"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, December 28, 2018

2018 Top Ten: Medley #25

We're coming to the end of another calendar year so it's time for resolutions and "best of" lists. Here's the list of this blog's Top Ten Posts of the Year according to the number of hits each one received.

#10, MARCH 29

What's Bugging Me Today: Testing Ignorance - RTFM

The Children's Defense Fund released a report which revealed that they do not understand how tests work in general, and how the NAEP works, specifically. They claimed that 67% of America's eighth-graders were reading "below grade level" which was not the case based on the proof they cited. Correctly reading the information they relied upon, we can conclude that 75% of America's eighth graders are reading at or above "grade level."
This means that the 67% of students who scored below proficient on the NAEP's 8th-grade reading test were not honor students, not that they were "below grade level." Students who are "proficient" are high achieving students. Students who are "basic" are average, and students who are "below basic" are the ones who are at risk of failure. 67% of students below "proficient" does not mean that 67% failed the test!

In fact, 76% of eighth graders scored at "Basic" or above on the NAEP nationally. That's still not perfect...and some might argue that it's not even acceptable, but it's much better than the mistaken assumption that "67% of eighth graders score below grade level."

#9, MARCH 4

Time for The Test! What Can One Teacher Do?

Each year teachers have to stop teaching to make time for intrusive state standardized tests. It's a waste of time and doesn't improve the learning process. Furthermore, the results of the tests are used in invalid and unreliable ways.
Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests -- the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation -- is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional, your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that was important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn't be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that's not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.


Just in Case Someone's Listening

After nearly 13 years of ranting against the corporate-led destruction of public education, I lament that not much has really changed.
The sad news is that things have gotten worse for public education since I started writing here in 2006. We're still dealing with privatization, union busting, teacher scapegoating, the overuse and misuse of tests, and the lack of funding or support for public schools. When we add to that, a teacher shortage designed and implemented by those same "reformers," the task of saving our schools seems overwhelming.

#7, JUNE 16

Fathers Day 2018: A Reminder to Read Aloud to Your Children

My annual Fathers Day post with the same message each year: 1) read aloud is important and 2) dads should do it!
Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us [emphasis added]
In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

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

#6, OCTOBER 10

Education is NOT an Expense

Corporate reform is slowly changing public education into a consumer good. It's not and shouldn't be. It's a public good. An investment in public education is an investment in our future.
Adding money to your IRA, 401k, 403b, or any other investment isn't a personal expense; it's an investment in your future.

Similarly, money spent on public education is an investment, not an expense. Roads, parks, public libraries, and public schools are all public benefits...they all contribute to the public good and the tax money we spend on them is an investment in our future. Through the public good, we guarantee the benefits of our society to those who follow us.

When it comes to education, there is a waiting time for the return on the public's investment, but after that wait time, it's clear that society benefits. For example, the G.I. bill after World War II was an investment in veterans which helped build prosperity after the war.

It is the same with public education. We may not always see an immediate positive impact, but, in the long run, an educated populace will earn more, produce more, and live better.

#5, JUNE 9

Privatization – Still Failing After All These Years

Privatizing public schools doesn't help children. Learning doesn't improve. The impact of poverty isn't eliminated.
We cannot afford to fund three educational systems with public tax dollars. We need to return to one, publicly funded, public school system.

What about "failing" public schools?

What "privatizers" call a "failing" public school is, in fact, a "failing" municipality or state government. The answer to low achieving schools is not to take money and resources away in order to fund a second or third school system. The answer is to improve schools so that all students are well served.

Even so, America's public schools perform well. We don't have a "failing" school problem. We have a child poverty problem.

Public funds should be reserved for public schools.


Hoosier Superintendents tell it like it is

Who would have thought that demoralizing teachers, cutting their salaries, eliminating benefits, and reducing job security would have a detrimental impact on the profession of teaching?
"I believe the teacher shortage is due to the climate of education and the lack of government support as well as district support for teachers. Teachers have not been listened to or given the respect necessary to want to pursue careers. In our particular district, the constant negativity has caused a rift between campuses, and the negativity has created a hostile climate in which to work.”

#3, AUGUST 3

LeBron James and the Promise of Public Schools

If we cared about the future, we would provide the same services to all schools that LeBron James is providing. These are the schools all children deserve.
LeBron James is a millionaire...but unlike others among the super-rich who stick their wallets into America's education infrastructure, The LeBron James Family Foundation, along with community partners, is helping to fund a public school run by a public school system, and staffed with unionized public school teachers. The taxpayers are paying for the school, teachers, and the usual expenses just like they do for all public schools, while the Foundation and its partners are providing funds for building renovations, wraparound services, and other extras.

This kind of investment is what all our children need and deserve...

#2, AUGUST 15

Back to School in America, 2018-2019 Indiana Edition

Underpaid. Overworked. Is it any wonder that there's a serious teacher shortage in Indiana (and the rest of the U.S.)?
A teacher's paid work day is only 7 or 8 hours long...but for the vast majority of teachers, the workday doesn't begin when the students arrive, or end when they go home. Homework and after-hours work is part of everyday life for teachers. I have seen teachers stay at school 4 or 5 hours after the students leave, carry home hours of paperwork every night, or spend every weekend in their classroom, not trying to get ahead, but trying to keep up. I have been that teacher.

And each year the legislature adds something new...


Don't Bother Me With Politics. I Just Want To Teach.

The turnout for the last election was higher than in previous midterm elections. Too many teachers, however, still voted for the Republican legislators for the Indiana legislature who have done their best to damage public education.

Many teachers from Indiana are one-issue voters. Unfortunately, the one-issue is not education. It's time teachers stood up for their own profession and voted for the interests of their students.

Teachers must become the political voice for their students.
Teachers who don't vote allow others to make decisions about what goes on in their classrooms. As the former first lady, Michelle Obama said this week, "Democracy continues, with or without you." If you don't vote, it goes on without you.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What's Bugging Me Today: ADHD Denial, Misdiagnosis, and the Harvard Study

The parents of a young child with a summer birthday asked the pediatrician if their child was ready to start school. The pediatrician told them, "Go ahead and send him. It's never too early to start them in school."

Even if I hadn't been a teacher involved in early education when I heard this, I would have known that this was bad advice. Starting school too early can be damaging. I knew because...


In Chicago, in the early 1950s, the Kindergarten entrance date cutoff was October 1. My mid-September birthday made me eligible for entrance to Kindergarten which, back then, started the day after Labor Day, about two weeks before my 5th birthday.

I struggled all through school. I made progress...now and then good progress, but I had trouble paying attention; I didn't always know what was going on at a given moment during class; I couldn't focus on the task at hand; I couldn't remember what I had read.

Every year I would start the school year with high hopes. I promised myself that I would keep up with the work, pay attention, and stay organized. And every year, by about the second or third month, those promises would be lost.

While in Elementary School I was diagnosed with Minimal Brain Damage, the horrifying 50s term for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My treatment consisted of therapy with a child psychologist of which I remember very little other than the fact that I assumed that there was something "wrong" with me. At some point, and without any memorable closure, the therapy stopped. Nothing more was done for my MBD/ADHD, and I continued to struggle with the social and academic aspects of Elementary School.


At various times my parents and teachers said things like this to me (note the mixed messages):
  • What were you thinking?
  • Why didn't you think before you [insert behavior]?
  • You could do so much better if only you would try harder.
  • Did you even try?
  • You're just lazy.
  • You'd lose your head if it wasn't screwed on.
and my parents heard things like this from my teachers,
  • He's just not bright enough to do the work.
  • He's smart enough and can do the work, he's just lazy.
  • He could do so much better if only he put forth some effort.
  • He needs to learn to pay attention.
In high school, I learned that words have power. One day during my senior year, my English teacher kept me after class. She was a good teacher who clearly cared about her students (think: Professor McGonagall). She said to me, "You could do so much better if only you would try harder." Once again, I knew something was "wrong" with me...because I did try, but each year I would "forget" to pay attention. I would procrastinate. I would lose things. At that time in my life, I wasn't really sure what "try harder" meant. I ended up with a "C" in her class, and I have dragged her words around with me ever since then.

Still, I somehow managed to get by and survive Elementary and High School. High school band and orchestra helped - I always got an A in each.

College was the same. I got into college because of my musical ability (though I only stayed in the music school for one semester) and barely made it through my freshman year. I was allowed to come back for a third semester as a freshman, on the condition that I improve. I did, slightly, but continued the same pattern from elementary school and high school. I managed to graduate with a bachelors degree using several rounds of summer school to make up for classes I missed or failed.

Sullivan High School (Chicago) Orchestra, c.1966


After college, I worked in retail and, much to my surprise, I did very well, becoming the head of a sub-department in less than a year. When my first child was born I became interested in child development so I decided to go back to school. With the help of adulthood, marriage, and the responsibility of a child, I was able to get a teaching certificate and was even inducted into an education honor society. I followed this with a masters degree and a Reading Recovery certificate.

I spent my teaching career engaged in what was, ironically, the source of my childhood shame, embarrassment, and failure: elementary school education. I had some success and some failures as a teacher, but I kept at it and kept trying to improve. I eventually learned about ADHD (and ways to compensate for my own ADHD symptoms). In the middle of my career, I started working with children who were struggling in school...children who were like I was.


Last week I read a comment on a popular education blog that suggested that mental health diagnoses were quackery. The commenter accepted that there are mental health problems, but the diagnoses, at least to the commenter, were fake. The comment even referred to "alleged ADHD kids." I can only assume that there is some painful mental health problem to which the writer was exposed which was misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, left untreated, or incorrectly treated.

Are all mental health diagnoses quackery? Absolutely not.

We can't just deny that something exists because people screw up in their diagnosis. Medicine, like education, is not an exact science (there is no such thing as an exact science!), and the medicine of the brain is no different. We do the best we can with the knowledge we currently have, but we have to use that knowledge correctly.


Harvard study: Children who start school early more likely to get ADHD diagnosis — even if they don’t have it
Harvard University researchers have found that children who start school up to a year sooner than many of their peers are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD — even if they don’t really have the condition. As a result, large numbers of children may be improperly labeled with the disorder when, instead, they are just immature.
In other words, those younger children were misdiagnosed with ADHD. That doesn't mean ADHD doesn't exist...or is "alleged."


What would my experiences in school have been if I hadn't started kindergarten at the age of four

Would I still have been diagnosed with ADHD (Minimal Brain Damage) as a child and then rediagnosed with the same as an adult?

Would I still have felt inclined to work with children who were struggling in class?

Would I have had a completely different career?
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers looked at the records of more than 407,000 children from every state and found that younger children in the same grouping of students had a 30 percent higher risk for an ADHD diagnosis than older students.

Was I part of that 30%?

A 30% higher risk does not mean that everyone diagnosed with ADHD who has a summer birthday has been misdiagnosed.

ADHD does exist...and some people live with it even if they didn't start school at four years old. My lifelong experiences with the side effects and comorbid conditions related to ADHD suggest that I would have had the diagnosis anyway.

But the claim that ADHD is overdiagnosed is not new. Neither is the claim that ADHD is underdiagnosed. The truth is somewhere in between; ADHD is often misdiagnosed.


Schools and teachers shouldn't diagnose ADHD, a medical condition. However, a classroom teacher is often the first to notice a problem with the behaviors associated with ADHD. Primary Care Physicians are also not necessarily qualified to diagnose ADHD and many of those who do, often do not follow the diagnostic guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Misdiagnoses and overdiagnoses are caused by poor medical practices -- either by non-medical lay people (educators), slipshod work by untrained or overworked physicians, or mistakes by fallible, though well-meaning human beings.

That's why I wrote, above, and would like to emphasize...
Medicine, like education, is not an exact science, and the medicine of the brain is no different. We do the best we can with the knowledge we currently have, but we have to use that knowledge correctly.

The DSM has specific criteria which must be followed if ADHD is to be diagnosed. In order for a condition to be considered ADHD, the symptoms must occur...
...to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities...
and are present
...in two or more settings (e.g., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
Misplacing your keys does not mean you have ADHD.

Occasional daydreaming does not mean your child has ADHD.

Excitability and clumsiness are normal human traits and do not mean that you or your child has ADHD.

ADHD in children is only ADHD if the suspected behaviors are "inconsistent with developmental level," have a serious negative impact on the child's life, and are present in more than one setting...otherwise, it's just "childhood."


Don't automatically enroll a child with a late-summer birthday in kindergarten the moment they become eligible. The later in the year a child is born, the more parents ought to consider preschool instead of Kindergarten.

A teacher should not be relied on to diagnose ADHD. If you're a teacher, remember that the youngest children in your classroom might have different behaviors than the older ones. It's also important to note that other conditions might "look like ADHD" such as childhood depression, some learning disabilities, oppositional defiant disorder, and bipolar disorder. Leave the medical diagnoses to medical professionals.

Perhaps it's time to let go of age-based grade grouping. No matter where we place the cutoff date for entrance into Kindergarten, there will be some children who are almost a year younger than the others. How about multi-age classrooms? Do the positive benefits of multi-age classrooms outweigh the negative?

Finally, it's essential that we end the trend towards curriculum push down. Developmentally appropriate practice is needed for our preschools and elementary schools. Children, even gifted children, are not just small adults. Physical and emotional development have an important part to play in learning. Children will not learn before they are ready and we can't depend on all students in a class learning the same thing at the same time.

In the meantime, we need to be responsible and use the best knowledge that we have to identify the problems and conditions of children in order to prevent misdiagnoses.


Links to articles dealing with the science of ADHD:


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Listen to This

Recent quotes and comments...


Public schools didn't cause poverty, but policymakers expect schools to overcome all the out-of-school factors related to living in poverty. When was the last time legislators were graded A-F by the state government?

The Columbus Dispatch
Some might argue that poverty and family problems aren’t the province of public schools. But they most certainly are the burdens of public schools, and schools won’t get better without addressing them. -- The Columbus Dispatch

Stephen Krashen
Until poverty is eliminated, school must protect students from poverty’s impact by investing more in food programs, health care, and libraries. -- sdkrashen.com

Steven Singer
Living in poverty means less access to healthcare, neonatal care, pre-kindergarten, and fewer books in the home. It often means fewer educated family members to serve as a model. And it often means suffering from malnutrition and psychological trauma. Impoverished parents usually have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet and thus have less time to help with homework or see to their children. All of this has a direct impact on education. -- Gadflyonthewallblog


Schools still segregated even after Brown vs. Board of Education? Here's why...

Nikole Hannah-Jones
“Schools are segregated because white people want them that way. ... We won't fix this problem until we really wrestle with that fact.” -- Vox.com

Nikole Hannah-Jones at NPE 2017.


If every teacher gave this article to their personal doctor...

The Hechinger Report
Nearly four years ago, a baby boy named Anselmo Santos sat in his doctor’s office in Oakland, California, chewing on a cardboard children’s book. The book came from a specially designed tote bag of literacy tools that Anselmo’s doctor had just handed his mother. While the chubby infant chewed, Dr. Dayna Long explained the importance of talking, reading and singing with young children to encourage healthy brain development. -- Hechinger Report


What's the most valuable resource in the U.S.?

Valerie Strauss
After World War II, the Finns realized their human beings are their most valuable resource. Their budget reflects this belief. In spite of having three major political parties, all factions agree that human development is paramount, and the educational program has had consistent attention over decades...

When you think your people are important, it shows. -- The Answer Sheet


What can be done to reduce educational inequalities?...

• Reduce the impact of socio-economic inequalities – Through a combination of family allowances and public services, rich countries can ensure that all children are able to enjoy learning, develop varied interests and achieve their full potential. Reducing the segregation of children with different family backgrounds into different schools can also help to ensure that all children have equal opportunities. -- An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children's Education in Rich Countries


Which are you more concerned about - the U.S. economy or climate change? Hint: They're the same.

The U.S. Government
Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century. -- U.S. Global Change Research Program


Teaching is - or should be - a job for professionals...not for privileged Ivy League graduates as a resume booster on their way to the boardrooms or law offices of corporate America.

Mitchell Robinson
I now refer to the people that go the TfA route as “edutourists”–because they think playing at being a teacher will be fun, and look good on their resumes when they apply to business school, or law school, or for an internship on Capitol Hill. The vast majority of TfA edutourists have no intention of remaining in the classroom for more than a year or two, and have “bought in” to the notion that TfA experience is best seen as a “stepping stone” to other, “more important” career choices. That’s simply not how teachers view teaching. -- Eclectablog