"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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

2020 Medley #18 - Non-pandemic issue

Teacher retirement, A courageous 13-year-old, Charter school failure rate, 
Facing white discomfort

I only have four articles to share today. I had dozens, but most dealt with the ongoing problem of teaching during a pandemic. I also found that I had a lot to say about each of the four articles I chose, so fewer seemed better.


To Teachers Contemplating Retirement

I read once that the most common cause of death for men in America is retirement. Since I've made it ten years past my retirement date, I think I'm relatively safe, but retirement isn't always easy and, for some, it's hard to let go.

Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation, has been retired from teaching for about three years. In this post, he discussed the guilt he felt about not being in the classroom...leaving unfinished business when he retired...and some implied feelings of abandoning his fellow teachers.

For me, as an elementary teacher, there was something else, though the guilt he talked about was surely a part of it. As an elementary classroom teacher, each year was a new start. Everyone started fresh. At the end of the year, we said goodbye to our kids knowing that we did what we could; we'd taken them as far as they could go. The end of each year came with a sense of loss for the students who moved on.

I felt the same sort of loss when I retired, which is why I returned to school the following school year as a volunteer. I missed working with children. I missed reading to them. I missed the daily problem solving and the challenge of dealing with students' learning issues.

The emotions brought on by retirement don't always fade away.

This is a must-read for those teachers who are thinking about retirement.
One of the hard parts of retirement is managing the guilt. You're leaving your friends and colleagues to continue the work. And it's important work, work you value. And they're going to keep doing it while you walk away.

This is unavoidable, because the work in schools is never done, ever. Every year some stories end, and some other stories begin, and most of the stories continue somewhere in the middle. There will never be a moment when you can brush your hands together and declare, "Okay, everything's wrapped up, so this is the perfect moment for me to peace out." Never going to happen.

So to retire, you have to shake the notion that you should really stick around and help (it took me months to shake the notion that I should run for school board). You know, intellectually, that you are not indispensable or irreplaceable. You moved into someone's spot, and someone will move into yours. In the meantime, your actual legacy is out in the world. You taught a bunch of students, and now someone else will teach another bunch 


I saw myself in Brayden Harrington’s story of stuttering. He showed us the power of sharing it openly.

I saw myself in Brayden Harrington's story of stuttering, too.  As a child, it was hard for me to talk without blocking, especially if I was excited or upset. I was, like others with similar problems, mimicked, teased, and bullied and told things like, "spit it out," or "c-c-can't you t-t-t-talk?"

I had speech therapy when I was a child for dysfluency and articulation problems and that helped. When I was in college, studying to be a teacher, I came across and purchased a textbook on stuttering for speech and language pathologists in training. I wasn't in the SLP program, but I read the book carefully and learned a lot about what stuttering was, who is affected, and how it's controlled. I also got help from the speech and language pathologists I worked with during my thirty-five years in the classroom.

The teasing doesn't always end in childhood. The last time it happened to me was by a co-worker after I had been teaching for 20+ years...a person who dealt with children every day...who never would have teased a child with a stutter...who probably doesn't remember the incident at all. I remember, though. Being humiliated is traumatizing no matter what your age. It helped a little that I was old enough to call her out on it...though I doubt it sank in.

If you can read this article (it's behind WAPO's paywall) you'll learn that there are "covert PWS" (people who stutter), like me, who hide their dysfluency by avoiding certain initial sounds of words, or who pause before speaking, as if thinking of a response to a comment.

When I watched the video of Brayden giving his speech...the video of him continuing even after getting "stuck," I was impressed. Dan Rather called it "pure unvarnished courage." I agree. Stuttering is frustrating and can be embarrassing and humiliating. Cheers to this young man for having the courage to speak so that the entire world could hear him.

His was by far, the best speech at the 2020 Democratic Convention.
My favorite part of this year’s Democratic National Convention was 13-year-old Brayden Harrington speaking about how former vice president Joe Biden helped him with his stuttering.

For me, it was deeply personal. I cried as I watched Brayden tell his story. Growing up as a person who stutters (PWS), I never imagined that I’d ever see someone stuttering openly and comfortably in front of millions of people.

Stuttering affects approximately 3 million Americans. It’s most common in kids, with 5 percent of children struggling with this speech impediment at some point in their childhoods.


Charter School Experiment FAILURE Documented Again

For the charter industry, failure and closures of schools are a feature, not a bug. When a school is bad it will attract fewer students and then close. The market rules all.

Unfortunately, students from closed charters get bounced around from one school to another as parents try to find one that will stay open. This can be traumatic for students. They become an "outsider." They miss their friends. The academic requirements might be different.

Frequently, children from closed charter schools end up at the local public school (and no, I don't consider charter schools, paid for with public tax dollars, to be public schools).

Public schools are the only schools mandated by most state constitutions. Diverting public money to support privately run schools wastes taxpayer dollars and shortchanges the vast majority of students who go to public schools.

The current Republican Party platform (unchanged from 2016) calls for increases in school "choice" -- meaning more charters and more vouchers -- more tax dollars into private pockets because, to them, the private sector does everything better (it doesn't).

The 2020 Democratic Party platform is against vouchers as a violation of the separation between church and state. It also calls for banning for-profit charters. Unfortunately, there's not much difference between "non-profit" charters and for-profit charters.
Marketing and lack of oversight have obscured the failure of the charter school industry. The latest research reported by Carol Burris and her team at the Network for Public Education (NPE) documents the atrocious going out of business rate among charter schools.

The United States Education Department (USED) has invested more than $4 billion promoting the industry but has not effectively tracked the associated fraud, waste and failures. After 25-years of charter schooling, Broken Promises is the first comprehensive study of their closure rates.


In Praise of Discomfort: An Open Letter to White Educators

Talking about race can be uncomfortable. As a white male, I will never truly understand how it feels to be a Black man in America. As a white teacher, I was never able to know what the world looked like to my students of color. Open discussion -- at a level appropriate to students' maturity -- is important for students and teachers. It's especially important for white students and teachers. It's time we faced the discomfort and listened.
Let’s take Lee’s lesson — and my professor’s — to heart. Let’s not just accept discomfort as part of the educational process. Let’s create the structures that encode discomfort into the educational process where necessary — doing so, of course, with the emotional (and physical) safety of young people in the forefront of our minds.

There is a huge body of research that demonstrates that learning is impeded by feeling unsafe. But feeling uncomfortable is not the same as feeling unsafe. Schools are often among the most psychologically and emotionally “safe” spaces in the United States, for their white teachers and students. It is people of color who are far more likely to feel and be unsafe in our schools. We white educators have to demonstrate our willingness to make ourselves — and, yes, our white students — uncomfortable if we want to do anything tangible about that fact.

How, precisely, can this be done? Any given department or division must ask that question in the context of its students, faculty, and program. I’ve worked for more than two decades in literary and cultural studies, so the first examples that come to my mind are in that arena.

...work across the curriculum to create the kind of discomfort that breeds thoughtful self-awareness. So often, we talk about finding ways to engage our white students with whiteness without, you know, making them “feel bad.” This is a mistake. In an educational context, discomfort is a powerful tool.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Take Action to Save the USPS and the Election

The following information and letter is from the Schools Matter blog by Jim Horn (not to be confused with the School Matters blog by Steve Hinnefeld). I have made some changes to correct typos and errors. Please feel free to personalize and edit the letter below. Let’s make sure that all members of Congress, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents wake up tomorrow morning to full in-boxes!!

Today's Action to Save the PO and the Election

Please feel free to use the letter below or any parts of it to write your elected federal officials TODAY. Thank you--your children and grandchildren will thank you.

[Find Senators’ and Representatives’ phone, email, and US mail addresses here and here.]


Because I believe you to be among the 90 percent of Americans who deeply value the essential work of the United States Postal Service, I am writing to request your help. Media reports currently abound about deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to hobble the USPS by cutting work hours, altering work rules and record-keeping requirements, removing postal collection boxes, decommissioning mail sorting equipment, reorganizing management to centralize power, and destroying hundreds of expensive barcode sorters.

The President, himself, has admitted more than once of taking an active role in disabling the capacity of the USPS to manage the millions of mail-in ballots that will be cast during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic this Fall.

The question I put to you now is this: Will you use your voice and apply the power of your office to halt the anti-democratic efforts underway to sabotage the most basic right of the American people for free and fair elections this Fall?

The hundreds of millions of voters, businessmen, veterans, retirees, parents, college students, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and regular taxpayers who depend upon the USPS require your help. Please return to Washington, DC now, this week, and request that leaders of both the House and Senate immediately convene oversight hearings that require detailed explanations for the latest postal policy changes from the Postmaster General and the Board of Governors for the USPS.

Secondly, will you please push for the immediate passage by the Senate of provisions to include $25 billion for the USPS as part of the latest coronavirus economic assistance package passed by the House on May 2020?

Congress cannot wait until after Labor Day to act. In order to make sure that the November election is conducted in a fair and impartial way that protects the integrity of our form of government, Congress must do everything possible now.

Please respond with a public statement regarding your position and your intentions regarding this vital matter. Thank you.



Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Listen to this - 2020 #3


The Covid-19 Experiment: Facing the Sins of a Nation that Quit Caring About Public Education Long Ago

Education is the largest portion of the budget in Indiana, yet it's underfunded. People want services -- like good public schools -- but aren't willing to pay for them. Hoosiers, like many Americans, are shortsighted and selfish. We aren't thinking about the future when we underfund schools....and we have a tendency to think, "my kids have good schools, too bad for those other kids," without realizing that the "other kids" futures have an impact on all of us. What could be more foolish than to allow more than half our children to live in poverty? As Carl Sagan said,
What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them? This is stupid.
We all benefit from good schools for everyone. We all do better...when we all do better.

From Nancy Bailey
Suddenly it’s important to have clean air to contain the virus. Crumbling facilities with poor ventilation systems have always made air questionable for the children and teachers in poor schools. I’m remembering past students who dealt with allergies and asthma, who’d come to school ill and struggle to learn. Their test scores obviously affected my school’s standardized testing performance. Who listened then?

School reopening plans linked to politics rather than public health

Education is, as usual, a political football. When the pandemic came to the US, teachers were being lauded for their ability to switch gears in the middle of a year and provide online learning to their students. Now, hopefully, everyone understands that school is more than just "passing on information to the next generation." Unfortunately, the importance of schools to the economy is as a holding place for children so parents can work.

From Jon Valent at Brookings.edu
In reality, there is no relationship—visually or statistically—between school districts’ reopening decisions and their county’s new COVID-19 cases per capita. In contrast, there is a strong relationship—visually and statistically—between districts’ reopening decisions and the county-level support for Trump in the 2016 election. Districts located in counties that supported Trump are much more likely to have announced plans to open in person. On average, districts that have announced plans to reopen in person are located in counties in which 55% voted for Trump in 2016, compared to 35% in districts that have announced plans for remote learning only. Unsurprisingly, the one remaining group in EdWeek’s data—“Hybrid/Partial”—falls right in the middle, at 44%.

Why I'm OK with my kids "falling behind" in school during the pandemic

"Falling behind" what? The standards we use in Indiana are arbitrary. We should adjust them if kids need more time. Forget the tests for once. Think about kids who have been traumatized by the fear of, or the actuality of losing friends, grandparents, and even parents. We need to help them through this...relationships matter more than math facts, or the ability to answer questions on a standardized test. As a bonus, kids will learn better when they're happy and feel safe.

From Mary Elizabeth Williams
I think often of Lily Tomlin's decades-old observation: "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

31 school districts go virtual only: McCormick blasts efforts to force in-person teaching

"Threats don't open schools..." I learned, over 35 years of teaching, that threats, whether directed at teachers or students, don't produce results. The old adage, "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is true.

And while we're talking about it, elections matter. We need to elect leaders who are strong enough to stand up against the bully in Washington.

From Indiana State Superintendent, Jennifer McCormick
...she had harsh words for Congress and other officials pushing to withhold federal dollars from districts that don't open to in-person instruction. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Fort Wayne, has pushed this measure.

“Threats don't open schools,” she said. “I have no patience for that – that is a poor example of leadership.”


The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America

The current occupant of the White House is not an aberration. He is the logical result of America's selfish cult of "individualism."

This morning I read, We are witnessing the fall of a great power in the Canberra Times. It's worth reading.

From Paul Krugman
I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.

What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.


“I Wouldn’t Give Up My ADHD”: “It’s been hard, but, as with any difficult thing, you learn something, don’t you?” Take notes from these women leaders with ADHD.

It takes a long time to get to the point of not worrying what others think of you...and most of us never get there entirely. As a middle and high school student, I remember wanting to be able to be like my friends. Aside from the usual teenage feelings of insecurity about looks and popularity, I had the added worry of being a poor student who tested high, so I was constantly told to "try harder," "put forth more effort," and labeled "lazy." (See You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!)

From Trudie Styler, Actor and filmmaker, New York, New York
As a kid, you obsess about wanting to be normal. As you get older, being normal is not such a big thing. Your gifts are important. Celebrate who you are, and listen for the small voice.


Don't Waste Time

Finally, Peter Greene wrote something that touched me. I retired in 2010, but I still miss much of what made teaching my life's work. I miss talking to kids. I miss helping them find their way. I miss sharing a love of books with them.

I volunteered for nearly seven years after I retired, but had to give that up after health issues made continuing difficult, if not impossible. I still feel the tug when August rolls around and "back to school" is in the air.

From Peter Greene
After retirement, you become sort of a ghost at your old school, but the magic of texting and social media blunts much of that effect.


Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations, Blue Cliff Editions, 1988
"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please." -- Mark Twain

"Science bestowed immense new powers on man, and, at the same time, created conditions which were largely beyhond his comprehension." -- Winston Churchill


Friday, August 7, 2020

2020 Medley #17 -- All COVID-19, All the Time

It's all COVID-19 - all the time, 
Teach in-person or lose funding,
Billions for privatization, Stingy U.S. Senate, 
The damage done, It's still poverty


Is there really anything to write about besides the problem of schools starting during the pandemic...the threat to students and teachers...the lack of preparation and science-based decisions?

The big problem facing public education right now is the fact that states are coercing school staff and students back into in-person classrooms before the pandemic is under control and virtually every education writer has at least one, and often more, opinions about the subject.

Maybe it's my "bubble" but most of the articles I've read (and posted) were on the side of "no in-person school until it's safe." The few that were in favor of opening schools in the middle of a pandemic took the side of 1) parents need to go back to work, which only shows up the failure of state and federal governments ability to provide for safe child care and provide support for parents who would have to stay at home to be with their kids, and 2) kids are less affected by COVID-19 so they'll be ok...with little if any acknowledgment that in order to have kids in school one must also have adults who are at greater risk from the illness.

For me, however, the biggest problem is the same one that the media has faced since the current occupant of the White House* announced his candidacy four years ago; there is so much shit going on -- mostly from Washington D.C. -- that one can't keep up with it.

Take a look at the news. There is no longer any such thing as a 24-hour news cycle. Now it's more like 24 seconds...the time it takes "tiny fingers" to tweet something outrageous. "Little kids are immune to coronavirus" (not true), "Hydroxychloroquine will cure COVID-19" (not true), and other things that are also not true. Meanwhile, there are [the current number of Americans dying daily] Americans dead today who were alive yesterday, and a total of [the current total of Americans dead from COVID-19] Americans who are dead from the pandemic. As of this writing (August 7, 2020), nearly 158,000 dead.


Schools that don’t offer in-person instruction could lose funding, top lawmaker says

First, the Indiana supermajority has decided that the current occupant of the White House* and his ignorant Secretary of Education have the right idea -- double down on their plan to privatize public education by requiring schools to reopen for in-person instruction or lose federal funding. Local control be damned.

The current President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate has jumped on that bandwagon and will cut by 15 percent, funding for schools that don't provide in-person instruction. Local control be damned.

The decision for schools to remain closed in counties with a dangerously high prevalence of COVID-19, therefore, is out of the hands of local health departments and school boards. The Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly intend to punish any school or school system which dares to keep its students and staff members safe. Guess which school systems, and which students will be hurt the most by this.
Public schools that do not offer an in-person education option could see their budgets slashed, despite prior assurances from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state leaders that they would be fully funded.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray sent a letter to school leaders Thursday – after dozens of districts around the state have already started — to offer “a bit more clarity” about state funding. Only public schools offering in-person instruction or both in-person and virtual options are likely to be fully funded, he said in the letter obtained by IndyStar.


AU’s New Report Details How Billions In Pandemic Relief Was Diverted To Private Schools

Money meant for public education was diverted to private, mostly religious, schools. Fortunately for Indiana, Republican State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick made sure that the damage was minimal.
Private schools got billions in taxpayer money: Under PPP, private schools, both religious and secular, got between $2.67 billion and $6.47 billion. At least 5,691 private schools, including at least 4,006 private religious schools, got “loans” from PPP – and remember, these loans can be mostly forgiven by the government as long as the schools meet a few criteria, so they are really grants.

Private schools often received more money than nearby public schools: Public schools were not eligible for PPP, but they were able to receive funds from a separate coronavirus relief program called ESSER. The ESSER fund allocated $13.2 billion in pandemic recovery funds for public school districts. But we know that private schools might have received as much as $6.47 billion under PPP. That’s nearly half of the ESSER fund – even though private schools serve only 10 percent of the student population.


Myths and Facts About the COVID-19 Public Education Relief Being Debated in Congress

Next, don't expect much help from the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. After already diverting an outsized chunk of coronavirus relief help to private schools, the Senate plan has no desire to help struggling public school systems.
First Myth The leaders in the U.S. Senate say there is more money for public schools in the HEALS Act than there is in the HEROES Act: The HEALS Act would award $105 billion for K-12 and higher education while the HEROES Act would award only $90 billion.

The Facts ...The Vice President for State Policy and Tax at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michael Leachman explains that already, “Huge state and local budget shortfalls are forcing schools to lay off teachers and other employees, making it even harder to open safely or provide adequate remote instruction. Because the pandemic forced states to shut down their economies, state and local revenues have fallen off the table. Already, states and localities have furloughed or laid off 1.5 million workers, including 667,000 bus drivers, cleaning staff and other school workers, and imposed other steep funding cuts. Without more federal aid, cash strapped states—which must balance their budgets each year—likely will continue cutting school funding, forcing more layoffs and other cuts in school support… Yet the Senate Republican plan… offers no new general fiscal aid to states, only to schools to cover reopening costs… With fewer staff and dollars, schools would find it even harder to open safely and provide high-quality instruction.”


This Year Will Be a Lost School Year

Nearly everyone wants students to be in school. Teachers didn't study education for four (or more) years, accept lower than average salaries (compared to other college graduates), in order to sit behind a computer screen and try to keep the attention of several dozen inattentive students. Teachers want to be in the classroom, interacting with students. Relationships are one of the most important parts of a good classroom atmosphere. The damage from COVID-19 is already done.
First, virtual learning should open everyone’s eyes to how much goes on at school. Last spring, there was simply no way to replicate, in a virtual setting, my daily classroom routine. Virtual learning uncovered the vast amount of work that teachers were ushering kids through each day. It was a literal ton of work. It raised questions about the purpose and ends of the work we were assigning and exposed the reality that we continue to worry about the number of work students produce ahead of the work’s relevance to, and interest of, students. We need to grapple with the balance between quality instruction and quantity of instruction.

Second, the driving factor concerning the quantity of work heaped upon students was revealed this spring-testing. With testing suspended, it hastened teachers’ ability to truncate and focus their instruction, which led to more questions about why we rely so heavily on testing. Clearly, schools and teachers understood which students needed more help even when testing was no more. If teachers and schools know who needs help without standardized tests, it is a reasonable conclusion that testing resources should be reallocated more effectively.


School poverty – not racial composition – limits educational opportunity, according to new research at Stanford

From September 2019: The problem is race and poverty. America is failing.
To determine what accounted for the correlation, they controlled for racial differences in school poverty and found that segregation no longer predicted the achievement gaps. That meant the association between racial segregation and the growth of achievement gaps operated entirely through differences in school poverty.

“While racial segregation is important, it’s not the race of one’s classmates that matters, per se,” said Reardon. “It’s the fact that in America today, racial segregation brings with it very unequal concentrations of students in high- and low-poverty schools.”

* WARNING: Politics:

I've decided that I can no longer use the proper name of the current occupant of the White House or the title which he has sullied in his less than 4 years in office. He has shown that he is willing to provide more help to red states, "his people", than to "Democratic states" (see also here). 

In that respect, I no longer consider him the President of the United States (even though I live in a state filled with "his people"). He has proven that he is only the president of his base, of which I am not, and never will be, a member.