"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

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

You don't know what you've got till it's gone...

GOT KIDS? GOT GRANDKIDS?

Have you tried schooling them at home during the pandemic? For most people, it hasn't been as easy as they thought it would be. Never mind the fact that the only people who are helping their kids at home are those who can afford to stay home, or who can work from home, or who have been laid off so they're home anyway. Many parents and caregivers have found that a well-trained teacher, who understands curriculum and child development is a luxury that we didn't know we needed till it was gone.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.
And it's going to get worse no matter who the next U.S. Secretary of Education is because Indiana's public school policy is determined by the Indiana legislature along with the Indiana State Board of Education...
The pandemic is causing teachers to flee the profession
Our public education system may be on the verge of collapse. Indeed, most families with children enrolled in public school find patchwork systems of in-person and virtual instruction underwhelming at best. Teachers are overwhelmed and unable to keep stitching it together. Something has to give, and without an infusion of urgently needed resources and some moral support from families and politicians, that something could be a mass exodus of teachers that our schools cannot afford to lose.

...In an ongoing wave of calls this fall a single theme has dominated — teachers are stressed and overwhelmed and, as one expressed, the profession is "teetering on the edge of a massive, massive shortage." In small, rural and large urban districts, leaders tell us that teachers are retiring, questioning their commitment to the profession, and just leaving the job. In many districts there were teacher shortages before the pandemic. Unfilled vacancies create additional burden as those who show up are forced to pick up the slack. Union leaders have told us they don't know if they'll ever recover, and huge shortages encourage fears that this "may be the final collapse of public education," said one leader from an urban district in the Midwest.

We've already been living with a teacher shortage in Indiana and around the nation. There's this from 2019...this from 2018...and 2017...2016...2015...

And it goes back further. The shortage has been steadily growing...in Indiana from the time of Mitch Daniels and his attack on public schools in 2011 (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) and even before with cuts to education funding, declining teacher salaries, and increasing funds for privatization.

Pay increase for teachers priority over tuition grant
The panel's 37 recommendations for raising teacher pay all have some merit. But FWCS' Steve Corona, one of the state's longest-tenured school board members, offered another: Reduce the amount of tax money sent to private and parochial schools as vouchers.

...He's right. The cost of Indiana's voucher entitlement program grew by 924% in just seven years, from $15.5 million in 2011-12 to $158.8 million in 2018-19. More than 25% of voucher recipients come from households earning $75,000 a year or more. More than 7% of the students come from households earning $100,000-plus.
All that money going to private schools...and now, the threat from the legislature is that the best Indiana public schools can hope for is that there will be no cuts...

State officials should act now on school funding
Two days after a high-level commission said Indiana needs to find $600 million a year to boost teacher salaries, legislative leaders sounded a different note. Schools, they said, should be grateful if their funding isn’t cut.

“The way today is playing out, a flatline is a win, even in K-12, when other states are making drastic cuts,” said Sen. Ryan Mishler, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, responding to a state revenue forecast.
This...from a state with a constitutional mandate to fund public education (while there's none that requires funding for private and privately run schools).

Teachers are leaving...and those who are staying are stressed out. Without much leadership from the state or federal government school systems are having to piece together ways to help their teachers provide instruction to the students they serve. Teachers are having to learn how to teach "pandemic-style" on their own. There isn't enough access to PPE to go around. There are connectivity problems for schools teaching online. Administrators are scrambling to staff classes, help their teachers cope with the changes all while trying to find missing students.

Meanwhile nationally, about two-thirds of teachers are dissatisfied with the decisions made about teaching by their district, and four-fifths of them are expressing fears of burn-out.

Becoming a competent teacher requires years of study...of curriculum development, child development, teaching methods, learning theory, and classroom management. Any career teacher will tell you it's not as easy as it looks. You can't just "become a teacher" because you sat in classrooms throughout your childhood. You can't just "become a teacher" with five weeks of summer camp.

Who is going to teach our children when the pandemic is over. Where will the teachers come from to fill the classes for our grandchildren and nieces and nephews? How are we going to assure that the teachers have the training they need?

CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS

For the past two decades, including the 2020 election, Indiana voters have consistently chosen state and local candidates who do not seem to understand (or care) that the future of the state's survival depends on the quality of our public schools. The quality of our public schools depends on the ability to hire and keep competent teachers.

Sadly, like climate change, masks, and now vaccines, support for public education has become a political litmus test. If you're a Republican you're supposed to support privatization even while your children, your business, and your community depend on the public school system. That has to change. Pay attention to what happens in Indianapolis during the 2021 legislative session. Keep in touch with your state representative and senator. Chances are you don't pay them as much as their corporate sponsors, but if enough of us vote with our mouths, emails, and letters, they will listen.

If they don't listen...if they continue to shortchange and punish public education, the damage to public schools and public school teachers could be fatal. There will come a time when we will miss the teachers of our childhood. We'll wonder where all the well-trained teachers have gone. We'll wax nostalgically about the great schools of the past. If we don't change our voting patterns...and recognize that public education supports the economic and social health of the state...we will lose a foundational institution of our democracy.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

2020 Medley #26 -- Articles you shouldn't miss

DeVos's warning,
Learning during the pandemic,
We don't need testing this year,
Children are people, too,
The Doctor is in.

Bye-bye!

SPOILER ALERT: DEVOS IS IGNORANT

Betsy DeVos Warns That Biden Will Pick Education Secretary with Background in Education

Andy Borowitz reminds us, in his own entertaining way, that Betsy DeVos hates public schools and knows nothing about education.

While Borowitz's article is satire, it sadly describes more than one of the nation's Secretaries of Education (and Bill Bennett probably hated public schools just as much as Betsy...and he was only barely better at keeping it hidden). In fact, knowing nothing about education seems to have been a prerequisite for most of the eleven secretaries. Only three of eleven Secretaries of Education have any experience in K-12 education. And, as far as I know, only one of those three, Terrel Bell, ever actually taught in a public K-12 classroom. John King Jr., who was President Obama's Secretary of Education for one year, taught in charter schools for three years.

We've had lawyers, scientists, political science majors, and athletes as Secretary of Education. Some of them, but certainly not all, attended public schools. Some of them, but certainly not all, sent their children to public schools. DeVos might have been the worst, but she was not the first who knew nothing about education nor the first who didn't care a hoot about public schools.

When was the last time we had someone without a law degree as Attorney General? When was the last time we had someone without a medical degree as Surgeon General?

Fifty-six million children attend schools in the United States. Ninety percent of those children attend public schools. It's time for someone who knows something about education, and public education specifically, to be Secretary of Education.
Calling the prospect a “nightmare scenario,” Betsy DeVos warned that President-elect Joe Biden will pick an Education Secretary with a background in education.

The outgoing Education Secretary warned that putting someone with a “pro-education bias” in her job would be like “naming a fox to be Secretary of Hens.”

“For the past four years, I have worked tirelessly to keep our schools free from education,” she said. “It deeply saddens me to think that all of my hard work will go to waste.”

TODAY'S STUDENTS ARE STILL LEARNING

Kids Are NOT Falling Behind. They Are Surviving a Pandemic

Imagine a time when education policy is developed and implemented by people who actually know something about child development and education.
The key is providing people with the opportunities and the circumstances that maximize the likelihood of learning. Not pedantically checking off skills and benchmarks.

None of this is new.

I am not putting forward a radical theory of cognitive development.

Every teacher with an education degree is taught this in their developmental psychology courses. That’s why so many educational leaders don’t know anything about it.

Policymakers rarely have actual education degrees. In fact, many of them have never taught a day in their lives – especially at the K-12 level.

For example, Teach for America takes graduates from other fields of study (often business), gives them a couple weeks crash course in basic schoolology before throwing them in the classroom for a few years. Then they leave pretending to know everything there is about education, ready to advise lawmakers, work at think tanks, or otherwise set policy.

Imagine how things would change if we expected our educational leaders to actually comprehend the field of study they’re pretending to steer.
END WASTEFUL TESTING

Testing Students This Spring Would Be a Mistake: Especially now, high-stakes tests tell us very little we can’t know in other ways

Dr. Shepard has spent more than fifty years working and researching education topics. She's much more qualified in the field of education than the "reformers" who insist on yearly national testing. She's more qualified than the politicians and policy-makers who lobby for high stakes "accountability" in public education. She knows that there's no reason to give wasteful and unreliable tests to students who have been traumatized by a pandemic for the better part of two school years.
Even under normal circumstances, high-stakes testing has negative consequences. State assessment programs co-opt valuable instructional time, both for weeklong test administration and for test preparation. Accountability pressures often distort curriculum, emphasizing testlike worksheets and focusing only on tested subjects.

Recent studies of data-driven decisionmaking warn us that test-score interpretations can lead to deficit narratives—blaming children and their families—instead of prompting instructional improvements. High-stakes tests can also lead to stigmatizing labels and ineffective remedial interventions, as documented by decades of research.

Most significantly, teachers report that they and their students experience high degrees of anxiety, even shame, when test scores are publicly reported. These stressors would undoubtedly be heightened when many students will not yet have had the opportunity to learn all of what is covered on state tests. A high proportion of teachers are already feeling burnt-out.

CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE

Children are not our future

Children will become adults. In future years they will be the leaders and policy-makers of our society. It's our job to teach them now, and raise them now, so that they grow and develop into compassionate, rational, competent human beings.

In the meantime, we need to treat them like people.
Plenty of adults act as if children are a mystery, as if nobody can know how to talk to this alien species. There is no mystery. Children are people. People who haven't yet developed some physiological and psychological aspects, people without limited experience in the world, but people all the same. Not future people. People right now, today.

This "children are the future" talk makes it easy to justify the kinds of bad policy we've seen in the last few decades. Sure, let's start sitting them down to study academic subjects earlier and earlier because there's nothing about what's going on in a four-year-old's life right now that could possibly be as important as getting her packed full of employer-desired skills for the future. It's easy to deny childhood when you think that all of a child's Real Life is in the future.

"Children are the future" is often used as a motivational nudge for funding and/or supporting education and can feel like part of a larger conversation that started with "We don't need to spend money on that--they're just children." It's a conversation one would expect from people who measure a person's worth in their utility (in particular, their utility to employers). It's a hard conversation, because if you don't know that you should care about, look after, cherish and hold close our children, I don't know how to explain it to you. They are bundles of raw humanity, undiluted and unvarnished. That ought to be good enough.

THE DOCTOR IS IN

“Dr.” Jill Biden Is Fine with Me.

Anti-intellectualism continues to rear its ugly head in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal article and other articles denouncing Jill Biden as somehow fraudulent for using the title "Doctor" (see here, here, and here) are just the most recent indications that ignorance is "in" -- knowledge, experience, and competency is "out."

Last month Marco Rubio denigrated President-elect Biden's choice of "Ivy League" graduates for his cabinet because they were "normal." I assume he, like the leader of his party, prefers the "poorly educated."

That trend against education and competency has been clear in the current federal administration. Take a look at the Secretary of Education (a political science major) and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (a neurosurgeon), for example. Neither has any experience or training in the field that their government department oversees. They might be intelligent in their own way (and you have no idea how hard it was for me to type that!), but that doesn't mean that they are competent at what they have been charged to do over the last four years.

My hunch is, however, that the uproar about Dr. Biden's degree has more to do with the low opinion the academically snobbish have for teachers than whether non-medical doctors deserve the title "Doctor." It has more to do with her field of study than with insulting people who are educated. Why is there a lower opinion of the field of education in academia? In the US, at least in the last one-hundred years, teaching has been a job for women. Two-thirds of America's teachers are women, and the male-dominated culture can't imagine that a "woman's job" takes any skill.

I know people with Ed.D degrees. I know people with Ph.D. degrees. They have all earned the title "Doctor."
Biden is headed for the White House, and given her newly-heightened profile, I am not surprised that someone rose to the ugly occasion of trying to cheapen her educational achievement, not because Biden herself was using her title to market herself or some ed-reform product, nor because she was using the title to leverage some other personal gain, but just because an opportunity to show oneself to be a horse’s posterior presented itself.

Jill Biden is widely known as an educator; therefore, her use of the title, “Dr.,” is reasonably associated with that well-known context, even on Twitter. There is no “MD” confusion, and therefore, no problem.

As for her dissertation, I read it. Given the criticism levied against Biden for her Ed.D., I wanted to gauge the effort she had to expend in writing her dissertation and whether her work might be considered a useful contribution to her field (i.e., whether someone might use the findings to inform either practice or future research). After examining her work, I see her effort on its pages, and I believe what she has to offer does indeed contribute to the knowledge base of student experience at the community college level.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Musical Interlude: A Beethoven Concert

DECEMBER 16, 1770

Today is Beethoven's 250th birthday.

Biography.Com says,
Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770, in Bonn, Germany. He was an innovator, widening the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet, and combining vocals and instruments in a new way. His personal life was marked by a struggle against deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was quite unable to hear. He died in 1827 at the age of 56.
He performed in his first concert at the age of seven...and published his first work at 13. By 1819 he was completely deaf but went on to compose some of his most famous pieces of music including, the Ninth Symphony.

In 2015 we listened to the Seventh Symphony (my personal favorite) and in 2014, the Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy).

Beethoven wrote more than his 9 symphonies. He also composed
  • a horn sonata
  • an opera
  • five cello sonatas
  • five choral works
  • seven piano concertos numbered #0 through 6, the last being unfinished
  • seven piano trios and a piano quartet
  • ten violin sonatas
  • sixteen string quartets
  • thirty-two piano sonatas

A CONCERT OF PIANO WORKS

This year's concert of about 50 minutes, consists of five pieces exploring Beethoven's piano works.

Beethoven's first published work (at age 13): Nine Variations on a March by Dressler for piano.



Piano Concerto in E flat major is one of his earlier works, written in 1784 when he was 13. Only the piano part survives today, although there are some indications in the manuscript for orchestral cues. On the occasions when the work has been performed, the orchestral part has had to be arranged beforehand. The concerto is sometimes referred to as Piano Concerto No. 0, as it came before all of Beethoven's other piano concertos. It is rarely performed.

This is the third movement, Rondo Allegretto.



From early works, to one of the latest – Beethoven wrote his last piano sonata, number 32, in 1822, after he had completely lost his hearing. This is one of his most interesting pieces with traditional phrases, hints of Mozart, along with a pre-shadowing of modern music and a few jazz licks. The second movement is performed here by Spanish pianist, Alberto Cobo.



FΓΌr Elise, which Beethoven wrote for piano (1810), is here, played on a classic guitar.



Today's concert closes with the complete Piano Sonata No. 14, the "Moonlight" Sonata. This is perhaps his most well known piano piece, here performed by Valentina Lisitsa.



FURTHER EXPLORATION

A Complete Listing of Beethoven's music

Ludwig van Beethoven on Biography.Com

Ludwig van Beethoven at Encyclopædia Britannica

This was originally posted on Dec 16, 2016. I've made some corrections and updates.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Listen to this - 2020 #5

SCHOOLS AS A COMMON GOOD

The End of Public Schools Would Mean the End of the Common Good

What is the purpose of public education? Is it a "factory for human capital" or a place to raise citizens in a democracy?

The "business model" of education supported by many "reformers," focuses on churning out workers from the public schools. The idea that public education is a Common Good like libraries, roads, and municipal water systems, seems to be ignored by those who have tried to make a profit on public education.

From Jon Shelton in Jacobin Magazine
If education is nothing but the “capital” that helps one get a job, then the argument to make it a private commodity is far too convincing. If we want to save our schools, then we have to stop looking at them as factories for human capital and instead as serving to educate our kids to be citizens in a democracy with expectations for better lives. When we talk about the purpose of education, we have to see it as only one part of a broader series of social-democratic rights that includes the right to a secure job, good housing, and quality health care — no matter what kind of education credential you have.

END PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

The Foundational Fallacy Of Charter Schools

Do we save the public money with charter schools or do we duplicate services and spend more of our communities' resources?

The idea that we need charter schools as "competition" for public schools implies that teachers and schools aren't putting forth the effort to educate their students -- and competition makes everything better (spoiler: it doesn't). Higher achievement is frequently promised by education "reformers," most of whom have little or no educational experience, but rarely delivered. Research into charters show that some do better than public schools, some do worse, and most do about the same.

One thing is for sure...duplicating services doesn't save money.

From Peter Greene in Forbes

You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.

This really should not come as a surprise to anyone. When was the last time you heard of a business of any sort saying, "The money is getting tight, and we need to tighten our belts. So let's open up some new facilities."

Opening up charter schools can only drive up the total cost of educating students within a system, for several reasons.

Let's imagine a school district that serves 1,000 students. Five charters open up in the district, so that now the public system serves 500 students, and each of the charters enrolls 100.

END HIGH STAKES TESTING

Does Your School Suffer From Advanced Testivitis

An interesting question from Peter Greene: Do standardized tests serve the needs of students, or the needs of schools to "prove" themselves?

From Peter Greene at Curmudgucation
...a school in the grip of testivitis is upside down. It is not run to serve the needs of students; it is run to get the students to serve the school's need for certain scores. And it will beat on those students like test-taking pinatas in an attempt to get the "right" scores to fall out. This apparently includes considering actions like requiring students to break pandemic distancing in order to come to school and take the test.

TEACHING DURING A PANDEMIC

Teaching in the Pandemic: ‘This Is Not Sustainable’

Teachers have faced challenges since the nation-wide shut-downs in March 2020. The conflict is between keeping schools open, which we know is better for students, going to hybrid teaching, which essentially doubles teachers' workload, or going completely virtual which contributes to other issues such as keeping students on task and the difficulties for parents who work outside the home. All the research into COVID-19 up to now has shown that children are generally not as susceptible to the effects of the disease as are adults, but schools aren't just where children learn. They are also places where adults work. Schools have to weigh the difference between the dangers their students and staff face in meeting in person against the difficulties in distance learning.

Because of COVID-19, teachers are leaving the profession in higher numbers than ever, exacerbating the already severe teacher shortage the nation is faced with. When the pandemic ends, when vaccines have given the nation herd-immunity, who will be left to staff the nation's classrooms?

From Natasha Singer in the New York Times
“Three years ago, we started to learn how to run from armed intruders,” said Amanda Kaupp, a high school psychology teacher in St. Louis. “Last year we learned how to pack bullet wounds. This year, we’re trying to figure out how to bring back learning in a pandemic.”

700 Epidemiologists Were Surveyed. This Many Were Sending Their Kids Back To School.

Interesting fact for teachers, parents, and policy-makers.

From Stu Egan at Caffeinated Rage
"...only one-quarter of epidemiologists surveyed say they would send kids to school, or even on outdoor playdates."

Ten Things I Used to Think

As usual, teachers are to blame because they are lazy, only in it for the money, selfish, or they hate children. Because we know that all teachers go into the field because of the huge salaries, all the free time, and they love to hang out with the children they can't stand. [/sarcasm]

From Nancy Flanagan at Teacher in a Strange Land
I used to think that teachers, in spite of their lousy pay and lack of control over their own work, were regarded as community heroes and helpers. But now—there’s this. This. This. And thousands more. Today, I read an outrage-inducing piece claiming that yeah, teachers are getting sick and dying (isn’t everyone?) but there’s no way to prove they actually caught the coronavirus at school—so hey, everybody into the water. The negative repercussions on this entitled attitude—teachers are so selfish when it comes to their own health!—will last for decades.

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Monday, December 7, 2020

US Export: Failing Schools

Again with the phrase failing schools!
 
This time it's in Australia where the New South Wales (NSW) state government has announced that it will intervene in public schools that don't meet "performance standards."

Here's a tweet from Pasi Sahlberg who has been working in Australia for the past few years...

I'll give you one guess what the "performance standards" are. Yes, they include attendance, well-being (not sure how that's defined), studying, and employment upon graduation. But check out what's mentioned first...
The NSW Department of Education will intervene in public schools that fail to meet performance targets in priority areas such as HSC and NAPLAN results, attendance, wellbeing and whether students are studying or can find work after they graduate.
The HSC is the Aussie version of a high school diploma. So -- graduation rates.

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. It's the standardized test used to determine if students are achieving...
...in three areas of literacy—reading, writing and language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation)—and in numeracy.
Apparently, the NSW government has adopted the US attitude about schools, deciding that schools are the only variable to grades, test scores, graduation, and employment after graduation. Failing schools are to blame if a student who graduates can't get a job. Failing schools are to blame if a student doesn't learn at the same rate as their peers. And failing schools are to blame if a student does not show up to school. It's sad that this attitude has been exported from the US.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

Are teachers the only ones who have responsibility for student achievement? What about the students themselves? What about their parents? What about policy-makers? Why are teachers the only ones who are "held accountable?"

Who has the responsibility to fund public schools? Who has the responsibility for the well-being of children? Who has the responsibility for the number of jobs available in the economy?

When teachers don't have enough time to reach all their students because they have large class sizes...whose fault is that?

When teachers need to spend their own money to purchase supplies for their classroom...whose fault is that?

When teachers again spend their own money to purchase materials, clothing, and food for students...whose fault is that?

This tweet from a teacher in the American Southwest says it all...
Failing schools? I don't think so.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Third-Grade Punishment Laws - Revisited

ONE SIZE FITS SOME

A post on Diane Ravitch's blog has raised the topic of grade retention.

Laura Chapman: Who Is Behind the “Read by Third Grade or Be Retained” Campaign?
There is a national read-by-grade three campaign. The practice of holding students back a grade is not new, but in the olden days it was never based on test scores alone and certainly not based on scores from national tests. I am no expert in reading, but I have learned to question how questionable policies proliferate.

Right now, The Annie E, Casey Foundation is a source of the national “Read by Grade 3” campaign. It is financed by about thirty other foundations and corporations. You can read about the investors here: http://gradelevelreading.net/about-us/campaign-investors

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also the source of widely cited and dubious research about reading. For example, the Foundation sponsored “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (2010, updated 2012)” by Dr. Donald J. Hernandez, sociologist at Hunter College (more recently at the University of Albany, State University of New York). I find no evidence that this study was peer-reviewed. https://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/


We've known for over a century that retention in grade does not cure low achievement. The focus of the post and comments on Diane Ravitch's blog is the "Read by Grade 3" movement and the practice of states to retain students in Grade 3 until they pass the state reading test.

Usual media coverage of the states' third-grade retention plans (or as I call them, third-grade punishment plans) usually includes the caveat that retaining students in third grade will "damage their self-esteem." Unfortunately, there's often no follow-up discussion about how damaged self-esteem is itself often a cause of poor academic achievement.

The range of discussion on Ravitch's blog covers the gamut of usual arguments about retention in grade. Elementary teachers are to blame for sending students to middle and high school unprepared. Students fail because they are lazy, absent too often, or don't take school seriously. Retention is needed because "we have to do something."

Most students who are retained in grade because they can't read "at grade level" don't show any improvement by two or three years after retention. In fact, students who are retained often perform worse than those who have been "socially promoted." There is so much research on this that we should have learned by now not to retain students. So why do American Schools retain nearly a million students a year?

The academically questionable report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that is mentioned in this article correctly asserts that there's a correlation between low graduation rate and poor reading skills at the end of third grade and a correlation between low graduation rate and poverty. The report also suggests that some parents won't, or are unable to help their children. The authors list things to help students improve, such as increased preschool opportunities and supplemental programs paid for with state and federal dollars. Nowhere does it say that retention in grade is beneficial. Neither does the website of the campaign for grade-level reading, 3rd Grade Reading Success Matters. Their site suggests early childhood interventions and community outreach programs. [Whether retention in third grade is included in their "agenda" isn't stated clearly on the web site. Many states now retain students who fail a third-grade reading test even though this practice isn't supported by research.]


It is unlikely that retaining students in third grade -- or at any grade -- will help their middle school or high school reading achievement. Elementary teachers can't always compensate for the lack of resources available...or large class sizes...or pandemics. There are programs available to help students who are struggling, but those don't fit every student...nor are they available everywhere. Why do we think that students should stop learning to read upon entering a certain grade? Secondary teachers aren't trained to teach reading, but perhaps some basic instruction on reading development should be included in the curriculum for secondary education certification.

And what of the offensive suggestion that students can't read "at grade level" because they skipped school or because they misbehave? A reminder that correlation does not imply causation might be appropriate here.  Isn't it possible that a student who is academically behind their peers might avoid going to school or act out because either of those two behaviors is less emotionally painful than failing? One could just as easily say that students skip school because they can't read well and it is a waste of their time, as well as a painful experience, to sit in class all day long and be made to feel stupid. Or that students act out in class because the feelings of frustration over their inabilities are difficult to deal with. We can't say that students' low achievement is due to behaviors - behaviors that might actually be caused by their low achievement. It's easy to place blame, but the fact remains that not all children learn at the same rate. Some students struggle to learn.

Finally, "grade level" reading is an arbitrary standard. What is "at grade level" in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (average income $127,553) might not be the same as what's "at grade level" in Detroit (average income $29,481) because there IS a correlation between poverty and reading achievement. "Grade levels" like standardized test cut scores, aren't set by the teachers who know their students. They are set by book publishers, test companies, and state departments of education. Sometimes they are set by people who have no idea what is appropriate for a particular age group. Perhaps the term "grade average" would be a better term to use. Still, statistically, any average means that half of a given group of students will perform below the other half...because not all children learn at the same rate.

Students need to learn how to read. But unless we, as a society, are willing to pay for the resources needed, there are going to be some students who struggle and don't achieve as quickly as we would like. Each student's situation and abilities are different. Teachers will do everything they can to help their students, but sometimes, at the end of a school year, some students will still need more. That's just how it is. Instead of blaming the previous year's teachers, or the students, or the students' parents, we should do what we can to help students progress from where they are.

In the short run, it might be cheaper to skimp on resources for struggling students when most students will learn anyway, but if we are serious about our intention to provide a high-quality public education for all students, then we are obliged to provide more for the students who need it.

One size only fits some.


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