"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, September 19, 2019

2019 Medley #19

GERM in Canada, Third Grade Retention,
the Common Good, ILEARN, Vouchers,
the Teacher Exodus


ET TU CANADA?

Schools aren’t failing our kids, our government is.

Since 2012 Grant Frost has been writing about the GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement) infection of Canada. Sadly, the story is similar to what's been happening here in the US. Outside factors affect school achievement, yet solutions to societal problems seem to fall to the schools.

In 2011, Texas Superintendent John Kuhn asked,
Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet?
Schools can't do it alone...and schools can't solve the problems caused by, in the case of the US, decades of neglect, racism, and economic inequity. State (and Provincial) governments must accept their share of responsibility...not by punishing high need schools with school takeovers and inadequate funding, but with real programs aimed at healing the problems of poverty and systemic racism.

To paraphrase Frost, "The reality of our situation in Indiana is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is."
What struck me so soundly as I read through the report, beyond my obvious alarm, was the way in which so many of these issues, or more particularly, the finding of solutions for them, has so often been downloaded by governments onto the public school system. In an attempt to lower obesity rates, schools are encouraged to provide more activity time. In an attempt to lower suicide rates, students get lessons on warning signs and prevention measures. Discrimination (risk nine) is countered with “respect for all” campaigns. Bullying (risk ten) is tackled head on in classroom. Food insecurity (breakfast programs). Infant mortality (Parenting courses). Lack of immunization (Immunization programs.) For almost every indicator of risk to our children that was on the list, governments have turned to public schools and the people who staff them to provide solutions.

...Child poverty can not be addressed in our classrooms. That particular risk factor can only be addressed in Province House. The reality of our situation in Nova Scotia is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is.

RETENTION

Third Grade Reading Retention Does Not Work (Example #6,288,347)

Retention in grade continues to damage thousands of Indiana children. The latest statistics I was able to find were those for the 2016-2017 school year. At that time about 7% (nearly 76,000) of Indiana's 1.14 million students between the ages of 6 and 17 had been retained at least once since they entered kindergarten.

Indiana is one of the states with third-grade retention laws so many of those students are retained in third grade. Our students are required to pass a standardized reading test in third grade or repeat the grade.

Research spanning more than 100 years has consistently shown that retention in grade is not helpful and is, in many cases, harmful. Often children will improve their academic achievement during their repeated year grade, but after three to four years most gains have disappeared. Grade retention is an intervention teachers and schools will attempt because they don't know what else to do and believe that "we have to do something."

With more and more states requiring retention in third grade for students who cannot pass the state-mandated standardized reading test, there will continue to be a large number of students retained in grade.

At the end of this linked piece, Peter Greene wrote,
...third grade reading retention does not work, plus it's expensive and damaging to students, so maybe we can just knock it off right now.
Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen any time soon.
What the more reliable research appears to show is that third grade is a good year for taking a student's reading temperature, and their ability to read at the third grade level seems to be a good predictor of future scholastic success. That seems to be a valid correlation but-- say it with me now, nice and loud for the folks in the back-- correlation does not equal causation.

Nevertheless, many states have instituted a plan by which students are not allowed to exit third grade until they can show sufficient reading skills (or at least sufficient standardized read test taking skills). This is dumb.

This would be the equivalent of, say, noting that students who are more than four and a half feet tall in third grade are mostly over six feet tall when they graduate from high school. Therefor, in our desire to make graduates taller, we will not let anyone progress beyond third grade until they are at least four and a half feet tall.

The most likely reading of the third grade reading correlation is that some factors are contributing to a poor reading level, and those same factors, exacerbated by reading difficulties, will be obstacles to future success. Third grade reading level is a canary in the coalmine, and you don't fix things by repeatedly sending canaries down there. But canaries are cheap, and fixing coal mines is hard and expensive. Addressing all the problems that hold a small child back-- well, that's complicated and expensive and difficult and it puts a lot of responsibility on the government. It's simpler to just threaten the kid and the teacher and make it their problem.


WE SERVE ALL CHILDREN

Embracing Public Schools as the Very Definition of the Common Good

America's public schools are a "common good." Jan Resseger eloquently describes how we all benefit from public education. If you need to respond to those who don't understand how public schools help individuals, communities, and the entire society, here is an excellent source.
...public schools are required by law to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children: “(T)here is one thing that our American public schools do better than any other schools in the country or even in the world: our public schools commit to addressing the needs of every single child. Our public schools are open to ALL children, without prejudice or pause. Our schools attempt to educate EVERYBODY. American students are students who are gifted, students with disabilities, students who need advanced placement, students who have experienced trauma, students who are learning English, students who are hungry, affluent students, students who live in poverty, students who are anxious, and students who are curious.”

TESTING IN INDIANA

ILEARN another blow to state's education efforts

How much time is spent by adults and children in your local school on our state tests? What might be a better use of that time?
Indiana students, teachers and local communities have endured years of changing school accountability systems, each focused on exhaustive standardized test-taking negatively affecting student well-being, teacher compensation and school letter grades, causing parent confusion and anxiety in the local community.

From ISTEP to ISTEP+ to ILEARN, children in Indiana have suffered years of changing expectations through standardized testing schemes designed to determine the number of students who fail only after the test is given. No good teacher uses assessments in this manner.

Set the standards, work toward learning the standards, assess the standards through multiple means, determine those meeting or not yet meeting the standards, all without crushing teaching and learning through excessive standardized testing.

To the detriment of today's school culture, students and teachers have been reduced to test takers and test preparers unable to take advantage of the ebb and flow of inquiry learning, creative and independent thinking, or problem-solving through logic.

Instead, too much precious time and money has been spent over the years on accountability systems focused solely on test results directly correlated with student socioeconomic status.


Testing…Testing…

Sheila Kennedy writes about how Indiana's tests...from ISTEP to ILEARN have been misused as a tool to damage public education.
The widespread misuse of what should be a diagnostic tool is just one more example of our depressing American tendency to apply bumper sticker solutions to complex issues requiring more nuanced approaches.

Are we concerned about the quality of our public schools? Easy. Let’s just give out vouchers allowing parents to send their children to mostly religious schools that may or may not teach science or civics or accurate history, and are turning out graduates with lower test scores in math and English.

For the 90% of children who still attend our public schools, let’s spend lots of tax dollars on standardized tests that we can then use as a blunt weapon to pigeonhole the kids and penalize their teachers.

Those approaches are so much easier than acting on the basis of in-depth analyses of both strengths and shortcomings, giving our public schools and public school teachers the resources–and the respect– they need, and properly evaluating the results.

VOUCHERS

Indiana’s School Voucher Program–The Back Story

A second article by Sheila Kennedy...this one on the history of Indiana's voucher program.

As governor, Mike Pence did his best to use the voucher program to enrich parochial schools, but it was Mitch Daniels who was the brains behind diverting public funds to religious and private pockets.

Kennedy's blog post is based on an article in the Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss A telling story of school ‘reform’ in Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana. The Answer Sheet is behind the Washington Posts' paywall, however, Kennedy includes a link to a pdf file of the article.
...Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)

So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.

Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.

That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.


TEACHER SHORTAGE EXODUS

How to stop the teacher exodus

It's not a teacher shortage. It's a teacher exodus from classrooms and from teacher training programs. Fewer young people are going into education...and those teachers who are leaving the field -- whether through an early exit or retirement -- are not being replaced in sufficient numbers. Who will teach the next generation of American children? Who will prepare tomorrow's citizens for our nation's future success?
...test-based accountability has destroyed the profession of teaching and caused a mass demoralization and exodus from public school classrooms. And let’s not forget about the thousands of hours of lost instruction time in the sciences, social studies, arts, music and anything else that doesn’t conform to basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It really is an insanity driven by the hatred of public schools and the greed of powerful individuals to use the false narrative of failing schools and bad teachers to drain schools of public tax dollars. Nothing done over the last 35 years in the name of accountability—Nothing! — has done anything positive for the children stuck at the bottom of the achievement gap. The problem was never failing schools and bad teachers. The problem has always been poverty born out of systemic racism. 

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

2019 Medley #18: A Blogoversary

Blogoversary, Online Pre-K, The Waltons, Privatization, Teachers work hours,
Teacher morale, Vouchers, Readaloud,
Let Children Play

2019, BLOGOVERSARY #13


Today, the 14th of September marks the thirteenth year that I've kept this blog. I'm too stubborn to give it up...and I still feel the need to vent about what's happening in the realm of public education...
...my mission, when I began here, was to have a place to vent. It still works for that despite the depressing political and educational landscape. And who knows, maybe last year's "Teachers' Spring" will catch on and the teachers in Indiana will rise up. So I'll keep going...just in case someone is listening.

Off-Topic

Most of the time I focus on education. Now and then, I'll venture into national politics, music or baseball.

Yesterday, September 13, for example, was the birthday of Roald Dahl, a horrible man who wrote delightful books which I read to dozens, if not hundreds of second and third graders during my years in the classroom. Check out this thoughtful article about reading Dahl's work, Problematic Favorites: Re-reading Roald Dahl. Also, see my own discussion about Dahl...in the section titled "Facing Racism" in this post from 2017.

I also regularly blog about the birthdays of famous composers Mozart or Beethoven, as well as baseball heroes like Jackie Robinson.

For the most part, however, I've posted about public education in America.

Changes

Much has changed in the state of public education since I began this blog in 2006...not much of it for the better (I haven't given up hope, however). Some examples...
  • In 2006 Indiana taxpayers supported one publicly funded school system. In 2019 we pay for three -- charter schools, the constitutionally mandated public schools, and Indiana's largest-in-the-nation school voucher program.
  • The voucher program in Indiana began in 2011. Since then the state has spent more than a half-billion dollars on mostly unaccountable voucher schools...around $160 million for the 2018-2019 school year. Vouchers don't help students improve their learning. The program has never been evaluated. Let's just call it a failure.
I could go on...and I have, here, and here.

Until things improve for public schools in America, I'll still need this blog as a place to vent.


THE PLAGUE

Online Pre-K Continues To Spread Like A Big Stupid Plague

Among the most stupid new ideas to come out of the digital revolution is that of online preschool...digital nursery school.

But what about children who have no preschool to go to...kids who live in preschool deserts...kids in rural areas where there are no preschools? Peter Greene answers with this...
Yes, the argument is going to be that this will reach children who don't have access or finances to go to pre-school, that this can be a resource for isolated families, to which I say this is like saying there are families that don't have access to enough nutritionally rich food, so let's mail them all cases of diet soda and arsenic. Yes, this targets families and children who need something-- but what they need is not this. Nobody needs this.


SEND MONEY TO WALTONS AND DESTROY PUBLIC EDUCATION

Inside the web of Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire

The Walton Family Foundation and members of the Walton family are at the forefront of the movement to privatize public education. Every time you shop at Walmart (or at these other companies) you're sending money to folks who use their billions to destroy public education.
A free quality public education for every child is a foundational principle of American society and a right guaranteed by Arkansas’s Constitution. Everyone in this state, regardless of religion, race, income, disability or any other characteristic deserves an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

Unfortunately, a vast network of corporate interests and wealthy individuals are chipping away at this bedrock of our democracy in an effort to turn public education into a marketplace where private interests can profit off of our students.

Across the nation, states have implemented and expanded charter schools that are unaccountable to the public and voucher programs that have siphoned off public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

This powerful and well-funded effort is nationwide, but one of the biggest contributors is based right here in our state, and each year the network of privatizers working in Arkansas is growing.


TEACHERS DONATE THEIR TIME

Teachers Work a Shocking Amount of Overtime Hours and It’s All Unpaid

I've been retired since 2010. Most teachers still donate large amounts of their time.
...teachers are putting in close well over 2,000 hours a year, depending on their situation. How does that measure up with other professions? Well, according to the Pew Research Center, the average American only works about 1,811 hours a year. Factor in the thousands of teachers that need to take on a 2nd or 3rd job just to pay the bills and the number of hours teachers work throughout the year is off the charts. It’s a staggering mathematical exercise and one that doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon.

Source: Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

LACK OF RESPECT

"Tired Of Being Treated Like Dirt" Teacher Morale In The 2019 PDK Poll

Teacher are leaving the classroom...and young people aren't becoming teachers. We have a shortage of teachers in Indiana and the U.S. because teachers are underpaid, overworked, and disrespected. It's not hard to understand why young people would choose a different profession.

Normally, if there's an employment shortage in a particular area, management will raise salaries and improve working conditions to incentivize new hires to enter the field. Not so with education. The shortage seems to be preferred by legislators and policymakers. I've suggested before that this is likely gender based...that teachers, being mostly female, are disrespected by our paternalistic society.

Add Peter Greene's Curmudgucation to your daily blog list.
Inadequate pay is the marquee reason, and notably regional. Public school teachers are far less likely to feel fairly paid in the South and Midwest. That reason is followed closely by stress and pressure, which is followed by a lack of respect. Lack of support. Teaching no longer enjoyable. Testing requirements. Workload.

These are tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. This has been evident on the national stage with issues like installing a Secretary of Education who had previously dismissed public education as a "dead end" or a Secretary of Education who asserts that student failure is because of low teacher expectations. Education has also carried the modern burden of the thesis that poor education is the cause of poverty, or even our "greatest national security threat," and so the entire fate of the nation rests on teachers' backs. And yet, teachers are not trusted to handle any of this; instead, we've had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these "reforms" have sounded like "You can't do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy." There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, "You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it."

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

The new terrain of the school voucher wars

Vouchers haven't improved student learning. When vouchers were first introduced in Indiana we heard from their supporters that private schools were better than public schools. We heard that students learned more and that poor students should be given vouchers so they could "escape failing schools." But, despite protestations from "reformers" that was never really the point.

Now we know voucher schools don't outperform public schools so the supporters of vouchers have changed their tune. Now it's all about "choice." The truth is, it's always been about the money. Private schools want public money (with as little accountability for it as possible). With vouchers in Indiana, they get it.
Researchers — including several voucher advocates — have conducted nine rigorous, large-scale studies since 2015 on achievement in voucher programs. In no case did these studies find any statistically positive achievement gains for students using vouchers. But seven of the nine studies found that voucher students saw relative learning losses. Too often, these losses were substantial.


THINGS TO DO

Want to Raise Smart, Kind Kids? Science Says Do This Every Day

Parents, read to your children every day, starting from the day they're born. Even when they have "leaerned how to read" themselves, continue to read to them.

Teachers, read to your students every day, starting from the first day of school. This will be the easiest, most enjoyable, and most effective part of your reading program.
The best thing about this particular “keystone habit” for raising smart, kind kids is that it’s completely free, it takes just 10-15 minutes a day, and anyone can do it.

To get smart, kind kids, you don’t have to sign your kid up for expensive tutoring or have twice-daily screenings of the movie Wonder.

All you have to do is this: Read to your child. Even if they already know how to read to themselves.

Because research shows reading aloud is the powerful keystone habit that will raise smart, kind kids. 


PLAY IS CHILDREN'S WORK

Let the Children Play! A Book You Should Read

A new book by Pasi Sahlberg. It's next on my list to read.
Pasi was flummoxed by the bizarre education concept of “preschool readiness.” Compounding the culture shock was the stunning price tag: $25,000 a year for preschool, compared with the basically free, government-funded daycare-through-university programs that the boy would have enjoyed back in Finland.

Pasi had entered an American school culture that is increasingly rooted in childhood stress and the elimination of the arts, physical activity and play—all to make room for a tidal wave of test prep and standardized testing. This new culture was supposed to reduce achievement gaps, improve learning and raise America’s position in the international education rankings. Nearly two decades and tens of billions of dollars later, it isn’t working. Yet the boondoggle continues, even as the incidence of childhood mental-health disorders such as anxiety and depression is increasing.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Listen to this - 2019 #1: Voices from the past

Indiana's ILEARN test is in the news. Students did poorly on the test so the State Board of Education is under pressure from educators to "hold harmless" students, teachers and schools.

Indiana still punishes students for poor test scores. Third graders, for example, who cannot learn to pass the state reading test are retained in grade.

Indiana still punishes teachers for poor student test scores with poor evaluations and lower pay.

Indiana still punishes schools for poor student test scores with low "school grades" resulting in school closures and/or state takeovers.

Congressional districts and their political leaders don't get labeled as failures and suffer consequences for underfunded schools resulting in poor test scores.

Legislators don't get labeled as failures and suffer consequences for the damage to public schools from loss of funding diverted to charter schools and vouchers.

In a supportive educational environment, legislators and policymakers wouldn't have to hold schools "harmless." Test scores made artificially low by arbitrary cut scores, wouldn't be used for punishment. Resources would be provided where they are needed.

The quotes below dealing with testing, poverty, and academic achievement, are from 2005-2016...but are just as meaningful today as they were when they were written...because very little has changed.


TESTING, POVERTY, AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

Say No to Standardized Tests

by Russ Walsh, March 25, 2016
The only thing that standardized tests measure with any certainty is the relative income levels of the children who attend that school. All standardized tests do, year after year, is affirm that we have an achievement gap, which can better be understood as an opportunity gap. Where kids have rich and rewarding opportunities to grow and thrive, they do well on these tests. Where they don’t have these opportunities, they do not do well. We do not need yearly tests to tell us that. All we need do is walk down the streets of a leafy suburb and then walk down the street of an inner city neighborhood.


my response to john merrow

by A Teacher Anon, February 7, 2015
The problem, in terms of academic achievement as measured by invalid tests, is poverty. Period. Why that elephant continues to be ignored is obvious. If not ignored, then that would mean politicians would have to do something about it. They would finally have to be serving the people rather than corporations and billionaires.


Arne's Dumb Expectations

by Peter Greene, March 16, 2015
Imagine how different education would reform would play out if we just changed half of the following sentence. Instead of
Where we find failing schools and students, we must hold teachers and school districts responsible for their failure to properly teach those students
we could instead say
Where we find failing schools and students, we must hold politicians responsible for their failure to properly support those schools with needed resources.


Our Impoverished View of Educational Reform

by David Berliner, August 2, 2005
There are, of course, thousands of studies showing correlations between poverty and academic achievement. Nothing there will surprise us, though I do wonder why, after hundreds of studies showing that cigarettes were related to a great number of serious illnesses we eventually came to believe that the relationship between smoking and cancer, or smoking and emphysema, was causal. And yet when we now have research establishing analogous connections between poverty and educational attainment we ignore them. Instead we look for other causal mechanisms, like low expectations of teachers, or the quality of teachers’ subject matter knowledge, to explain the relationship.


Maybe it’s Time to Ask the Teachers?

by Linda Darling-Hammond, March 20, 2012
American teachers deal with a lot: low pay, growing class sizes and escalating teacher-bashing from politicians and pundits. Federal testing and accountability mandates under No Child Left Behind and, more recently, Race to the Top, have added layers of bureaucracy while eliminating much of the creativity and authentic learning that makes teaching enjoyable. Tack on the recession’s massive teacher layoffs and other school cuts, plus the challenges of trying to compensate for increasing child poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity, and you get a trifecta of disincentives to become, or remain, a teacher.


Parents, Poverty and Achieving in School

by Gerald Bracey, August 20, 2007
When people have said “poverty is no excuse,” my response has been, “Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.”


Children Deserve Veterinary Care Too

by Barbara Ehrenreich, July 26, 2007
...let me cite the case, reported in June by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, of Diamonte Driver, a 12-year old boy who died recently from an abscessed tooth because he had no insurance and his mother could not afford $80 to have the tooth pulled. Could a vet have handled this problem? Yes, absolutely.

Or there’s the case of 14-year old Devante Johnson, also reported by Herbert, who died when his health insurance ran out in the middle of treatment for kidney cancer. I don’t know exactly what kind of treatment he was getting, but I suspect that the $1.25 million linear accelerator for radiation therapy available at one of New York’s leading pet hospitals might have helped. The Times article also mentions a mixed breed named Bullwinkle who consumed $7000 worth of chemotherapy before passing on to his reward. Surely Devante could have benefited from the same kind of high quality pet care, delivered at a local upscale animal hospital.

It may seem callous to focus on children when so many pets go uninsured and without access to CT-scans or underwater treadmills. But in many ways, children stack up well compared to common pets. They can shed real tears, like Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. They can talk as well as many of the larger birds, or at least mimic human speech. And if you invest enough time in their care and feeding, they will jump all over you when you arrive at the door, yipping and covering your face with drool.


Testing

by Doghouse Riley, September 20, 2005

h/t Doug Masson
And as we all know, the Bush administration, proudly upholding the tradition of a political party which wanted to abolish the federal Department of Education as little as ten years ago, has added requirements via the Infinite Justice for Left Behind Children Act designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.


Let children be children / Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?

by Penelope H. Bevan, June 3, 2007
The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay, Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them, under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs.

Our children need parents and teachers who, like Hamlet, know a hawk from a hand saw, who know foolishness when they see it and are strong enough to defend these small souls from the onslaught of escalating developmentally inappropriate claptrap. The great unspoken secret of primary school is that a lot of what is going on is arrant nonsense, and it's getting worse.


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Thursday, September 5, 2019

2019 Medley #17: Back to school 2019, Part 2 The Test Fails

Testing and Accountability

THE TEST FAILS


Accountability is the big news in Indiana as school starts this year. It seems that our students didn't do well on the new iLearn test which replaced ISTEP and was administred last Spring.

Steve Hinnefeld, who blogs at Schools Matter, reported (see The stakes are the problem, below),
Just under half of all students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English/language arts, and just under half were proficient in mathematics, according to the assessment. Some 37% were proficient in both.
Why? Our students did fine on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) often called The Nation's Report Card. At least three/fourths of our students in grades four and eight were At or above Basic in reading and the same in math (for a discussion of the difference between Basic and Proficient on the NAEP see If NAEP “Proficient” Means “Grade Level Proficiency,” Then America’s Private Schools Are in Trouble by blogger Mercedes Schneider. Also see Scale Scores and Achievement Levels).

The problem is, apparently, the test itself. Superintendents from across the state (including the State Superintendent of Public Instruction) have recognized this and have spoken out to "pause accountability" for students, teachers, and schools. This makes plenty of sense, especially since a student achievement test is not a valid measure of schools and teachers!

Standardized Testing 101

Standardized tests are used to measure the knowledge students have of the content covered by the test. Only the content of the test is measured. In other words, a standardized math test which covers arithmetic and pre-algebra (similar to most standardized math tests used in elementary schools) should not be used to judge students' knowledge of reading.

Standardized tests are developed with validity and reliability. That means that 1) they measure what they were meant to measure (validity), and 2) they are consistent in their measurement (reliability). A standardized math achievement test is meant to measure a student's math achievement. It is valid only if it is used to measure their math achievement, and nothing else.

Using standardized tests meant to measure student achievement for any other use than measuring student achievement is invalid.

Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure Educational Quality
Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is.
The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools By Alfie Kohn (2000)
The more a test is made to "count"—in terms of being the basis for promoting or retaining students, for funding or closing down schools—the more that anxiety is likely to rise and the less valid the scores become.
Standardized student achievement tests should not be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools, and school systems. Achievement test results used in such a way are invalid.

Grading schools in Indiana as A to F based on student achievement tests is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.

Using student achievement tests to evaluate individual teachers is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.

The millions of dollars we spend on iLearn is being wasted if we misuse the tests.


Majority fail 1st test of ILEARN
[SACS Superintendent Phil Downs] and leaders of other Allen County districts decried the use of standardizes tests to unfairly measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools and students. And they called for changes to the overall accountability system.

“One of the most depressing days of the school year is when test scores come out,” Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

McCormick acknowledged that implementation dips usually come with a new assessment. Compared to last year, scores dropped 16% in English and 11% in math.

But she defended the students, noting college entrance scores and those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show improvement.

“Their performance is not backsliding,” McCormick said. “There are promising trends of student performance. This assessment and threshold was much more rigorous.”

Superintendents: Make one-year pause on ILEARN scores, school grades permanent
If ILEARN scores are adversely impacting students, teachers and school districts, and if our legislators are recommending a one-year pause preventing these scores from harming students, teachers and school districts, shouldn’t this pause be a permanent one? We are calling upon the governor and legislators to make the right decision and permanently detach test scores from teacher evaluations and grading Indiana public schools.

Standardized test scores should only be used for diagnostic purposes and nothing more. Remember former state Rep. Ray Richardson? Thirty-five years ago he created the legislation that called for a standardized test specifically designed to help teachers figure out which of their students needed help. Thus, ISTEP was born. Now, 35 years later, he regrets getting that legislation passed. As reported by Matthew Tully in the Indianapolis Star on Jan. 28, 2016, Richardson says, “It’s being used exclusively to grade schools and teachers. … That was never the intent.”

The stakes are the problem
Indiana’s ILEARN scores have been made public, and the freakout is underway. I guess we should be grateful. A decade ago, business leaders and newspaper editorial writers might have pointed to the scores as evidence that schools were broken. Now the consensus seems to be that the test is broken.

Here’s another possibility. Maybe the problem isn’t with the test. Maybe the problem is what we do with it. Maybe it’s the high stakes, not the testing, that we should reject.

UPDATE: ONE MORE ARTICLE

The Expensive Lesson of ILEARN
No grift can last forever, and maybe this one is falling apart. Fifteen years ago, Doghouse Riley wrote that ISTEP and similar requirements were “designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.” (The Washington Post history on Indiana school privatization suggests the ball really started rolling back in 1996.) My take has been that the push for vouchers and charters has been designed to subsidize religious education, break the teachers’ unions, and financially reward friends and well-wishers of the privatization advocates.

If Doghouse was right that the tests were intended to prove that the wrong sorts of schools were failures, the ILEARN is even more of a debacle.


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Friday, August 30, 2019

2019 Medley #16: Back to school 2019, Part 1

Special Ed. and Lead, Testing,
Teacher Evaluations,
Commission on Teacher Pay,
Reading and Phonics, Teachers' Spending, Supporting Your Local School, DPE


SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS AND LEAD POISONING

In Flint, Schools Overwhelmed by Special Ed. Needs in Aftermath of Lead Crisis

In nearly all my previous posts having to do with the lead poisoning of America's poor children, I have commented that we would likely see increased numbers of students needing special services in areas where lead is an identified problem.

Flint, Michigan is facing that situation. There aren't enough special education teachers to handle the increased case load in Flint's schools. The author of the article (and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit) don't blame the lead in the water for the increased need for speical ed services in Flint. It seems likely, however, that the near doubling of the number of children identified for special education over the last 8 years has something to do with the damage done to Flint's children by the lead in the water.

Who should pay for the permanent damage done to an entire community of lead poisoned children? Who should be held accountable? Will teachers' evaluations reflect the lower test scores of their students damaged by policy makers' neglect?

By the way, the title of this article refers to the "Aftermath of [Flint's] Lead Crisis." Is Flint's water safe yet? What about Newark? What about the lead in the ground in East Chicago, IN?
In a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Education Law Center, and the New York-based firm of White & Case, lawyers representing Flint families have sued the school system, the Michigan education department, and the Genesee County Intermediate school district, alleging systematic failure to meet the needs of special education students. The Genesee district helps oversee special education services in Flint and other county districts.

While the lawsuit does not pin the increased need for special education services solely on the prolonged lead exposure, research has linked lead toxicity to learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, and increased aggression.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT TESTS AREN'T VALID FOR TEACHER EVALUATIONS

As low ILEARN scores loom, McCormick wants to change how Indiana evaluates schools, teachers

What McCormick should have included in her comments...

We shouldn't use student achievement tests to evaluate teachers. Student achievement tests are developed to assess student achievement, not teacher effectiveness...not school effectiveness...and not school system effectiveness. This misuse of standardized tests invalidates the results.
McCormick also said it is “past time” for the state to take students’ standardized test scores out of teachers’ evaluations. The argument is that scores should be used to inform educators on what concepts students have mastered and where they need help, rather than a way of evaluating how well teachers are doing their jobs.

“ILEARN was a snapshot in time, it was a one-day assessment,” McCormick said. “It gave us information on where students are performing, but there are a lot of pieces to student performance beyond one assessment.”

As for why the first year of scores were low, McCormick said the new test was “much more rigorous” and weighed skills differently, prioritizing “college and career readiness” skills.


McCormick: It’s time to change school grading system

"It's past time to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations."
• Hold schools harmless for test results for accountability purposes. In other words, schools would receive the higher of the grade they earned in 2018 or 2019.
• Pause the intervention timeline that allows the state to close or take over schools that are rated F for multiple consecutive years.
• Give emergency rule-making authority to the State Board of Education to enable it to reconfigure the accountability system to align with the new assessment.

McCormick also said it’s past time to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations, which can determine whether teachers get raises. Current law says teacher evaluations must be “significantly informed” by objective measures, like students’ test scores.

TEACHERS REPEAT WHAT THEY'VE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS: LISTEN TO US!

Local educators tell commission to ‘support Hoosier teachers’ during input session focused on competitive wages

Once more teachers tell policy makers (this time "business and education leaders") how the state of Indiana (and the nation) has damaged public education and the teaching profession. Apparently, the only people who don't know why there's a teacher shortage are those who have caused it...
One by one, teachers and community members took to the mic to give their input of what they believe needs to be done to increase teacher pay as well as revenues available to school corporations.

Recommendations included — but were not limited to — looking into low-enrollment schools, increasing state taxes, dropping standardized testing and examining charter schools’ “harmful impact” on public education.


THERE IS NO MAGIC ELIXIR

Is NCLB’s Reading First Making a Comeback?

There's more to reading instruction than phonics.

[emphasis in original]
Teachers need a broad understanding about reading instruction and how to assess the reading needs of each student, especially when students are young and learning to read.

This includes decoding for children who have reading disabilities. But a variety of teaching tools and methods help children learn to read. The conditions in their schools and classrooms should be conducive for this to happen.

It would be helpful to read more about lowering class sizes, a way to better teach children in earlier grades.

Problems relating to the loss of librarians and libraries is also currently of grave concern. And with so many alternative education programs like Teach for America it’s important to determine who is teaching children reading in their classrooms.

The Reading First scandal was noxious, and I have not done justice describing it in this post. Today, most understand that NCLB was not about improving public education but about demeaning educators and closing public schools. Reading First fit into this privatization plan. It was about making a profit on reading programs. It turned out not to be a magic elixir to help students learn how to read better.


TEACHERS OPEN THEIR WALLETS

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies

While the governor and his commission on teacher pay argue about the best way to increase teacher salaries across the state, Indiana's teachers are opening their classrooms and their wallets. The average amount of money a teacher spends on his/her students in Indiana is $462, which is more than the national average.
The nation’s K–12 public school teachers shell out, on average, $459 on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars), according to the NCES 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). This figure does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts. The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9%) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL - END VOUCHERS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

Support Our Public Schools – And The Teachers Who Work In Them

What can you do to help support your local school?
As our nation’s young people return to public schools, there are things you can do to shore up the system. First, support your local public schools. It doesn’t matter if your children are grown or you never had children. The kids attending public schools in your town are your neighbors and fellow residents of your community. Someday, they will be the next generation of workers, teachers and leaders shaping our country. It’s in everyone’s best interest that today’s children receive the best education possible, and the first step to that is making sure their public schools are adequately funded.

Second, arm yourself with facts about the threat vouchers pose to public education and oppose these schemes. To learn more, visit the website of the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), a coalition co-chaired by Americans United that includes more than 50 education, civic, civil rights and religious organizations devoted to the support of public schools. NCPE has pulled together a lot of research showing that voucher plans don’t work and that they harm public education by siphoning off needed funds.


GUIDE TO THE DPE MOVEMENT

A Layperson’s Guide to the ‘Destroy Public Education’ Movement

This excellent summary post by Thomas Ultican was originally published on Sept. 21, 2018.
The destroy public education (DPE) movement is the fruit of a relatively small group of billionaires. The movement is financed by several large non-profit organizations. Nearly all of the money spent is free of taxation. Without this spending, there would be no wide-spread public school privatization.

It is generally recognized that the big three foundations driving DPE activities are The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $41 billion), The Walton Family Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $3.8 billion), and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $1.8 
billion).

Last week, the Network for Public Education published “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.” This interactive report lists the top ten billionaires spending to drive their DPE agenda with links to case studies for their spending.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Repairing the Damage to Science

ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM

The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education

In 2012 53% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents in the U.S. believed that higher education was a net positive for the nation and 35% had a negative view. Now, in 2019, those numbers have reversed. 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents have a negative view of higher education while 33% have a positive view. Over the same time period, the results for Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents have been consistent -- about 66% positive and about 20% negative.

Ed Brayton, who blogs at Dispatches from the Culture Wars "is not at all" surprised by this.

Most Republicans Reject Higher Education
This is not at all surprising. The right, and Trump in particular, have made rejection of expertise and knowledge almost an article of faith. They look at university faculty that leans liberal, decide they’re the enemy and demonize them in every way possible. Trump embodies this with his constant rejection of science, learning and experience. No one knows anything about anything but him, so he doesn’t need no fancy schmancy liberal eggheads telling him that global warming is real or that perhaps he should listen to our career civil servants in the diplomatic corps, who might just know something he doesn’t about the countries they’ve been deeply involved with for decades.
Not only is this not surprising, but, as the surveys have shown, it's not new either. In 2012 more than a third of America's Republicans thought that a post-secondary education had a net negative impact on our society. While that's less than in 2019, it's still a lot.


QUICK HISTORY

This strain of popular anti-intellectualism has been part of American life since the beginning of the Republic. It was present in the religious objections to the Constitution, and according to Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, is at least in part, the result of the particular strain of Protestantism which set the tone for the development of the country.

In more modern times...
  • Vice-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon called former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson an "egghead"
However, the fact that the percentage of Republican Americans who disdain expertise has risen is more reflective of the direction of the Republican Party under its current leadership than any change in the number of Americans who would like their children to go to college.

By the way, it's still true that the more education one has, the higher one's income prospects...and the difference is growing. In 1970 the difference in average income between those with a college degree and those with just a high school diploma was $14,400 per year. By 2018 that difference had nearly doubled to $25,000.

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats don't like the post-secondary impact of high tuition costs, but nearly 80% of Republicans include the so-called left-leaning tendency of college professors in their reasons for their negative view of colleges and universities. Interestingly, this further divides by age. 96% of Republicans over 65 think liberal professors impose their beliefs on the young, whereas slightly over half (56%) of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 34 feel that way. While that's still a majority, it implies that a large number of young Republicans don't see post-secondary liberal professorial indoctrination as a problem. One would think that the younger sample rather than the older, would have a better handle on what is going on in colleges and universities today.

FIGHTING BACK

In the meantime, the current administration ignores scientific (and other) expertise when making decisions which affect us all.

The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in their report, The State of Science in the Trump Era (2019),
Scientists—whether agency staff, experts in leadership positions, or nongovernmental scientists on advisory committees—have long advised policymakers when good decisions depend on scientific evidence. The Trump administration is excluding this expertise from decisionmaking...

Our nation's landmark public health and environmental laws require the use of science to set standards that protect people and preserve our natural resources. The Trump administration has ignored or sidestepped many of these processes...
In fact, the administration is not just ignoring expertise, but actually censoring science that doesn't fit its pro-profit or political agenda.

Who does President Trump treat worse than anyone else? Scientists.
In 2017, Interior Department officials — including then-Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt — blocked the release of a comprehensive analysis about the threat that three widely used pesticides pose to endangered species, requiring the report’s authors to use a narrower standard for determining the risk of the chemicals. That year, the government also halted a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on the health risks of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachian states, wasting $455,110 that had already been spent on the process.

We could go on: The administration has suppressed, blocked or ignored scientific research on the environmental effects of mining in national forests, the dangers of asbestos, the status of endangered species, the effect a citizenship question would have on the U.S. Census, the safety of children’s products and countless other issues.


The education community must step up. We must prepare tomorrow's leaders to repair the intellectual damage coming from the current administration.
This is the intellectual rot of the Trump era. It’s more than just an anti-big government ideology; it’s a systematic assault on science across the federal government. These actions will reverberate in our government for years to come, even after the Trump administration is gone, in the form of policy decisions we make without the benefit of the best evidence available. And worse, Americans may not even be aware of how they are being deceived and deprived.

That’s the true scandal of Trump’s war on scientists. No other group is so pervasively targeted and so thoroughly ignored. Yet it is their voices, more than any other, that our nation needs in this disturbing political moment.

CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE

Reversing the anti-science direction of the country will take time and won't be easy. We can do it if we focus on today's students...tomorrow's leaders.

In his last interview (go to 3:55 for this quote), Carl Sagan warned (1996),
Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.

If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then, we are up for grabs for the next charlatan (political or religious) who comes ambling along.

It's a thing that Jefferson lay great stress on. It wasn't enough, he said, to enshrine some rights in a constitution or a bill of rights. The people had to be educated and they had to practice their skepticism and their education. Otherwise we don't run the government. The government runs us.
What can we do? The charlatans are here...it's time to step up.


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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Medley #15: A Poisoned Environment - A Side-Effect of Poverty

Poisoning our children

Let's review.

Lead in the environment damages children...permanently. It lowers their school achievement, causes behavior and growth problems, and can increase criminal behavior.

Educational Researcher David C. Berliner discussed the impact of environmental toxins such as lead in his 2009 paper, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. He wrote,
It is now understood that there is no safe level of lead in the human body, and that lead at any level has an impact on IQ. Small doses from paint on toys or in cosmetics have the power to subtly harm children. The present-day cut off for concern about toxic effects is usually a measured lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (10 μg/dl). Anything higher than this is considered unsafe by the U.S. government. However, a five-year study of 172 children indicates that lead causes intellectual impairment even at much lower levels...
Now, in 2019, ten years later, we're still discussing the damage that lead poisoning does to our children...and we're still blaming the low achievement of lead-damaged children on schools, teachers, and parents through our reliance on test scores and our underfunding of those schools serving children who need the most help.

[The following is from the Environmental Protection Agency. I reccomend that you read it soon, as there's no telling when the current administration will remove it from the web site.]

Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water
It is important to recognize all the ways a child can be exposed to lead. Children are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. If the level of lead in a child's blood is at or above the CDC action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, it may be due to lead exposures from a combination of sources. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

Children

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia
The most notorious example of state-sponsored child-poisoning in the last few years has been in Flint Michigan, where the residents still do not have safe drinking water, and those responsible for the mess -- and covering up the mess -- have yet to be held accountable.


Flint’s Water Crisis Started 5 Years Ago. It’s Not Over.

This was published in April 25, 2019, five years after a group of Flint officials declared the water safe. How many children from Flint now need special educational services?
...in Flint, the water crisis is by no means in the past.

“It’s a community that’s still dealing with the trauma and the aftermath of having been poisoned at the hands of the government,” Karen Weaver, who replaced Mr. Walling as mayor largely because of anger over the water crisis, said in an interview this week. Ms. Weaver continues to tell residents to drink only bottled or filtered water.

On Thursday, pastors and activists gathered outside the city’s water treatment plant to call for more help. Some wore shirts that said “Flint Is Still Broken.” 
It's not just Flint, however. Right here in Indiana...

INDIANA

East Chicago

The Bitter Legacy of the East Chicago Lead Crisis

...which then-Governor Pence ignored as long as he could...
In 1985, the Indiana State Department of Health discovered lead contamination near the USS Lead facility, the same year the facility closed down. While USS Lead would later clean up lead waste at the facility, contamination would linger in the surrounding areas. It wasn't until 2009 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added parts of the USS Lead facility and the surrounding neighborhood to the Superfund National Priorities List...

In the summer of 2016, the EPA sent letters to residents of the housing complex informing them of the lead contamination. Frustrated by the slow pace of the EPA cleanup effort, which continues to this day, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish the West Calumet Housing Complex, which it did, forcing more than a thousand residents to move out.

South Bend

Towns Face Obstacles Dealing With, Then Fixing Lead Contamination
“One of the challenges is that, as we’re digging into this, we’re discovering that funding has diminished, testing has diminished, the attention to this problem has diminished,” says Stoner.

As far as funding goes, the St. Joseph County Health Department doesn’t have the money to help all the children with elevated blood levels—help like seeing if there are lead hazards in the kids’ homes or educating parents on how to manage lead poisoning...

Whiting/Hammond

Lead contamination limbo plaguing Whiting, Hammond neighborhoods
...a lack of funding means the majority of the yards in EPA's study area have been left untouched.

Soil sample results provided to the Times show Dana and Sean’s backyard levels at 435 ppm, or slightly above the federal agency’s residential cleanup removal standard.

By EPA’s own safety standards, their soil level should warrant action, they said, but so far, EPA has only had enough money to clean yards deemed critically necessary...

Lead Levels In Hammond, Indiana Schools Raise Concerns
A new round of test results show potentially hazardous lead-levels in water at seven Hammond schools, and now some in the community are worried about schools that have not been tested yet.
What do all these areas have in common besides lead in the water?

A high percentage of children of color, and high levels of childhood poverty.

60% of Flint's children live in poverty. East Chicago schools have a free and reduced lunch rate of 85%. Childhood poverty rates for children in South Bend, while dropping in recent years, is still over 30%, well above the state average.

NEW JERSEY

Lead Crisis in Newark Grows, as Bottled Water Distribution Is Bungled

Newark New Jersey, with a childhood poverty rate of over 40% is now facing the same situation as Flint, East Chicago, and dozens of other high poverty cities around the country.
A growing crisis over lead contamination in drinking water gripped Newark on Wednesday as tens of thousands of residents were told to drink only bottled water, the culmination of years of neglect that has pushed New Jersey’s largest city to the forefront of an environmental problem afflicting urban areas across the nation.

Urgent new warnings from federal environmental officials about contamination in drinking water from aging lead pipes spread anxiety and fear across much of Newark, but the municipal government’s makeshift efforts to set up distribution centers to hand out bottled water were hampered by confusion and frustration.


Why do children in poverty achieve at lower rates than wealthier children? In part, it's because they are exposed to environmental toxins like lead at higher rates than their wealthier peers.

This wouldn't...and doesn't...happen to children of the wealthy.


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