"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Note to My Leaf-Burning Neighbors

This post was first published on November 2, 2017. Some links have been edited/corrected.


Ah...who doesn't love the nostalgic scent of burning leaves in the fall?

Answer: Anyone with lungs!

It's Autumn in Indiana and my woodsy neighborhood is filled with fallen leaves. Many of my neighbors are recycling them by mulching them into their lawns or gardens or hiring crews to pick them up. Some others, are piling them up and setting them ablaze, and by doing so filling the air with poisonous toxins and choking ash.


What damage can one little fire cause?

It's not just one little fire...it's several since we live in an addition with dozens of houses and hundreds of leaf-dropping trees. The point is that "multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards" – at least until the current EPA decides that the right of citizens to breathe is just not a priority.

And, about those lungs...
Besides being an irritant, leaf smoke contains many hazardous chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzo(a)pyrene. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and thus reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. So carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for young children with immature lungs, smokers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart or lung diseases.

Benzo(a)pyrene is known to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and coal tar as well as leaf smoke.

[Full disclosure: The above paragraph is about me. Burning leaves make me sick. I have some serious lung issues and, while I hate to use the term elderly when talking about myself, I'm 72, so I'm there...assuming I last through the leaf-burning season!]


That benzo(a)pyrene stuff is a big deal. It can negatively affect your nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, it messes with your DNA, and it's a carcinogen. Why would anyone do that to themselves and their families...not to mention the little children who live next door or two houses down...or the old folks on the corner...or everyone else in the neighborhood?

My neighborhood (Google Earth).
Note the dark green...trees.


So, you live in the woods...what do you do with all the leaves?

Some cities (such as Fort Wayne) provide curbside pickup of leaves. Pay attention and make sure you get them to the curb in time for pickup.

Or, instead of setting them on fire, follow the recommendations of Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension Service.
You could compost those leaves yourself. Dry leaves alone will break down slowly over time, but you can speed that process by mixing the leaves with green plant materials, such as grass clippings, garden discards and produce scraps. Or you could add a source of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer. Mix (turn) the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost. A good-sized compost pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet. The compost will be ready to use as a soil conditioner in several weeks to several months, depending on size and management techniques.

Shredded leaves also can be used as a mulch around garden and landscape plants. Mulches provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature. Leaves can be applied to dormant plants in winter to prevent young plants from heaving out of the ground. Leaf mulch can help keep soil cooler in summer. No more than a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves should be used around actively growing plants. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help prevent them from matting down and preventing air from reaching roots.

Directly applying the leaves to a garden or unused area of soil is another option. Try to spread the leaves over as large an area as possible, then till or plow them under. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help them to break down faster.

My personal favorite option is to simply shred the leaves through my lawn mower until the pieces are small enough to just leave them right there on the lawn! Dry leaves are much easier to handle through the mower than moist ones. If possible, remove the bagger so all of the leaves are deposited right back onto the lawn as they shred.

Click this image for information on how to use leaves in your garden.

My lungs thank you.


Monday, September 21, 2020

Listen to this - 2020 #4


Children Are Born Scientists. What If School Encouraged That? (Kristina Rizga)

Standardized tests are generally a waste of time and money, but they do show what states require schools to emphasize in daily instruction. It's no surprise that there's been an "overall decline" in the time spent teaching science...which is not tested to the extent that reading and math are.

In Indiana, for example, all children in grades three through eight are tested every year in English/Language Arts and Math. Science is tested only in grades four and six, and then not again until subject area tests in high school (Social Studies is tested only in grade five before high school). Students in grade three have an additional reading test tied to a grade-level promotion.

There are standards for science in every grade, of course, and teachers are required to teach those standards every year, but the fact that they're not tested tells the teachers and the students that they are "not important" and are often relegated to the position of "fillers" and taught "when there's time" during the school week.

Kindergartens, which have transitioned from developmentally appropriate activities to the "new first grade", rarely allow students time to study science through free play at water tables, sand tables, building blocks, and other natural explorations.

Our students should start preparing for a science and technology-based society. Carl Sagan reminded us in 1990 that we live in a society dependent upon science and technology, yet too few of us understand science and technology.

From Kristina Rizga
Studies that have looked at time dedicated to science in elementary grades since the mid-’90s, have found variation between states, but generally show an overall decline, especially in schools serving high numbers of low-income children. Meanwhile, jobs in the STEM-related fields are now projected to be among the fastest growing in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Political storms: Emergent partisan skepticism of hurricane risks

From Elisa F. Long, M. Keith Chen, and Ryne Rohla

That Americans don't understand or trust science is reason enough that we need to teach it. As a nation, we are ignorant of science-based problems like climate change, toxic and radioactive wastes, and ozone depletion. When someone raises an alarm about a looming scientific crisis there is widespread denial that it's happening.

A significant number of our citizens distrust scientists and science, and sadly, science distrust and denial are tied to one of our political parties. Proof of that can be seen in the study below, where people from the science-denying political party were more likely to ignore warnings about dangerous hurricane forecasts.

Exposing students to good science beginning in early childhood is a way to make sure that they grow up to be science-literate citizens.
Mistrust of scientific evidence and government-issued guidelines is increasingly correlated with political affiliation...Combining GPS data for 2.7 million smartphone users in Florida and Texas with 2016 U.S. presidential election precinct-level results, we examine how conservative-media dismissals of hurricane advisories in 2017 influenced evacuation decisions. Likely Trump-voting Florida residents were 10 to 11 percentage points less likely to evacuate Hurricane Irma than Clinton voters (34% versus 45%)...The rapid surge in media-led suspicion of hurricane forecasts—and the resulting divide in self-protective measures illustrates a large behavioral consequence of science denialism.


‘The failures of everyone else get passed to the schools’

America's public schools have been charged with fixing societal problems for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the problem in 1967 remarking that
...we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.
There are still those who think that "fixing" the schools will fix society despite the fact that it has never worked. Politicians, pundits, and policymakers have, for years, passed the buck to the schools. Maybe it's time for them to accept some of the responsibility. Schools can help, of course, but can't do it alone.

From Middle school teacher, Braden Bell
Whenever society has a problem and those in charge can’t resolve it, the problem gets punted to the schools, which simply must deal with it as best they can.

Hunger. Lack of reliable child care. Gun violence. Pregnancies and STDs. Students who are abused or vulnerable in any number of ways...In all these cases, society is conflicted or at an impasse. As politicians and ideologues argue, schools have to address the problems encountered by the students who show up each day. Schools can’t punt. And because this exceeds what schools were designed for, they are often not well equipped to take on these challenges.


Gene Roddenberry Quotes That Inspire a Great Future

No matter how hard the current occupant of the White House and his followers try to deny and prevent it, the US is a diverse country. That diversity is a net positive for our growth as a nation.

From Gene Roddenberry
Diversity contains as many treasures as those waiting for us on other worlds. We will find it impossible to fear diversity and to enter the future at the same time.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says this is the secret to living a meaningful life

From Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The myth of the American "rugged individual" has been taken to the extreme. We have become a tribal nation focused on getting benefits for ourselves only. Unfortunately, we live in a community of people...and a community of nations. We need to understand that "we all do better when we all do better." The late Justice Ginsburg understood that.
...to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That's what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself, but for one's community.

Reimagine Schools after Covid-19? Bring Children Together!

Thurgood Marshall said,
...unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together and understand each other
From Nancy Bailey
Public schools can bring us together. When children learn to care for each other with tolerance and understanding, they will grow to respect one other as adults...

Vouchers and charters divide. Private schools and charter schools segregate. Remote learning, or learning at home or anyplace anytime, does little to bring students together.

This country needs strong public schools that unite students and families.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Patriotic Education

The current occupant of the White House claims that American schools are teaching "a twisted web of lies" about systemic racism in America. He says that parents are going to demand that their children are no longer "fed hateful lies about this country."

Which lies does he mean...this one, perhaps?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

As Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in the 1619 Project, it's an "ideal and a lie. "
The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.
Among those who signed the Declaration of Independence, nearly three-fourths were slave owners, thus negating the sincerity of the words, "unalienable Rights," and "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indiana Removal Act into law, which required the US government to negotiate for Indian land in the Southeast. Instead, Jackson ignored the letter of the law and drove the native people from their land, "relocating" them to Oklahoma. Was that "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?"

After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws were established to keep Black Americans from voting, buying homes, and getting jobs. Was that "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?"

Is it patriotic to pretend that these and other examples of denying Americans their rights because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their ancestry, didn't happen? Or is it more patriotic to acknowledge the failings associated with our founding and development as a nation along with the powerful stories of those citizens who fought to make the words, "...Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" a reality?

How can we teach children about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass without teaching them about slavery?

How can we teach children about World War II Japanese-American internment camps, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis without teaching them about white supremacy and the KKK?

Do we just ignore slavery, Jim Crow, and internment camps?

Real patriotism doesn't ignore the past. Real patriotism doesn't claim that the country has been perfect since its inception.

Instead, real patriotism echoes the words of Carl Shurz, Civil War General and Senator from Missouri, who said,
"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
Our obligation to the next generation is to teach them the truth about America and help them to "keep right" what is right and to "set right" what is wrong.

Our children deserve the truth
"It has always seemed to me that teaching the truth about America is the most American act we can commit. A great deal of our history is wonderful: freedom of religion, land of opportunity, great democracy, economic success. A great deal of our history is horrible: genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, imperialism, economic inequity. In that, we are like every other civilization in history. Have we gotten more things right than many other civilizations? Perhaps. But that does not absolve us from those things we have gotten wrong." -- Russ Walsh


Thursday, September 17, 2020

We Must All Be Civics Teachers - Constitution Day, 2020

Reposted and updated from 2018.


A few days ago, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released its annual Constitution Day Civics Survey. The results of the survey suggest that the recent upheavals in the United States...racial protests, a pandemic-based health crisis, and increased political polarization...have provided Americans with the excuse to learn more about our form of government.

The survey found that Americans now know more about how our government works than in the last couple of years.

Asked to name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
  • 73% of Americans named freedom of speech, up from 48% in 2017;
  • 47% named freedom of religion, up from 15% in 2017;
  • 42% named freedom of the press, up from 14% in 2017;
  • 34% named right of assembly, up from 10%;
  • 14% named the right to petition the government, up from 3%;
  • Those who could not name any First Amendment right fell to 19% from 37% in 2017 (total of “can’t name any” and “don’t know”).

It seems obvious that daily newscasts and political pronouncements have helped to educate Americans on the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. The survey did not, however, explore the depth of understanding about the newfound knowledge or delve into such questions as...
  • Do Americans understand that Freedom of Speech does not mean that citizens can bully their way unmasked into businesses that require masks during the pandemic? 
  • Do Americans understand that Freedom of Religion does not mean that a business can discriminate based on the religious beliefs of their customers?


It's only slightly comforting that more Americans have learned about the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. On the other hand, it is disturbing (at least to me) that only about half of Americans surveyed can name all three branches of the government. That's up from about one-third a year ago, but given how important the system of checks and balances is to securing our democracy, it's not enough. It's also disturbing that nearly a quarter of our citizens can't name even one branch of the government!

Furthermore, the survey indicates that a even among those who know the three branches of government, there are a large number of people who are ignorant of the way the branches interact.

For example, almost a third of those surveyed (29%) thought that Congress decided whether the President's acts were constitutional. Half of the respondents knew that's the job of the Supreme Court, but that number (51%) is down from 2019. In addition, less than half of those surveyed knew how large a majority in Congress it took to override a Presidential Veto.

It's clear that many of our citizens still don't know enough.


On September 17, 1787, 233 years ago today, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, signed the Constitution of the United States. It was ratified nine months later and went into effect 18 months after that.

We all still need to be civics teachers!


Monday, September 14, 2020

The Fourteenth: We all do better when we all do better.

Today marks the fourteenth blogoversary of this blog. When I began it on September 14, 2006, I was in my late 50s and teaching Reading Recovery in a small public school in northeast Indiana (which has since closed), the US was at war in Iraq, there had just been a mass shooting at Dawson College in Montreal, and George W. Bush was the US President.

In September of 2006, BeyoncΓ© and Justin Timberlake released their second albums and Elton John released his 29th; naturalist Steve Irwin and former Texas governor Ann Richards died; the Cubs finished last in the National League Central (a year later they would finish first); and Star Trek celebrated 40 years of television and movies (premier Sept 8, 1966).

Public education in the US was deep into the mess of No Child Left Behind. Testing defined (and still defines) everything taught in America's public schools. In Indiana, we weren't yet spending huge amounts of tax money on vouchers and charter schools, and Hoosier teachers still had seniority rights, the right to due process before getting fired, and collective bargaining for things like prep time and class size.

My blog's focus was on 1) the overuse and misuse of standardized testing, 2) the overwhelming intrusion of politics and politicians into public education, and 3) my students. I was reading education authors like Richard Allington, Gerald Bracey, Susan Ohanian, and Alfie Kohn.

Since then I've taught part-time before I retired; volunteered in three different elementary schools after retirement; joined with others to advocate for public education; moved to a new house; made a couple trips to the hospital; voted in six elections; watched the Cubs win the World Series (Bucket List item #1); signed up for Social Security and Medicare; welcomed two more grandchildren, a grandchild-in-law, and a great-grandchild into my life; made new friendships and said good-bye to some old friends and family members; drove Route 66 from California to Illinois; celebrated a fiftieth wedding anniversary; reached half-a-gross years in age; and written 1370 blog posts (this one is #1371).

Here are some thoughts about life and education that I've gathered over the last year.


The Earth is ours, not mine or yours. We're all in this together so we need to work together. "We all do better when we all do better." -- Paul Wellstone

From The Tris Speaker speech in The Sporting News (February 20, 1971), p. 44.

Roberto Clemente, Feb 20, 1971
We must all live together and work together no matter what race or nationality. If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth.

Why Are Poor Countries Poor?

Media creator and author, John Greene argues for "us," not "them." We're all in this together.
If these problems aren't "our" problems, I'm troubled by how we're defining "us." I don't want to be part of an "us" that makes a "them" of the world's most vulnerable people.

Ricky Gervais' funniest ever interview | 60 Minutes Australia

Success in life is at least partly a matter of perspective. Once we realize that most of the world's (or the nation's, or of the family's) history happened without us, we can let go and start treating our lives as a holiday. This is our chance. Let's enjoy it.

Ricky Gervais
Why are we here? Well, we just happen to be here. We couldn't choose it. The chance of us being born - that sperm hitting that egg - is 400 trillion to one. We're not special, we're just lucky. And this is a holiday. We didn't exist for 14 and a half billion years. Then we've got 80 or 90 years, if we're lucky, and then we never exist again. So, we should make the most of it.

Nightfall, A Novel

The "Us vs. Them" mentality has reared its ugly head in the US and has been exacerbated by the combined health and economic crises, and lack of competent leadership that are now challenging us.

Why don't we do what science tells us to do to end the pandemic and heal the climate crisis?

Why is there a growing distrust of intelligence and rational thought?

We're living in a time of "medieval emotions."

Isaac Asimov
It's the old hatred of the intellectual that crops up whenever medieval emotions start surfacing.


Martin Luther King Jr., The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, 8/16/1967

Societal bandaids like vouchers and charter schools won't solve the problems of inequity and poverty. Poverty is like gravity...it has an impact on everything that happens. It has an impact on student health and it has an impact on student learning.

It's not enough to say, "The poor will always be with us." We have an obligation to work to eliminate poverty, if not for those who are living in poverty, then for our children and grandchildren, so that we leave them a happier, healthier world.

We all benefit from an equitable society. We must stop thinking in terms of what "I need" and start thinking about what "we need."

"We all do better when we all do better."

Martin Luther King, Jr.
...we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.

Kids will need recess more than ever when returning to school post-coronavirus

Relationships are important in the learning process. Teachers must build relationships in their classrooms. Students won't remember that you taught them the times table, the Preamble to the Constitution, or what carbohydrates are. They will remember who you are.

Students will need those relationships more than ever to heal from the trauma of the pandemic while it continues and once it ends.

Lauren McNamara (Ryerson U) and Pasi Sahlberg (UNSW)
What matters to students, first and foremost, is friendships, social connections and feelings of acceptance and belonging. And this happens through play, recreation and leisure activities — at every age.

I. Asimov

Can you learn anything outside of school?

Isaac Asimov
I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

As a teacher, if you don't care about what you teach, your students won't care either.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
Fred Rogers remembered that when [Margaret Beall] McFarland wanted to expose the little children at the Arsenal Center to the work of a sculptor, she gave these instructions to the artist she invited to her classes: "'I don't want you to teach sculpting. All I want you to do is to love clay in front of the children.' And that's what he did. He came once a week for a whole term, sat with the four- and five-year-olds as they played, and he 'loved' his clay in front of them. The children caught his enthusiasm for it, and that's what mattered. Like most good things, teaching has to do with honesty."


I found the following quote in a comment somewhere on the internet. I don't have a link to the original article or the author's name, but it speaks to the current threat to the US Postal Service. The Post Office is a government service, not a profit-making business. It's not supposed to make money anymore than roads are supposed to make money. It's supposed to be there for us when we need it. If we insisted that it make a profit then our neighbors in rural areas won't have mail-service -- just like they don't have internet service.

Us...not me.

The Government isn't SUPPOSED to make money. It's supposed to provide services for citizens and promote the general welfare. If you only have services that are profitable, then the rural areas of this country will have no public transportation, no electricity, no roads. And therefore, no town. The horrible money-wasting Government laid the Interstate. Developed radar. Built huge hydroelectric dams that powered our rural regions. Landed on the moon. Split the atom. Created the Internet. Since convincing ourselves that the Government can't do anything, we can't fix a bridge. Because some billionaire would lose his Almighty Tax Cut. While the nations of Europe - that we call "Socialist" - have shot ahead of us in innovation and technology.

Kindness is the foundation for peace and happiness.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

2020 Medley #20

The US is broken, Privatization gets money,
Vulture capitalists, Fake news,
Reopening gamble,
Educational decisions without teachers


Trump exploits Biden’s charter school silence

Margaret Fortune of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools calls out the President for lying about former Vice President Biden's plan for charter schools. The comment by the current occupant of the White House that Biden wants to close all charter schools has been debunked over and over again, though this will hardly stop him lying about it...nor will it stop his base from believing him.

In any case, Fortune continues by making a misstatement of her own when she talks about public schools in Black neighborhoods being "broken."

It's true that public schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods filled with Black and Brown children, are generally not as successful as schools in higher-income areas, but the problem is the larger society's inability (or unwillingness) to overcome poverty. The problem is the racism and classism inherent in the social structure of the US. Why is it that test scores in low-income schools are lower than in wealthy schools? Are all the schools in low-income neighborhoods bad and all the schools in high-income neighborhoods good?

No. It's because...
  • standardized testing which we use to "grade" our schools are culturally and racially biased (see here, here, here, and here).
  • poverty affects children's ability to learn and achieve (see here, here, here, and here). 
Children of color in the US have been denied equal opportunities compared to their white counterparts for more than 400 years. Diverting much-needed funding from the public schools for their inability to solve the centuries-old problem of racism isn't going to make the issue go away.

From Politico
Before an audience of nearly 24 million viewers, Trump said during his Republican National Convention speech that Biden has vowed to “close all charter schools, ripping away the ladder of opportunity for Black and Hispanic children.”

The president's claim is not true, and Trump has not been a reliable charter school ally himself. But Biden isn’t making a big show of countering that accusation or bearhugging the charter community either, after support for the schools took a beating during the Democratic presidential primary. Boxed in by that progressive tide, the former vice president may be creating an opening for Trump to woo parents of color — and on an issue considered part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

“I could never believe a Donald Trump on the television, trying to exploit the desperation of Black families who need a better option for their kids because the public schools in their neighborhoods are broken,” said Margaret Fortune, co-chair of Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools. “But it also moves me to deep concern that Joe Biden would hand him that narrative, by being silent on the issue.”


Private and Charter Schools Receive Approximately $5.7 Billion in PPP Loans, Raising Questions About Equity in Education

While public schools are threatened with cuts, private schools (mostly parochial) and charter schools get more than five times the funding from the CARES Act.

From COVID Stimulus Watch
Our review revealed that approximately 1,200 charter schools and 5,400 private schools received an estimated $1.3 billion and $4.5 billion in PPP loans, respectively—averaging $855,000 per school. In contrast, other parts of the CARES Act allocate only $13.2 billion for all of the 98,158 public schools in the country, or $134,500 per school. In other words, private and charter schools are getting six times more per facility than public schools.

This gap will likely widen, as charter and private schools are also entitled to a portion of federal funding for public education. Additional analysis will be needed to determine the exact size of this gap, but there is clearly a significant disparity in CARES Act funding for different kinds of schools.


Ed Tech Cashes In on the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, the vultures moved in. If you've never read The Shock Doctrine, now is the time.

From The American Prospect
Ed tech companies lost no time moving in. “When the pandemic hit, right away we got a list of all these technology companies that make education software that were offering free access to their products for the duration of the coronavirus crisis,” said Gordon Lafer, political economist at the University of Oregon and a member of his local school board. “They pitch these offerings as stepping up to help out the country in a moment of crisis. But it’s also like coke dealers handing out free samples.” ...

For the past two decades, ed tech has been pushing into public schools, convincing districts to invest in tablets, software, online programs, assessment tools. Many superintendents have allowed these incursions, directing funding to technology that might have been better spent on human resources, teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians (up to $5.6 billion of school technology purchased sits unused, according to a 2019 analysis in EdWeek Market Brief). Now the pandemic has provided ed tech a “golden opportunity,” a “tailwind” (these are the terms we hear): Michael Moe, head of the venture capitalist group Global Silicon Valley, says: “We see the education industry today as the health care industry of 30 years ago.” Not a happy thought.


91 Examples of Americans At Odds About Covid-19 as Students Start School

The US is a post-truth society. We no longer have facts common to us all. We only have the facts of our own little bubble of news and information. Republicans have one set of facts. Democrats have another. Even the health of the nation suffers from partisan bickering.

From Nancy Bailey's Education Website
  1. Schools are not safe. Students should learn remotely.
  2. Send students back to school; it’s more dangerous if they stay home.
  3. Make sure students wear masks.
  4. I would not want to wear a mask if I was a kid.
  5. Teachers who make children wear masks are sheep.
  6. Forcing us to wear masks is tyranny!
  7. Masks are disgusting!
  8. Teachers don’t realize that Covid-19 is a hoax.
  9. Covid-19 is real, but it is not as bad as they say. It is over-reported.
  10. Covid-19 is worse than they say. It’s under-reported.


The School Reopening Gamble

America's schoolchildren and their teachers are the pawns in the political games of adults.

From Jersey Jazzman
In the next week or so, school districts all over the country will reopen their buildings as their new year begins. During our pre-service training, a teacher colleague of mine described the process as a “grand experiment.”

But he’s wrong; it’s not an experiment. It’s a gamble.

An experiment, by definition, is a controlled, scientific procedure designed to gain knowledge. When a researcher conducts an experiment, they try, as much as possible, to control for outside factors that may affect an outcome. The goal is to see relationships between causes and effects, and better understand how the world works.

A gamble, on the other hand, is a risky action taken with the hopes of getting a favorable result. A gambler isn’t trying to learn anything – all they want is a win.


“Teachers Can Turn This Thing Around” – Not Billionaires, Private Interests, Or ALEC-Aligned Stooges

Educational decisions are being made without the input of educators. Does this surprise you? It shouldn't. It's been going on for years.

From Caffeinated Rage
It’s kind of like re-imagining health care without input from health care professionals or receiving marital advice from someone who has never been in a long-term relationship. It’s like getting counseling from someone who cannot even empathize with your situation.

But with the end of the traditional school year coming and the need to start talking about how we will proceed with fall, it is apparent that the input of teachers is paramount.

Why? Because “Teachers Can Turn This Thing Around.”

And don’t forget to vote this November.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Choose a Teacher!


The upcoming election gives us the chance to change the occupant of the White House, which would also, thankfully, remove the person who purchased the office of Secretary of Education.

Betsy DeVos's tenure at the US Education Department has not gone well. From her lack of educational qualifications to the "Where are the pencils" tweet to the attempt to "strip public money from public schools," she has shown, to put it mildly, a general lack of interest in public schools.

The vast majority of American students attend public schools and they will all benefit when "dead end" DeVos goes back to her Michigan mansion and her yachts.

But who should replace her? Joe Biden, should he take the Presidential 0ath of Office on January 20, 2021, will nominate someone other than DeVos for Secretary, and he has promised to nominate a teacher.

But if you've been a public school educator in the last 20 years, you know that a promise from any presidential candidate, Republican or Democratic, about public education is questionable. Before DeVos, public schools suffered through sixteen years of attack from two different administrations. Peter Greene, in Forbes, tackles the question. Read the entire article...I'll wait...

Who Should Biden Pick As Education Secretary?
Of course, he has to win first. But Joe Biden comes into the race carrying the education baggage of the Obama administration, and an announcement of a good ed secretary, even a short list, could help whip up some teacher enthusiasm. Also, it’s far more pleasant to imagine what Biden could do than to contemplate more years of Betsy DeVos in the office...

...when the campaign puts together a search committee to narrow down the field, that committee should be loaded with public school teachers as well. Start soon; teachers are going to be extra busy this fall. And teachers—if you don ‘t get the call to help out, send the campaign your picks anyway.


It's been a tradition for American presidents – since Jimmy Carter – to nominate someone unqualified to the office of Secretary of Education. A quick glance at past Secretaries would give you enough information to understand that the position is not reserved for educators, but for political boosters and hacks.

Of the eleven past and current Secretaries of the US Education Department, only a handful have had any experience in public education or even K-12 education.

John King, the previous Secretary, taught for 3 years (yep...three whole years) and became the hated state education chief in New York. Terrell Bell, who got fired from his job as Secretary after one term because he knew too much about education, was a high school teacher and administrator. Rod Paige, who equated teachers who belonged to their teachers' union with terrorists, also had education training and earned his stripes as the Superintendent of Schools in Houston during the "Texas Miracle" which turned out to be no miracle at all.

Arne Duncan was the "CEO" of Chicago Public Schools – because "CEO" means that we're running a school system like a business so it's all good – and he got that job because...why? His mom was a tutor and he watched her (see here, here, and here).

The rest of the pack's knowledge of public education was either as a parent, such as Margaret Spellings whose web page at the U.S. ED said that she was qualified because she was a mom or because they might have been a student in a public school...once.

In other words, knowing anything about K-12 public education has rarely, if ever, been a requirement for the job of U.S. Secretary of Education.

It's time to change that!


Nearly any American public school teacher would make a better Secretary of Education for the United States than Betsy DeVos.

Take me for example...

Like DeVos, I have no experience at running any organization the size of the U.S. ED. And I don't have her millions of dollars to purchase politicians. On the other hand, I have more than sixty years of experience as a student, teacher, parent, and volunteer in public education compared to DeVos's zero years. I have been a teacher of students from age 4 through adult at the elementary school, community college, and university levels. In fact, I have more K-12 teaching experience than any previous Secretary of Education.

And like most American educators...
  • I believe that all children are entitled to a free, appropriate, public education.
  • I believe that public education is a public responsibility which, if fully supported, benefits all citizens, and provides for a more productive society.
  • I believe that if private or privately run schools accept public dollars then they should be held to the same standards and restrictions as public schools.
  • I believe that all schools accepting public funds should accept and provide an appropriate education for all students no matter how expensive they are to educate.

But I'm not the only one.

Most American public school teachers know more about public education than most of the previous Secretaries of Education, and it's likely that any public school teacher in America knows more about public education than Betsy DeVos.

The nation's children would be better served with an education professional as the U.S. Secretary of Education, than with someone like Betsy DeVos, who has no understanding of teaching and learning, and whose only interest in public education is to destroy it.

Peter Greene suggests that you send the Biden campaign your suggestions for a qualified, public-school-experienced, Secretary of Education. I think that's a good idea.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

2020 Medley #19 - Civics: A Subject Left Behind

Civics Education


Ask someone disappointed by the extreme political and social polarization in America today, and it's possible that you'll get a rant about how Civics isn't being taught in our schools anymore.

Fewer hours are now required in traditional Civics subjects -- government, history, law, economics, and geography -- than in the past. Nearly 80% of states require only one semester of Civics classes (beyond History) for a student to graduate from high school.

Pundits on both the left and the right have their own ideas on how to teach Civics. What they do agree on, however, is that Civics education as it currently exists in the US is inadequate...so bad in fact that a lawsuit was filed in Rhode Island claiming that the Civics education was so poor it violated students' constitutional rights.

As usual, however, the claims about the poor quality of Civics education is only part of the story. Schools are once again being called on to solve the problems created by outside forces such as the elimination of the "fairness doctrine" the rise of polarized news sources, the lack of a common set of facts, and the poisonous impact of money in American politics. Civics education will not be able to counteract Fox News and the passage of Citizens United which has contributed to the overt influence of partisan billionaires on American politics each year.

So why have schools cut back on the amount of time that Civics education is taught in today's public schools? One reason is the obsession with testing in the US. We are singularly focused on testing Reading and Math and often other subjects like Civics and Science are given short shrift in the curriculum. No Child Left Behind left some subjects behind.

Civics education certainly does need to be taught -- and is being taught -- in the US, but the public schools can't solve the divisiveness of political speech, the influx of dark money into politics, or the lack of a common set of facts. Teachers are understandably fearful of being accused of partisanship, but school boards and state legislatures are reflective of the political divide. Schools, tasked with raising the next generation of informed citizens, are caught in the middle.

Can Civics education be improved? Of course, but more will be required to solve the problem of a polarized electorate.


The State of Civics Education

It's the responsibility of schools to make sure that students engage in society as knowledgable citizens once they graduate.
Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years.1 Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent2 and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996.3 Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy. Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become engaged and knowledgeable citizens.

While the 2016 election brought a renewed interest in engagement among youth,4 only 23 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam, and achievement levels have virtually stagnated since 1998.5 In addition, the increased focus on math and reading in K-12 education—while critical to prepare all students for success—has pushed out civics and other important subjects.


Improved civics education won't eliminate misinformation.

Why more (and better) civics education can’t really save us
Misinformation is at its highest level in the history of polling. On crucial issue after crucial issue, staggering numbers of Americans have views of reality that are wildly at odds with the facts.

In the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, a majority of Americans falsely believed that Iraqis helped carry out the 9/11 attacks. During debate on the 2010 Affordable Care Act, a third of our citizens falsely believed that the legislation included “death panels” — government-appointed committees with the power to deny medical treatment to elderly patients. Millions of Americans today falsely believe that illegal immigration and free trade are the leading cause of factory job loss. More than 80 percent of job loss is attributable to automation — the replacement of workers by machines.

And then there’s climate change. People elsewhere in the world accept the scientific consensus that the climate is changing and that it’s due to human activity. Not so in America. Polls indicate that large numbers deny that it’s happening or attribute it to sunspots and other natural causes.

Misinformation has no boundaries. It infects Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old. But it’s more prevalent among some groups than others. Younger adults tend to be more misinformed than older adults and have more difficulty distinguishing between fact and fake.

Teaching More Civics Will Not Save Us from Trump
...although I wholeheartedly support Haass’ suggestion that students need civics, I wonder what kind of civics?

Haass says children in the United States are not being taught civics. But what if he has it wrong? What if it is not the absence of civics that is the problem, but its standard, default iteration? Too often, our curriculum teaches the Constitution as if it is a holy text (with the framers its prophets). It asks students to memorize what is legal more often than it asks them to grapple with what is just, and privileges the mechanics of political institutions over the social movements that can transform them. It is a curriculum that tells students the meaning of citizenship rather than inviting them to be authors of its ongoing definition and redefinition. Not surprisingly, this is a civics education that can be standardized and tested, adding yet more millions into the corporate textbook and testing industries. So I enthusiastically endorse more civics, but it cannot be more of the same.


Have schools abandoned their mission of preparing an informed citizenry and now just focus on graduating workers?

Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority: The testing craze and 
But all that changed most notably in the 1980s, when, in addition to earlier cuts in civic studies, policymakers began shifting the focus from social studies toward easily testable subjects like math and reading. As Stanford University’s David F. Labaree argued in his intellectual history of American education, Someone Has to Fail, schools abandoned their civic mission in favor of preparing a new generation of skilled workers. The No Child Left Behind Act later accelerated this push, drawing on the work of a Reagan-era commission that postulated (with scant evidence) that test scores in reading and math would predict college and workplace performance.

Teaching Civics Has Never Mattered More
Civics is not just a class. It is a topic woven through many classes from elementary through high school grades. The teachers are not "civics" teachers but classroom teachers with their main focus on many subjects. In total, civics instructs students about how our government works, which can help put today’s events in context. But civics does a lot more. Intentional instruction about civics can help students become engaged, responsible citizens. These classes can help students develop skills to make decisions based on facts and issues rather than personalities and attacks. It's not just about "teaching civics" — it's about conveying civic values: concern for the rights and welfare of others, fairness, and a sense of public duty. It matters for our democracy that everyone understands how to participate and make a difference.


Critical thinking is...critical.

Strengthening Democracy With a Modern Civics Education
To ensure students are prepared to be active citizens in the digital age, schools and policymakers need to help them cultivate media and news literacy with robust curricula. The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as the “ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” News literacy more specifically “focuses on growing engagement with the news, awareness of current events, and a deeper knowledge of the role of journalists.” Both news and media literacy are pertinent to students’ civics education today, as students may be inundated with unreliable information through social media and the internet, which harms their ability to effectively engage on key issues.

With the increased availability of information online, students must be extra savvy to determine a source’s reliability, but it’s a difficult task. Discernment is not just a student problem, however: A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that around 51 percent of U.S. adults see “at least somewhat inaccurate” information online, and about 16 percent of U.S. adults admitted to inadvertently sharing false political news online.

10 Core Insights on Civics Education, and How to Improve it
2. States are introducing record numbers of civics education bills and initiatives, some inspired by pioneering work in Florida, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

3. Much of students' early exposure to civics is in history class, and arguments about history content are often really arguments about civic values. A better approach to traditional textbook narratives might be allowing students to draw conclusions for themselves after examining primary sources.

4. Teenagers' civic engagement is rising, not falling. 18- and 19-year-olds voted at historic rates in the 2018 midterm elections, at 23 percent. In fact, in four states, 1 in 3 eligible teens voted.

For further reading...

National Survey Finds Just 1 in 3 Americans Would Pass Citizenship Test

Americans’ Knowledge of the Branches of Government Is Declining