"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 29, 2016

Musical Interlude: That Satin Sound


Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born to two musicians on April 29, 1899.

He began his own musical career -- starting piano lessons -- at the age of 7. At 15 he wrote his first song (1914)...and spent the next 60 years writing and playing music.

During my "big band phase" Ellington was one of my favorites.

Check out the bios below...


Here are 12 excellent minutes of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

First, a couple of live entries...

One of my favorites...including the violin! It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) – 1931

This one's for Marty (So when's the next album coming out?). Satin Doll – 1953

Duke lent his skills to arranging some classical pieces, too. Here's Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt Suite – Arr. 1960

...and the Overture from the Nutcracker – Arr. (with Billy Strayhorn) 1960


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 Medley #12

Testing, Losing Our Way,
Vouchers, Charters, the Right-Wing


The following passage has no link. It was posted on Facebook by my wife who supervises student teachers for Indiana University. The passage below is from one of her students, a student teacher, who can already see what damage we are doing to our children. This is what happens when lobbyists for testing companies buy legislators.
I guess I didn't realize how draining ISTEP was on students (especially those with disabilities) until I experienced it myself. Their patience, motivation to do any work, and stamina was extremely low. I tried my best to help keep students motivated/upbeat but it did not work very well. I really did not do a lot of teaching this past week which is sad to me because there are a ton of kids not getting services...it is painful to watch these kids struggle through these tests.... It's just really tough to see students not even come close to being able to accomplish what is expected of them. These tests are not designed with students with any sort of special need at all.


America, You Great Unfinished Symphony

I read Bob Herbert's Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America last summer (2015). I had read an excerpt on Bill Moyer's web site and immediately got a copy. So far I've read it twice and both times I've been amazed at the insanity that is driving our nation to the brink of disaster.
  • We're sending our young men and women off to war without preparing for their return (not to mention that we're sending them off to war for no apparent reason).
  • We're letting our highways, bridges, and other necessary infrastructure deteriorate to a dangerous level because of tax inequality. We aren't collecting enough money to keep the country running (e.g. from large profitable companies paying no taxes such as Merck, Seagate, GM).
  • We're selling off our school system to people like Eva Moskowitz and companies like Pearson because the privatizers have sold American people the lie that our public schools are failing and only privatization can help.
  • ...much, much, more
The book review below (written by my daughter) asks
Why don’t we act? Why do we keep voting for candidates who don’t represent our interests? Herbert doesn’t have an answer for that–just a call to action that we keep refusing to take.
Click the link to read the whole review (at the original site, all ad revenue goes to fight cancer, so be sure to read it there). Then get a copy of Losing Our Way and read it. This is an important book.
Losing Our Way is just about the saddest book I’ve ever read. It took me well over a month to read it, even though it’s great, because I had to keep stopping so I wouldn’t sink into a terrible depression.

Losing Our Way is basically the story of everything that’s wrong with the United States today, from our failing infrastructure, to struggling schools, to wage stagnation and income inequality, to endless wars in the Middle East. Bob Herbert knows his stuff, and he doesn’t pull any punches. He illustrates the alarming statistics with stories of Americans, like the teenager who is struggling to finish high school while also working third shift to support her family, the woman whose back was broken in a bridge collapse in Minnesota, and the soldier whose legs were blown off by an IED in Afghanistan. Each story is alarming, depressing, and enlightening. I think a lot of Americans have felt for years that something was not quite right in the United States, and Herbert is able to connect the dots.
Here is Herbert's keynote address at this year's NPE National Conference in Raleigh.


School Daze: Some Colo. Parents Are Demanding Taxpayer Money For Religious Education

Americans United for Separation of Church and State understands what the Indiana Supreme Court does not – that students have a right to a taxpayer funded education, not a taxpayer funded religious education. No other public service allows citizens to earmark their tax money for a privatized version of the service (although there are people who wish that weren't so).  We don't give vouchers for books and deduct that from the public library fund. We don't give vouchers for private security services and then shortchange city, county, and state police departments. People can't refuse to pay for public parks because they have a nice yard...or refuse to pay for road maintenance because they don't drive.

Public education should be no different.
The thing is, no parent is being denied a religious education for their child if that’s what they want. Just because they have to pay for that education themselves without government assistance doesn’t mean anyone is being treated unfairly.

Americans United opposes vouchers because they are so frequently government bailouts for religious schools. That’s what IJ is seeking in its lawsuit and while all students have the right to a quality public education, none have the right to publicly funded religious instruction.

Fortunately the Colorado Supreme Court has already weighed in on this matter. Let’s hope this latest attempt to force taxpayers to subsidize sectarian education is quickly dismissed.

Maryland’s Mistake: Vouchers Comes To The Free State

The Washington Post, owned by privatizer billionaire Jeff Bezos, was thrilled that the Democrats, who have a majority in the Maryland legislature, passed a voucher bill for their state. Apparently the Post thinks that the lead poisoning that started Freddie Gray on his way towards his death at the hands of the police could have been prevented had he gone to a private or parochial school.
Observed the newspaper, “They stressed the urgency of helping young black men in the city. Education…is key to better futures, and the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last April shone new light on the shortcomings of the public school system and the injustice that does.”

Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old man who was arrested by Baltimore police in April of 2015 for possessing a switchblade. He received rough treatment in police custody and later died of a broken neck. Six police officers have been charged in his death. The legal cases against them are ongoing.

It’s clear this was a tragic incident. What’s not so clear is how vouchers might prevent it from happening in the future.
Public funds ought to go to public services which serve everyone. Voucher schools, too often, don't.
Instead of weakening public education by siphoning money away to private, religious schools that elevate preaching over teaching and retain the right to kick anyone out who doesn’t agree, Maryland lawmakers would have done better to focus on the public schools that need help. After all, these are the institutions that are educating the vast majority of Maryland’s young people.


Charter School Begins Shutting Down—Students are Pushed Out

If you don't think "it's all about the money," think again.

Real public schools, belong to their community. Community public schools build a history of children and grandchildren attending the same school that parents and grandparents attended. There is stability in the teaching staff...teachers at such schools often spend their entire careers in one school. That stability and continuity is good for children and the community.

"reform" has given us instability in the form of charter schools which can, and often do, close at a moment's notice...charter schools which take the money and run...charter schools with no publicly elected school board, high teacher turnover, and profit for shareholders driving the bottom line.

Here we have a charter school which closed, leaving parents and children to scramble for a new school. This is the "free market" at work. A private school that can't make it closes and students are returned to the public school...which, by law, must take everyone. We should not be spending public funds on charter schools. We should be repairing and improving our community, neighborhood and small town schools instead.
Milwaukeeans were shocked to find out that the troubled North Point Lighthouse Charter School gave parents just a few days’ notice in February that it would shut down three grades before closing down entirely at the end of the school year.

But as the Shepherd can report exclusively, the school, chartered by the City of Milwaukee, will keep the state aid for the estimated 60 students who have been transferred from the school, even though they won’t finish the school year there.

How Charters Destabilize Public School Districts: Let Us Count the Ways

Charters don't succeed any better than real public schools. They have ways of avoiding hard-to-educate students. They have ways of avoiding the accountability that is required of real public schools. Patrons of charter schools can't go to a publicly accountable school board with questions or complaints.

Charters are private corporations taking our tax money and only sometimes using that money for the benefit of students.
Three recent press reports—from Nevada, Chicago, Illinois, and Massachusetts—document how expansion of charter schools is undermining the public schools that serve the majority of students including those with the greatest needs. The same theory of charter school expansion operates all three locations—competition, innovation, and growing opportunity for students who have been left behind. Instead all three recent articles describe diversion of desperately needed public tax dollars, destabilization of public schools, lack of regulation, and all sorts of ways that students with the greatest needs get left farther behind.

Charter schools exploit accountability loophole

Charters can legally work "behind closed doors." What could go wrong?
But the accountability promise made in 2001 counts for little when the authorizer is a private college or an appointed state board filled with a majority of charter-friendly members. When Ball State threatened to revoke charters for poor-performing schools, some charter operators simply shopped for another sponsor. Thus, Timothy L. Johnson Academy – formerly sponsored by Ball State – is now overseen by Trine University. In total, four schools facing the loss of their BSU charters operate today under private oversight.

How did Trine, Grace College and others determine that failing schools deserve a second chance? Only they know – Indiana law allowed the private schools to tap into millions of dollars in taxpayer-provided tuition support with no public oversight.


Cruz is Right to Blame Public Schools for People Not Buying His Crackpot Ideas

What used to be "extreme right-wing" has now become mainstream.
This is funny for other reasons too. Really. It is. Because Ted Cruz is right about something. But he thinks it’s a bad thing when really, it’s good. Because it shows that the educational system works by teaching kids history and geography – the old “reading, writing and arithmetic.” But it also teaches kids to think for themselves.

Ted Cruz and his type call being taught to think “indoctrination,” when in fact is an immunization against indoctrination. The indoctrination Cruz is pushing with his “constitutional conservatism.”

As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to Charles Yancey in 1816, “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Which is why Republicans hate public education with a purple passion.

Bruner: Pre-K Programs Are Federal Plot to Make Children Gay

This candidate for the Texas State School Board will likely be elected. She follows in the tradition of Don McLeroy who famously said, "Somebody's gotta stand up to experts..." because those same "experts" disagreed with his religious beliefs. There are way too many people who will vote for her because they believe that being educated corrupts you. [See Listen to Experts]
As with pretty much all of her other comments, she offers no evidence to back up any of her claims and we’re left to offer only wild guesses as to where in the world she got this one. Or where she got the one about President Obama working as a gay prostitute to finance a drug habit. Or the one about LBJ assassinating JFK. Or the one about baby dinosaurs starving themselves into extinction after they left Noah’s ark. Or that there are cobras sneaking into the country.

If you’re just finding out about Bruner, you probably think we’re making this up. But we’re not. Here’s our blog file on her to prove it.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 Medley #11 – Money

Money, Privatization, and Profit


Dear White Educators

An open letter to white educators.

Few bloggers write with the passion, intensity, and insight of James Boutin. In this piece he explores his journey as a white man coming to terms with his own privilege.
At some point in time, all of us have to sit down and take inventory. We have to clear the smoke from the mirror and really look at ourselves. In this difficult process, we come to realize that as we come to accept ourselves, we also must learn to accept that much of who we are is rooted, like it or not, in the roles society has created for us. To deny this is fantasy.

For you see,
"All the world's a stage,
And all men and all women are merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances;
and one man in his time plays many parts,..."
Nobody else can play your role. I do not get to run from or deny my whiteness. It is one of the many parts of my role for which I am responsible to play in this life. No, I did not have a choice, but that does not alleviate me from facing a socially constructed identity for my public life that history demands I own.


Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State, and the Nuisance of Democracy

Speaking of privilege...here's an interesting take on philanthropy.

Many of the "gifts" that the super wealthy give through their foundations are tax-exempt. In that way, the money is partially subsidized by American taxpayers, who make up the difference in the amount of taxes the wealthy don't have to pay because of such loopholes.
Regardless of political stands or projects, all philanthro-barons with their own foundations are generously subsidized by taxpayers. When a baron says, “It’s my money to use as I please,” he or she is wrong. A substantial portion of every tax-exempt foundation’s wealth—39.6 percent at the top tax bracket for filing in 2016—is diverted each year from the public treasury, where voters would have determined its use.43 Taxpayers subsidize not only the philanthropy of the Koch brothers, Soros, and the others but also their political work. Part of the megaphilanthropist’s wealth goes into a personal cache; part goes into a tax-exempt cache. The money saved by not paying taxes goes wherever the philanthropist wants, including to political work.

American democracy is growing ever more plutocratic—a fact that should worry all admirers of government by the people. Big money rules, but multibillionaires acting as philanthropists aggravate the problem by channeling vast sums into the nation’s immense nonprofit sector. Their top-down modus operandi makes this a powerful tool for shaping public policy according to individual beliefs and whims. And they receive less critical scrutiny than other actors in public life. Most people admire expressions of generosity and selflessness and are loath to find fault. In addition, anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.


Drastic Public School Cuts in Memphis—The New America

In the past, schools closed or opened because of population changes. With the privatization of public education we've seen schools closed because of the economic condition of their neighborhood, and then replaced with publicly funded, privately run, charter schools [See Chicago and Boston].

Instead of supporting, improving, and encouraging neighborhood schools, privatizers in board rooms, executive offices and state legislators are closing schools and dumping the students into privatized new schools. The "community school" is disappearing. Those schools were often a central part of a community where teachers spent their careers and taught children and grandchildren of former students. With the loss of community schools a symbol of stability and cohesion has disappeared.
This new wave of cuts in major cities like Memphis is especially troubling. It signals the end of public schooling as we know it.

Is it even legal?

In the meantime, we get to watch little kids who should be home playing or spending time with their families, parading around with signs begging adults to keep their school programs open.

This isn’t just Memphis. It is America. This is what we’ve become.


ALEC Relentlessly Cashes in on Kids and their Public Schools

Public schools are closing, charter schools are opening, and public funds are being diverted to private and parochial schools through vouchers. Why? Mainly because there is a whole s**t-load of money to be made from public tax revenues directed at education.

There are some, of course, for whom the public schools are a danger to their faith. For example, Jerry Falwell famously said, "I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" Falwell, his followers, and their political descendants, are against public schools specifically because they don't teach religion.

There are others who are against public schools because of the teachers unions. They ignore the fact that schools are run by administrations and school boards, and claim, instead, that the unions are the ones making the rules.

There is a substantial amount of overlap among these groups, but the driving force behind the privatization movement is money...and the intensity in which ALEC churns out anti-public-education model legislation is proof. The "non-profit" group is intent on the privatization and profitizing of public education.
“Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015… ALEC’s education task force has pushed legislation for decades to privatize public schools, weaken teacher’s unions and lower teaching standards. ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. ALEC model bills divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of ‘voucher’ and ‘tuition tax credit’ programs. They promote unaccountable charter schools and shift power away from democratically elected local school boards.”


College Debt, Regret, and Readiness

How does the cost of higher education limit and damage the future of today's young adults? How do young men and women from poor families pay for college? How long do they end up paying for their education after (if) they graduate? How many graduates end up paying for an education in a field in which they can't find work?
...we have an entire generation of Americans for whom college costs are the biggest problem in their lives. They can't afford to put money into the economy. They postpone buying homes and having children. They struggle with the stress and strain of living under the shadow of huge debt. How can the fact that some are required to take remedial college courses be a huge issue that must be screamed regularly from the rooftops, but the house of debt that has been dropped on them (amidst promises that college would be their passport to the middle class) merit barely a mention?

How can we pretend to talk about making students college and career ready and not talk about the crushing cost of college?


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Choice – No Choice, Part II, Choosing Profits over Children

A few weeks ago I posted Choice – No Choice, a rant about how the "choice" that "reformers" are so excited about is selective. They don't, for example, want parents to have the choice of opting out of "the test."
"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.


The "choice" it seems, is only among ways that will put money into corporate or church pockets. Private school coffers (vouchers) and corporate CMOs (charters) are part of the "choice" parents can exercise. In other words, we can use vouchers to give public tax money to churches and we can enrich unaccountable charter schools, their corporate boards, and CEOs. However, parents don't have any choice when it comes to restricting the amount of tax dollars flowing into the pockets of Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Everyone must take "the test." Our state legislators have made that "choice" for us all.

In the early years of "reform," we were told that "choice" would open up the public schools to competition. Good schools would proliferate and the bad ones (the ones with poor kids) would close. "Choice" was important because it would improve education for everyone.

When "reformers" found out how hard educating students actually was, however, that reason fell by the wayside and we are now told that parents should have "choice" for "choice's" sake. We're told that parents ought to have the option of public funding for their children's education no matter where they choose to send them. Thus we have the situation in Indiana where millions of tax dollars are going to "failing" private schools and charters.

And by "failing" schools, I mean those schools with high numbers of poor children. Since the only way "reformers" can come up with to judge the quality of schools is by test scores, and we know that standardized tests measure a child's economic status more than anything else, it's generally safe to assume that a "failing" school is one with high numbers of poor children.

Could it be that getting all that taxpayer money into the church and corporate pockets was the purpose of "choice" in the first place?


Vouchers now cost the taxpayers of Indiana $135 million. More millions are going to charter schools run by unaccountable corporate boards instead of publicly elected school boards. And Indiana has had their share of charter schools which have squandered funds meant for children's education.

That's more than $135 million that the taxpayers of Indiana paid so that the state could support quality public schools for everyone. That's more than $135 million that could should have been used for programs and for wraparound services for all children, especially those in need. It should have been used for services like full-time school nurses, social workers, and guidance counselors. It should have been used for programs like the arts and physical education more than once a week, libraries staffed by librarians, and academic support services for struggling students.

Instead, public schools are losing much needed funds which get funneled into private schools and privately run charter schools.


Do students who attend private and privately run schools receive a better education?

D and F private schools awarded more than $8 million in vouchers
According to state accountability letter grades, released earlier this year, 16 private voucher schools received a grade of D or F. Ten of the 16 private schools were in Allen and Marion counties.

Horizon Christian Academy in Fort Wayne was the largest recipient receiving $1,306,617 in vouchers. The school earned a letter grade of F in 2015.
Note: The Horizon schools in Fort Wayne, were originally charter schools. Ball State University withdrew their charters because of poor performance, so they reopened as private schools...

Most Indianapolis charter schools scored below the Indianapolis Public Schools average on ISTEP
Many Indiana schools saw rock-bottom passing rates on last year’s tougher ISTEP exam but in a city where public and charter schools compete for students, it’s worth noting that a majority of charter schools in the city had passing rates below the district’s average.

Just 29.1 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students passed the 2015 ISTEP. That’s far below the statewide average of 52.5 percent but many charters posted even lower scores. Three of the charter schools that had the lowest scores in the city have since closed.

Voucher program promotes religion, not better education
Voucher students were eligible to receive $134.7 million in taxpayer-funded tuition assistance this year, the report said. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 300 private schools that enroll voucher students are religious schools. With maybe three exceptions, those are Christian schools, primarily Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Protestant.

Proponents used to argue that the program saved the state money, because it would have cost more to send the kids to public schools. But with a majority of voucher students never having attending public school, they can no longer make that claim.

When the voucher program was created in 2011, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels emphasized the idea that students should attend a public school for a year to qualify. It was only fair, he said, that public schools should get a chance to show they could meet the children’s needs. But that idea fell by the wayside as legislators created additional ways to qualify.
Yes, there are successful private and charter schools in our state, just as there are successful public schools in Indiana. It's important to understand, however, that private and charter schools, as a group, do not do any better than public schools as a group.

And if they don't do any better, why don't we use public funds for all of our public school students? Why don't we provide extra resources for our most difficult to educate students: students for whom English is a second language, students who come from impoverished backgrounds, and students who have difficulty learning.

Public funds ought to go to public schools and every neighborhood and town ought to have fully funded, high quality public schools for their children.

For all children.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

2016 Medley #10: Vergara Overturned

Vergara Overturned

Two years ago a judge in California found for plaintiffs who essentially claimed that low student achievement of  children in poverty was caused by due process and teachers unions. They blamed due process, sometimes called "teacher tenure" for allowing "bad teachers" to remain in the classroom. Here's what I said back then.

2014 Medley #15: Reactions to Vergara

How many bad teachers are there in California...and why do they seem to be located only in schools with high levels of student poverty?
  • FACT: High levels of poverty interferes with student learning to a much larger degree than is publicly acknowledged by "reformers."
  • FACT: Many states (here, for example) aware permanent status to K-12 teachers giving them the right to an impartial hearing in disputes. The right is to due processwhich simply means that there must be a legitimate reason to fire them. This is frequently misnamed "Tenure."
After an extended discussion with a (non-teacher) friend who lives in California it's clear that there are some aspects of California laws that could be changed. California has one of the shortest probationary periods in the country before permanent status is awarded. It was also clear that (in my friend's opinion) the process of firing a teacher for cause in California is too cumbersome and takes too long (similar objections have been made about the process in New York and other states).
This week the appellate court reversed the decision. Here's what the California Teachers Association had to say...

Breaking News: Vergara Overturned!
“This is a great day for educators and, more importantly, for students,” said CTA President Eric C. Heins. “Today’s ruling reversing Treu’s decision overwhelmingly underscores that the laws under attack have been good for public education and for kids, and that the plaintiffs failed to establish any violation of a student’s constitutional rights. Stripping teachers of their ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise and the appellate court justices saw that.”

...and from  NEA...

Vergara v. State of California Decision Reversed
“Today was a win for our educators, our schools and most importantly, our students.

"Now we must return to working on real solutions to ensure all of our students succeed. Only when teachers, school boards, and administrators work together can we ensure that there is a great public school for every student.

"The Vergara v. State of California lawsuit was an example of using our court system for political goals. The unanimous three-judge panel's opinion states it clearly. The plaintiffs' case--instead of addressing and proposing solutions to the real problems--focused on the wrong issues, proposed the wrong solutions, and used the wrong legal process. It was not about helping students and has become a divisive distraction from the real work needed to improve student success.
Peter Greene, at Curmudgucation, did his usual excellent job of analysis. First, the reason Vergara was pursued in the first place...

Vergara Pt. II-- Now What?
There is no question that Vergara (and the New York case and the new Minnesota case) were breathed to life for one reason and one reason only-- to try to stick it to those damn unions. We know the people-- we've read their articles, talked with them on twitter, seen them in the comments section of a thousand different online conversations. They hate the union. Hate it. They think the roadblock to everything decent and good is the teachers' union, that the teachers' union is a giant scam to make teachers and union reps rich while thwarting the plans of brilliant visionaries who just want to be free to implement their grand design without having to answer to anybody, least of all the hired help. They think that public schools are a scam that the union came up with to suck the taxpayers dry while teachers sit and eat bon-bons and ignore the cries of downtrodden children. They hate the union, and like many people on many sides of many issues these days, they are looking for any argument, no matter how disingenuous and cynically constructed, that can be used to make the union shut up and go away.
He continued with a good description of why teacher seniority is a positive thing...and why job protections such as due process (aka tenure) are important.
I believe that the benefits of a seniority-based system are huge. Huge. It incentivizes people to look at teaching as a career, a job to which they can devote their entire life, which in turn encourages them to be the very best they can be and to invest themselves in training and self-improvement. It gives stability and institutional memory to a school, creating ties that bind a community together and making a school a community institution that connects people to a history that matters. It helps draw good people to the work because you may not ever be paid real well, but at least you don't have to spend half your time worrying about losing your job over something stupid. And it protects teachers so that they can do their job like professionals with an educational mission instead of political appointees who are busy trying to suck up to whoever has the power to fire them this week.
School boards and teachers unions negotiate together for a contract. Outside arbitrators can be used when there are stalemates. The two parties should work together to give teachers a decent contract which includes ways to help teachers who need help and to remove teachers who are not doing their jobs.

There is no need to keep bad teachers in the classroom. Teachers and school boards can work together to help school systems function efficiently and allow teachers to teach. Due process for teachers means that administrators have to do their jobs and document why they think a particular teacher needs to be removed from the classroom, and what they have done to help the teacher improve.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Random Quotes – April 2016

I'm on vacation this week. Most of my comments are short so I'll let the quotes speak for themselves. I finish my week off with attendance at the 3rd Annual Network for Public Education Conference in Raleigh, NC. See you there.


Say No to Standardized Tests

From Russ Walsh
...The only thing that standardized tests measure with any certainty is the relative income levels of the children who attend that school...

How To Promote the Test

Peter Greene has written an instant classic.

From Peter Greene
"Sure, we could have built a new school and filled it with just the kids who do well on the SCHNARCC. But that would have meant abandoning the rest of them, the ones who showed the most need in those test results. Why start from scratch for just a few students when we can invest in what we already have and serve all students?"

Governor Pat Jones chimed into the conversation. "That was when my office got involved. If the tests are showing pockets of poverty in the state that keep our students stuck behind their wealthier peers, then clearly we need to address the issues of poverty in the state while at the same time addressing the specific resource needs of districts like Upper Baldweasel, as well as long hard conversations about system inequities and, frankly, some of the racist impulses behind those inequities...

PARCC testing begins again but still no opt-out policy

Threats to punish students who don't take the test...

From Student Dontae Chatman quoted in the Chicago Sun Times
My school is threatening to take away our field day to students who refuse PARCC, I think we all should get treated the same way, if we take it or if we don’t take it.

Testing time at schools: Is there a better way?

We all know about the wasted time and energy of the standardized tests and all the test-prep that goes along with it. This quote, however, struck me because of the last phrase..."scores on fourth-grade exams are among the factors New York City middle schools consider for admission."

Kids and parents are expected to apply to middle schools and high schools like students applying for college. What happened to the concept of every neighborhood having an excellent public school? I went to a K-8 elementary school a half mile from my house. My 9-12 high school was a short bus ride away (on the CTA – Bus 96).

From Kelly Wallace of CNN
Those tests are especially on the mind of my fourth-grader. Testing begins on her 10th birthday (poor girl!) plus she knows, even though we've never discussed it, that scores on fourth-grade exams are among the factors New York City middle schools consider for admission.


Ohio: 50 School Districts Have Billed the State for Costs of Charters

Here is a list of Ohio school districts which have sent a bill to the state for funds diverted from public schools to charters!

From Diane Ravitch
CONGRATULATIONS to Bill Phillis and the 50 public school districts that have adopted resolutions to bill the state for charter school deductions!

Public money for schools is lining private pockets

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union. Here he identifies the main problem with the privatization movement...it takes resources away from fully accountable public schools and gives them to private organizations.

from Ari Klein
Somehow, in the twisted thinking of our state legislature, tax money collected for our school district is diverted to several private enterprises over which our district has no control, and financially supports students the district does not serve.

The beatings will continue until morale improves…

Education "reform" has failed to help students learn. "reform" is simply a way of privatizing the public education system for personal profit. Follow the money.

From Todd Gazda, Superintendent, Ludlow Public Schools (MA)
After 20 years of these standardize accountability driven based policies our nation’s scores on the international PISA test are essentially flat and achievement gaps remain. At what point do we stop blaming teachers and the system rather than focusing the blame squarely where it belongs: on these education “reform” policies that have failed our schools.


Teachers of the year in their home states

What do teachers of the year see happening in their own states? Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, a social studies teacher from Washington, sees a profession in distress.

From Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington
...said he has seen an “exodus” of mid-career teachers who are fed up. “There’s a lot of demoralized educators right now,” he told Morning Education. “A demoralized educator just isn’t as effective. … And I don’t see any efforts to change that coming out of policy.” Teacher pay and working conditions are problems, he said, but a bigger problem is that teachers don’t feel valued or empowered.

Chicago Teacher: Why We Will Strike

On April 1, 2016, the Chicago Teachers Union staged a one-day walkout to highlight the lack of funding and resources for public schools, while charters proliferate, in the city school system. As usual, it's about more than just money.

by Michelle Gunderson
A teachers’ contract is not just about money. It’s an agreement between government and a community about how children will be treated.


I Love Libraries: FAQ's and Definitions

The public schools I've worked in have never had school librarians...[emphasis added]
A school library without a librarian is like a classroom without a teacher. An effective school library program involves more than making books available to students and letting learners borrow those books. An effective school library program supports students’ learning and their exploration of the world. School librarians can:
  • match students with appropriate resources,
  • co-teach lessons that require research and technology skills, and
  • help students develop inquiry and information-literacy skills they will need throughout their lives.
In addition, school librarians provide professional development to other educators in their schools. Certified school librarians make the whole school more effective. They teach students how to learn and help teachers drive student success.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

LEARN or be Punished


We're still living in the NCLB Era...and will be until the test-and-punish methods of state and federal legislators are left behind.

Until then, punishment is the norm.

Public schools and public school systems can be punished by funding cuts, school closings, and turnarounds. Teachers can be punished by salary freezes, reduced job protections, and evaluations based on test scores. Students are punished by all of the above...plus retention in grade.

Few topics in education have been as well researched as retention in grade. The research is consistent, yet retention has been the go-to intervention when public education fails a child. It's so entrenched in our public education psyche that when state legislators want to "guarantee success by third grade," they do it by retaining children as punishment for not learning.


A few weeks ago, Indiana's third graders took the IREAD-3 test. The purpose of the test is defined on the State DOE's web site,
The purpose of the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD-3) assessment is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three. Based on the Indiana Academic Standards, IREAD-3 is a summative assessment that was developed in accordance with HEA 1367 (also known as PL 109 from 2010) which "requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in grade three beginning in the Spring of 2012 to ensure that all students can read proficiently before moving on to grade four."
In 2015 more than 13,400 third graders failed to pass IREAD-3. I don't know how many of those 13,400 were retained-in-grade. Those who did not pass the IREAD-3 had the opportunity to retake the test last summer. If they failed a second time, they either had to qualify for a “good cause exemption” (usually ELL and special needs students) or take the test again this March as a third grader. The law says that those who fail don't have to be retained, but they must
...continue to receive Grade 3 reading and literacy instruction...
It's up to the local school and district to decide how to handle that.

Perhaps politicians adopted the third grade test and retain policy in order to ensure that all third graders were reading at a proficient level, as they claim. The result, however, is that IREAD-3 is a tool put in place by legislators in order to punish 8 and 9 year old children for not learning to read fast enough or well enough. The reasons they didn't/couldn't learn at the speed required by the state might be varied. Perhaps...
  • their school didn't or wasn't able to provide early intervention because of budget cuts
  • they lived with family and community problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, violence, or absentee parents, and the mental health and emotional problems that result from such conditions
  • they didn't have enough food
  • they didn't receive adequate medical, mental health, or dental care,
  • they didn't have a stable shelter or were homeless
  • they lived in an area with environmental toxins, like lead
Note: The legislature does not assume any responsibility for the economic condition of the families of children subjected to this test. They do not acknowledge that the effects of living in poverty has any correlation with low student achievement. The legislature ignores the negative research behind retention and the possible damage done to students' academic and emotional lives.

The burden is on third grade children.

Learn or be punished!

[For more information on retention in grade see Research on Retention in Grade]


Monday, April 4, 2016

2016 Medley #9

Book Review, Vouchers, Reading Recovery, Reading Instruction, Read-Aloud, Gates, Finland


Russ Walsh's new book, A Parent's Guide to Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child, is now available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Walsh is a literacy expert, Coordinator of College Reading at Rider University, and blogger at Russ on Reading.

A Parent's Guide to Education in the 21st Century isn't just for parents. It's for anyone who wants to understand the "reform" agenda and what it has done to American public education. Call it "reform" 101. Walsh clearly outlines the ways that the "reform" movement has damaged the nation's public education system and harmed the education of children.

It's not misnamed, however. He includes chapters for parents (of benefit to teachers as well) on identifying a good school, good instruction, and helping children succeed.

The book begins with his Bill of Rights for School Children...which ought to be posted in every public school in the nation...and includes informative chapters on standardized tests, the privatization of public education, and the Common Core. A must read...

For example, from Chapter 3: Readiness For School
It is not your child's job to be ready for school; it is the school's job to be ready for your child, and to meet your child's needs through rich curriculum, highly trained teachers and a system of learning supports.
...and from Chapter 11: School Choice: Charter Schools and Vouchers
In our society we have come to recognize that choice is a good thing as long as it does not interfere with others' choices. What if an inner-city parent's choice is to send a child to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally staffed, neighborhood public school? By draining away the limited funds available for public education, charter schools and voucher schemes infringe on that parent's choice. It would be wise to spend our public tax monies on providing good local public schools. In public education, as with smoking and seatbelts and the military, the government must choose to limit our choice in order to provide for, as the Constitution says, "the common good." Public education is a common good that privatization in the form of charters and vouchers will destroy.


Less-than-full disclosure

The distribution of public tax money ought to be under the watchful eye of the public. Elected school boards, no matter what their limitations, are held accountable to the public through elections. Every penny in every public school in Indiana is accounted for. Why, then, is money awarded to private schools through vouchers or to SGOs to award "scholarships" to private schools, with no public oversight whatsoever?

What happened to the $116 million that Indiana spent on privatization in 2014-2015 (and even more for the current year)? Was it used for instruction? If so, how did the students perform? Was the money used for building additions, church steeples, or CEO salaries?
For taxpayers, however, there’s a gaping hole in accountability. Reports are available for public schools, including charters; not for voucher schools. The state awarded almost $116 million to private and parochial schools in 2014-15, but the General Assembly does not require posting and publication of voucher school performance reports.

After 10-year fight, Md. lawmakers vote to fund private-school scholarships

The Democrats in Maryland have abandoned public education in favor of vouchers. Which of the two main political parties do public educators turn to now?
After years of resisting, and over the objections of the state teachers union, Maryland lawmakers have agreed to state-funded private-school scholarships.

The decision to create a $5 million grant program was part of the negotiations on the state’s $42 billion operating budget, which received final approval in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on Tuesday.


Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

I was trained in Reading Recovery in 1999 and taught in the program for seven years. I used the techniques and knowledge I gained even after the program was canceled. I still use the skills I learned as a Reading Recovery teacher in my volunteer work with first graders.

Reading Recovery is a one-on-one tutoring program for at-risk first graders. It works, but because it's a program for individual students, it's expensive. A Reading Recovery teacher can only work with a few students during the school year. Most school systems in my part of the state have stopped using it because of funding shortages.

Yet, how important is teaching reading to a first grader? How much is it worth? Is it worth the cost of a $2 billion mobile cannon which was never used? Is it worth the tax we ought to be, but aren't, collecting from GE, CBS, or Mattel? Is it worth the money spent to (over)compensate Wall St. Execs who caused the Great Recession?

Would it be worth it if we could pay the salaries (at @ $90,000 salary and benefits) of more than 2,000 Reading Recovery teachers for the next 10 years with the money we spent on the cannon that was never used? My guess is that the city of Flint, Michigan might need some extra help for the next few years.

Instead we're spending billions of dollars on standardized tests, vouchers, and charters...as well as cannons, tax write offs, and exorbitant salaries.

Priorities, America. Priorities.
"...in schools throughout the United States and in other countries, there is a well-defined group of struggling readers that can readily be taught to read. The evidence establishes, beyond any doubt, that nothing about these children means they are doomed to fail in reading.”

...“In a country as wealthy as the United States,” he says, “why should every struggling reader not have access to Reading Recovery or a tutoring program with equal evidence of effectiveness? The reading success of first graders is far too important to leave to chance, yet in this as in many other areas of education reform, vulnerable children are left to chance every day. Why can’t educators use what they know to solve the problems they can solve, while working at the same time to expand their knowledge?"

10 Reading Instruction Non-Negotiables

Here's a second shout-out to Russ Walsh. Along with his Bill of Rights for School Children, this list of non-negotiables for a good reading program ought to be required reading for parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Here he lists components of a true reading program instead of the prepackaged test prep and constant assessment that is strangling the joy of reading in our schools. His list includes things like shared reading, self-selected reading, rereading, and word work, complete with research to back everything up.

Here's what he says about my favorite part of the teaching day, Reading Aloud...
One of the more disturbing aspects of current trends in literacy education is the reports I keep getting from classroom teachers who tell me that reading aloud is being discouraged because it is not "rigorous" enough or because more time needs to be devoted to test prep. So, let me state this as clearly as I possibly can, read aloud is a central part of effective literacy instruction and should be happening daily in every classroom. This is not open for debate. Don't take my word for it, here is a list of 13 scientifically based reasons for reading aloud to children. Among these well researched benefits are exposing students to a greater variety of literature, encouraging students to view reading as a part of their daily life, building background knowledge, providing a model of fluent reading, encouraging student talk about text, increasing vocabulary and helping students view reading as a pleasurable activity. Here is another resource on the importance of reading aloud.

When choosing a read aloud, I would encourage teachers to choose the very best that literature and informational text has to offer, whether that be picture books, novels, histories or scientific texts. When reading aloud, we can aim high because kids listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension by about two years and because we can easily scaffold their understanding by "thinking aloud" about the text as we read. Read aloud also provides a great opportunity for teachers to model important comprehension strategies. Just do it.
Need more resources for reading aloud?


Hillsborough schools to dismantle Gates-funded system that cost millions to develop

When are we going to stop taking education advice from Bill Gates? When are we going to quit letting him experiment with America's students?

Just because Bill Gates is rich doesn't mean he knows anything about the education of children.
[Superintendent] Eakins said he envisions a new program featuring less judgmental "non-evaluative feedback" from colleagues and more "job-embedded professional development," which is training undertaken in the classroom during the teacher work day rather than in special sessions requiring time away from school. He said in his letter that these elements were supported by "the latest research."


Why Finnish school students lead the world on Life Matters

Here's an Australian radio interview with Fulbright Scholar William Doyle about Finnish education. He talks about the strong teaching profession, and the focus on how to help children learn, rather than how to be #1 in educational assessment.

A Finnish teacher quoted by William Doyle
Our job is to protect children from politicians.