores in this manner. Misuse student test scores as the basis for teacher pay instead of experience and training (degrees). In addition, remove job protections like "tenure" (due process) so that older, more expensive, teachers can be fired at will.
3. Use "accountability" to push out experienced teachers while claiming that "experience doesn't matter" and is, in fact, detrimental. Claim that new teachers, or poorly trained teachers, are better.
This process has a triple impact on the teaching force. First, it reduces the number of experienced teachers in the work force thereby reducing costs. Second, reducing the number of teachers creates a critical teacher shortage which sets the stage for the third impact, which is that schools and states must ease the licensing requirements for teaching in order to fill classrooms. This also results in lowered personnel costs (and lower quality of teaching).

Indiana now allows anyone with a bachelors degree (and a B average) in a subject to teach that subject in public high schools. No pedagogical training is needed to walk into class on the first day of a school year and be responsible for teaching. Anyone, apparently, can teach.

 A fourth step in this process is now underway...
4. Include post-secondary schools of education when placing blame for "failing" schools and "failing" teachers. "Grade" schools of education using the test scores of their graduates' students.

Arizona's Teacher Desert

It's happening in Arizona...
There are not too many mysteries about why Arizona cannot hold onto a complete teaching force. For starters, if you live anywhere else, you may think you know what low spending on schools looks like. But take a guess at what Arizona's per-pupil spending is, according to most recent reports--


That puts Arizona dead last in the US. So teachers in Arizona get bupkus in financial resources for meeting the needs of their students.

Can't they just fill in the gap out of their own pockets, like other teachers all across America? I'm sure they'd like to, and I'll bet many do-- but the pockets of an Arizona teacher do not run very deep. The report says that the average starting salary is $31,874. Keep in mind-- that's an average, which means that all sorts of folks are starting out a even less than that. The report notes that is an increase of 20% over 2003 starting salaries, meaning that teaching has grown far slower than "other degreed professions."

Hillsborough school district faces flood of retirements

...and Florida...
As the state has worked to overhaul its testing system in recent years, Burke’s job has involved more time tracking data on a computer and proctoring state tests and less time interacting with students. It’s a source of frustration for Burke and her educator peers.

“It’s turning into a 50-hour week,” Burke said. “I went into counseling so I could counsel students. We have turned into test proctors.”

Why do Teachers Quit: The Ongoing Struggle of Teacher Retention

...and Nationwide. Qualified teachers are leaving the classroom...and the impact of this exodus of qualified teachers is worse for children of color and children from economically disadvantaged families.
High-poverty schools, according to Harvard research, also tend to struggle with employee instability. Meanwhile, a widely-cited 2004 study found that high-poverty public schools—especially those in urban areas—on average lost a fifth of their faculty annually. Some of the schools serving America’s neediest children lose over half of their teaching staff every five years. Although researchers have debated attrition rates, high-poverty schools unequivocally deal with much higher teacher turnover than do more affluent ones. The turnover is expensive, too, costing school districts as much as $2 billion annually.

Why We Need to Do More to Retain Teachers
...the most common reasoning voiced by former teachers was that they felt "overworked and underpaid." While some might dismiss those excuses as tired and baseless, there must be some truth to the claim when survey after survey yields the same results. Teacher responsibilities and expectations are steadily increasing as compensation remains stagnant.

Why We Should Care

Turnover in teaching is 4 percent higher than other professions, and it's a profession that uniquely struggles with recovering from loss. NPR reports that yearly turnover costs districts up to $2.2 billion largely in the form of recruitment, training and development.

A lack of investment in teachers at the front end of their careers is likely to blame for their disloyalty to the profession. That creates a revolving-door system, which is especially damaging in a field so highly dependent on relationships. Not surprisingly, a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that students in schools with higher turnover rates score lower in both ELA and math. Education researchers concluded that student success is dependent on teacher retention. [emphasis added]

Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force

Two out of five new teachers leave teaching within 5 years of entry (see p.24 of the following). We have made it much harder and much less attractive to be a teacher. Who will teach tomorrow's children?
...beginners, regardless of their race, have the highest rates of turnover of any group of teachers. Over a decade ago we estimated that between 40 to 50 percent of those who enter teaching leave teaching within 5 years (Ingersoll, 2003). This figure has been widely reported since, but it was only a rough estimate using cross-sectional national data. Recently, using national longitudinal data, Perda (2013) was able to more accurately document rates of cumulative beginning attrition. He found that more than 41 percent of new teachers leave teaching within 5 years of entry (see Figure 12). Moreover, we have also found that these already high levels have been going up since the late 1980s. Rates of leaving for first-year teachers rose from 9.8 to 13.1 percent from 1988 to 2008—a 34 percent increase (Figure 13). Again, however, an increase in the annual percentage does not tell the whole story. Since the teaching force has grown dramatically larger, numerically there are far more beginners than before (Trend 3), and hence the actual numbers of teachers who quit the occupation after their first year on the job has also soared. Soon after the 1987-88 school year, about 6,000 first-year teachers left teaching, while just after the 2007-08 school year, more than four times as many—about 25,000—left the occupation. Not only are there far more beginners in the teaching force, but these beginners are less likely to stay in teaching.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!