"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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The False Choice

Today marks the end of National School Choice week and, after more than 16,000 events nationwide, school choice advocates (aka privatizers) have reason to celebrate. More and more states are jumping on the "choice" bandwagon which means more and more of our public tax dollars are being spent on private and privately owned schools. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that "school choice" is anything more than a way for those private and privately owned schools to choose their students and gain profit. Steven Singer in his latest blog entry titled, Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice, wrote
In reality, it’s just a scam to make private schools cheaper for rich people, further erode the public school system and allow for-profit corporations to gobble up education dollars meant to help children succeed.
Here are a baker's dozen articles about the false choice of school choice. They cover everything from the lack of public oversight of public funds, to the fact that private doesn't mean better (the articles are listed at the end).


Public schools have to accept every student that walks in the door.
  • Privately run schools (voucher and charter) don't have to accept all students. They are free to exclude students at the outset, and they often "counsel out" hard-to-teach or expensive-to-teach students 1, 3, 12, 13


Churchill said, "...it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time..." Having a democratically elected school board doesn't guarantee that schools will be run well, but at least voters have the ballot box to remedy things if there are problems. Corporate board rooms have no such safeguard.
  • There is a lack of accountability with privately run schools. They have no public school board and instead use privately run board corporate board. If you don't like what they are doing to your child you have no legal options. 1, 13


Vouchers and charter schools are touted because they supposedly increase student achievement. We've yet to see that happen.
  • Charters and voucher schools do not do a better job of teaching children than do traditional public schools. Research finds that public schools outperform private schools when you adjust for the fact that public schools serve students from different demographic groups than private schools. 1, 6, 7, 12


America's schools are now more segregated than they have been since the 1960s.
  • Privatization increases segregation. In fact,  "school choice" originated as a way to avoid integrating schools when Jim Crow was abolished. 1, 9


Instead of giving public tax money away to private corporations and religious institutions which don't do any better at educating children, we should fully fund the public schools which educate the vast majority of children. We're one of only 3 advanced nations in the world who spend more money on wealthy students than we do on poor students. That needs to change.
  • Providing tax money to charter schools and through vouchers reduces the funding for public schools. The state, in effect, funds a second (and third) competing school systems which wastes taxpayer money. The money diverted to charters and vouchers is not invested in public schools which serve most students. Poverty and funding equity are ignored leading to cuts in programming. Currently $1.5 billion of public money is diverted to private schools annually. 1, 2, 8, 10, 12


Why are the politically or economically powerful allowed to make educational decisions for the rest of us? Neither Bill Gates nor Eli Broad has any educational training. Allowing them, and others like them, to influence the direction of America's public schools is shortsighted.
  • Privatization is supported by the politically powerful and by billionaires. Many times out-of-state money is used to gain legislative support for privatization. Most americans don't want public money going to private and religious schools. 1, 2, 5, 9, 12

  • Privatization is supported as a way to destroy public sector unions or the public sector in general. 4, 5

  • Only a limited number of students can go to vouchers and charter schools. 2


Most voucher accepting private schools in Indiana are religious...Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. The Indiana Supreme Court found the practice legal despite the state (and federal) constitution's provision against the public funding of religious institutions. The money, according to the court, belongs to the parents thereby freeing the state of any entanglement with religion. It is, however, just a convenient excuse to provide public funding for religious organizations.
  • Privatization through vouchers threatens church-state separation by funding religious schools 3, 12

  • Not all voucher schools meet federal civil rights requirements, such as those in Title VI, Title IX, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Charter schools and voucher accepting private schools often have subpar accommodations for students with disabilities. 4


Individuals don't receive tax money designated for any other public service. Everyone pays for libraries, municipal bus services, roads, water systems, and public parks – even those who don't use them. The same should be true of public schools.
  • Public Education is a public good. Education is not funded just by parents. We all pay taxes to educate all children because we have decided it's a benefit to society. Parents do not have the right to carve out some of our tax money to pay tuition for their child to attend a private school. This is defunding a public trust. 5, 11

  • When they accept public money privately run schools should be required to follow all public rules. Private schools which accept vouchers, and charter schools use a variety of methods to avoid following rules which public schools are required to follow. 5


Public schools are not "failures." "Low performing" schools cannot be blamed completely on teachers, parents, and students. Reducing support to schools because their students score poorly on standardized tests is blaming the victim. Politicians and policy makers need to accept their share of the responsibility for high levels of poverty – the major cause of low test scores.
  • Privatization misuses standardized tests. Privatization needs to blame public schools and public school teachers for "failure," standardized tests are used to rank teachers and schools, a purpose for which they were not designed. 8

  1. Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice
  2. What Could Be Wrong With School Choice?
  3. 'School Choice Week' - A Dose Of Facts To Counter Voucher Propaganda
  4. What ‘School Choice’ Advocates Won’t Tell You: Voucher Programs Lack Civil Rights Safeguards
  5. Frank Cagle: Lawmakers should kill school vouchers
  6. Do vouchers work? Real data needed, not spin
  7. Survey is ammunition, not illumination
  8. A primer on the damaging movement to privatize public schools (also HERE)
  9. 2015 Medley #30 – Vouchers
  10. ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia
  11. Vouchers - The Defunding of a Public Trust
  12. 10 Reasons Why Private School Vouchers Should Be Rejected
  13. Why Don’t We Have Real Data on Charter Schools?


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Musical Interlude: 260 years of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg Austria on July 27, 1756. Today is his 260th birthday.

Mozart had composed over 600 works by the time he died at the early age of 35. He wrote his first piano piece at the age of 5, his first symphony at age 8, and his first opera when he was 11.

The three pieces below written over a period of 6 years (from age 5 to 11) show an amazing growth and maturity for someone so young.

The Allegro in C, written by a five year old...

...and an entire symphony, albeit a short one, written by an 8 year old...

I'm not a big fan of opera, but this short piece about the recording of Mozart's first opera, Apollo and Hyacinth, gives some interesting facts and displays the beauty of Mozart's music.

Further Reading
  • I wonder how Mozart would have done on his state achievement test...


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Be a Republican – Bust a Union


This was posted today by Chalkbeat Indiana...

Bill to loosen union control of teacher pay moves ahead: Democrats on the House Education Committee and ISTA officials opposed the bill
Lawmakers moved ahead with a bill today that would weaken teachers unions’ control over where teachers are placed on salary scales they negotiate for all teachers.
Unions don't control teacher pay any more than school boards control teacher pay. Collective bargaining in Indiana, even though it was severely limited by the legislature in 2011, still allows teachers and school systems to come to an agreement about teacher pay and benefits based on mutual cooperation. Teachers don't demand and get whatever they want. School boards don't announce and get whatever they want. Collective bargaining means that teachers and school boards work together to agree on what's best for their individual school corporation.

Educational issues that used to be negotiated, like class size or school calendars, are now off the table.
This hurts school systems as much as it does teachers. School systems can no longer offer to compromise class sizes vs. salary increases. Teachers can no longer offer to give up smaller classes for more prep time. Parent conference days, duty schedules, inservice days...none of those things are bargainable any more. That affects the school system's ability to bargain just as much as it does the teachers union.

The bill in question, HB1004, would allow schools and school systems to bypass the collective bargaining process and pay some teachers – those in shortage areas like science and special education – more money than other teachers. The union is against this because
...it circumvents unions and could pit teachers against each other.
It also circumvents school boards...it circumvents the ability of teachers and school boards to cooperate. Schools and school systems work best when everyone works together. This plan is a threat to that cooperation and a way to open up the salary system to all sorts of corruption. Do we really want schools to pay their teachers like sports teams pay their players...so they compete for the high paying jobs, jump ship to another school where they can be the superstar in order to rake in the big dollars, hold out for more money?

Hint: No, we don't. A school works best when the staff works together. Why would an experienced teacher want to help a new teacher who might replace him in his high paying position? Why would a young energetic teacher want to share ideas with an older teacher when they could use their new ideas to take over the high paying job? And who will be the big losers if this happens? The students.
“The heart of the teacher shortage in terms of retention is a professional wage, and these bills don’t address that,” said Gail Zeheralis, the union’s lobbyist. “The consequences of House Bill 1004 will be to foster ill will in districts and buildings.”
Teachers unions have been a regular target for Republican lawmakers in recent years. Other bills introduced in the last two years would allow all teachers to individually negotiate their contracts
Before 2010 Superintendents were anxious for the legislature to weaken ISTA. In 2011, they did. Republican legislators have been happy to go along because first, Republicans hate unions, and second, because Republicans have had trouble supporting public education and the ISTA has rarely (though not never) supported them. Even now, when you look at who is getting the benefits from the governor's office and the legislature, it's private schools (through bills geared towards increasing the state's already expansive voucher plan) and privately owned charter schools – because privatization donors are buying the Republican party in Indiana just like they are elsewhere. Public schools, while they enroll the vast majority of students in the state, are the last ones the legislature wants to help. Public schools don't bring in the campaign donations.

In other words, this bill has nothing to do with keeping teachers in the classroom or encouraging more young people to enter the teaching profession. It has nothing to do with improving instruction or helping struggling students. This bill, like so many others from Indiana's supermajority Republican legislature, is politically motivated. It's plain, old-fashioned, union busting.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 Medley #3

No Evidence, Failure in Michigan, 
Diversity and Gifted Students, 
VAM, ADHD and DIBELS, Waltons


We’re onto the phony education reformers: Charter school charlatans and faux reformers take it on the chin: After years of attacks on teachers and public education, Americans are catching up to the real story in our schools

If I were an optimist I would say that this article is a good sign...showing that the general public is finally catching on to the damage done by "reform" to America's public education. Perhaps it's because I live in the super-"reformist" state of Indiana – near the super-"reformist" states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and the super-"reformist" city of Chicago – but I see continued, if not stronger inroads made by privatizers against a fully funded public education system. The attack is slowly killing public education...
...comments made by establishment presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will reverberate through the election in 2016. Specifically, at a town hall held in South Carolina, broadcast by C-SPAN, Clinton responded to a question about charter schools by saying, “Most charter schools, I don’t want to say every one, but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids. Or if they do, they don’t keep them.” A week or so later, Clinton transgressed the status quo again by remarking, in a conversation with members of the American Federation of Teachers, “I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes. There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence.”


Here are two versions of the same story...and both give the same information about a city which has abandoned its children. This is not just a problem for Detroit...it's a problem with our nation and is happening in other places as well. When will the nation as a whole understand that our future depends on the way we treat our children. Carl Sagan said,
What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them. This is stupid.
We are one of only three wealthy nations in the world who spend more money to educate the children of the wealthy than we do to educate the children of the poor.

How bad are conditions in Detroit public schools? This appalling.
The odorous smell of mold and mildew hits you like a brick wall when you step through the front doors at Spain Elementary-Middle School in Detroit.

I have been at Spain for 19 years, first as a first-grade teacher, then, after earning a master’s degree in counseling, as a school counselor. When I first started, it was a school any city would be proud to have in its district. Today, it’s the poster child for neglect and indifference to a quality teaching and learning environment for our 500 students. The gym is closed because half of the floor is buckled and the other half suffered so much rainwater damage from the dripping ceiling that it became covered with toxic black mold. Instead of professionally addressing the problem, a black tarp simply was placed over the entire area like a Band-Aid. That area of the school has been condemned.

The once beautiful pool sits empty because no one has come to \fix it. The playground is off-limits because a geyser of searing hot steam explodes out of the ground. What do our kids do for exercise with no gym, playground or pool? They walk or run in the halls. Seriously. Our pre-K through eighth graders move like mall walkers.

Exposed wires hang from missing ceiling tiles. Watermarks from leaks abound. Kids either sit in freezing classrooms with their coats on or strip off layers because of stifling heat.

How can you teach or learn in conditions like these?

Detroit Public Schools: Beyond a State of Emergency
Since 1999, the state has been “taking over” Detroit Public Schools. Since 2009, Detroit’s schools have been subject to a stream of emergency managers who move in for just under 18 months, do not answer to voters, and can basically do what they want without consequence.


This Is What Happens To Humans When They Are Exposed To Too Much Lead

Flint, Michigan has become ground zero for the battle against America's poor. Democracy was canceled, a state sponsored dictator was imposed upon the people, and, through neglect and shortsightedness the families of Flint were poisoned. The dictator, after doing his damage, has now moved to Detroit, to manage the public schools.

This isn't specifically about Flint...just about what happens when an entire city has been poisoned.
Infants and children exposed to lead may suffer in various ways, including delayed puberty, speech impairment, high blood pressure, hearing loss, decreased muscle and bone growth, kidney damage, and a weakened immune system. Breastfed infants are also at risk if there is lead in their mother’s bloodstreams.

Equally important, lead also affects children’s brains and nervous systems. Those exposed to lead at a young age may suffer from a coma, convulsions, or even death. Children who survive serious lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and changes in behavior, like a shortened attention span or increased antisocial behavior.

Lead Exposure in Children


Bright black students taught by black teachers are more likely to get into gifted-and-talented classrooms

Diversity in our teaching force is essential.
A better, quicker solution to reducing the racial gap in gifted classrooms, according to Grissom, is to test every child in the school system for giftedness, so that you’re not relying on subjective humans to decide whom to test. Education geeks call it “universal screening.”

Indeed, after Broward Country, Florida, adopted universal screening in 2005, the number of Hispanic students in gifted programs increased by 130 percent and the number of black students by 80 percent. Low-income students increased by 180 percent. But it proved expensive to test everyone, and the district stopped testing all children in 2011. The number of disadvantaged students in gifted classrooms fell back to pre-2005 levels...

People often say the solution to our education problems isn’t more money. But in this case, it might be.


Fact Sheet: Value-Added Measurement (VAM)

Thanks to Parents Across America for this well thought out and comprehensive information sheet about the evaluation of teachers using student test scores. VAM is built on junk-science and tries to put a number on something that can't be measured by numbers – the impact that a caring adult has on a child. It also doesn't even attempt to include other valuable aspects of teaching such as the ability to motivate and inspire students.

Now is the time to write to your state legislators and urge them to end this practice. If you're an Indiana resident you can find your legislators at iga.in.gov/legislative/2014/legislators/
The proliferation of high-stakes standardized tests has had many negative side effects. Overtesting has led to increased stress, a narrowed curriculum and widespread teaching to the test. It has caused students to lose interest in school and learning, driven excellent teachers from the profession and discouraged young people from pursuing teaching careers. It has fueled the school-to-prison pipeline, sparked cheating scandals, and diverted time, energy and resources from other educational goals. These negative effects have been especially evident in schools that serve low-income children of color. Even if VAM ratings could be calculated accurately, the limited information they provide is simply not worth the effort or the consequences.


School Testing Makes My Daughter Feel Stupid

Here's a story from the mom of an ADHD and Learning Disabled child...and the damaging effect of testing. Specifically, the piece is about DIBELS, and how difficult it is for her child to focus and succeed. The child says "I'm stupid," a common response from students with learning challenges when they are faced with impossible tasks and tests.

At the end of the article the mom says, "DIBELS has affected my home life and my daughter’s self-confidence. I know that there are many benefits to conducting this test in schools." That's wrong. DIBELS is not a good test. Its benefit is that it's short and it provides numbers. Whether those numbers mean anything is questionable and it's still in wide usage.
DIBELS sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? It stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It is one of North Carolina’s ways of testing our kids to make sure they meet the requirements for No Child Left Behind (NCLB). DIBELS is a computerized test, administered by a teacher to acquire a child’s knowledge in oral reading fluency, retell fluency, and word use fluency. Teachers hold a handheld device that records a student’s response to the content being assessed. Why would this test cause my daughter to feel like she is not smart, can’t read, doesn’t know how to write, and to hate school? It is a timed test that some adults would find stressful. DIBELS allots one minute to each section of the test. One minute? Give me a break. I can’t even pack a lunch in one minute, much less think about being tested on my knowledge.


The Walton Billion Dollar Plan

My Medley wouldn't be complete without something from Curmudgucation's Peter Greene.

The last paragraph below shows Greene's insight into the "reform" movement. Treating school like a business, like Wal-Mart, for example, provides billions for those at the top, but "cheap mediocrity" for the rest of us.

If they were truly concerned about the well being of students, and improving schools, the Waltons would notice this cognitive dissonance. The fact that they don't implies either the conscious misuse of their economic power for more economic gain, or a lack of ability to comprehend what they are actually doing.
The thought was that more choices would generate more competition. Competition would catalyze systematic improvement.

Let's think about this for a second. Let's really think about whose theory this was. This was the Walton theory, the theory of people whose entire fortune is built on being hugely competitive, leading to several results, over and over-- the systemic destruction of most retailers in a community who aren't Wal-Mart. Nor have they achieved this by pursuing excellence-- raise your hand if you associate the Wal-Mart brand with excellence. No, the Wal-Mart brand is built on "broad mediocirty that's cheap and good enough for unwealthy people" and the very goal of their competitiveness has been to win the retail competition by eradicating other choices. Wal-Mart's business plan is not, "We will go into a community, compete by providing excellent products to the community, and when we're done, there will be a broad range of excellent choices among many retailers."

I continue to be gobsmacked that the Waltons, of all people, would imagine that school choice would spark competition that would lead to excellence, because these are people who seem to have a pretty good idea of how the free market works-- and the free market does not work in ways that go well with public education.


Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 Medley #2: MLK, Get the Lead Out, Testing, and the Earth

Dr. King, Lead Poisoning, 
Testing, Climate Change


In honor of MLK Day I present this quote from Dr. King for the benefit of the Indiana General Assembly which is doing its best to "bust the union." The legislators have already taken away most of teachers' rights to collective bargaining, benefits based on seniority, due process in labor disputes, and have forced school corporations to use the junk-science of evaluating teachers using test scores. This year they have another collection of bills including one which would "[pit] teachers against one another in a bidding war" for salary dollars.

The plan is to further weaken the Indiana State Teachers Association because "UNION!"

Dr. King said,

Weekend Quotables
The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. -- Speech given to the Illinois State AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965


Why is lead poisoning even an issue any more? We know the damage it does. We know how to get rid of it. We are just too focused on making money to spend what we need to spend to fix our problems.

The news about Flint Michigan's lead-polluted water supply isn't news any more. The damage however has been done...

Why should we care? Take some time to read about the risks of lead poisoning for our nation's children and the damage it does.

Lead Poisoning Is Still A Public Health Crisis For African-Americans
Before Freddie Gray died of spinal injuries he received in police custody, sparking weeks of protest in his native Baltimore and around the country, he was a "lead kid," one of thousands of children in the city with toxic levels of lead in their blood from years of living in substandard housing -- and long-term health problems as a result.

"Paint was peeling off the windows," recalled Gray in the 2009 deposition of a lead-poising lawsuit he and his siblings filed against the owners of the building they grew up in. For children like Gray, who was 25 years old when he died in April, lead poisoning can mean ADHD, behavior problems, and irreversible brain and central nervous damage.

Lead Poisoning

What's the future of the children of Flint and other places where lead poisoning is prevalent?
Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead.

I've written about lead poisoning before. I'll ask the same question I have on numerous occasions; When are we going to get serious about the health of the children in our nation?

From earlier this year...Poisoning Children, then Blaming Them: The Lead Connection

The World Health Organization (WHO) says of lead poisoning...
The consequences of brain injury from exposure to lead in early life are loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour. Because the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable and irreversible. They cause diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life.

From April, 2013...Update to Poisoned Children and "Reform"

The Arizona School Boards Association has published a report (available in pdf) titled, A Strange Ignorance The role of lead poisoning in failing schools.. The executive summary contains the following.
Not all children can learn, not when they have been poisoned. If environmental lead, instead of calcium, is incorporated into a child's rapidly developing brain tissue "between birth and age three," those tissues will not function correctly. Ever. By the time children reach the public schools, the damage has been done, and it is irreversible.

Lead is an incredibly potent neurotoxin prevalent in older neighborhoods. It takes a surprisingly small amount of lead to damage developing brains, a few sand-grain sized paint chips will do it. Those children, in turn, will sustain brain damage that ensures both educational and social problems for the rest of their life. This early lead poisoning has been linked to:
  1. an inability to learn because brain tissues constructed of lead do not bind properly to form the neural learning connections,
  2. to attention deficit disorders because lead damaged brain tissues have a tendency to misfire and disrupt normal concentration,
  3. to violence because the careful balance of brain structures in the prefrontal cortex that inhibits impulsivity and violence is disrupted, and
  4. to drug use because untreated sufferers find illegal drugs help to medicate the agitation caused by lead damaged brain cells.

From May, 2011...No Excuses

Study links lead exposure, low student test scores
Children who ingested even small amounts of lead performed poorly later on school tests compared to students who were never exposed to the substance, according to a new study of Connecticut students.

The Duke University study also found that black children were much more likely to have experienced lead poisoning from paint residue, dust or other sources by age 7 than the state's white children. Educators worry that factor might be among many contributing to Connecticut's status as the state with the largest achievement gap between the races...

Several other government and university research studies nationwide over the years have found links between lead poisoning and delays in academic and cognitive growth, although the Duke study is Connecticut's first research linking individual students to their test results.


High Stakes Testing Doesn’t Protect Civil Rights – It Violates Them

NCLB was sold to the American people to fight the "soft bigotry of low expectations," as if "expectations" alone were enough to increase student learning. The nation's children are still waiting for its adults to invest in their children. Instead we have invested in testing companies and private corporate charter operators. Children are still not our nation's priority...
Our school policies for the past few decades have been about denying the right to an equitable education to our poor and minority students. Though the ESSA holds promise to limit federal meddling, it does nothing to change that. And all these people who cry foul at a potential loss of federal power are either ignorant or crying crocodile tears.

It’s no wonder that hundreds of civil rights organizations oppose high stakes testing. Nor is it surprising that the media rarely reports it. And it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the overwhelming majority of civil rights organizations who have suddenly began championing testing are those who get big donations from the philanthro-capitalists pushing this agenda.

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

The New York Times decries the test and punish culture, but they start with a false assumption. When "education reform" moved into full swing about 2 decades ago, our schools were not lagging behind those in other countries. What was lagging behind...and what still lags behind...is our ability to take care of our children. We still remain the nation with the highest child poverty level among wealthy nations in the world. Poverty and our neglect of poverty is what's causing failure in our schools.
In education, it became clear that our schools were lagging behind those in other countries.
The times goes on to speak about the damage done to the profession of teaching by the test-and-punish policies of the last two administrations.
...the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.
We have ignored teachers' voices.
Whatever we do, we have to ask our clinicians and teachers whether measurement is working, and truly listen when they tell us that it isn’t. Today, that is precisely what they’re saying...

Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.
(h/t Cumudgucation)

Afflicting the afflicted

At least as important as protecting our students from the damage done by bad tests is that student test scores shouldn't be used to measure schools or teachers to begin with. There is no basis it.

Steve Hinnefeld notes that in Indiana legislators are once again focusing the damage done by standardized tests on the schools trying to teach high poverty children.
Indiana schools that get successive Fs face increasingly severe state sanctions. Schools that reach six Fs in a row – and apparently there are three that could this year – face state takeover.

This doesn’t make any sense. The only reason for SB 200 in the first place is that the spring 2015 ISTEP tests were so difficult that it would be unfair to base grades on those results. But if that’s the case for schools that got an A, B, C or D in 2013-14, it should be just as true for schools that got an F...Schools that had been getting Fs may have made extraordinary efforts to improve. If ISTEP had stayed the same, maybe their grades would have gone up. But with the tougher 2015 test and the much higher bar for passing, they may have fallen short.
Many of these schools serve the largest numbers of poor children. For them, accountability can seem an affliction. And now the legislature is giving other schools a break but not them.

New Jersey Study Commission on Testing: Keep Weighing the Pig

Russ Walsh understands that you don't improve learning by more and more testing. He asks three important questions...SPOILER ALERT: The answer to all three questions is NO!
Are standardized tests an effective way to hold schools accountable?
Are PARCC tests "high quality?"
Are standardized tests effective in narrowing the achievement gap?

...I have an idea. Instead of yearly testing, let's all just stipulate that the achievement gap exists and that it is in reality an opportunity gap. Then we can do away with all the tests that keep telling us what we already know and focus our attention on things that are likely to reduce the opportunity gap like cleaner, safer schools, wrap around health and wellness programs, and attracting high quality teachers.


Your Participation is Not Optional

Aside from ignoring science when it comes to using high stakes tests for purposes other than that for which they were developed, we are a nation of anti-science anti-intellectuals. In the recent Republican debate we heard that we won't ruin the economy in order to move to cleaner power (also read: we're not going to disappoint my donors from the fossil fuel industry) and since we can't solve the problem by ourselves let's not worry about it.

I wonder if Trump with "believe" in science once his buildings on the coasts start taking on water...
Belief in global warming is optional, but participation is mandatory.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Religious Freedom Day, 2016

JANUARY 16, 1786

Today is Religious Freedom Day.

National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the January 16, 1786 adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute was written by Thomas Jefferson and is the basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment.


The Religious Right has worked hard in the last few decades to redefine the term, "Religious Freedom." In the U.S. today we have governors, politicians, and public officials supporting attempts to discriminate based on religious beliefs. We have candidates for public office promising to limit the immigration of certain religious groups. We have religious organizations which seek to limit the rights of their employees. In other words, the attempt has been made to define Religious Freedom in such a way as to coerce and manipulate the rights of others.

Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has written,
The term religious freedom means the right to make decisions about theology for yourself. It's the right to worship God – or not to worship at all – as you see fit...

...It's not the right to tell other people what to do. It's not the right to make decisions for others. It's not the right to use the power of government to impose your theology on anyone else.

...Somehow the actions of others are seen as a threat to someone else's religious liberty.

Thus, an employee's decision to use birth control becomes a threat to her boss's religious freedom. An expectation that young children will learn about evolution in a public school endangers the religious freedom of an evolution-denying family in that district. A woman who shows up at a pharmacy and expects the pharmacist to do his job by giving her the medication her doctor has prescribed is threatening the pharmacist's religious freedom. A same-sex couple's decision to get legally married somehow threatens the religious liberty of a person across town who doesn't even know them.

...Unless the actions in question involve busting down church doors, thrashing the implements of worship, and threatening the people inside, very little of what one person does affects the religious liberty of another.
Religious freedom does not mean that you can prevent me from doing something that offends your religious beliefs if my action doesn't harm you. Believe what you choose...and let me believe what I choose.


Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:
Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained "within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
In his own words he reminds us that the first amendment protects all citizens' religious expression no matter who they are, or what their religion might be. The only restriction is that which is "injurious to others."
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.


President Obama's 2016 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following...
When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute proclaims that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." The First Amendment prohibits Government from establishing religion, and it protects the free exercise of every faith. Our Government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all. The United States stands for the protection of equal rights for all people to practice their faith freely, without fear or coercion, and as Americans, we understand that when people of all religions are accepted and are full and equal members of our society, we are all stronger and freer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Baseball Interlude: Monte Irvin

"Baseball has done more to move America in the right direction than all the professional patriots with their billions of cheap words." -- Monte Irvin, quoted by MLB historian, John Thorn

Monte Irvin died Monday, January 11, 2016. He was 96.

Irvin played in the Negro Leagues and the Mexican League before coming to the Major Leagues in 1949. He played alongside, and mentored Willie Mays, and was part of the New York Giant's 1951 World Series Championship team.

From the Giant's web site tribute to Irvin:
Monte Irvin was a mentor to Willie Mays and a friend to Ted Williams. He was in the Polo Grounds' home dugout when Bobby Thomson hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" and was visiting Havana when the Cubans ran out a hotshot pitching prospect named Fidel Castro.

Irvin's long, wonderful life was the stuff of dreams, a uniquely American story and an enduring testament to talent, perseverance, grace and dignity. Perhaps it is the greatest tribute to this remarkable man, who died Monday night in Houston of natural causes at age 96, that he'll forever be remembered as much for his decency and sense of humor as for his amazing skills.
Monte Irvin played his last year in professional baseball (as a player) with the Chicago Cubs. It was 1956 – my first year as a (8 year old) Cub fan.

Al Yellon, author of the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog, wrote of a milestone game in which Irvin particpated,
His one year with the Cubs was decent, as he hit .271/.346/.460 with 15 home runs in 111 games at age 37. Irvin's addition to the team in 1956 meant that in the first game Sam Jones started that year, April 20 against the Cardinals, the Cubs fielded a majority African-American lineup for the first time (Irvin, Jones, Ernie Banks, Gene Baker and Solly Drake). They were the second team to do so. (First was the Dodgers, July 17, 1954.)

Irvin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.


Friday, January 8, 2016

2016 Medley #1

Hope for Public Education, Duncan, Privatization, Elections, 
Children As Products, ESSA, Testing


Can Schools Be Fixed? Experts on K-12 education offer their reasons for optimism and pessimism going forward.

This article has the wrong title.

Herein we get predictions from people who are "experts" in education (In this case, there are some people who have actually taught school and studied education, for a change). Some of their comments are thought provoking. Many of the writers claim that ESSA is a reason to hope for improvements to public education. Diane Ravitch, on the other hand, ignores ESSA which will do little to help our children escape test-and-punish education which is now the norm in America (see ESSA is a Lot of Suds, below). Instead she writes of the trust American's have with their own, local school systems. She says she is hopeful for two reasons...
The reasons for hope are two-fold: first, the public doesn’t want to abandon its community public schools. No district or state has ever voted to privatize its schools. Second, every so-called “reform” has failed to promote better education or equal opportunity for the neediest children. Neither charters nor vouchers consistently get better results for children, unless they exclude the weakest students. Measuring teachers by student test scores has been a costly failure. The great majority of the public admires their public schools and their teachers and wants them to be better, more equitably funded, not eliminated. If democracy works, these misguided “reforms” will be consigned to the ashcan of history.
But the focus of this article's title is wrong. "Can Schools Be Fixed?" In their introduction the authors themselves explain why there's more that must be fixed besides America's schools [emphasis added].
...Education is often touted as a means for boosting social mobility and making communities more equal, but inequality in school funding and resources has made that difficult to achieve, especially amid increasing poverty rates. Segregation in districts, both tacit and explicit, is holding scores of children back, and performance on math and reading assessments has remained relatively stagnant...


Race To the Top Redux

Arne Duncan is gone and John King is the new acting Secretary of Education. The damage done by Obama's Education Department remains, however. Mark Naison lists questions which need to be answered. [bullets added to improve readability]
When the full accounting of the Obama Administration's Race to The Top is made, the following questions will have to be answered
  • How many schools were closed?
  • How many great teachers were fired or forced into retirement?
  • How many teachers still on the job were placed under a doctors care because test based accountability had destroyed their self-confidence
  • How many communities experienced sharp declines in the number of teachers of color working in their schools?
  • How many new charter schools were created which were embroiled in controversy because of financial irregularities or abusive practices?
  • ....



Mike Klonsky and his brother Fred are edu-bloggers from Chicago. The picture below is one done by brother Fred and posted on brother Mike's blog. It depicts Arne Duncan looking for his replacement, John King.


A primer on the damaging movement to privatize public schools

Marion Brady provides an excellent summary of the test-blame-privatize movement. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in preserving public education.
Look at standardized tests from the kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized tests look like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.


Bernie Sanders: I Oppose Charter Schools

At last Bernie gives us a glimpse – but only a glimpse – of his K-12 education agenda. It's nice to know that he is against privatization through charters. Now, what about excessive testing, accountability based on test scores, vouchers, "turnaround schools," and the rest?
“I’m not in favor of privately run charter schools. If we are going to have a strong democracy and be competitive globally, we need the best educated people in the world. I believe in public education; I went to public schools my whole life, so I think rather than give tax breaks to billionaires, I think we invest in teachers and we invest in public education. I really do.” – Bernie Sanders (Quote begins at 1:48:32)
For a more detailed discussion see the following two entries in Anthony Cody's blog, Living in Dialogue.

Cruz campaign official says Christians must take over public schools to stop ‘deception of the seed’

Elections matter. Voting matters [emphasis added].
Dunbar said nearly all American students attend public schools — which she warned were a secular plot to turn children away from Republican values.

“When we have 88 to 90 percent, which is approximately the number of the students that are being educated within our socialized education system, effectively indoctrinating our children with our own tax dollars, guess what?” she said. “We lose every other issue. We lose life, we lose marriage — we lose all of it. So I think this is the linchpin issue.”


My Daughter is Not a Widget

Here's a beautiful piece by Steven Singer (the gadflyonthewall) about why Exxon-Mobile's CEO's view of America's children is misguided. Children are not products. Education is not a business. There's more to educating children than "college and career-ready standards."
I am but a simple man. I don’t bring in a six-figure salary. I’m a teacher in that same public school system. I’m also the father of an elementary student. I am a man of no monetary means and thus little merit. But I say this: the Tillersons of this world are wrong. Our children are worth more than these tiny bean counter brains realize. The purpose of education is not to provide more resources for their pointless game of Monopoly.

My daughter has a life, and her education is a tool to enrich that life. It is her vehicle of understanding the world around her. It is a process to invigorate her sense of wonder. It is a method of understanding how things work and where she fits in the universe.

Yes, she will one day need to seek employment. But what she chooses as her occupation will be up to her. SHE will decide where she fits in, Mr. Tillerson, not you. SHE will decide what is valuable in her life. SHE will decide if she wants to spend her hours in the pursuit of profits or less tangible enterprises.

As such, she needs literature – not standardized tests. She needs mysteries to solve – not Common Core. She needs equitable resources – not charter schools. She needs teachers with advanced degrees and dedication to their jobs – not Teach for America temps... [emphasis in original]


New education law: a lot of suds

A lot has been written about the new education law, ESSA. Here are four point that must be remembered when thinking about the new law. In essence, the horrible parts of NCLB and RttT are not necessarily gone...they've just been handed over to the states to oversee. The overemphasis on testing is still there. The developmentally inappropriate standards are still there. The accountability (aka punishment) based on test scores is still there. The financial incentive for charters is still there. The last paragraph in the quote below is a call to action [emphasis added]!
— Testing: The issue of greatest public concern was too much standardized testing, which generated a parents’ rebellion. The administration said the onerous requirements should be relieved. So what got relieved? Well, nothing. The same grades still have the same tests. In addition, some states are developing “interim” assessments. Psychometricians are getting apoplexy trying to figure out how such Rube Goldberg contraptions can work. Tighter restrictions are placed on testing severely handicapped children and on those who do not speak English. The quadra-power may not be so mountain fresh.

— Standards: The Common Core State Standards were reviled on both the left and the right. So the new law contains tough, unequivocal “ultra deep” language prohibiting the U. S. secretary from forcing or even encouraging states to adopt the common core or any other particular set of state standards. Instead, states must still adopt federally approved “challenging,” state standards, at a “comparable” level.

— Accountability: Previously, schools had to meet ever-increasing goals for each year or be subject to state intervention. Whereas the new system requires the state to intervene in the lowest performing 5 percent, any high school that has a low graduation rate, and those schools that are not making sufficient progress in closing the achievement gap. In the old system, all schools faced sanctions if every student could not meet very high standards. In the new system, since every state has a lowest 5 percent, schools in high-scoring states will be subject to intervention no matter how high they score. (You may be having problems telling the difference between the 100- and the 92-ounce jugs).

— Federal spending: Here’s where the price increase slides in. Much was hurrahed about the increase in federal spending of $1.4 billion. That’s a nice piece of change until you consider that the nation currently spends about $650 billion per year on education — which makes the increase a touch over one-fifth of 1 percent. Not mentioned is that federal education spending was cut 20 percent over the past five years. We haven’t caught up with where we were before the recession. The new law also slips $333 million of the money to charter schools.

As weak and inadequate as this effort is, we can be pleased our federal government was able to act on something. We can also take some limited comfort in this token effort to address the needs of our economically deprived and children of color.

Unfortunately, the new suds look disappointingly like the old suds. But it isn’t the similarity of the old and new that is the problem — it is the mindless repetition and continuation of an utterly ineffective test-based reform system that must concern us.


United on ISTEP+: State leaders show they grasp test's weaknesses

Ok, so I'm beating a dead horse...the state has decided that student achievement testing should be used to evaluate teachers and schools, whether or not the practice is invalid. Not much that I say is going to change that (although I'll continue to write about this to Senator Kruse and Representative Cox, my local, running-in-the-election-unopposed, legislators).

Maybe, just maybe, however, if enough people hear this and raise the question often enough, the policy can be revisited.

ISTEP is an "ill-suited tool for measuring the performance of students, teachers, schools and school corporations." The problem is not that the testing process had some problems last year (although that surely is an issue to correct). The problem is that, as Linda Darling-Hammond has said, "We're using the wrong kinds of tests...We're using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways."
ISBA’s position speaks to the much larger problem with ISTEP+: It is an ill-suited tool for measuring performance of students, teachers, schools and school corporations. The push to do so comes from so-called school reform groups like Stand for Children and the pro-voucher Institute for Quality Education, both of which testified Wednesday in opposition to the accountability delay.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Invalid Use of Tests Must End


The predictions were, of course, correct. Nearly all of Indiana schools which used ISTEP to assess students saw a drop in their scores.

Democrats and Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon to #pauseaccountability. Bills are before both houses in the Indiana General Assembly which would allow school systems to ignore 2015 ISTEP scores when evaluating teachers, and would allow the state to ignore 2015 ISTEP scores when grading schools and school districts.

The ISTEP won't be going away, however, and it doesn't matter if the state improves the test. It doesn't matter if teachers learn how better to teach to the test. It doesn't matter because, unless the ISTEP is validated for use as a tool to evaluate teachers and schools, using the test in that manner is inappropriate and invalid.


Standardized tests yield simple numbers to explain a complicated process. Look at the list of schools and their test scores. All you see are the percentage of students who passed. Schools are given minimal information about the difficulties students have in various areas of the test and that information is often too little and too late (in the current situation, nearly a year later) to actually help students learn content related to the state standards. [Are the state standards all that schools should be responsible for? Is there nothing more to an educated citizenry than what's in the standards? Should schools, teachers, and students be held accountable for only the standards and nothing else?]

The state uses those numbers to grade teachers and schools. A school's or school system's grade of A, B, C, D or F is based on the percentage of students passing the test and improving their scores. Some students score lower on standardized achievement tests due to the effects of poverty while out of school factors contribute more to a student's score on a test than does the classroom teacher.

Yet the state still insists on using student achievement test scores to evaluate the school's performance. [Since the correlation between achievement tests scores and poverty is so strong perhaps we ought to use student achievement test scores to evaluate government officials' effectiveness at improving the economy.]


The ISTEP has never been validated as a tool to evaluate teachers. In a process which is apparently meant to punish teachers who work with hard to educate students (students in poverty, students for whom English is a second language, and students with learning differences), the state continues to insist on using test scores as part of teacher evaluations despite the lack of validity.


Misusing test scores for evaluating schools creates more privatization and "turnaround" schools. The more public schools that are graded F, the more public schools can be turned over to charter operators and the more students can be enticed to leave the public schools for parochial and private schools with vouchers. The connection between privatization and political donors is clear – money is now the guiding force in our state's education system, not the needs of students.

Despite the fact that Indiana's students outperform the national average on the NAEP, the legislature and the government refuse to admit that our public schools are working.

The state has an obligation to fully fund public education. It has an obligation to help public schools succeed, not replace them with privately run charter schools. It has an obligation to help public schools filled with students who struggle, not entice students to leave the public schools.

Evaluating teachers and schools with student achievement test scores is invalid and it needs to end.