"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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Choice – No Choice


I was a reading specialist in my school for the last 15 years of my career. Each time I wanted to screen a student using aptitude, diagnostic, or achievement tests I had to get written parental permission. Most times parents signed the permission to test because they were as anxious as we were to figure out how to best help their children. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they wanted a conference to gather more information.

Those tests were used to diagnose a child's learning issues...sometimes to refer them for further psychometric testing (which also need parental permission), but ALWAYS to help the classroom teacher and other support staff figure out how to tap into the child's learning potential. In other words we used the tests to help the child.

The tests I gave were only given to a handful of students each year, and once we purchased the test materials all we had to do was to order additional forms to continue using the test.

Standardized student achievement tests, on the other hand, are given to all students and must be purchased each year. Parental permission is not needed. In fact, the tests are required by federal law. Students (and their parents) who choose to opt out are often punished, depending on which state they live in. Instead of helping students, the tests are (mis)used to retain students in grade, to evaluate teachers and schools, and to reward and punish school stakeholders based mostly on the neighborhood they work in. They were developed to measure student achievement, but they actually measure the socio-economic status of students.


Peter Greene, author of Curmudgucation, asks
...if I have to ask permission to give an IQ test, why not the same for the [Big Standardized] Test?
In his blog post titled Opting In (which you should read), he writes,
...you can't give a child an IQ test without parental permission...

...Imagine if we did that with the Big Standardized Test in every state. Imagine if we recognized parental authority when it came to administering Big Standardized Tests to children. Imagine if the state and the school had to get parental permission before administering to your child the PARCC or SBA or PSSA or WhateverTheHellAnagramYourStateIsPlayingAt. Imagine if the people fighting so hard against opt out had to fight to get everyone to opt in.
"Reformers" are all for giving parents "choice" when it comes to "choosing" a private or charter school, but not when it comes to high stakes achievement tests.

We must get parental permission to test when we are using psychometric or individual tests, but no permission is needed when mass produced group tests are misused to evaluate teachers and schools.

When there are consequences for students, teachers, and schools, not only do parents not get a chance to give their permission, but they are allowed absolutely no "choice" at all.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2016 Medley #8

Lead: Poisoning Our Future,
Response to "reform," Teacher Shortage, Standards, Charters, Vouchers, Testing,

Competency Based Education


Schools Nationwide Still Grapple With Lead in Water

The lie that America cares about its children is exposed yet again.

When the children of Flint, Michigan were found to have been poisoned by lead in the water the news media was all over it. The Republican governor and his apologists continue to blame someone else – most notably, the victims – even while the governor's own investigative task force placed the blame on state government, including him.

Now that the Flint water crisis has been relegated to "page 2" of the news (except, of course, in Flint) most Americans can once again ignore the fact that thousands of black and brown children have had their health and cognitive development stunted by the neglect of politicians who don't really give a sh*t about them.

Lead poisoning is still a serious problem for urban school districts throughout the country.

Lead poisoning doesn't go away by itself and its impact is permanent. There is no cure. Once a child is damaged by lead poisoning's effect on their nervous system, intellectual development, and behavior, it never goes away. Think Freddie Gray.

Lead poisoning rates have fallen dramatically since the 1990s because of stronger laws and increased testing in areas of high-risk. However, a large number of children are still negatively affected because they "fall through the legislative cracks".

There are still places where lead hurts children either because they live in places where lead is ubiquitous, like Flint, or their schools are the source. Take Jersey City, for example. When lead was discovered in the public schools' drinking water did the city and state rush to protect their children from the devastating impact of lead poisoning?

Yes...seven years later.
The Jersey City Public Schools district discovered lead contamination in eight schools’ drinking fountains in 2006, and in more schools in 2008, 2010 and 2012. But not until 2013 did officials finally chart a comprehensive attack on lead, which by then had struck all but six schools.


Ignore Insults and Falsehoods About Public Education? Or Push Back?

Read comments on the internet and you'll learn that the general public still believes that public schools are hell-holes filled with failing students and incompetent teachers. The accepted knowledge is that we spend excessive amounts of money and that most of it gets sucked up by the evil teachers unions whose lazy members only went into teaching for the summers off and the high salaries.

Is it worth fighting back with calm, reasoned arguments? Is it worth telling the truth about the effects on schools of poverty and racial isolation? What will it take to educate Americans as to the actual problems facing public education?
Because blaming public education for things over which it has zero control is now thoroughly woven into the national discourse on a myriad of issues. Stupid voters? Blame the schools. Lazy workers and economic downslope? Public education's fault. Anti-intellectualism? They must have learned it at school.


Teacher Pipeline Still Drying Up

The teaching profession has been seriously damaged by the "reform" movement. Policy makers across the nation have worked hard to make teaching into mindless test-prep with no future. The anti-union push from the right-wing, coupled with the systematic starving of public education by privatizers has meant that becoming a teacher is no longer the secure career it used to be.
If you want to buy a Lexus for $7.95 and nobody will sell one to you for that price, that is not a sign of a automobile shortage. If you want to hire a surgeon to cut your grass for $1.50 an hour and nobody will apply for the job, that is not a surgeon shortage. If you want people to become teachers under the current job conditions (and that is a large-ish if because it's possible that some folks think it would be easier to run education if teachers would all just go away), and fewer and fewer people are biting, that is not the sign of a teacher shortage-- it's a sign that you need to make your job more attractive. This seems obvious to me. We'll see if anybody in power can figure it out.

Hiring Non-Certified Teachers No Way to Address Teacher Shortage, Say Experts

Now that the "reformers" have damaged the teaching profession they have worked with policy makers to make it legal to hire more and more (and cheaper and cheaper) non-certified teachers.

The long term way to weaken the teachers union, and increase profits by lowering personnel costs:
  • Create a teacher shortage by making the profession less desirable.
  • Then claim that "there aren't enough teachers" so "we have to hire anyone with a pulse" – at low salaries. 
It's a twofer – bust the union and make a profit at the same time. Guess which neighborhoods will have the bulk of the non-certified, inexperienced teachers?

Historians (if there are any left) will look back on this time in American history as a time when the nation abandoned intelligent thought for a quick buck.
“We shouldn’t shoot for short-term solutions and just push warm bodies in the classroom,” Shields says. “Investing in teacher recruitment and training and improving working conditions for school staff can increase the number and diversity of fully-prepared teachers.”


Texas Ed Board Chair Ignores a Key Problem in Discussion about Textbooks

Why do politicians make decisions on academic standards? Even the Fordham Institute, a conservative "think tank" understands that Texas standards are so politicized as to be useless.

Texas, of course, is the home of textbook standards for the nation. Textbook publishers don't want to publish too many versions of their books and Texas standards, being for one of the largest markets in the country, have an impact on the books that are available for the rest of us.

Do we want standards which downplay and cover up the truth? Do we want our nation's children growing up thinking that slavery had nothing to do with the civil war, or that Moses was instrumental in writing our nation's founding documents?

This is just one more area where educators, rather than politicians, need a voice.
Moreover, remember that even the conservative Fordham Institute has sharply criticized the curriculum standards as a “politicized distortion of history” plagued “misrepresentations at every turn.” How do those politicized standards affect classroom instruction, regardless of what the textbooks say?

Here’s the reality: the state board’s awful curriculum standards make it more likely that Texas students will learn a flawed and politicized distortion of history. We’re confident that the state’s many good teachers try to find ways to work around this problem. But state board members more interested in promoting their own political agendas than educating Texas kids have made those teachers’ jobs much harder.

The solution? Fix the standards by taking out the political agendas.


Charters Can Always Quit

A neighborhood public school provides stability and community identity.

A charter school can come into a community, draw higher achieving students away from the public schools, and then, if it doesn't make enough money, can decide to close up shop and abandon its neighborhood.
By switching to a charter school, a family gives up the promise that their child, as a US citizen, is entitled to a free education no matter what. The irony is that the onslaught of charters is forcing some public schools to imitate charters in this one way-- to turn their back on the mission of pubic education to educate every child.


Our Idiotic Conversation About School Vouchers

The more tax money legislatures provide for vouchers, the higher the cost of private schools will rise.

Public funds should go to public schools.
The idea that private school vouchers can expand opportunities for students currently enrolled in urban public schools is transparently foolish. And yet, time and again, reformy types keep bringing it up, making comparisons to elite private schools that are utterly laughable -- especially when voucher funds will actually be going to schools that are nothing like St. Benedict's.


ISTEP is dead, but what’s next?

More talk about what we will replace ISTEP with...more lack of understanding of the basic use of tests and measurements.
Indiana’s leadership class may not be able to get their heads around what constitutes a quality education, but the sharp practice of political advantage is practically second nature to them. The ISTEP test, in its various bungled iterations, has been used as a club to beat teachers with, a way of undermining professionalism in the classroom in the name of accountability.

“We are going to have accountability in our testing,” said Gov. Pence as he repealed ISTEP. “But we are going to find a better way.”

Naturally, he added that “we” would “look to our teachers.” But so long as testing serves as little more than a teacher union-busting tool, who is going to want that job?


Here are three articles about Competency Based Education. The first, by Peter Greene at Curmudgucation, the last two by Stephen Krashen.

What's So Bad About Competency Based Education?
The premise of CBE is that all learning can be reduced to a collection of performance tasks. This is fine for simple, concrete skills. Identify grammatical sentence parts? Change a tire? Find the measurement for one side of an isosceles triangle? Bake a cake? Sure-- if you can perform each of the separate tasks involved, you can be said to have mastered the larger learning.

But more complex skills don't succumb to merit badge breakdown so easily. You may pass the dribbling test, the passing test, the shooting test, the jumping test, and the blocking test, but does that mean you have achieved mastery of basketball? And does mastery mean that you can play on a YMCA pick-up team, or that you're ready to go head to head with LeBron James? And were the basketball competencies, both the content and the minimum level required to pass them-- did those come from somebody who is knowledgeable about basketball, or from someone who is knowledgeable about designing CBE systems?

And that's talking skills. When we talk knowledge, CBE goes right out the window. How do we reduce an understanding of the critical realist movement in American literature to a series of competencies? We can't-- so we have to bake in two huge mistakes. First, we reduce it to performance tasks-- behaviors-- that somebody somewhere believes are the signs of understanding. The competency is literally not "understand the material" but "act as if you understand the material." Assessing this kind of learning is already a huge challenge for a regular classroom teacher, but CBE adds the element of saying that we will use exactly the same measure for every single student.

Second, using CBE for knowledge learning means that the competencies will always be measured in terms of things we already know. If you are earning your competency badge for "understanding the causes of the Great European War," what you really have to understand is what the people who wrote the competency measure believe were the causes. In other words, CBE demands inside the box thinking-- even for fields in which the box is under considerable debate.

Take a closer look at competency-based education.
Competency-based education is not just a testing program. It is a radical and expensive innovation that replaces regular instruction with computer "modules" that students work through on their own. It is limited to what can be easily taught and tested by computer, and is being pushed by computer and publishing companies that will make substantial profits from it.

Pearson: Competency-based education will replace standardized testing
This will make testing fever worse than ever. We can expect daily reports about schools, school districts, states and countries announced on radio, television, newspapers, and on dedicated internet websites, just like sports news, announcing how much progress has been made in mastering modules. This will result it even more testing pressure on the schools. We can look forward to daily reporting like this:

"Fourth graders in Thailand have completed an average of 43 programs this month, compared to Spain's 42, moving Thailand into 39rd place internationally. Spain did not improve its rankings because of poor performance in several classrooms in Madrid, especially one taught by Estela Garcia at the Academica Arriba in which children completed only six programs this month."


Friday, March 25, 2016

The Test is Dead. Long Live The Test


ISTEP+ is officially history, after 2017, that is, which is the last year that the ISTEP will be given to Indiana students.

Gov. Pence signs ISTEP’s death warrant, kicks off two-year rush to replace exam
With the stroke of his pen today, Gov. Mike Pence put an end to the Indiana’s decades-old standardized ISTEP exam and officially started the clock on a plan to replace it.

The ISTEP will be administered just one more time — in 2017 — giving the state a little more than 700 days to figure out something new.

“We’re going to make a new test that works better for our kids, better for our teachers, better for our families,” Pence said. “I think there’s just been a growing sense that we can do better than ISTEP. This is a test that has been around in Indiana for more than a generation.”

Signing the bill at Eagle Elementary School in Zionsville, Pence told the children gathered for the bill ceremony that they shouldn’t get too excited about ISTEP’s departure.

The “good news” was that ISTEP would be no more, he said, but the “bad news,” is that there will still be a test. That comment was met with groans from the kids.
It's interesting that Indiana's Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction has been fighting against Republican Governor Pence over ISTEP (and nearly everything else) since she took office. Now that it's an election year, and the public has turned against ISTEP, Pence is eager to "find something better."

Indiana governor signs bill eliminating unpopular ISTEP
After years of tinkering with the state’s education policy, including withdrawing from the national Common Core standards, the decisions by the GOP-majority Legislature now pose a political liability, because parents and educators have become increasingly weary of high-stakes testing. And ISTEP scores plummeted about 20 percent in 2015 when compared to the previous year due in part to a hastily rolled out test that was based on Indiana-specific standards for math and science instead of the Common Core.

While Democratic State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has long called for student testing to be rethought, the idea to scrap the ISTEP did not gain currency until recent months with Republicans, who have supported school accountability measures that use student performance on the standardized test to determine school grades and help award teacher merit pay.


Romeo and Juliet
Act II, Scene II
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Pardon me for not celebrating the demise of ISTEP, but the worst aspects of it will remain. We're not getting rid of high-stakes testing. We're not getting rid of the abuse and misuse of a test on students, teachers, and schools. We're simply going to change from ISTEP to some other standardized test.

The governor said we're going to "make a new test that works better."

On what basis should we expect the State of Indiana, which "made" the ISTEP to suddenly be able to "make" something better? Testing is a complicated process and questions have to be carefully chosen to remove biases and errors. Now that ISTEP is gone, how is the state suddenly going to provide the expertise to make a "better" test? Hire Pearson? CTB? Are there any "test experts" left who aren't just trying to increase the company's bottom line?

Then there's the possibility of getting an "off the shelf" nationally normed test, but that wouldn't necessarily be aligned with Indiana's standards. Would it be fair to require teachers to teach certain standards and then test students using an instrument that didn't reflect those standards? Does the legislature care about fair at all when it comes to students, teachers, or schools? And, as long as we're asking questions, why is it that the legislature is micromanaging Indiana's testing program to begin with? Isn't that a job for educators? Of course, when the purpose of testing has changed from assessing student progress and helping students learn, to "accountability" in order to bust unions and privatize education, it all makes sense.

Test misuse in Indiana isn't going away with the demise of ISTEP. If we're still using some standardized achievement test as a high-stakes measure to determine student placement, teacher effectiveness, or a school's letter grade, then we're still misusing the test, no matter what that test is.

Standardized achievement tests accurately measure a student's knowledge of the material covered on the test – and nothing else. But we're going to take a different achievement test which was developed and field-tested (hopefully) to measure children's academic achievement in specific areas and we're going to use it to evaluate teachers and to punish or reward schools. That's akin to using a blood test to determine if your leg is broken.

In Measuring Student Achievement: A Study of Standardized Testing and its Effect on Student Learning, the authors wrote [emphasis added],
...the weakness is that assessment tests are not able to account for the wide range of variables, besides student knowledge, that could affect test results. In the pursuit of expediency and efficiency, combined with a trust in the objectivity of tests, the data acquired from test results are often inappropriately applied to different education policies and curricular reforms. A significant example was shown in the inability for test results, to accurately determine education quality. Drafters of education policy and developers of school curriculum primarily reference assessment test data to solve problems the data does not relate to.
In other words, to quote Linda Darling-Hammond for the umpteenth time,
The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we're using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we're using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways. We are the only country that tests every child, every year with these kinds of measures and then attaches all of these stakes to them -- whether a kid gets promoted to the next grade, whether they graduate, whether a teacher gets a merit pay bonus, whether they even keep their job, whether schools get rewarded or sanctioned or even closed down. The tests were never designed to support these kinds of decisions. They don't even measure the things you would need to measure to be valid for those purposes, in ways that would inform you.
Getting rid of ISTEP won't improve education in Indiana. Getting rid of inappropriate high-stakes testing, and the politicians who continue to support it, will.

See also Say No to Standardized Tests


Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 Medley #7

AADHD and Recess, Privatization,
Charters, Teacher Evaluations,
"Reform" Fail, Politics


10 Ways We'd Change the U.S. School System If We Could

The importance of recess for young children, and children with ADHD especially, can't be overemphasized. The Finns, with the highest academic scores in the world, make sure that young children have frequent breaks. We should do the same.
Lunch and recess are, for more grade­ school students, as essential as reading, writing, and math. Time spent playing kick ball or running the bases teaches our kids valuable social skills. Plus exercise releases chemicals into the brain that promote focus, sequencing, and working memory once the bell rings again.

"Kids need a break," says Stewart Trost, assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University. "They can focus better in the classroom when given that break."

“Kids who have recess display an improved ability to stay on task,” says Dr. Larry Silver a regular ADDitude contributor. That means less fidgeting, more focusing. It also means building friendships and giving teachers and administrators a chance to see who is being bullied, isolated, or teased.

Yet many schools cut recess to add more classes, or take it away as a punishment – even though the CDC says, “Exclusion from recess for bad behavior in a classroom deprives students of physical activity that can contribute toward improved behavior in the classroom."


How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education

The privatization of public education will lead to the same sorts of community devastation that Walmart is famous for.
Stories about local communities being devastated by business decisions made in distant headquarters have become a staple of this era. Time and time again, the nation has witnessed whole towns being hollowed out when big companies uproot local manufacturing plants to move to cheaper labor markets in Mexico or China.

The cause of the trauma and grief is always the same: “strictly business.” “Fiscal sense.”

But what if that story isn’t just about businesses anymore? What if instead of a closed factory or shuttered store, the story is about a closed public school? What if the consequence of these types of “business decisions” isn’t a grown man having to look for another job or an elderly woman having to figure out a new way to pick up her prescriptions, but a child having his or her education significantly disrupted or a whole community left without convenient access to schools?

That question is becoming increasingly urgent as more and more government officials turn to publicly funded but privately run charter schools to compete with and upend local public schools—an education option, it is worth noting, that the family behind the Walmart empire has played a huge role in promoting and funding nationwide.


What can happen when a neighborhood school is forced to share its space with a charter

Co-locations are all the rage in Charter-crazed New York.

We don't block off parts of public parks so private entities can set up for-profit park facilities. We don't cram all the public library's books into one area so a private vendor can set up shop at public expense. But for some reason it's ok to do this to our children...

"Choice," when there is any, belongs to the private, for profit, corporate owners, not the community or parents.
Imagine this. You get a call telling you that another family will now occupy the second floor of your home. After you recover from your initial shock, you complain. “Outrageous,” you say. That is where I have my office, our second bathroom and the guest bedroom for when my mother comes to stay.” You quickly learn the decision is not yours to make. This is a top-down order, and you must comply.

As far-fetched as the above might seem, the above is what principals in New York City and other cities around the country face when charter schools demand space. And although principals may not “own” their schools, the community that surrounds the school surely does. Yet, no matter how strongly they protest, community voices are nearly always ignored.

Kamenetz v. Skeels: Are Charter Schools “Public” or “Private”?

When it comes to collecting public tax dollars, charters are "public." However, when students demand their rights, those same schools suddenly become "private businesses." The "choice," once again, belongs to the private, for-profit, corporate owners, not the students.
“The structures that allow charter schools to exist are marked by the absence of protections that are traditionally guaranteed by public education, protections that only become apparent and necessary when families and students begin to face a denial of what they were initially promised to be their right.” (American Bar Association)


John Thompson: The Utter Failure of Standardized Teacher Evaluation

VAM doesn't work, yet states are forcing school systems to include "accountability" measures (aka student test scores) in evaluation systems...especially after the Duncan Education Department pushed it on the states without sufficient research.

Bottom line: It doesn't work. It's inaccurate. It's an invalid use of student achievement test data.

With all the outcry and brouhaha about "bad" teachers, the VAM-based evaluations have made a mockery of actual teacher evaluations.
“Now that these hurried, top-down mandates are being retrospectively studied, even pro-VAM scholars have found minimal or no benefits, offset by some obvious downsides. I wonder if they will try to tackle the real research question, try to evaluate IMPACT and similar regimes, and thus address the biggest danger they pose. In an effort to exit the bottom 5% or so of teachers, did the test and punish crowd undermine the effectiveness of the vast majority of educators?”

Cami Anderson Speaks Out Against Teacher Tenure, Due Process and Unions

Why are we still blaming teachers and unions for low student achievement? The appeal of the Vergara trial brings this up again...tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. Certainly there are ways to improve the system, but denying teachers of due process doesn't help anyone. Much of the blame for low student achievement can be laid at the feet of politicians and policy makers.
...the Vergara trial did not show any damage to the plaintiffs. One of the accused teachers was Pasadena’s “teacher of the year.” Two of the student plaintiffs were enrolled in charter schools, where none of their teachers had tenure. Some of the other teachers did not have tenure.


Reader: A Short List of Corporate Reform Failures

Be sure to check out this post by Diane Ravitch...and the comments as well. Why are our legislators and policy makers still backing failed "school reform?"

Spoiler alert: Corporate donors.
One of the many utter FAILURES:



Obama: Texas Leaders "Aren't Interested" in Higher Voter Turnout

The apparent determination of one particular Party to restrict citizens' voting rights irks me.
It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in a democracy, and that is to select who’s going to represent you in government


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tweaking an Invalid System – Still Invalid


Steve Hinnefeld's blog, School Matters: K12 Education in Indiana, is one of my regular reads. His reporting and analysis of the privatization of public education in Indiana is invaluable. He regularly takes the legislature and governor to task for their political- rather than researched-based approach to so-called "education reform" in our state.

I say that because I want to be clear at the beginning of this post that I am a fan of School Matters. I intend this post to be, not a criticism of his post, Good news on school grading, but an extension.

That being said...

Good news on school grading
The state is shifting to a system that’s supposed to count student growth on test scores as much as it counts performance, a fairer approach if you’re going to grade schools — which we are. Indiana is also moving to a new method of measuring growth, relying on where student scores fall on what’s called a Growth to Proficiency Table.
The important words in that paragraph are...
...a fairer approach if you’re going to grade schools — which we are...


I recently quoted Diane Ravitch,
...a cardinal rule of testing is that tests should be used only for the specific purpose for which they were created.
Student achievement tests are, in Indiana and other states, being used for many purposes besides that for which they were created. We use student test scores to
  • evaluate student learning
  • grade schools
  • promote or retain students
  • provide a ranking for teacher bonuses
  • evaluate, promote, or fire teachers
  • evaluate school corporations
What is the purpose of achievement tests? Here is a simple definition from UCDavis:
Achievement tests measure the extent to which a person has "achieved" something, acquired certain information, or mastered certain skills - usually as a result of planned instruction or training. It is designed to efficiently measure the amount of knowledge and/or skill a person has acquired, usually as a result of classroom instruction.
Student achievement tests are developed for evaluating student achievement, the first bullet, above. The other uses by the state are not included in the development process for the tests...and therefore ought not to be used. To do so is an invalid use of the test.


Focusing on growth equalizes the results of tests somewhat, but it doesn't eliminate the fact that we are using tests in the wrong way – to make high stakes decisions about things for which the test was not created.


A student teaching supervisor from a state university in Indiana posted this from one of her student teachers. The student teacher wrote...
Overall, I'm observing how many different ways our education system is broken but especially our special education system. Testing is incredibly frustrating to watch in this classroom. I watched a student completely fail all parts of his ISTEP in front of me. It really is discouraging in many ways but is also motivating. I know I'm not a superhero but if there is any time to be in education and try to stop kids from being failed by a broken system-it's now!
Even a pre-service teacher understands that inappropriate testing must stop. Making tests harder doesn't help. Changing tests doesn't help. No matter how you tweak an invalid system it's still invalid.

Replacing ISTEP+ isn't enough. We must put an end high stakes testing and put an end developmentally inappropriate testing.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Random Quotes – March, 2016


A Bill of Rights for School Children

I included this in a post from February, as well as in my last Medley, but I can't seem to let this excellent post by Russ Walsh go without one more comment.

This quote reminds us, yet again, that there is more to the education of our children than school. Targeting teachers or "failing" schools ignores the main source of learning difficulties children have. Blaming parents or teachers unions doesn't take into account the social aspects of a child's life. Politicians and policy makers would do well to look in the mirror when they're looking for reasons children struggle in school.

From Russ Walsh
It seems obvious that if we are going to improve public education in the economically struggling inner cities, we must take a holistic view. We must attack poverty with as much vigor and energy as the education reformers bring to their lobbying efforts in support of opening more charter schools. We must provide children in the inner cities with more services than schools in affluent areas because these children need more help to become proficient learners. This means wrap around services like medical and dental screenings, increased availability of counselors to help children navigate the trauma of their daily lives, home-school counselors that assist struggling families in providing experiences for their young children that will help them when they get to school, and professionally run and developmentally appropriate pre-school programs. All of these things will help and they will help much more than sending a child across town to a new charter school that has promised to raise student test scores.



As Long As We’re Silent, Nothing Will Change

Teachers need to find their voices.

There are consequences when teachers speak up. Sometimes they get push back from administrations and school boards. Sometimes they are treated unfairly.

But there are consequences when teachers don't speak up. Our students lose. We are our students' only political voice.

From Edushyster
As Long As We’re Silent, Nothing Will Change



New Jersey’s Bad Idea: Using PARCC as a Graduation Requirement

The so-called "accountability" of using tests to rank communities, schools, teachers, and students, is an inappropriate and invalid use of those tests. Simply put...

From Diane Ravitch
...a cardinal rule of testing is that tests should be used only for the specific purpose for which they were created.

Badass Teachers Association: Thank You to The National Opt Out Movement!

The "choice" crowd insists that public tax revenue pay for their "choices" of charter or voucher supported parochial schools, but when parents "choose" to opt their children out of developmentally inappropriate, and generally invalid standardized tests, those same "reformers" demand "accountability."

from Denisha Jones of the Badass Teachers Association
"Parents, students and teachers must remember that opting out is a form of civil disobedience. You are not asking for anyone's permission. You are informing the school of the decision you made as a student, as a parent with your child, or as a teacher of conscience, who can no longer sit back and allow the test-and-punish system to destroy public education. By denying the testocracy the data they need to rank and label children as worker bees or managers, you reclaim public education as a system that educates all children to use their full potential to make the world a better place."

Less Resources, Harder Tests: Common Core in the Last Days of Obama

"Raise standards."

"Make the tests harder."

As Alfie Kohn said in 1999, "We're Confusing Harder With Better."

If children have trouble reading at what is currently considered "grade-level," a lexile level of 450 for third grade for example, it doesn't mean that they will learn more if we increase the difficulty of material for their grade. President Bush (2) decried the "soft bigotry of low expectations," but he, and most "reformers" apparently, don't understand the hard bigotry of inappropriate expectations.

from Steven Singer
Impoverished students have traditionally had a harder time scoring as well [on standardized tests] as their wealthier peers. But the policy response has been to make things MORE difficult. How does that help?

Consider this: If a malnourished runner couldn’t finish the 50 yard dash, forcing him to run 100 yards isn’t raising standards. It’s piling on.

Do Aurora Public School Parents Know they can REFUSE the PARCC and/or CMAS test?

The number one enemy of education is still on the loose in our schools: high stakes testing.

From Peg with Pen

[emphasis in original]
Next week our children will be subjected to a racist, classist test (PARCC/CMAS) that will be used to rank, sort, and order our children - ONCE AGAIN - to prove that our school is "failing" (not so - we are UNDER-RESOURCED). Once again we will subject ourselves to a vicious game that is meant to fail everyone - the children, the teachers, the district and the community. Our brilliant, creative children, many who speak two languages, many who come from homes lacking books, adequate nutrition, and health care, will be asked to "persevere" on a test that is developmentally inappropriate and demands that they sit for hours each day staring at a screen (7 days for 3rd/4th and 10 days for 5th). The children are not allowed to read when the test is done; this is educational malpractice upon education malpractice. How this decision was made I am unsure, as I am not a part of the testing team. I do hope that this decision will be abandoned before testing begins on Tuesday. These children deserve to read a book when this horrific test is done - and to require them to sit/stare rather than read, is denying them their right to learning time during the school day. I wonder if the parents know this is happening?

The fights and the battles to do what is best and right and just for children are never ending. Exhausting. And crushing.



The Obligations of Wealth

A thoughtful and insightful piece...

As teachers, we are often privileged in ways our students aren't...and will never be...and it's often the case that we owe that privilege to the children we teach and their families.

From Peter Greene
I know there are teachers who feel once they've put in the school work that they've been paid to do, they are entitled to shut themselves up at home and that they owe the community nothing. I respectfully disagree. I have resources that many people in my community do not, and I have those resources precisely because those people gave some of their resources up. I owe them.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

2016 Medley #6

America's Priorities, Charters,
Testing, TFA, Reform


A Bill of Rights for School Children

If we really cared about the future of this country we'd make our children a national priority. They are the ones who will lead this country through the 21st century and beyond. Right now we have the highest child poverty rate in the developed world. We guarantee a dismal future when we allow nearly a quarter of our children to grow up in poverty. All the posturing of politicians are empty words to those children. They'll grow up, as Carl Sagan has suggested,
...as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them. This is stupid.
The U.S. needs to join the rest of the world and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children should be guaranteed safety, food, education, health care, equality, the right to free expression, and the right to play. These would guarantee children the right to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Public education advocate and blogger Russ Walsh has written A Bill of Rights for School Children. We would do well to adopt this as well...
1. Every child has a right to a free, high quality, public education.

2. Every child has a right to attend a well-staffed, well-resourced, clean and safe local neighborhood school.

3. Every child has the right to be taught by well-informed, fully certified, fully engaged teachers who care about the child as a learner and as a person.

4. Every child has the right to a school that provides a rich and varied curriculum that includes the visual and performing arts, integrated technology, and physical education.

5. Every child has a right to a school that provides a rich and varied extra-curricular program including athletics, clubs, and service learning opportunities.

6. Every child has a right to instruction that is well-planned, engaging, and collaborative.

7. Every child has a right to instruction that is developmentally appropriate.

8. Every elementary school child has a right to daily recess.

9. Every child has the right to go to a school with adequate support personnel including librarians, nurses, guidance counselors, and learning support specialists.

10. Every child has a right to an element of choice in the educational program, including the right to choose to take advanced level courses. 


Mother of Girl Berated in Video Assails Success Academy’s Response

You've probably seen the video that went viral of the teacher at one of Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy charter schools berating and belittling a first grader. This article brings up a very important point which many parents aren't aware of when they engage with a charter management organization. There may not be a way to file a complaint or discuss the problem when the school doesn't have to be accountable to a publicly elected school board.
Seeking to hold someone accountable for what happened to her daughter, Ms. Miranda went into a Department of Education building in Brooklyn to ask about filing a complaint, but was told that Success was independent from the school district. She said that Ms. Nicholls, the principal, had given her information about how to reach Success’s board of trustees, and that she had sent a letter, but she was not optimistic that she would get a response.
You can write to the corporate board, but there's nothing making them pay any attention other than corporate profits. These people are for-profit which means that children are secondary. A commenter named Patricia wrote [emphasis added]:
This parent went to the DOE to file a complaint and was told that Success was independent of the district; how are we to expect major changes in a system when parents don't even understand how that system works. My guess is that this mother represents many hardworking parents who simply want a good public, local education for their children; they have no idea that they're actually handing their kids over to a private school completely outside the purview of local government that's funded with their own tax dollars.

National Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Reigning in Charter Schools

Speaking of parents who want a "good, public, local education for their children..." here's an article discussing a poll which shows that parents want neighborhood schools!

America's public school system, through each state's system, supposedly guarantees a free, appropriate, public education. It's never been perfect, but destroying it, instead of fixing it isn't rational. Parents and communities want improved schools in their neighborhoods not unaccountable charter schools. [emphasis added]
  • Overwhelming majorities, as high as 92%, back proposals to strengthen transparency and accountability, improve teacher training and qualifications, implement anti-fraud measures, ensure high-need students are served, and make sure neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected.
  • 92% of voters support requiring companies and organizations that manage charter schools to open board meetings to parents and the public.
  • 90% of voters support requiring companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money.
  • “School choice” ranks last in a list of the biggest concerns voters have for K-12 education, with only 8% listing it as a concern.
  • Far more popular than “school choice” or unaccountable charter schools is the concept of community schools, which serve as community hubs, ensuring that every student and their family gets the opportunity to succeed no matter what zip code they live in. 

Whom Do Charter Schools Serve?

Finally, the money keeps flowing from the taxpayers pockets to the charter operator's bank accounts with little or no accountability.
And now, irony climbs atop irony. Charter schools that have creamed high scoring students from the public schools are labeling high percentages of the students "autistic" to increase their state allotment from under $10,000 per regular student to about $20,000 per "autistic" student. And then they report no expenditures for special programs.


Teacher: Why Am I Testing This Child?

The number one enemy of education is still on the loose in our schools: high stakes testing. Policy makers, pundits, and politicians all bow down to the gods of accountability, even though high stakes tests don't measure what they use them for.

Diane Ravitch wrote, "Tests should be used only for the specific purpose for which they were created."

Any other use constitutes test misuse and abuse.

Student achievement tests are created to measure how much of a particular curriculum students have learned. We still misuse the tests and abuse schools, teachers, and students by
  • punishing students for not learning
  • punishing teachers for having students who don't learn 
  • punishing schools for having students who don't learn
And probably sooner, rather than later, we will begin punishing schools of education for graduating teachers who have students who don't learn.

The important phrase here is "students who don't learn." There are dozens of reasons why children struggle to learn, and most of them have little to do with school or teachers.
“In all seriousness, the level of absurdity is reached when a profoundly disabled student is required to be tested and the testing looks something like this… a teacher pulls a chair up to the student’s wheel chair and reads a test question to the student. The student has nearly no use of his limbs or body but can turn his head. Then the teacher reads the possible answers “A”… blah blah blah “B” … blah blah blah and then the teacher holds up a sheet with letters on them and tracks the students eyes trying to guess at where the child’s eyes are looking at A, B, C or D! Meanwhile most of the test material (if not all) is not even relevant to the child or part of the child’s learning day. His day is focused on physical therapy to learn to swallow or to increase motor movement in his very stiff arms and legs. He is well below grade level because along with his physical issues there are cognitive ones too. Is this really the best use of this child and teacher’s valuable time to force him to endure a grade level test based on his chronological age because EVERYONE MUST BE TREATED EXACTLY THE SAME so that data crunchers are happy?”

The Flawed Premises of Reform

Tests measure what the designers wrote them to measure. In recent years states have asked testing companies to make tests which will measure that which cannot be measured. Anxious to keep the money flowing from the states' treasuries, the testing companies have complied, even when the results are invalid and unreliable.

People want education reduced to a single number that they can rate as good or bad. The public doesn't want to be bothered by such things as disabilities, poverty, or social unrest. Those and other variables, which determine the validity of the tests, aren't interesting enough for politicians, journalists, and test-makers to discuss with the general public. Since people don't understand science and statistics, they don't understand the impact of variables. Politicians get money from test-makers and voters to provide answers. So, tests become the answer to everything that ails public education, and, by extension, the nation.
if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should... measure whether our kids are meeting them

Also sounds sort of sensible, and yet we do not know how to do it. It really is as simple as that-- we do not have a large-scale, standardized instrument that can measure all learning for all students in a standardized, one-size-measures-all manner. Instead of asking, "What's the best way to measure critical thinking" test manufacturers have asked "What's something we could do on a standardized mass-administered test that would pass for a critical thinking measure?"


Study examines Teach For America’s impact on costs, hiring at 5 school systems

Fire expensive teachers because they are too expensive...and then hire Teach For America temps who end up costing even more.

Is there even the slightest pretext among "reformers" that they're interested in student achievement?
Five major U.S. school systems – in Atlanta, Chicago, eastern North Carolina, New Orleans and New York – paid finder's fees that ranged from $2,000 to $5,000 per TFA corps member per contract year, a research team found in its examination of the organization's contracts with the school districts.

The financially troubled Chicago Public Schools paid TFA nearly $7.5 million in finder's fees between 2000 and 2014 – a time period when the school system also underwent significant budget cuts, closed numerous schools and laid off thousands of teachers, according to the study, published in Education Policy Analysis Archives.

The research team found similar payouts in Atlanta, where six school districts paid a total of $5.3 million in finder's fees for 690 TFA corps members who taught in the district's schools between 2007 and 2014.


How Do You Explain the Corporate Assault on Public Education to Friends Who Know Nothing About It?
...you have to give them examples of what “education reform” actually means....

Like “teachers are evaluated as ineffective or effective by the test scores of their students, even though research demonstrates that this is a flawed method”

Like “uncertified, inexperienced teachers who are assigned to the kids with the greatest needs”

And for a fanfare: “Our nation has pursued failed market-based policies for 15 years. It is time to do what works, based on evidence and experience.”


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Baseball Interlude: No Foreigners Allowed?

Tis the season, it seems, for anti-immigrant fear mongering.

Phyllis Schlafly, the great-granddaughter of a European immigrant who lived in Canada before coming to the US, wants to ban foreigners from playing on U.S. professional baseball teams.

When I first saw that I thought it was a joke...an article from the Onion. But no. It's no joke. Schlafly, whose great-grandfather emigrated to the United States from Scotland, wants to ban all foreigners from playing professional baseball in the U.S.



First, because they
cannot speak English
Should we deny people jobs because they can't speak English?  Perhaps Ms. Schlafly has forgotten that this country was taken from the natives – who didn't speak English – and then built by immigrants – many of whom didn't speak English.

A good portion of the food Schlafly puts into her anti-immigrant mouth every day was likely picked and processed by people who don't speak English.

And what about stealing jobs? Does Schlafly make sure that everything she puts on her native born body or into her home is manufactured by native born Americans, in American factories, owned by Americans? What about her cell phone? What about the computer she uses to write her poison? What about the car she drives, the TV she watches, the microwave in which she heats up her coffee.

The hypocrisy takes my breath away...


Second, we shouldn't allow foreigners to play baseball because they
did not rise through the ranks of Little League
I didn't make this up. She actually wrote this.

Yes, it's true that Little League baseball was started in the US in 1939, but as of 2016 Little League International supports baseball for children in 80 countries around the world including places rarely associated with baseball such as Uganda and Turkey. So, saying that no foreign born player has risen through the ranks of Little League is very likely untrue, especially those who hail from the baseball rich cultures of the Dominican Republic, Venezuala, Mexico, and Japan.

And...what? Little League is now a prerequisite for playing professional baseball? Where did all the pre 1939 baseball players come from? Where did Honas Wagner play Little League? What about Christy Matthewson? Was Three-finger Brown a pitcher in Little League before he lost parts of two fingers in a farm implement accident?

Just to be sure I'll check the article to make sure it's not from the Onion...


Baseball is a wonderful activity for boys and young men.
If you are going to write about Little League and baseball, you ought to know something about it. Little league (unlike organized, professional baseball) is not gender exclusive. Girls are actually allowed to play baseball with boys. In fact, a girl, Mo'ne Davis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pitched a shut out – a two-hitter – during the Little League World Series in 2014.

I wonder...if Mo'ne Davis decides to pursue a career in professional baseball would Schlafly approve because she's an American, and came up through the ranks of Little League.


All six of the six recipients of the top awards this past season are native born American, but more than a quarter of Major League Baseball players are foreign-born
Yes, I knew that all six of the six recipients of the top awards in 2015 (MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Cy Young) are native born Americans.

Past winners, however, include Dominicans, Cubans, Venezualans, Canadians, Mexicans, and Japanese. True baseball fans recognize names of stars like Albert Pujols, Miguel Tajeda, José Abreu, José Fernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Félix Hernández, Joey Votto, and Ichiro Suzuki. Cherry picking one year of award winners does not mean that all the players descended from immigrants are better than all the players who are immigrants.


Let's just carry this a step further. Does Ms. Schlafly want us to ban all foreign born workers from getting paid for jobs in the U.S.? How about actors? Should we keep them from working on movies or TV programs made in the U.S.? Should we ban all foreign born writers? all foreign born musicians? Why single out baseball players...let's ban all foreign born professional basketball players, soccer players, tennis players, hockey players. Think of all the jobs that could go to Americans!

But baseball, and other sports, reflect the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants. The anti-immigrant/false patriotism spouted by bigots like Schlafly has no place in any professional sport in this country. Indeed, it has no place at all in our nation.

In the best tradition of this nation, immigrants like the players mentioned in the paragraphs above, come to the U.S. to improve their lives, just like Schlafly's Great-Grandfather Stewart did when he came to the U.S. in 1851 from Scotland. If the U.S. had Schlafly's no-foreigners-allowed policy back then, chances are Phyllis Schlafly would have grown up as a Canadian.


We live in a smaller world than humans of the past. National boundaries are not corporate boundaries. Goods and services are mobile. Even those things "Made in USA" are likely to have foreign parts.

People, too, are more mobile than before. It doesn't take 2 months to sail from Europe to North America any more. We've seen the Earth from space...national boundaries aren't visible.

Sooner or later people are going to have to accept that all of us live together on one, small planet.

Which is the more "American" policy? Locking our door in fear of the stranger, or welcoming the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free?"

It's time we outgrew our antiquated tribalism.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2016 Medley #5: Indiana Republicans (still) Hate Public Education

Indiana's "reformist" Politics

Indiana's legislature is run by a supermajority of Republicans. The Hoosier state is nearly all "red" and has only gone for a Democratic presidential candidate twice in the last 75 years (1964 and 2008).

The supermajority legislature and the Republican appointed State Board of Education has been attacking public education, public school teachers, and teachers unions regularly and in 2011, passed laws to eliminate teacher seniority rights, do away with tenure (due process) for teachers, stop paying teachers for extra education, evaluate teachers based on student test scores, and restrict collective bargaining rights to money issues (salary, insurance).

The General Assembly is so solidly and heavily Republican that when they talk about "compromise" they're talking about the House Republicans compromising with the Senate Republicans. Democrats are apparently only there to delay the inevitable through objections and speeches. Rational discourse between parties is met with Republicans figuratively putting their hands over their ears and mumbling, "I can't hear you."

It won't get any better either. The governor and his lackeys in the legislature have been bought and sealed by the Koch Brothers and ALEC. Is there hope that enough people might cross party lines and vote some of the rascals out" Not likely. Most of the citizenry, outside of a couple of major cities, are life-long, "my-daddy-was-a-Republican-so-I'm-a-Republican-too" Republicans.

[There are some who are more thoughtful, of course. But they continue to vote Republican even if they disagree on education issues, because of traditional Republican issues like abortion and GLBT rights.]

Indiana Democrats try their best, but the odds are not in their favor. As long as Republicans keep getting elected then the leadership (Bob Behning and Brian Bosma in the House, and David Long and Dennis Kruse in the Senate) will continue to do what they can to keep the campaign dollars coming from "reformers."


Guest column: Schools should be about children

This excerpt from a behind-a-pay-wall article was written by a Bloomington, IN mom. In it she calls out the state testing program for all the damage it has done. Grading schools, labeling children, and evaluating teachers is a waste of time and just one more piece of the ALEC plan to completely privatize public education.

(Bloomington area readers, the author suggests you subscribe to your local newspaper.)
At one time, testing was only part of the overall assessment for how kids and schools were doing. We relied on teachers to tell us the rest. After all, teachers are with our kids every day and are professionals who know where students fall on the continuum of development and learning. We trusted teachers.

Now, thanks to the state Legislature and governor, the test has become the focus of our kids’ education. It is no longer a temperature check for how kids are learning; it is the (state’s) objective...


Does slapping an “F” on a school and stigmatizing the teachers and children within, help those kids? Does a threat of takeover and privatization by the state ameliorate the effects of poverty? No. It creates a pressure cooker for children and teachers.

High-stakes testing provides fertile ground for the profit-making idea of “school choice.” Prove public schools are failing and offer alternatives. Charters, voucher schools and public schools compete for tax dollars in a game that is rigged. Test companies grow richer.

The laws that created this marketplace of education all come from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s goal is to create more competition in education and to privatize it. There is even an Indiana Reform Package of model legislation on their website. Our governor has written the introduction to the ALEC report card.
The A-F grading of schools, tying teachers’ pay to test scores, the pass-a-40-question-reading-test-or-fail third grade law — these are all from ALEC. They were not backed by research of what are best practices in teaching. Most reflect the opposite.


Schooling lawmakers: Education bills have predictable consequences

The editorial writer in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette seems to think that this year's anti-teacher, anti-public schools legislation will mobilize teachers around the state to fight back. Turnout is always largest during a presidential election year, which, I hope will favor those who are against further damaging public education.

One of this year's bills, which the House wrested from the (slightly) less-hateful-of-teachers Senate, takes us back to the day where nepotism and corruption ruled the hiring and firing of teachers. The Republican leaders in the Senate claimed the law was part of a solution to the teacher shortage and that it was "misunderstood." They killed the House version because of all the outcry from teachers and their supporters.

The House leaders, on the other hand, led by a florist-turned-self-declared-education-expert, are in the process of pushing the Senate version through to the Governor's desk. If the Governor should sign it (and it's an election year, so he might listen to the outcry against it) it will become law and the collective bargaining agreement between teachers and school boards can be overruled by back-room conversations and deals with no public input or accountability.

[Hoosier voters, write to your House legislators today and tell them to reject SB10 (which eliminates more collective bargaining rights) and SB334 (which expands the nation's most expansive giveaway of public funds to private schools through vouchers)]
There’s little Indiana lawmakers could do to further marginalize teacher unions, although some believe they’ve found a tool.

But Senate Bill 10 might be just what the struggling associations need to remind teachers of the value of collective bargaining. It gives superintendents the authority to pay some educators more than others, as they did in the days when some school chiefs paid male teachers more than their female colleagues or when a board member could insist on extra pay for a daughter-in-law. There’s no provision to limit the extra pay to teachers in hard-to-fill disciplines like math or special education.

Arbitrary compensation systems and other unfair management practices gave rise to Indiana’s collective bargaining law in 1973. A return to those practices will mobilize teachers in numbers the bill’s supporters can’t imagine.

Zombie teacher-pay bill rises from the dead
That should have been that. But Rep. Robert Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, picked up the supposedly dead SB 10 and waltzed it through the committee by a 7-4 party-line vote on Monday, the final day for committee action. It now goes to the full House.

Expect Behning to block any attempt to amend the bill. Any change would send the bill back to the Senate, which has said it won’t pass the measure again.


The big trouble in Indiana public schools, as explained by a troubled educator

What do teachers think about all this? Here's a sample.

The looming teacher shortage in Indiana is the same as in other parts of the nation. Fewer people are going into teaching because of stagnant salaries, lack of professional autonomy, and general disrespect of educators.
Yes, the mess in education isn’t just affecting those of us who are in education. First, legislators thought we weren’t doing our job, so they legislated the pay scale so good teachers would get paid more for their efforts. In reality, the legislature has capped teacher salaries, not allowing years of experience or education to fiscally matter. Being a highly effective or effective teacher results in a minuscule stipend, maybe enough to get the brakes fixed on your car.

Salaries for teachers statewide are stagnant. Your income does not rise over time. Families cannot be supported on a teacher’s salary over time, and yet college costs the same for them as it does to be an engineer.

I wonder why there’s a teacher shortage.


In 1954, for those old enough to remember, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education, that "separate educational facilities [for black and white children] are inherently unequal."

In a second ruling, PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 ET AL. in 2007, the Court essentially stripped Brown v. Board of Ed of all it's power. It told (emphasis added)
...local school districts that they cannot take even modest steps to overcome residential segregation and ensure that schools within their diverse cities themselves remain racially mixed unless they can prove that such classifications are narrowly tailored to achieve specific educational benefits.
The Justices who passed PARENTS, would argue that it didn't overturn Brown, but in the meantime, school districts around the nation were suddenly free to ignore segregation and close their eyes to continued separate facilities.

Study finds Indy charter schools increased segregation

Charters have added another level to the continued segregation of children in public schools. The charter school movement has increased segregation all over the country. The cure to the so-called "bigotry of low expectations" has made things worse.
The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University education professor Marc Stein and published last summer in the American Journal of Education, found that charter-school choice in Indy led to “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity” than in the public schools the students were leaving.

African-American students were more likely to enroll in charter schools with a higher concentration of black students than the neighborhood schools they left; and white students more likely to enroll in schools with a higher percentage of white enrollment.

The average white student in the analytic sample chose a charter school that enrolled 13.9 percentage points more white students and 13.1 percentage points fewer black students than their previously enrolled school. Concomitantly, black students chose to enroll in charters with enrollments that were 9.2 percent more black and 5.6 percent less white than their former schools.

As a result, charter schools were becoming more racially isolated. In 2008-09, only one charter school in the study met the city desegregation target of having its enrollment of black students within 15 percentage points of Indianapolis Public Schools. When the charter schools opened, five met the target.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

It's "That Time of Year" Again


While the supermajority in the Indiana legislature is busy thinking of ways to label students, further reduce collective bargaining for teachers, and divert even more taxpayer money to private schools through expansion of the nation's most expansive voucher program, teachers in the state's public schools are still trying to do the best they can for their students during a difficult part of the school year.

Yes, it's "that time of year" again, and instruction time will be limited while the tool used almost exclusively for labeling, blaming, and punishing, is filled out, and shipped off for grading.

It's time to take...

I've posted comments in the past from an experienced Indiana teacher who has been writing to me on and off for the last year. The last time was during last year's testing window. The latest email came yesterday.

This year, my teacher friend commented on how developmentally inappropriate the tests are...
[Where is the data] that shows how critical thinking, problem solving, abstract thinking, etc. are developed in the brain? I'm certain there is also data that shows the impact of genetics on these areas, as well as a scale showing that these 'aptitudes' grow/develop in stages in a child. It would also show that these aptitudes, and the time frames by which they develop, vary widely...very widely. Therefore, the tests are fatally flawed as a tool to determine 'skill' levels. Kids develop very differently, and I bet that very bright kids can blossom well after third grade.
I reminded her of the work done in developmental psychology by Piaget and Vygotsky. Given a rational approach to education her questions and my response would be the start of an interesting discussion about Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage (ages 7 through 11) and Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, but we don't live in a society with a rational approach to education.


I put Piaget and Vygotsky aside and instead wrote,
I will assume that this discussion on testing is not about whether we ought to have the tests or not. Because, believe it or not, there was a time when not every grade from K through 12 wasted weeks of the instructional year on testing specifically for the purpose of giving the school and school corporation a grade, evaluating teachers, and giving "reformers" fuel for privatizing public education through the redirection of funds to charters and vouchers. And, despite what you might have heard from legislators and politicians, that IS what the tests are used for. Frequent meetings about "data" are an expensive waste of time. The point of the meetings is finding ways to increase test scores – to "improve the data." The time spent on helping kids learn – really learn, not just improve their test scores – is limited. The tests and everything surrounding them are a monumental waste of time.
The school system in which this teacher works focuses on test scores, not because they aren't interested in true, high-quality education, but because, in order to survive in Indiana, public schools have been forced to obsess over tests, tests, more tests, and even more tests. Administrators, school board members, parents, students, and teachers, are all sick of the testing, because it really doesn't give the teachers anything more than what they already know from professional observation in the classroom and teacher assessments. It should not be used to guide instruction because 1) the results are rarely returned in a timely fashion, 2) it's unreliable information and 3) there are dozens of variables which are never tested that are important to the teaching/learning process. Student test scores based on arbitrary standards are pretty low on the list of what ought to be used to determine what to teach next. Unfortunately, testing companies are still out to make a buck and there are plenty of politicians who are willing to help them for a cut of the profits dumped into their campaign coffers.

Nevertheless, the questions my teacher friend asked were about the developmentally appropriateness of the tests. So I added,
I do think that 8 and 9 year olds are capable of higher level thinking...analysis, elaboration, evaluation, and synthesis. Critical thinking and problem solving are also within the skill range of many 8 and 9 year olds. The problem arises when someone has to come up with a contrived method of evaluating a child's way of using those skills. That's where 8 and 9 year olds have trouble because abstract thinking develops slowly. By 8 and 9 many children have grown to the point of understanding abstracts...but the understanding is still "childish," fluid, and unstable. For example...it's often during second and third grades when kids finally begin to understand the truth about Santa Claus...that he can be understood as an abstract, rather than a concrete human being (or elf). Even those who still believe are beginning to see that something isn't quite right with the story (Every chimney in the world in just one night?), and it takes a while for this understanding to sink in. The development of an internal understanding of abstraction doesn't just suddenly appear...it grows.

So, a well-written achievement test for third graders WOULD include questions about abstract thinking, and higher level thinking skills, because some of the kids might be at that level and a good standardized test always has a sizable amount of material at a higher level to help identify higher achieving students.

The important words in the last paragraph are "a well-written achievement test" and "a good standardized test." Neither of those phrases apply to ISTEP, or IREAD-3, or likely any test based on "standards" as we define them today.


In Rise Above the Mark, Linda Darling Hammond said,
The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we're using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we're using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.
The tests we use aren't fair because they judge children based on developmentally inappropriate standards. Achievement tests aren't designed to be "fair" or "unfair" in the way they judge students. They aren't designed to "judge" anything at all! They are designed to measure students' knowledge of the tested material.

If standardized tests are used at all they should be used by teachers and parents to identify areas of need for students and guide educators in planning for instruction. If that's not what's happening then we should stop using them. Period.

STOP using test scores to judge children.
STOP using test scores to evaluate teachers.
STOP using test scores to grade schools.