"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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Random Quotes – May 2016


About Those School Lunches…

OpenSecrets.Org tells us this about Lobbying
The primary goal of much of the money that flows through U.S. politics is this: Influence. Corporations and industry groups, labor unions, single-issue organizations - together, they spend billions of dollars each year to gain access to decision-makers in government, all in an attempt to influence their thinking.
Just how much did the top three industries spend on lobbying in 2015?
Total for Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $230,693,261

Total for Insurance: $156,801,882

Total for Oil and Gas: $129,836,004
Think about those totals when you pay for your medications, your insurance premiums, and the energy needed to power your car and heat your home. How much of your dollars are going to pay for lobbyists who work against your interests?

Which sets the stage for the following simple and important quote...

From Sheila Kennedy
...poor kids don’t have lobbyists...


The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten

We have pushed down the curriculum and now expect kindergarteners to learn what first graders learned a generation ago -- and then we blame the children for not learning and their teachers for not teaching.

From Dianemarie
It may satisfy politicians to see children perform inappropriately difficult tasks like trained circus animals. However, if we want our youngest to actually learn, we will demand the return of developmentally appropriate kindergarten.


It Takes a Policy

We are only one of three nations in the world who invest more money in schools for our wealthy children than for our poor children. We have one of the highest childhood poverty rates – nearly 25% – of any advanced nation in the world and we know that students who live in poverty have out of school factors which inhibits their achievement.

"Reformist" politicians, instead of taking responsibility for the high levels of poverty in our nation, blame schools and teachers for low achievement.

Instead of investing in our future – our children – we're wasting tax dollars on privatizing our education system.

From Paul Krugman
America is unique among advanced countries in its utter indifference to the lives of its youngest citizens.

...In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families.

...it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. So it’s an incredible waste, not just for families but for the nation as a whole, that so many children’s futures are stunted because their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them as well as they should. And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.


Now reformers want to "give back" New Orleans charters. 'Can't avoid democracy forever'.

Local public schools provide more stability than "market forces."

From Mike Klonsky
...eliminating neighborhood schools has undermined the most vulnerable students by uprooting them from their communities and scattering them to schools citywide.


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

It's almost as if they purposely wanted to create a teacher shortage.

From school counselor Brenda L. Yoder
"...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..."


A master teacher went to court to challenge her low evaluation. What her win means for her profession.

This teacher decided that it was time to take a stand against testing companies and "reformers."

From Carol Burris
It is time for the madness to stop. It is time for other teachers to stand up and legally challenge their scores. And it is past time for taxpayers to stop these silly measures that cost them millions while enriching test companies and the research firms that produce the teacher scores.


#TeacherAppreciationWeek? Enough, already.

Teaching is high intensity work and teachers carry their job with them wherever they go, sometimes physically, usually mentally, often emotionally. Most teachers have take-home paperwork...themes, assignments, or tests to grade, but they also bring home the mental and emotional quandaries which they deal with every day in the classroom. While fixing dinner a teacher may think about how to reach the hard to educate child in their classroom. While watching TV a teacher might worry about the child living with a dangerous home life. Most teachers don't leave the classroom when they go home at night.

From Aubyn Scolnick
Teaching during the school year isn't a full time job. It's a full time life.


"His freedom guarantees mine": J. K. Rowling at the 2016 PEN Literary Gala

Silencing those we disagree with doesn't help anyone.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."

That freedom is not available all over the world. In Bangladesh, for example, freedom of speech can be severely punished. In the last few years more than a dozen bloggers – citizen journalists celebrating their own free speech – were murdered because of what they wrote. Self proclaimed "speech police" determined that their words were worthy of a death sentence. The government has tried, weakly, to stop the murders, however, they can't seem to prevent them. They have even stooped so low as to blame the writers for their own death.

PEN America is a group dedicated to the view that "people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others." This year they honored, among others, British writer J.K. Rowling.

From J.K. Rowling
I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there.

His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine. Unless we take that absolute position without caveats or apologies, we have set foot upon a road with only one destination. If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral ground on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed the line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture, and kill on exactly the same justification.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

2016 Medley #14

Why Teachers Quit,
Candidates' Positions on K-12 Education, Privatization, Unions, Priorities, Poverty, Class Size, Support for Public Education


‘In some ways I don’t feel like a teacher at all any more’

It's happening all over the country and around the world as well.
  • developmentally inappropriate content
  • teaching to the test
  • obsession with data
  • changing "cut" scores
  • more tests
  • frozen salaries
  • media smears
  • new tests
  • cutting budgets and underfunding
A teacher from the UK writes an open resignation letter to Nicky Morgan, a British Conservative Party politician who has been Britain’s secretary of state for education since July 2014.
It’s been happening across the pond, too. Just as standardized test-based corporate school reform has taken hold in the United States, elements of it have also been implemented in England too — and a lot of teachers don’t like it a bit. For some time now, authorities have been increasing school “choice opportunities” for families under the theory that a market approach will force poor-performing schools to improve or close. Standardized testing has increased as well as the consequences for schools if students don’t score well. The reforms, not surprisingly, have not worked the miracles they were intended to.

Polk Teacher's Resignation Letter Hits a Nerve

...and an American teacher gives up rather than allow herself to be forced into harmful educational practices.
Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.


The Candidates on Public Education

Blogger Nancy Bailey posted three articles discussing the education policies of the three remaining presidential candidates. Determining their official K-12 education policy is a challenge. Hillary Clinton, the only one of the three with a K-12 Education link on her Issues page, has vague policies which don't really say anything about her plans for when she is elected. It speaks of "support" in general terms. Bailey got most of the information from candidate speeches and voting records where available.

Here are some excerpts from her posts for each of the three candidates (in the order she posted them).

Education Mirages and Presidential Politics—Hillary Clinton
...she supported lowering class size...

...backed No Child Left Behind...

...said that teachers need better pay...

Clinton seems to support Teach for America, although I have not heard her discuss it. She does, however, speak in terms of a “new” teaching workforce. I believe this is a euphemism for TFA.

Hillary Clinton sees charter schools as public schools. Charter schools were started under the Clinton administration. So when she says she is for public schools it is important that she distinguish between real public schools and charters that are only public because they get tax dollars.

...she is also against vouchers and tax credit scholarships to private schools.

Donald Trump’s Education Mirage
...no one really knows what a President Trump would do when it comes to public schools and education. He complains but offers few real solutions.

Trump constantly says he will get rid of Common Core...

...Trump praises choice and vouchers yet claims school boards and “local” communities should be in charge of schooling.

In his favor, Mr. Trump is liberal leaning when it comes to the student debt crisis. He blames the federal government for profiting off of students.

...Donald Trump is a businessman when he compares schools with a failed telephone company. He believes they should be shut down if they aren’t working!

...doesn’t seem to understand the kinds of failed reforms that have taken place due to business pals who know little about children.

Public Schools With a President Bernie Sanders
  • He voted against No Child Left Behind and was especially against high-stakes standardized testing.
  • He stood by Chicago’s principal and public school activist Troy LaRaviere and students, teachers and parents. He spoke out against LaRaviere’s firing.
  • He, like Clinton, opposes private charter schools and school vouchers.
  • He gets that poverty directly affects students and is concerned about health care, mental health, nutrition, and other supports. He wants wrap-around services for poor children.
  • Sanders did not vote for or against the Every Student Succeeds Act but seemed to support it.
  • In one debate Sanders stated his admiration of Bill Gates. This did not specifically refer to schools. Also, when Jane Sanders was interviewed by Nikhil Goyal and asked about corporate involvement in public schools for The Nation, she said, I think some of them, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have very pure motives.
  • Bernie Sanders did not vote for or against Common Core State Standards. But in early 2015, he voted against an anti-Common Core amendment.
  • In 2001 he voted to authorize $22.8 billion to track student progress through testing.


The assault on public education in North Carolina just keeps on coming

Another state falls to the "reform" monster – vouchers, charters, attacks on teachers. Students end up the losers.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have also embraced charter schools and school vouchers without appropriate accountability, and the teaching profession has been “battered,” as educators are being asked to do much more with much less.


Teachers’ Unions Are Associated with Higher Student Test Scores

American politics, and the politics of education specifically, doesn't change based on facts, but here are some to think about: Union teachers increase student test scores more than non-union teachers. Union teachers are better qualified than non-union teachers. Union teachers work more hours than non-union teachers.

Are teachers unions standing in the way of students' education?
In general, members of unions tend to be more productive due to high-skill training. Over half of union members who are educators, trainers, and librarians have a master’s degree or higher (Figure 2). Compared to their nonunion counterparts, members of teachers’ unions are 16 percentage points more likely to have advanced degrees – which increase the quality and skills of the employee. In addition, union employees earn 22 percent more than non-members in educational occupations. Union teachers also work 14 percent more hours per week than nonunion teachers.


A War for Education

It's no secret that America's children are a low national priority. The collective well-being of the nation's future citizens is only given lip-service. A child is their parents' responsibility, and if parents can't (or won't) provide for them, then screw the kids. This is one more example of American shortsightedness and selfishness...and the tendency we have to work against our own interest, which, in this case, is the education of our future leaders and citizens.

One out of every five American children live in poverty. It's a national disgrace. It should be a national emergency...

Peter Greene suggests a way to raise the priority of our children. "What if we treated education like a war..."
...we tolerate that sort of thing with real war, considering it part of the cost of Getting the Job Done. You can't say it's because resources aren't infinite and we can only afford to spend so much, because that doesn't restrain us one whit when i comes time to throw another hundred billion dollars into Iraq or Afghanistan. No, I suspect the truth is less appealing. We just don't value education and children all that much. Or at least-- and I'm afraid this may really be it-- not ALL children. I mean, for my own kids, I really will spend whatever it takes (check that college debt total) and do whatever I can for my own kids, but Those Peoples' Children? I don't really want to spend a bunch of my money on Those Peoples' Children.


Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common

Quick quiz...What's one thing that parents of successful students have in common?

They have enough money to live on. They have enough money not to be homeless. They don't live in poverty.

Children don't choose to be poor, but poverty has an effect on their achievement. We know that poverty correlates to lower achievement due to
  • lower birth weight
  • higher exposure to environmental pollutants (such as lead)
  • insufficient medical care
  • food insecurity
  • increased rates of family violence and drug or alcohol abuse 
  • higher mobility and absenteeism
  • lack of preschool
  • lack of summer programs
Every one of those factors are out of the child's control...and out of the school's control yet all are associated with lower achievement levels. And "reformers," even those who are charged with solving the problem of societal poverty, continue to blame schools, teachers, and students for low achievement.

Policy makers should take responsibility for the high level of child poverty in the nation before they blame students' low achievement on public education, teachers, or the students themselves.
11. They have a higher socioeconomic status.

Tragically, one-fifth of American children grow up in poverty, a situation that severely limits their potential.

It's getting more extreme. According to Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, the achievement gap between high- and low-income families "is roughly 30% to 40% larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier."

As "Drive" author Dan Pink has noted, the higher the income for the parents, the higher the SAT scores for the kids.

"Absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance," he wrote.


What is a "Just-Right" Class Size in Public Schools?

When I started teaching, before the "reformers" in Indiana started their attack on children and public schools, the state had a class size limit built into law for grades K through 3. Kindergarten and first grade had a limit of 18 students per class, 20 in second grade, and 22 in third grade. Researchers, in an Educational Leadership report, said, "...our study data show that students are learning more in smaller classes." But Project PrimeTime cost too much money. Our students, apparently, weren't worth it.

In this post, adapted from his new book, A Parent's Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century, Russ Walsh reminds us that class size does matter. He recommends class size limits for every grade. Check out the entire article for his suggestions.
...class size does matter and it matters especially for low-income and minority children and it is likely to be worth the taxpayers’ money to attempt to keep class sizes down.


Sharing from NEIFPE and NEA: What can YOU do to help support public education in your community and state?
Are you frustrated about what is happening in public schools? Here are some actions that you CAN do to ensure your child has opportunity for success:

"Here are seven things you can do to raise your hand for equity, get involved, and ensure your child has access to a great public school.

1. Serve on the school board and/or attend school board meetings where you can be vocal and persuasive. Attend school district meetings when academic issues are discussed.

2. Contact school leaders and state education officials to express support for policies that provide all children—no matter their ZIP code—with access to great public schools.

3. Talk to community and faith-based leaders about why they must be involved in the schools in their communities and fight for what’s right for children.

4. Write a letter to your local newspaper editor describing the issues your children face in school and what can be done to help support their teachers.

5. Visit your members of Congress when they are at home so that they appreciate your level of commitment to ensuring great public schools. Or, send them an email from NEA’s Legislative Action Center. (www.nea.org/lac)

6. Talk to local business leaders and military families who understand how educated citizens benefit the economy, communities, and the nation.

7. Discuss education issues with friends who may not have children in public schools. Talk about education when you’re in the grocery store, and at community sporting events. Wherever you are talk about why it is important to support public education!

Want to know what makes a great public school? Check out NEA’s Great Public Schools (GPS) Indicators (www.nea.org/gpsindicators) – a tool that can help you advocate for the policies and practices that are integral to the success of schools and students. Don’t miss the special section on parent and community engagement."
See also Raise Your Hand for Public Education


Sunday, May 15, 2016

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).

Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.

7. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2

Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.

Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.

However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3

25. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Indiana's Quest for the Test: An Invalid Effort

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, along with other state officials, have rounded up a collection of twenty-three educators and political appointees in a panel to choose a new student achievement test to replace the ISTEP. Unfortunately, the panel is faced with an impossible task. The law requires the test to measure student achievement, school quality, and teacher quality. There is no such test which can validly and reliably do all three tasks at once.


According to a May 10 article in the Indianapolis Star, the chair of the panel, Nicole Fama, principal of School 93 in Indianapolis, said that ISTEP was too long.

Head of ISTEP review panel says test is 'just too long'
“The test is just too long,” said Nicole Fama, principal of a charterlike Indianapolis school. “So we want to look for a better option — collectively. I think we want to do right by kids...”
Another member of the panel, Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools, said, “I want to make sure we get it done right."

Ken Folks, superintendent of East Allen County Schools, said, "I want it to be accurate. I want it to be what’s best for the children...”

The way to "do right by kids" – the way to "make sure we get it...right" – the way to make it "best for our children" is to make sure that no high stakes decisions are based on any standardized test.


The American Psychological Association has information about the appropriate use of testing and emphasizes that high stakes decisions about student placement and achievement not be based on the results of a single test.
...high-stakes decisions should not be made on the basis of a single test score, because a single test can only provide a "snapshot" of student achievement and may not accurately reflect an entire year's worth of student progress and achievement.
The replacement test for the ISTEP shouldn't do that. The sole educational purpose of the test should be to ascertain what the students know relative to what they were taught.

Finding a test which can do that is not impossible. Whether the state will use the test in an appropriate and valid way is another story.

[IREAD-3, for example, is an additional achievement test given to third graders. It is a high stakes test and is used to punish third graders for not learning to read.]

But there are two serious problems associated with testing in Indiana which the panel cannot solve simply by choosing another assessment. Both of those problems are based on the political purposes behind testing and both of those purposes do use the tests for making high stakes decisions.


1. The test is used to evaluate and grade schools. It is used to label some schools as "failing" in order to allow the state to take over so-called "failing" schools and transfer control and fiscal responsibility (aka "profit") to charter operators. It is also used as a reason to divert public tax funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers.
Unless a test has been developed to evaluate and grade schools it should not be used for that purpose.
The evaluation of a school program is much more complicated than how well its students score on a single standardized test. Such an evaluation ought to also include
  • how does the school work to involve the community in its program?
  • is the school's curriculum developmentally appropriate for its students?
  • is the school climate conducive to learning?
  • how is the school attempting to meet the needs of all its students?
  • what wraparound services are available for students who need them, such as social workers, guidance counselors, and school nurses?
  • does the school have a library? is  it staffed by a trained librarian?
  • what is the physical condition of the school?
  • are students provided a complete and varied curriculum including physical education and the arts?
Those questions, of course, are not answered by looking at student test scores. Furthermore, if a school has unsatisfactory answers to any of those questions then the state and local school board ought to work together to improve the conditions. The school and its staff are not to blame for inadequately funded, resourced, or maintained schools. The state's policy makers should take responsibility for their inability (or refusal) to support public education instead of blaming the school by labeling it a "failure." Fix it. Don't throw it away.

2. The test is used to evaluate teachers. It is used to support a state-mandated merit pay plan which denies the value of a teacher's experience and denies the influence of external variables on student achievement. It makes a career in teaching less attractive, and opens the door for lowering the standards required for teachers to enter the classroom.
Unless a test has been developed to evaluate teachers it should not be used for that purpose.
Nicole Fama said, "...and we want to do right by teachers."

Doing "right by teachers" means not using student test scores for their evaluations. Like school programs, the evaluation of teachers is much more complicated than tallying students' scores on a single test. Instead, teachers ought to be evaluated on things like...
  • does the teacher have a sufficient knowledge of their subject matter and child development?
  • does the teacher have a firm grasp of the curriculum?
  • can the teacher communicate well to her students?
  • how well does the teacher motivate his students?
  • are the teachers lesson plans complete, well-developed, and organized?
  • how does the teacher support their own professional growth?
  • is the teacher's classroom organized?
  • does the teacher have good classroom management skills?
  • does the teacher demonstrate professionalism in her relationships with students, parents, and colleagues?
The answers to those questions cannot be measured by student achievement test scores.


The panel-to-choose-another-test can likely find a test which will evaluate a child's achievement (though how well standardized tests actually do that is another discussion altogether). But the current state legislature, the Pence administration, and its predecessor, have built the misuse of tests into state law.

No test exists which can validly and reliably fill the three disparate goals of tracking student achievement, grading schools, and evaluating teachers.

The overuse and misuse of testing needs to end.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2016 Medley #13

Teacher Appreciation, Vote, Vouchers, Free Market Schools, Teacher Salaries, Tax Cuts, "King for a Day," School Libraries 


A school is not a factory; teaching is a process

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. National Teacher Day was first celebrated in 1953 and in 1980, the week containing National Teacher Day was proclaimed to be Teacher Appreciation Week. Since then, politicians have consistently praised teachers, even while they strip teachers of their employee rights, remove due process from law, cut education budgets and divert public funds to private pockets, or misuse student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers.

Here is part of a letter about the hypocrisy of those politicians. The writer contrasts their "lip service" to their actions.
This week is the annual celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. Politicians of every stripe and school superintendents everywhere will write letters and make proclamations stating how much they value the service and dedication of teachers everywhere. All of these words are empty and merely paying lip service to something they do not believe. By their actions, these ''leaders'' have made it obvious that they neither appreciate, admire, respect nor comprehend the jobs of the people who spend their days with the nation's children. Nor do they understand the first thing about the children in those classrooms.
And here is a letter from Indiana State Representative Bob Behning, who has spent his 24 years in the Indiana State Legislature fighting against public education and public school teachers. For example, he wrote the original bill in the Indiana House which is now responsible for diverting millions of dollars of public funds to religious schools in the form of vouchers and he was influential in passing charter school legislation which does the same. Donations to his campaign flow from charter operators such as Christel DeHaan ($27,500), and "reform" organizations like Hoosiers for Quality Education ($72,000), Hoosiers for Economic Growth ($36,750), and Stand for Children ($14,697). As they say, "follow the money."


A Letter to Hoosier Teachers: Vote or Die

The author of this piece equates charter schools and vouchers to cable television. I'm not sure if that is completely accurate since television has always been a for-profit industry (except for PBS). Perhaps a better analogy would be to equate charter schools and vouchers to a private security company which patrols a gated community being paid with taxpayer funds instead of using the municipal police department.

The important message of this article, however, is that teachers must become involved in the political process, vote, and vote for pro-public school candidates, or the profession of teaching will be gone along with public education.
...if the reformers get their way, everyone will be paying tuition from pre-K on. Once the state has effectively “charterized” most of Indiana, those “dollars following the student” will be rolled back. They will. We should have them imagine the day when middle class families are trying to come up with tuition fees equivalent to a pair of country club memberships—every year for 13 years with the spectre of the college price-tag looming beyond that. And we shouldn’t stop there. We should also encourage future grandparents to imagine forking over their Florida and Myrtle Beach money to help their adult kids send their grandchildren to school. If the millennials can barely pay for themselves now in this economy, who is going to be helping them pay for their own kids? The reformers plan to do to schools what Time-Warner did to television: turn something we used to get for very little into something for which we willingly pay hyper-inflated fees. [emphasis added]

...Right now I’m voting to hang onto my frozen salary and my retirement. Right now, I’m voting to keep myself in the middle-class. And if, for some reason, you’re still not sure how you’ll cast your vote this November, then let me remind of you of something I said when I shared that aforementioned interview with Oakley to the educational world: Vote or die.


How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

The Indiana State Supreme Court has it wrong.

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.
As Berliner and Glass explain, “Diversion of existing public schools resources to private schools results in taxpayer support for all kinds of religious instruction at all kinds of religious schools, with little or no oversight by states or the public.”

That means public tax dollars are funding religion based curriculum that teach, for instance, a creationist view of science or a version of history that portrays slaves as happy servants to their masters.

Curriculum materials that depict people of color in demeaning, stereotypical ways that have created such consternation in public schools can be readily adopted for private schools using vouchers. And how many schools getting voucher funding will choose a right-wing version of history that teaches the founders of the nation never intended the separation of church and state but sought instead to construct a Christian theocracy?

Voucher proponents claim all of this is fine because parents have “made the choice.” But shouldn’t we have a choice about whether or not we fund this?


The Free Market Does Not Work for Education

Children need stability in their schooling, and the free market style of education as promoted by "reformers" is exactly the thing which can cause instability in schools. Businesses have to make money to keep running. Publicly supported schools need to focus on the needs of students, not profit.
Charters close because charter schools are businesses, and businesses close when it is not financially viable for them to stay open.

The free market will never work for a national education system. Never. Never ever.

A business operating in a free market will only stay in business as long as it is economically viable to do so. And it will never be economically viable to provide a service to every single customer in the country.

...charter schools will continue to close when it makes business sense to do so, no matter what sorts of promises they made to the families of their students. Charter schools think like businesses, not like schools, because charter schools are businesses. We cannot be surprised when they act like businesses, and we cannot keep hiding from a discussion about the implications of turning that business mindset on a public good.


Seth Meyers: ‘There is something wrong with the way our society values’ teachers

I am uncomfortable when we focus on teacher salaries. Perhaps it's because of the years I spent on our teachers association's negotiating team. I remember negotiating for other items which would benefit students and teachers – items which were not part of the teacher salary package – like class size, teacher prep time, and collaboration. When the media reported on teacher negotiations they still focused on money, even when we were focused on other issues. This misrepresentation – that teachers were only interested in more money – had a negative effect, such as when a school board member told us we were "only interested in the size of [our] wallets."

Be that as it may, the teacher salary situation in Indiana and across the country is getting worse. In Indiana, for example, teachers are no longer on a step-salary schedule. Experience no longer counts for anything. Raises are only "across the board" and with budget cuts (many coming from diversion of funds from public schools to charter schools and vouchers) the average salary of teachers in Indiana has dropped by 13.7% over the last 15 years.

Despite this, politicians, while making nice talk about teachers, bash the unions for their attempt to get more money for teachers. Teacher shortage, anyone?
“Clearly there is something wrong with the way our society values the work teachers do, and yet when teachers object to budget cuts or ask for increases in pay, they are dismissed and the politicians who dismiss them are often celebrated as straight-shooters.”


"Our obsession with tax cuts" has led to a crumbling infrastructure

Over the past 3 decades politicians have convinced Americans that our taxes are overly burdensome. Every election season they rail on taxes and in truth, the middle class in America has been asked to shoulder more and more of the tax burden while wealthier Americans have seen their taxes, as a percentage of their income, drop (here and here). When there's less money, paying for essential services such as schools, roads, and water systems becomes more difficult. Our national infrastructure is deteriorating quicker than we can keep up with it. The nation is crumbling...
Perhaps the politicians who made those commitments should have been more prudent. But the real reason things are falling apart is, he told me is “our obsession with tax cuts.”

For decades, we’ve been cutting the percentage of the economy that gets collected in taxes, [Charlie] Ballard[, professor of economics at Michigan State University,] told me, eviscerating state and local revenues.


If You Were Secretary of Ed for a Day, How would YOU Elevate the Teaching Profession?

Anthony Cody gives us all a chance to be "King for a Day" – John King, that is. How would you "elevate the teaching profession" if you were the US Secretary of Education.

Here are Cody's options...see the article for details about each.
Free teachers from evaluations based on test scores and bogus VAM calculations...

Cease federal support for charter schools, which have the effect of drawing resources and students away from democratically controlled public schools...

Support and strengthen due process for teachers...

Decertify “virtual” schools...

Cut off Department of Education funding for Teach For America...

Adopt policies to reverse the dramatic decline among teachers of color, African Americans in particular...

Support the expansion of Ethnic Studies programs...

Provide support for financially strapped districts to reverse the decline in the number of librarians, counselors, nurses and other support staff that are so important for children...

Remove any Federal consequences for standardized tests...

Actively support school initiatives in art, music, dance, drama and athletics...

Protect student privacy, and stop promoting the collection of student data for use by ed-tech companies...

Promote genuine “personalized learning” by supporting reductions in class size...

Work to address unequal funding of schools...


New York: forget reading coaches: support libraries and librarians

Krashen has a problem with reading coaches because we need to support libraries and librarians. If a school does have a good library program run by a certified school librarian, then I have no problem with "reading coaches." What's interesting in this article is that the New York City reading coaches will emphasize the so-called "five pillars of reading" from the frequently discredited National Reading Panel report.

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

The problems with the National Reading Panel (NRP) Report in 2000 were well documented by Gerald Coles in Reading, The Naked Truth and Elaine Garan in Resisting Reading Mandates. Among other things the NRP foolishly rejected research about student access to texts and matching kids to appropriate texts.

Something was missing, though, which reading teachers understood...purpose, motivation and opportunity for reading. Richard Allington wrote The Five Missing Pillars of Scientific Reading Instruction soon after the NRP report was released. It's a two page addition which includes important aspects of good reading instruction.
  1. Access to interesting texts and choice.
  2. Matching kids with appropriate texts.
  3. Writing and reading have reciprocal positive effects.
  4. Classroom organization: Balance whole class teaching with small group and side- by-side instruction.
  5. Availability of expert tutoring.
Schools need well-stocked libraries and professional librarians every bit as much as they need phonics and comprehension instruction. Reading coaches are fine, as long as they don't replace essential aspects of reading instruction.
New York City reading coaches "will emphasize use of the five pillars of reading laid out in the 2000 National Reading Panel report—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension."

...The evidence suggests that we don't need coaches in every elementary school, we need well supported school libraries and librarians.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Random Quotes – May 2016


The Scores Are In: School Reformers Earn F's

An excellent young teacher I know spent a few years teaching in the urban district of a large midwestern city. After several consecutive years of prepping for the test, practicing the test, administering the test to get ready for the test, and watching his students fail the test, he left teaching and became a children's librarian. Now he can actually do something to help children.
...students at the bottom, clustered in low-income schools, the kind of young people that reformers swore they knew how to save, suffered most from being force fed years of test preparation...

...tens of billions of dollars had been devoted to massive school reform. Most of that money went to testing companies, company executives, or passed through lobbyist’s hands to self-serving politicians, or to school reform experts who gave high-priced speeches, and to pay bureaucrats to gather, tally and study all the data.

Here’s Who’s Creating Indiana’s New School Tests

A new test won't change a thing. The idea that "experts from the field of education" (aka actual educators) ought to be the ones to choose the test is admirable. However, the uneducated legislators and policy makers have obligated those experts to choose a test which will be misused. It doesn't matter what test they choose. It's invalid to use a student achievement test to grade schools, evaluate teachers, and rank students.

If the committee chooses an "off the shelf" test it still won't matter. Achievement tests don't claim to be valid for evaluating teachers and schools. Here are some examples of test descriptions...
  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills – "offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas."
  • Stanford Achievement Test (Pearson) – "reliable data to help measure student progress toward content standards and high expectations. This multiple-choice assessment helps to identify student strengths and needs, leading to effective placement and instructional planning."
  • Terra Nova – "educators can review student results in the context of common school and district criteria, plus key enhancements that help your educators improve achievement and learning."
  • NWEA MAP Test – "...Inform instruction using valid, reliable, and real-time data...Measure the growth of every student over time regardless of on, above, or below grade level performance—and even if standards change"
Test developers understand that tests are only valid when used to measure what the test was developed to measure. We don't use blood tests to check for broken bones. We don't use teaspoons to measure temperature. We shouldn't use student achievement tests to evaluate teachers and schools.
The ISTEP+ Review Panel will hammer out details of the replacement — what a new test will look like, its length and how state officials can use it to rate schools and teachers.

“Rather than trying to pick a rabbit out of a hat during the legislative session with policymakers, who generally are not testing experts, we thought best to assemble a panel of experts from the education field,” said Bosma.

There has to be a better way...

The fact that students did better when the test was on paper rather than on computers only shows that the test has weak validity. What are we really measuring – student achievement or test-taking/computer skills?
...student performance across the state demonstrated that students did better when taking the exam on paper as opposed to computer. Given the high stakes nature of the results of these exams for districts one can’t fault systems for trying to give themselves a competitive advantage by gaming the system. However, what do such strategies have to do with an accurate measurement of student achievement?


“Tests Great”–“Less Knowing”

The quest for a piece of the public education fund pie has distorted the teaching/learning process.
...perhaps it’s time someone pointed out that test-based accountability, which has meant more drill and test prep and cuts in art, music, drama and all sorts of other courses that aren’t deemed ‘basic,’ has failed miserably–and there are victims.

Students have been the losers, sentenced to mind-numbing schooling. Teachers who care about their craft have been the losers. Craven administrators who couldn’t or didn’t stand up for what they know about learning have been the losers. Add to the list of losers the general public, because the drumbeat of bad news has undercut faith in public education.

There are winners: The testing companies (particularly Pearson), the academics who’ve gotten big grants from major foundations, profiteers in the charter school industry, and ideologues and politicians who want to undermine public education.


Teacher Pay Decay

If things were fair, politicians, pundits, and policy makers salaries would be adjusted by the same percent as teacher salaries...
Teacher pay nationally has, adjusted for inflation, dropped 1.8%

Nine states have seen teacher pay drop from 6.5% to as much as 13.7%.

That "top" 13.7% drop belongs to Indiana. Congratulations, hoosiers.

NPE: Teacher Voices on Teacher Evaluation

Check out the above article, but the quote comes from a commenter.

Comment by NY Teacher – April 20, 2016 at 8:23 PM
One 40 minute observation (out of a 180 day school year) is the equivalent of a movie reviewer watching a random 45 second clip of a two hour movie - and then trying to accurately judge the film.

Imagine judging Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer by watching him run one play.