"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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Critical Thinking in the Post-Truth World


In 2012 Donald Trump claimed that climate change was a Chinese hoax.
Once he took office, the Trump administration began to dismantle science-based policy in the US.

The Trump Administration Has Attacked Science 100 Times ... and Counting
The Trump administration’s unprecedented record on science will harm people across the country, especially the most disenfranchised. While the sheer number of attacks on science is shocking, what a lack of science-informed policy means for our country is even more shocking. The administration’s rollback of protections from exposure to dangerous chemicals means that more people will become ill, develop chronic diseases or die from encountering these hazardous substances.

A good example comes from an early 2018 issue when Trump administration officials blocked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) from publishing a draft toxicology report on a class of potentially hazardous chemicals commonly found in drinking water and groundwater

Science Under Attack: How Trump is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work
Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

But the erosion of science reaches well beyond the environment and climate: In San Francisco, a study of the effects of chemicals on pregnant women has stalled after federal funding abruptly ended. In Washington, D.C., a scientific committee that provided expertise in defending against invasive insects has been disbanded. In Kansas City, Mo., the hasty relocation of two agricultural agencies that fund crop science and study the economics of farming has led to an exodus of employees and delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in research.


The Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Texas school board member who (talking about science standards for schools) claimed that someone has to "stand up to experts" who are using science to develop policy.

The constant anti-science drumbeat that comes from Washington has led a large number of Americans (mostly supporters of the President) to become distrustful of experts, medical experts in the case of the current pandemic. This has led to an increased number of coronavirus skeptics and deniers.

Some skepticism comes from ignorance based on racism fueled by political rhetoric, like the county official in Kansas who claimed that the coronavirus wasn't a problem for them because they don't have any Chinese people living nearby.

For others, it's the almighty market. They want to protect Wall Street by canceling all the shelter-at-home orders and get the economy rolling again. Just ignore that COVID-19 death behind the curtain.

In a recent interview, Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, explained why some experts are believed and some are not. It turns out that, Simon and Garfunkel were right. "...a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
People trust their dentists. People trust their car mechanics. In general, people use experts all the time, and most of us don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing experts on most issues. There are some definite exceptions to that...the big exception has to do with what I’ve written about, which is implicatory denial. That is to say, we reject scientific findings because we don’t like their implications.

HAVE WE LOST THE ABILITY TO JUDGE WHAT IS TRUE AND WHAT IS NOT?


When you have an established, scientific, emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.
Americans are having trouble with the truth. The truth comes from sources we trust, and for many, the only source worthy of trust is their own ideological bubble. America's education system is left with the task of teaching students how to identify truth and how to recognize propaganda and hyperbole. In that way, perhaps, we might move on from a "post-truth world" to a world where experience and expertise are valued, and where there is a common basis for truth.

There are teachers in America's public schools who are teaching children to identify propaganda and learn to identify the truth. In the following video (go to 19:50) we see a teacher helping middle school children learn to identify misleading information. The teacher, Melissa Lau, who was trained by the National Center for Science Education, believes that her job is to help the students learn to "navigate" the world of online information. The narrator is shocked that children in sixth grade are having to learn how to decipher misinformation and recognize fake experts, logical fallacies, cherry-picking, and conspiracy theories. What is shocking is that many Americans regularly fall for these techniques when they read the news and otherwise gather information.

"It's a survival skill in this day and age."

One thing is clear. Purveyors of misinformation will keep on doing what they're doing as long as they are profiting -- economically or socially -- by it. It's our job as educators to help students understand misleading content and sift through the massive amounts of information coming at them and learn to be critical readers and thinkers. Students need to understand how to identify propaganda, recognize "spin," and learn how to find truth in a "post-truth" world.

Maybe if we are successful some of it will rub off on their parents.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

2020 Medley #9: Hunkered Down at Home Edition

Dumping the tests, Some things don't matter, Social Distancing, Focusing on students,
Beating Coronavirus Capitalism, Disasters


DUMPING THE TESTS IS A GREAT IDEA

Why Scrapping School Testing This Year Is a Good Idea

Before I retired, I had the difficult task of serving as one of my school's co-test coordinators. It was my job to count, secure, distribute, secure, package up, secure, and prepare our state's Big Standardized Test (h/t Curmudgucation) for shipping. Sadly, I have been trained in tests and measurements so I understood why, for so many years, the Big Standardized Tests were being overused and misused.

Now that the overuse and misuse of testing pendulum is, hopefully, swinging the other way, my fervent hope is that perhaps we can limit the damage done by the tests.

In the meantime, this year's Big Standardized Tests are being canceled. Jersey Jazzman explains why that's a good idea and in the process, also explains why the tests aren't so good for students anyway. They are extremely accurate in assessing the economic status of students, but that's about all.
Start with the obvious: a "standardized" test has to be administered in a standard way. If some students receive the test in different platforms, or in different environments, the test is no longer standardized. Of course, there were already huge differences between students in these factors... but Covid-19 has made things far worse. There's just no way to even come close to standardizing the conditions for testing in the current environment. Will the students be at home, in school but "social distancing," in regular school, somewhere else... we just can't say.

Next, we have always had big differences in students' opportunity to learn -- but now the differences are greater than ever. Again, there are huge variations among students in their access to qualified educators, high-quality facilities, adequate instructional materials, well-designed curricula, and so on. The best use of test results was to make the case that the variation in these things was creating unequal educational opportunities, and that public policy should focus on getting resources where they were needed the most.

But in a quarantine, we now have to add all sorts of other inequalities into the mix: access to broadband, parents who have the ability to oversee students' instruction, schools' ability to implement distance learning, etc. Why implement these tests when inequities within the same classroom -- let alone between schools -- have grown so large?


PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

Dear Teachers: There Are Many Things That No Longer Matter

A pandemic puts things in perspective. The health and safety of our students, and their families, are more important than the tests.
If you are attempting virtual learning with your students, now is the time to teach what you have always recognized are the crucial topics in your curriculum. Throw out the state requirements and embrace your professional decision-making skills. The state requirements do not matter. There will be no formal observations. No one will give you some annual professional performance review (APPR). We have known all along that those measures are bullshit. I am continuing to cover the most important content, but I am also asking my students to act as historians through recording a daily diary of this extraordinary time. This time will shape them forever, and we are their guardians.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO WHILE SOCIAL DISTANCING

Top 10 Things I Want My Students to do During the Coronavirus Quarantine

Steven Singer, who blogs at Gadfly on the Wall Blog, lets his students know that there are things to do during "social distancing." The first is to read a book. For those without access to books, there are the library apps Libby and Hoopla to get digital books.

He wisely includes writing, immediately after reading. Reading and writing are reciprocal. "Reading is the inhale; writing is the exhale."
2) Read a Book

I ask all of my students to have a self-selected book handy for sustained silent reading in class. Hopefully, you brought it home. If not, take a look around the house. Maybe you’ve got a dusty tome hanging out in some corner. Or – hey – if you have Internet access, you probably have the ability to get an ebook.

Read something – anything you want.

It will while away the hours, relax you and maybe get your mind to thinking about things above and beyond how much mac and cheese you’ve got stored in the cupboard.

3) Keep a Journal

Do you realize you’re living through a moment of history? People will look back on this and wonder how people got through it. You could fill in the blanks for some future researcher. Just a description of your everyday activities, what you’re thinking and feeling, your hopes and dreams – all of it has historical value. Plus, you’ll get some practice expressing yourself in writing. And just think – a simple story about how you survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 could end up being taught in the classrooms of the future!

Make it a good one!


IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STUDENTS

Our Students Need Us Now More Than Ever

Are you keeping in touch with your students during this extended coronviracation? You should.
If anything, we teachers and support personnel are needed now more than ever.

Close a school for a while and the community instantly feels the effects. Shut them down across the state and everybody has to adjust.

Our students look to us for guidance, direction, assistance, validation, answers, and the ability to use voice. Nothing has changed in that respect.

Educators advocate for students and schools. Nothing has changed in that respect.

We collaborate with each other and remove obstacles for our students. Nothing has changed in that respect.

We will adapt. We will overcome this obstacle. No one adapts to situations and change like we do.

Because it’s all about the students.

BEATING CORONAVIRUS CAPITALISM

Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It

Last week, in my post, Public Education, Disaster Capitalism, and COVID-19 (expanded into an op-ed in our local paper here), I discussed how "edupreneurs" will be likely to swoop in and take advantage of public education to further their dreams of privatization. I quoted author Naomi Klein from her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Today, I saw this post by Ms. Klein talking about the exact same thing.

The COVID-19 disaster is exactly the sort of disaster that disaster capitalists exploit. Klein wrote...
This crisis — like earlier ones — could well be the catalyst to shower aid on the wealthiest interests in society, including those most responsible for our current vulnerabilities, while offering next to nothing to the most workers, wiping out small family savings and shuttering small businesses. But as this video shows, many are already pushing back — and that story hasn’t been written yet.



DISASTER UPON DISASTER

Midwest Girds for Floods While under Corona Lockdown

While we're worrying about COVID-19, we can't forget that the Earth is still reacting to human-induced climate change.
As an upsurge in coronavirus infections stretches thin the capacity of health care workers and emergency managers nationwide, the Midwest is bracing for another battle: a potentially devastating flood season.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

2020 Medley #8: Public Education, Disaster Capitalism, and COVID-19

UPDATE: A version of this blog entry appears in the Friday, March 20 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, titled: Coping in the time of COVID

DISASTER

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, described how natural and man-made disasters open the door to privatization. During the COVID-19 disaster, we must ensure that the same thing doesn't happen to public education.

Schools have been starved over the last few decades. The lack of funding for public education, and other public institutions and public infrastructure, have opened up schools to vulnerability under the Shock Doctrine. Klein wrote...
When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty.
and...
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2007 that the U.S. had fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure -- roads, bridges, schools, dams -- that it would take more than a trillion and half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard. Instead, these types of expenditures are being cut back. At the same time, public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It's easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers.

COVID-19

As of this writing, schools are closed for more than half of America's children. But, as we've discussed in these blogs over the last fourteen years, public schools, and public school teachers, are about more than academics.

Teachers care about their students. Friends of Betsy DeVos may think that we're only in it for the money, but public school teachers care about the whole child...and as Nancy Flanagan writes below, teachers are First Responders when it comes to taking care of the nation's children.


The following articles describe what public school teachers and public schools are doing to help children and their parents thrive during this stressful time. I recommend that you read all of them in their entirety...

ED-TECH

HEWN (Hack Education Weekly Newsletter), No. 344

Ed-tech is ready to dump their items on schools (for a price, of course)...especially now when those schools that have closed are using technology to connect with their students. Remember that computers, phones, iPads, and similar digital devices are tools, not ends in themselves.
...an assertion that rests on the assumption that ed-tech is good, that it can replicate at home what happens in the classroom. “This may be our moment,” ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving “to the cloud.” Of course, education technology — as a field, an industry, a discipline, a solution, what have you — has had decades and decades and decades to get this right. It still hasn’t. So when you hear “this is our moment,” you should recall perhaps the thesis of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. What we’re poised to see in response to the coronavirus — and not just in education, to be fair — is more disaster capitalism, and “disaster capitalists share this same inability to distinguish between creation and destruction, between hurting and healing.”

TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS STEP UP

Coronavirus Has Shown Us the Vital Role Schools Play, But Will America Listen?

Schools feed and house (and sometimes clothe) students every day. Those students who have little or no home resources will suffer most from the lack of open school buildings.
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare something that educators have always known. Schools, side by side with hospitals, are the most important institutions in our country’s social safety net. Of course, we’ve said this since the era of school shootings, where teachers have placed their bodies (literally) in front of students to keep them safe.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put this into even sharper focus, as we grapple with the domino effects of closing entire school districts for prolonged periods at a time. Some public schools will be closed anywhere from a day to a month. Yet, others, such as the New York City system, are still, at this writing, open.

Thus far, dealing with the coronavirus has highlighted four important things about our nation’s schools:

Schools are key to keeping the economy running...
Schools provide respite housing for homeless students during daytime hours...
Schools help to prevent large-scale child hunger every day...
Schools are the primary source of public health information for many families.


Once Again Teachers are First Responders

Schools and teachers have stepped up to help their students.
...Teachers are like those firefighters in Kirkland, Washington who came to transport extremely ill nursing home residents to the hospital, without gloves and masks. Just doing our jobs, just following directions.

Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of teachers who organized take-home packets and figured out how to get coursework online, even if they didn’t have a clue about how to do it before last week. And thank you to those who pointed out, with considerable asperity, how incredibly inequitable virtual instruction will be, but went ahead and made plans to do it anyway. Thanks to all who sent home food or arranged for food pickup—or even made a single call to a single household, to make sure an adult was home.

Nobody knows how to do this well. Nobody. But schools and teachers are still trying.

Disaster Capitalism, Online Instruction, and What Covid-19 Is Teaching Us About Public Schools and Teachers

Nancy Bailey's blog entry was the catalyst for this post.
We’re reminded of disaster capitalism, a concept highlighted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, how Katrina was used in New Orleans to convert traditional public schools to charter schools. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. (p. 5-6). Who thought that could happen?

The transitioning of technology into public schools, not simply as a supplemental tool for teachers to use at their discretion, but as a transformative means to remove teachers from the equation, has been highlighted with groups like Digital Promise and KnowledgeWorks. Both promote online learning and it’s difficult to find teachers in the mix.

Combining this with the intentional defunding of public schools, shoddy treatment of teachers including the unwillingness to pay them appropriate salaries, inadequate resources and support staff, crumbling buildings, and the destruction of public schooling in America, should we not question what placing students online at this strange time will mean in the future to our schools?


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Monday, March 16, 2020

2020 Medley #7

Poverty, COVID-19 and school, Testing,
Online instruction, Charters = risky business, Undermining religious liberty,
Talking to students about race


IT'S STILL POVERTY

We have a learning crisis but it’s not about the kids

We know that student achievement is based largely on out of school factors yet we continue to try to "fix" the schools. Changing curriculum, blaming schools or teachers, privatizing, or overtesting won't solve the problem of low student achievement. The main link to low school achievement is poverty.

About a fifth of American students live in poverty (the same as child poverty in Indiana) and millions of those children live in food-insecure households.

As long as we, as a nation, refuse to address the growing inequality among our students, we'll continue to have high child poverty levels. Since high poverty correlates with low school achievement, we'll continue to have a large number of our students who fail to achieve.
World-class education nations don’t do what seems to be our main strategy: Insist schools compete against one another, use toxic accountability measures to control and measure what schools do, and hold teachers as scapegoats for plunged education rankings...

Half a century of systematic research has shown that teachers account for about 10 to 15 per cent of the variability in students’ test scores. A similar amount of variability is associated with other school factors, such as curriculum, resources and leadership. This means that most of the influence on students’ educational achievement lies outside school — in homes, communities, peer groups and students’ individual characteristics.

Make no mistake, teachers are the most influential part of school. We should stop thinking that teachers have the power to overcome all those inequalities that many children bring to school with them every day.

Schools Alone Cannot Save Children from Economic Inequality. Public Policy Must Assist Families in Deep Poverty
Public policy can ameliorate child poverty without being revolutionary. However, programs need to be redesigned and targeted to alleviate instability, privation and misery for the more than 2 million children living in America’s poorest families. Child poverty overall was reduced in the decade between 1995 and 2005, but during that same period, the number children living in the deepest poverty rose from 2.2 to 2.6 million children. These are the conclusions of a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) defines deep poverty as families living below half of the federal poverty level—below $14,000 per year for a family of four. Who are these children? “Children living in deep poverty are a diverse group…. In 2016, 37 percent were white, 30 percent were Latino, 23 percent were Black, and 6 percent were Asian; 45 percent lived in suburban areas, 32 percent in urban areas, and 11 percent in rural areas; 51 percent lived in a single-mother family, 37 percent in a married-couple family, and 6 percent in a single-father family; 16 percent lived in a family where someone had a work-limiting disability; and 89 percent were U.S. citizens and 31 percent lived in a family with a non-citizen.”


A TEACHABLE MOMENT?

Listen to Trusted Expert Advice: Coronavirus, Schools, Fear, and an Uncertain Future

Children all over the country are getting an unplanned vacation from school because of COVID-19. Their schools are moving to "virtual instruction" (more on that below). The virus seems to be the perfect "teachable moment" as explained by Ed in the Apple. Students who are still in school could also benefit.
I was speaking with a school supervisor yesterday: he was teaching a kindergarten class: how to wash their hands. The lessons should be replicated in all classrooms across the city.

Science lessons, by grade, should explain what a virus is; English classes should be reading non-fiction about viruses and epidemics.

When I mentioned this I was told, “We don’t want to unduly scare children.” Knowledge is power: the more we involve the children, teach children, we all know that the “teachable moment” is at the heart of impactful instruction.

STANDARDIZED TESTS -- A LOW PRIORITY

Public Schools Can Recover from the COVID-19 Quarantine by Skipping High Stakes Tests

What should schools do when they come back from the forced COVID-19 layoff? Skip the test!

First, debrief your students. They will all have stories to tell about how their family survived, who got sick, who might still be sick, what they did to amuse themselves, and how they coped.

Then, get back to the curriculum. We should not waste time on tests. Remember that the greatest impact on a child's standardized test is what happens outside of school (see also We have a learning crisis but it's not about the kids, elsewhere in this Medley).
The question remains – what do we do when we get back to class?

We could extend the school year, but families have vacations planned and other obligations. This wouldn’t solve much and frankly I don’t think it will happen unless we’re out for longer than expected.

I anticipate being back in school by mid April or so. That would leave about a month and a half left in the year.

This really leaves us with only two options: (1) hold our end of the year standardized tests and then fit in whatever else we can, or (2) forgo the tests and teach the curriculum.

If we have the tests, we could hold them shortly after school is back in session. That at least would give us more time to teach, but it would reduce the quality of the test scores. Kids wouldn’t be as prepared and the results would be used to further dismantle the public school network.

Much better I think is option two: skip the tests altogether.


How Can K-12 Schools Make Up Time Lost To The Coronavirus? Scrap High Stakes Testing.
There will simply be no way to know how much of this year’s test data is the result of coronavirus disruption. They will be a waste of time.

So don’t give them.

Schools can not only recoup the time lost for giving the tests, but all the time spent preparing for the tests (plus, in some cases, all the time spent on zippy test pep rallies).

Cut the test. Reclaim the instructional time and use it to patch the holes that the coronavirus is going to blow in the school’s curriculum. It’s not a perfect solution, but it makes far more sense than wasting a bunch of time and money on a meaningless standardized test.

ONLINE INSTRUCTION

Ohio's Charter School War fails us when we could really use them.

If online charters are worthy of education dollars from the state, shouldn't they be taking the lead in teaching students "laid-off" from school during the COVID-19 crisis? This article is specifically about Ohio but is appropriate for any state with public money going to online charter schools.
With all this COVID-19 talk, every Ohio Public School District is planning to move to online instruction through the end of the year. While that seems like a heavy lift, it really shouldn't be. Why?

Because no state has more students already attending virtual schools than Ohio.

Yet in no instance has the Ohio Department of Education or any school district -- despite this emergency crisis -- said, "Hey, we have a lot of online schools already, why don't we ask them for help?"


CHARTERS -- A BAD RISK

Credit Ratings Agency: U.S. charter school sector “inherently risky and volatile”

Will higher risk relieve us of the charter school scourge which diverts public funds from real public schools?
5) National: Standard & Poor’s has issued an assessment of the charter school sector’s creditworthiness as part of an overview of public finance. “The charter school sector is inherently risky and volatile, relative to other public finance sectors, as reflected in our ratings distribution, and charter nonrenewal or revocations can affect credit quality swiftly. However, despite these intrinsic risks, the majority—82%—of S&P Global Ratings’ ratings in the sector carried stable outlooks as of Dec. 31, 2019. While the sector is facing increasing political support for stricter charter laws or oversight in some states, federal government support for school choice remains strong, per-pupil funding is generally stable to growing, and demand for charter schools continues to grow. From a financing standpoint, charter schools’ opportunities and options have expanded and interest rates remain low…

“Our rated universe increasingly reflects more established charter schools, which generally have completed several successful charter renewals, maintain steady academics, and experience less credit volatility than newer schools. While there are inherent credit risks that can affect schools throughout the year, such as failure to meet authorizer standards, charter nonrenewal due to factors such as academics, or enrollment shortfalls, we believe the sector’s outlook for 2020 will continue being stable due to continued demand and growing per-pupil funding levels. However, should charter law and policy changes of significant impact occur in states where we hold a large number of ratings, or some of the broader risks (such as a slowing national economy or recession) transpire during this calendar year, charter schools could face more credit stress.” [Registration required]

VOUCHER PROGRAMS UNDERMINE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

School Voucher Programs Undermine Religious Liberty, Misuse Taxpayer Funds

The following is from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Vouchers aren't good for anyone...
Yes, “choice” sounds like it is associated with “freedom,” but by funneling government funds to religious schools, vouchers actually undermine the religious freedom of both the taxpayer and the religious institution receiving the payment.

Not only do vouchers force taxpayers to support religious education they might disagree with, they also threaten religious autonomy by attaching government regulations that may compromise the religious mission of the school. Once dependent on voucher funds for its success, a church-based school can be even further pushed toward gaining favor with government regulators.

In other words, government neutrality toward religion is good for the state and good for religion.


TALK TO WHITE KIDS ABOUT RACE

White Fragility in Students

We should talk to all our students about race in America.
In our interviews with young people around the country for our Teaching While White podcast, we have seen firsthand an inability among white students to talk about race without exhibiting racial stress. We hear white children as young as nine years old express anxiety about being white and what they think that means. Often these white students, who mind you have volunteered to be interviewed, feel ill equipped and sometimes unable to engage in racial conversations. It seems that we are successfully raising the next generation of white people who, like too many in the current generation of adults, feel afraid and reluctant to talk about race.

There is a common cultural myth that racism is diminishing among youth today. In reality, not only are white students not talking about race, but incidents of blatant individual acts of racism are currently on the rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there has been a surge in reports of hate and bias in schools in the last three years. Racism appears to be the motivation behind a high percentage of these hate and bias incidents, accounting for 63% of incidents reported in the news and 33% of incidents reported by teachers in the SPLC survey. School responses to this uptick in racialized incidents has been disappointing. More than two-thirds of the educators SPLC surveyed had witnessed a hate or bias incident in their school. According to the report, “most of the hate and bias incidents witnessed by educators were not addressed by school leaders. No one was disciplined in 57% of them. Nine times out of 10, administrators failed to denounce the bias or to reaffirm school values.”

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Will Teachers Listen to Their Own Message?

A STATE THAT HATES ITS PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Last year around this time I listed a short (recent) history of the ways the Indiana Republican-dominated legislature and governors hated Indiana's public schools.

In Indiana: Still hating public education after all these years I discussed how the legislature, under the leadership of Governors Daniels and Pence restricted collective bargaining for Indiana's teachers, refused to acknowledge with economic support the value of experience and education among Indiana's teachers, supported rules making it easier for unqualified non-professionals to teach in Indiana's schools, withdrew due process from teachers' rights as employees, and stalled funding.

At the end of 2019, Indiana teachers finally got the message and took it to the streets. On November 19th, 2019, fifteen to twenty thousand (depending on who's writing the report) teachers and public education supporters marched on the Indiana Statehouse asking for more money for Indiana's schools.


MORE MONEY FOR PRIVATIZATION

The legislature, under the leadership of Governors Daniels, Pence and Holcomb, has steadily increased economic support for vouchers since the first voucher plan became law in 2011. Similarly, support for charter schools has expanded since 2011. Meanwhile, support for public education has lost ground to economic downturns and to inflation.

The pro-privatization forces in the legislature decided to end the practice of electing a state Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the future, Indiana will be one of only a few states where the governor and the legislative majority have complete control over the state's educational system from the Superintendent to the fully appointed State Board of Education. The people no longer have a direct voice in education policy in Indiana. (At this link to the Education Commission of the States note that Indiana will move from Model III to Model I with the exception that leaders of each legislative house will also appoint one member of the State Board of Education)


Indiana's current Governor, Eric Holcomb, and the supermajority-based houses of the Indiana General Assembly have made it clear that the Red for Ed rally in November didn't convince them that teachers actually mean business.

Teacher pay, according to the Governor, is still being studied, and according to the Republican leadership in the legislature, since 2020 isn't a budget year, spending more money on public schools or teachers won't happen. Teachers and public schools are going to have to wait for next year when the entire state budget is examined.

But they didn't hesitate to dump more money-making deals on charter and voucher schools!

Today the Senate will discuss and vote on a bill that has an amendment that will allow charters to grab a share of public school money acquired through referenda. That same day last week that the Senate passed that amendment, they also ok'd a bill that refused to force the state audits of charters. Never mind that we, the taxpayers of Indiana, just lost more than $85 million on two fraudulent virtual charters.

Blogger Shane Phipps called the charter-school-sharing-referenda-cash bill villainous...
It’s hard to think of a more villainous move than the state stealing from the funds that desperate school corporations have to go begging for because the state is starving them of funding. If school districts were properly funded in the first place, there would be no need for any referendums. But in order to stay afloat, many districts have done the incredibly difficult work to get the extra money they need from their communities who are so generous to give a little extra for the cause of public education. And now you see your elected officials trying to rob public schools of even those funds. It makes me shiver to think what might be coming next.
In addition, the House has a plan to increase the taxpayer cost of vouchers by $6 to $12 million...because the increase to vouchers (which was several times larger than the increase to public schools) during last year's budget isn't apparently enough.

Both bills will be heard this morning, Monday, March 9.


WHERE ARE THE TEACHERS?

Where are the teachers in all of this?

Local teachers in Allen County are staging a Red for Ed day Walkin on Wednesday, March 11. This means that teachers will gather at the front door of their schools, wearing red, and walk into the building together.

Will the legislature hear that?

The proof will come in November. Will teachers hear the same message they sent to the legislature?

Will teachers and public school advocates join together to get rid of the privatizers in the legislature and work for those who support public education?

Will Republican public education supporters convince their Republican candidates that it's time to support public schools and stop favoring charter schools and voucher accepting schools?

Or are the Governor and legislators correct in their assumption that the teachers who wore Red for Ed care more about the culture war issues that currently divide the nation than they do about their careers and students?


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Thursday, March 5, 2020

The National Reading Panel: Still Misrepresented After All These Years


THE "READING WARS" AND THE NATIONAL READING PANEL

Jay Matthews is a long-time education writer for the Washington Post. Matthews has written about education for years though he has no training or experience in education other than as a student (BA in government, Harvard University, MA in East Asian regional studies). To be sure, he has studied and written about education extensively as a journalist, but that isn't enough to replace actual classroom experience.

In the following article, Matthews mentions the National Reading Panel report. He implies that the low test scores of poor children is because their schools and teachers ignore the "proven" science of systematic phonics, which we will see, is not proven science after all.

The reading wars flare in Virginia. ‘I am sick to my stomach,’ one parent says.
It is one more sign of rising concern over failure to give all children the intensive phonics lessons proven many years ago to be essential to mastering reading.

Reading is becoming a lively issue in many parts of the country. California recently agreed in a lawsuit settlement to spend $53 million over three years in 75 low-performing elementary schools to improve reading instruction. Only about half of third-graders have met that state’s reading standards, part of a national failure to teach the vital skill to impoverished children.

It has hit hard in Virginia. Walker and two other leaders of the Arlington branch of the NAACP pointed to bad news for children in a January letter to state delegates.

There has been a persistent drop in scores on Virginia’s reading tests, according to federal data, the letter said. “Black and Hispanic students fare the worse in these results and are disproportionately impacted,” it stated.

They point to conclusions from the 2000 National Reading Panel that students need direct instruction in phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. But they said “educational institutions are failing to implement the Reading Panel’s findings.”
The comments following Matthews' article illustrate the intensity of the "reading wars." If you're able (the article is behind a paywall), read those and you'll get a feel for how difficult it is to break through the literacy-based tribalism of "systematic phonics" [How does one define "systematic phonics instruction" anyway?]. What you'll find is, if a school is not teaching phonics in a certain way, it's not teaching phonics at all. There are also claims that "everyone" knows that intense, "systematic phonics" is important for everyone.

All this...despite the fact that the National Reading Panel called for a balanced approach to reading instruction.


THE MISREPRESENTATION OF THE NATIONAL READING PANEL FINDINGS

Twenty years ago Education Week and other news sources claimed that the National Reading Panel (NRP), declared "systematic phonics" as "scientific truth" in reading instruction.

The only thing is...that's not what the National Reading Panel declared. Despite what was reported, the Panel didn't label "systematic phonics instruction" as scientific truth. Instead, it called for a balanced approach to reading instruction.

The problem began with the NRP Summary document which stated...
The meta-analysis revealed that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read.
It's true, that students were better able to read words, but the summary neglected to state that the full report (p.2-116) referred only to studies of poor readers above first grade. Systematic phonics didn't really help them with reading actual texts and there was no discernible benefit of systematic phonics over other forms of instruction when it came to reading comprehension. Furthermore, there wasn't enough data in the studies the Panel reviewed to make conclusions for what they termed, "normally developing readers." The full report stated...
...phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, if at all, in helping poor readers apply these skills to read text and to spell words. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above 1st grade.
and systematic phonics didn't help much with spelling, either...
In contrast to strong positive effects of phonics instruction on measures of word reading, these programs were not more effective than other forms of instruction in producing growth in spelling (d = 0.09).
Several critiques of the National Reading Panel disagreed with the conclusions and drew attention to the conflicts between the full report and the summary. See ColesGaranAllingtonKrashen, and the Minority View by Joan Yatvin, the only practicing educator on the panel, included at the end of the full report. The critiques, unfortunately, were less well-publicized than the summary report.

In other words, the summary booklet, which was written by "the same public relations firm that had been hired by McGraw-Hill/Open Court,misrepresented the findings of the panel.

The full report supports a balanced approach to reading instruction (p. 2-136).
Finally, it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program...Phonics should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in the amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached.
So here we are, twenty years later, and the National Reading Panel is still being misrepresented.


MORE THAN PHONICS

There’s No “Science of Reading” Without School Libraries and Librarians, A Predictor of Student Success

The NRP included five essential elements of balanced reading instruction.
  • phonological awareness
  • phonics
  • fluency
  • vocabulary
  • comprehension
Reading researcher Richard Allington went beyond the NRP and wrote the five missing pillars of scientific reading instruction. They are...
  • access to interesting texts and choice of texts
  • matching kids with appropriate texts
  • the inclusion of writing instruction as a reciprocal to reading
  • a mixture of whole-class and small group instruction
  • the availability of expert tutoring for students who need it.
If we don't include Allington's five additional pillars of reading instruction as part of a balanced reading instruction program, we risk failing to include vital components of reading.

Schools with libraries and librarians are one of the additional "scientifically proven" benefits to increased reading achievement and help fulfill Allington's first two pillars.
The loss of libraries and qualified librarians in the poorest schools has reached a critical mass. Yet those who promote a Science of Reading (SoR), often supporting online reading programs, never mention the loss of school libraries or qualified librarians.

Ignoring the importance of school libraries and certified librarians delegitimizes any SoR. Children need books, reading material, and real librarians in public schools. If reading instruction doesn’t lead to reading and learning from books, what’s the point? Why should children care about decoding words if there’s no school library where they can browse and choose reading material that matters?

How do school districts prioritize reading when they shutter the only access some students have to books? Who will assist students when qualified school librarians are dismissed?

Across the country, as noted below, public school districts have chaotically closed school libraries and fired librarians. They have done this despite the fact that school libraries and qualified librarians are proven positive factors in raising reading scores in children.
See also Beginning Reading: the (huge) role of stories and the (limited) role of phonics, by Stephen Krashen

Responding to the Reading Wars: Everyone’s Job

I'm a retired Reading Recovery teacher. I know the amount of phonics and phonemic awareness that goes into a Reading Recovery lesson, yet critics continue to label Reading Recovery as "whole language" instead of the balanced approach that Reading Recovery actually uses.
The Reading Wars have a long, long history. Over the past 100 years, adversaries have argued for and against numerous approaches: whole word, literature-based reading, look-say method, sight words, Initial Teaching Alphabet, balanced literacy, decodable texts, whole language, and phonics first. The wars have recently taken a new twist: the “Science of Reading.” This notion appears to be new when, in fact, literacy acquisition has been the subject of scholarship by many researchers with varying perspectives for many, many years. Reading blogs, tweets, and articles promoting the “science of reading” argue that only one type of study (experimental on phonics and phonemic awareness) qualifies as science and this science has been ignored by educators and scholars conducting other types of research. This is simply wrong. No one approach can claim “science” as theirs and only theirs. A range of research is, in fact, scientific, and we need all of it to inform our practice. Some research questions can be answered through random assignment; others must be answered through close observation, interview, and documentation. It’s up to educators to read widely and make decisions based on the evidence available.
I would add, "...and the needs of their students..." to the last sentence above.

Beginning readers need instruction in phonics, but phonics alone -- or even with the other four NRP pillars -- does not constitute the "science of reading."

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Friday, February 28, 2020

2020 Medley #6: Public Schools Week

Public schools for the public good,
The failure of "choice",
Where will we find teachers for tomorrow?

PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD


Public Schools Week ends today, though for ninety percent of American schoolchildren the celebration of public education takes place every day during their local school year.

Why do the vast majority of our K-12 students choose public schools? Because public schools don't choose their students. Every child has a place in public schools. No child is turned away. All children are welcome: children with different gender preferences, children of any color, any or no religious affiliation, rich, poor, athletically or academically gifted, or physically or academically challenged.

We support public schools because it's important for us to have a society in which everyone is educated. Educated citizens make informed citizens. Informed citizens make informed choices. Informed choices make for a better society. Jefferson wrote (perhaps naively)...
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be...Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.
John Adams envisioned a public school system that provided for publicly supported schools across the nation.
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must 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 expense of the people themselves.

Public Schools Serve The Public Good

The public good is a concept that has always had to fight for survival against human selfishness and it's no different in today's world. Tribalism has replaced a shared public responsibility. We have become a nation in conflict, not cooperation.

Vouchers were born out of a desire to avoid integrating schools. When so-called "separate but equal" schools became unconstitutional in the United States proponents of segregation chose to close public schools and set up private schools using voucher programs. Today's voucher programs benefit mostly religious schools that have the option to choose their students. Only certain students are allowed.
During Public Schools Week, we must recommit ourselves to defend the educational system that serves 90 percent of America’s children: our public schools. One way to do that is by opposing private school voucher schemes.

Reasons to oppose vouchers abound: The plans violate church-state separation and individual conscience because they force taxpayers to pay for private religious education. Voucher schools don’t improve academic performance. Many private schools engage in discriminatory hiring and admissions policies. Vouchers don’t require schools to be accountable to the public.

But there’s another equally compelling reason to oppose vouchers that often gets overlooked: Voucher plans subsidize private schools that serve a private interest, not the public good.


Five Threats To America’s Public School System

Those who feed the forces of tribalism distrust the concept of the public good. Since privatizers are in power, they are a very real threat to public schools.
President Donald Trump...

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos...

Private school lobbying groups...

Anti-government extremists: The simplistic idea that anything the government does is bad has a powerful hold on conservative thought in America. Because public schools are a very common manifestation of a public, government-provided service, they’re a high-profile target for ideologues who favor privatization of as many public services as possible...Never mind that public schools educate the vast majority of American schoolchildren and serve the public good.

Millionaires looking to make a profit: In her new book Slaying Goliath, education writer Diane Ravitch focuses on a band of millionaires (in some cases billionaires) who have decided to make education “reform” a priority. The problem, Ravitch writes, is that these would-be reformers don’t have backgrounds in education and naΓ―vely insist that “market solutions” from the business community can be applied to a public service like education...

National Poll Shows Strong Voter Support for Public Schools

Americans support their public schools and are willing to pay for them, while most are unwilling to pay for private schools. That's why voucher plans usually fail when put to a popular vote. States rely on legislators to fund voucher programs. [emphasis in original]
We surveyed likely voters. Here’s what they said:

Funding for Public Schools

  • 64% think funding for public schools should be increased
  • 26% think funding should be kept the same, and only 6% thinking funding should be decreased
  • Of those who believe funding should be increased, eight out of ten would support an increase in funding even if it meant they would pay more in taxes.

Public Funds for Private Schools

  • 73% agree with the statement we should NOT take away public funds from our public schools to fund private, religious, and home school education
  • 64% of voters are...less likely to vote for an elected official who supports taking away funds from public schools to give to private schools, including 47% who would be much less likely to do so


Schools And Other Shared Public Spaces

Curmudgucation's Peter Greene is a fan of public education, the public good, and shared public spaces...
I remain a fan of public education in no small part because it is one of the last shared public places left, even as it is being whittled away. It is a space that reflects the big unruly mess that is a democratic-ish country, and yes that means conflicts and negotiations and an unending clash of conflicting values and goals. But the proposed alternative--these people want something different so they'll just go over there by themselves--requires a continued breaking of relationships, a repeated running away from conflict in place of resolutions. In fact, a worsening of conflict, because once separated into private slices, everyone can just create cartoon strawman versions of Those People Over There to revile and deride.

I've been reading about the ideal for years--if you want to send your kid to a private school for left-handed druids who don't believe in evolution but do believe in global warming, and who want to play in a marching band, well, then, you should be able to make that choice. Everyone should have their own choice of a hundred separate different school systems. But we already know how well "separate but equal" works out. And by demanding that such a ecosystem of parallel schools be organized by free market forces, we guarantee failure, because the free market is great for picking winners and losers, terrible for creating equity among disparate groups.

THE FAILURE OF "CHOICE"

National School Choice Week is actually about promoting certain choices over others

Those who are privatizing our public education systems are creating a system of winners and losers.
Surely some well-meaning parents and students celebrated. But they were joined by powerful people who, despite what they say, don’t believe that every child deserves a great school. Instead, these people believe in a certain kind of choice over all others. In their worldview, market choice is more important than democracy, parents are consumers rather than members of a broader community, and education is a competition between students, with winners and losers.


School choice costing taxpayers

I'd be remiss if I didn't include information about the charter school scandal now swirling in Indiana...where virtual charter school operators paid themselves and their own businesses $85 million. The money came from state tuition support and included funds for students who were never enrolled in the so-called schools.

The legislature blames the Department of Education, despite the fact that the privatization laws passed in the Indiana General Assembly were lax enough to allow such cheating and conflicts of interest to happen.

This is not unique to Indiana. Privatizers around the nation regularly steal tax money from public schools. The Network for Public Education has been tracking charter school scandals. The current list includes more than two dozen scandals from across the nation in January 2020 alone.

For further reading: Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste
Blaming the Department of Education for the abuses of charter school operators is like blaming the BMV for the actions of a drunk driver. Responsibility for lax regulations and oversight for both charter schools and voucher schools falls squarely on Bosma and the GOP supermajority. In cozying up to the deep-pocketed school-choice community, they ignored glaring examples of corruption here and elsewhere. It was almost 11 years ago when The Journal Gazette first reported on the suspicious real estate deals surrounding two Imagine Inc. charter schools in Fort Wayne – schools that eventually shut down with $3.6 million in outstanding state loans.

Charter school scandals are so common that the Network for Public Education began collecting them on a website and tagging them on Twitter: #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal.

WHO WILL BE TOMORROW'S TEACHERS?

The Number Of People Who Want To Teach Has Dropped By More Than Half This Decade

Public schools are being starved by privatizers diverting tax money to charters and vouchers. Teaching in underfunded schools isn't easy, so it's no wonder that young people are turning their backs on careers in education.
Federal data shows during the 2008-09 school year, 18,113 people were enrolled in teacher preparation programs in [Indiana]. But in 2016, that number was cut by more than half; the programs training future teachers saw only 7,127 people enrolled.

What message are we sending to the future?

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Those Third-Grade Punishment Laws

STATES RETAIN THIRD-GRADERS

Michigan joined the Third-grade Punishment Club in 2016 during the administration of Rick, "let-them-drink-lead," Snyder. The 2019-2020 school year is the first year that third graders can be retained-in-grade for failing a state reading test.

Fewer than half the states in the US have laws that force the retention of third-graders who can't pass an arbitrary reading test. Louisiana, for example, did have a retention law, but has rescinded it because it didn't work. Good for them.

On the other hand, FloridaOhio, Arizona, Texas, and Indiana are among the several states which continue to punish students who don't learn to read on the state's timetable. They still retain students despite the fact that it doesn't work.


In a study of the Florida retention law, students who were retained fared worse in the long term than if they hadn't been retained.
1. How did state-mandated third grade retention policies, under the A+ Plan, impact standard diploma acquisition in retained students as compared to academically similar non-retained students?
  • Students who were not retained were 14.7% more likely to receive a standard high school diploma.
2. How did the retained group compare to the similar non-retained group on the Grade 10 FCAT Reading?
  • Both groups had difficulty catching up. In the retained group, 93% remained below proficient into their 10th grade year. In the non-retained group, 85.8% remained below proficient.
This is not the first piece of research showing that retention-in-grade doesn't work...and is often harmful. The topic has been studied for decades and the results are consistent; Retention-in-grade doesn't work...early intervention does.

SOME MICHIGAN SCHOOLS: JUST SAY NO

There is some good news. Some Michigan schools are refusing to participate in the "learn or be punished" process.

Michigan schools revolt: We won’t flunk struggling third-grade readers
Some Michigan school districts are revolting against the state’s third-grade read-or-flunk law, saying they will do everything in their power to prevent students from repeating third grade because of low reading test scores.

...Education leaders immediately raised concerns about the retention portion of the law, pointing out that low-income students are more likely to be retained because test scores often correlate to income, and that studies are at best mixed on the long-term benefit of retention.

Flunking 5,000 third-graders would [cost] Michigan...taxpayers about $40 million because of the extra year in the k-12 system, an amount some educators argue could be better spent on early literacy efforts.
The sponsor of the Michigan bill, former Representative Amanda Price still favors it.
“The intent of the law was, starting in kindergarten, preparing children to read, so that when they reach third grade they wouldn’t need to be retained,” Price said. “Maybe I’m naΓ―ve to believe it only takes four years to teach a kid to read, but I think the normal parent thinks by end of third grade their kiddos should be reading.”


Should kids be reading "at grade level" by third grade? The Michigan law says that schools should retain kids who are reading more than one year below "grade level." What does "grade level" mean?

Is Michigan's definition of "grade level" the same as Indiana's? Is the definition of "grade level" the same in Gross Pointe (average income >$100,000) as it is in Detroit (average income <$27,000)?

Not all children are the same and we shouldn't expect them to be. We don't expect all third graders to be the same height by the end of the school year. Why should we expect them to be at the same reading skill level?

Why is it only reading "grade level" that triggers retention? What about math "grade level" or music "grade level" or physical education "grade level" or behavior "grade level?"

And what if we retain a child in third grade and he still can't read at "grade level" after a second year? Do we retain him again? How many times?

It's the teachers, you say? Teachers should be able to get all their students to the same reading skill level by the end of third grade?

Should they? Didn't we learn our lesson with No Child Left Behind when the law required us to have "all children proficient by 2014?"

There are external forces in children's lives that have an impact on school achievement. Teachers have no control over things like a child's food or housing insecurity. Teachers can't be held responsible for a child's lack of health insurance or lack of medical/dental care, Teachers can't control the environmental pollutants in a child's neighborhood.
Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.


JUST STOP

Former Representative Price, and other legislators around the country who voted in favor of third-grade punishment laws, expect teachers to overcome out-of-school factors of a child's life over which teachers have no control.

Perhaps the legislators think teachers aren't trying hard enough. Perhaps they think that children won't put forth any effort unless they are threatened.

Often the grade-level expectations are not accompanied by any change in teaching or school resources. Legislatures are tasked with the responsibility of providing adequate resources. Shouldn't legislatures accept some of the responsibility for children's achievement?
"We often hold kids accountable...In this case, with retention. We hold teachers accountable for not raising test scores. But the state legislature doesn't hold itself accountable for putting the resources in place to make sure schools can meet the learning needs of kids." -- Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of education at UCLA
Legislators need to stop assuming that they know more about teaching than teachers.

Legislators need to stop passing laws that encourage schools to flunk little kids -- eight- and nine-year-olds! Instead of wasting money on children repeating a grade and wasting money on those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad third-grade retention tests, let's spend it on supporting kids' needs in the years leading up to third grade.


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