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

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

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

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Beverly Cleary, Age 104


I taught third grade in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the "teach to the test" trend hadn't infiltrated America's public school classrooms. We gave a standardized test, but it didn't determine who went to fourth grade, didn't enter into my evaluation, and didn't have anything to do with how much money the school got. In fact, "teaching to the test" was considered bad pedagogy and limiting to the scope of the everyday classroom experience. We were, therefore, pressured NOT to "teach to the test."

At that time in my teaching career, I considered my daily read-aloud the most important part of my reading instruction.
If we had a fire drill, assembly, tornado drill, or any other interruption to the day, the only thing that I made sure I finished for that day was the daily read-aloud. I would do as much of the rest of the curriculum as I could, of course, but read aloud was sacrosanct. It was the one part of the day that I made a conscious effort never to miss. What are the benefits of reading aloud that make it so important? In his classic, Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease lists these five reasons for reading aloud...
  1. it builds vocabulary
  2. it conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  3. it creates background knowledge
  4. it provides a reading role model
  5. it plants the desire to read
I was convinced then, and I still believe, that children who are read to, feel good about reading. Children who feel good about reading are motivated to read to themselves. Children who are motivated to read grow into readers. Trelease explains it this way...
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
I would keep track of the books I read to my students and at the end of the year, I would rank the stories based on the students' favorites. One year I even had the students illustrate a scene from their favorite book in a line drawing. I gathered them all, made copies for everyone, and presented the students with a coloring book of their peers' drawings from their favorite books of the year.

Without fail, every year three authors would be at the top. They were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and of course, Beverly Cleary.


My third-grade students always loved Kindergarten Ramona in Ramona the Pest. They were close enough in age to their own Kindergarten experiences that they remembered their own Ramona-like fears and mistakes. Ramona Quimby took those fears and mistakes and understood. I always imagined my third-graders thinking, "Here is another little person who understands what it is like to be a child."

After Ramona the Pest, I would often skip right to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since that was Ramona's "third-grade" book. Ramona was universal. She faced similar problems, made similar mistakes, felt similar feelings, and, for those students in my class who had older siblings, felt the same way about her older sister.

Ramona was sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never a parody. The characteristics that made Ramona so appealing to my students were the same characteristics that made her seem real. Even though the stories were made up, they were never outside the possibility of what could happen to them. Every child could relate to feelings of embarrassment when they made a mistake. Every child understands the anger at being patronized. Ramona expressed those feelings and made them acceptable.

Once in a while, one of the little girls in my class would be labeled Ramona by the other students. It was never cruel or teasing. Ramona was their hero. It's just that sometimes, one of the students had that same combination of energy, frankness, and off-kilter humor that would remind us all of our friend, Ramona. More often, I would watch the students in their daily lives and think -- of the boys as well as the girls, "There's Ramona."

Cleary was such a popular author that I occasionally included books about Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins in my yearly read-alouds, but Ramona was, without question, the hero to year after year of my third-graders.

BEVERLY CLEARY, APRIL 12, 1916 - MARCH 25, 2021

I wonder if any of my former third-graders, when learning about Beverly Cleary's passing, thought about Ramona.

My hope is that they did...because they read aloud to their children...who read aloud to their children.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

In Which I Think of Ways to Respond to My Legislators

Indiana is ready to add more public money to the state voucher program for private -- mostly religious -- schools.

House Bills 1001 and 1005 would give nearly a third of the state's increase in education funding to the 5% (10% if you count charters) of the students who go to private schools. I had written to my local state rep, Dave Heine, but received no reply. He voted to approve the increase along with all of his Republican friends in the state House of Representatives. The bills are now before the state Senate, so I wrote my state senator, Dennis Kruse (IN-S14), and asked him to vote against increasing the vouchers.

I received responses from Senator Kruse this week. I'll send a reply to his emails, though I doubt it will change anything. Here is what he wrote (different paragraphs are from his response on House Bill 1001 or House Bill 1005) followed by some of what I might say.
Kruse: Thank you for reaching out about House Bill 1005. I value the opinions of my constituents and I value your individual opinion.
Me: Do all politicians start their letters this way? I've talked to this man in person and I know full well that, while he might "value" the opinion of some of his constituents, he doesn't really value mine. Every election cycle, Senator Kruse gets donations from a group called Hoosiers for Quality Education a group funded by former Secretary of Education, and billionaire privatizer, Betsy DeVos. The goal, it seems, is to privatize Indiana's education system.
Kruse: I am committed funding education for Hoosier students. The Indiana 2019-2020 state budget increased $750,000,000 more to K-12 Education than the previous fiscal cycle. That is the largest single increase in state education funding in our 200-year history as a state. This legislative session has just begun. I am excited for the opportunity to review Indiana's current practices and potential amendments.
Me: He says, look at how much money we're spending on education in this state. Am I supposed to be impressed by this? We have given around a billion dollars of public funds to private/religious schools since the voucher plan was put into place in 2011. How was that money spent? No one knows. Who kept track of that money? Maybe the money was spent on new steeples, football fields, or church expansions. There's no way to know because that money is unaccountable.
Kruse: While I believe that Indiana public schools should receive an increase in funding, I also believe that parents have the right to choose where their child should be educated. House Bill 1005 creates a grant for students with disabilities or for students with parents who have disabilities. Accordingly, this bill allows parents of children with disabilities to make a choice about where their child attends school. Some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities. Therefore, I want to ensure that parents can receive a meaningful education for their child by supporting House Bill 1005.
Me: Do parents choose to send their children to a private school? Some do because some private schools will accept some of the students. But all private schools restrict some students. Students of a different religion, gay students, transgender students, students who struggle with learning, students with behavioral issues, are all targeted for rejection by some private schools. Whose choice is it to attend a private school? A parent can apply to send their child to a private school, but it's up to the school to accept them.

Should taxpayers fund schools that discriminate against certain students?

What about students with disabilities? Some private schools don't accept any students with disabilities. Others only accept certain disabilities (such as students needing speech therapy). Private schools often reject students by telling the parent that "we aren't equipped to deal with their particular needs." Finally, public schools are required by law to provide services to children with disabilities. Private schools are under no such obligation. Do these bills require schools to take students with disabilities? Do these bills preserve the rights of students with disabilities?

Kruse notes that "some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities." So instead of dealing with this problem directly by increasing funds to ensure that all public schools are properly supported, we're going to just forget about that and send the money to private schools instead? Why are we sending tax money to private and religious schools if we aren't even able to fully fund our constitutionally mandated public schools?
Kruse: The decision about what school to send your children to is a challenging one for every parent. Choosing not to attend a public school, for most parents, is an opportunity to select the best fit for curriculum for their children.
Me: I'm glad he mentioned the curriculum. Why should taxpayers provide funds for schools that teach religion instead of science or history? Should taxpayers fund students' field trips to the Creation Museum? What about schools whose curriculum materials "whitewash slavery" saying things like, "The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well"?

Should tax dollars go to schools that teach religion? The Indiana Constitution (Article 1, Section 6) says "NO."
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.
In 2013, despite the Constitutional restriction, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state voucher program. They were wrong.
Kruse: While I support school vouchers, I also strongly support public education. Indiana's total state budget designates 61% of funding toward education. 50% of the budget is directly utilized in k12 education, for an annual budget of $9 Billion of the total annual state budget of $18 Billion...
Me: Again, the money he's talking about includes money for private schools and charter schools which he votes to increase every year. Indiana Republicans always, always say that "more than 50% of the budget goes to education." That's true, but hidden in that more than 50% is the money, taken off the top, for private schools. That money should be going to public schools, because the state constitution mandates a system of public schools. It says nothing about supporting a system of private, religious, or privately run schools. Indiana, indeed, no state in the country, can afford to fund three separate school systems (public, charter, and voucher).
Kruse: Accordingly, this legislative session we are currently working to draft the budget proposing an increase to school funding by $438 million. This proposal would result in an approximate $800 raise for teachers over the next two years. I will support this increase and any opportunity to raise public school teacher salaries.
Me: I'm all for increasing Indiana's teachers' salaries. Indiana teachers' salaries have dropped by around 15% (when adjusted for inflation) since 2000. The amount that Senator Kruse notes, though, isn't enough. With another $800 a year, the average salary for Indiana teachers would still be less than all the surrounding states. Now, if he means to increase the salary by $800 a month (for the 10 month school year), that would put the teachers just slightly below where the Governor's Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, said we needed to be. Finally, and once again, that $438 million increase to school funding includes voucher increases!
Kruse: I am committed to finding ways to support the education of Hoosier students at both private schools and public schools. I believe that school vouchers do not contradict public education. Instead, I believe that parents should have the ability to send their children to the school of their choice.
Me: I know he is committed to finding ways to support private schools. I can't think of one voucher bill that he's voted against since 2011.

The truth is that school vouchers DO harm public schools. Public dollars should go to public schools.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football

After a decade of bashing public schools and public school teachers, Indiana "reformers" ought to be pleased with the results. The state's teacher shortage is likely to continue because of low salaries, constant disrespect of professionals and their organizations, and the punishment of public schools unable to solve the social and economic problems of the state.

Just 1 in 6 Indiana college students who study education become teachers, report finds
Indiana schools have struggled to fill vacancies in recent years as a strong economy created jobs in other industries. Teacher pay in Indiana lags behind that of neighboring states and behind salaries of other professional careers — a problem that has attracted attention from politicians and advocates on both sides of the aisle.
Promised a raise by Governor Holcomb (see here, here, and here), teachers are still waiting while the Governor continues to mark time. The lack of salary increases is contributing to the problem.

A little over a year ago Holcomb approved pay raises for state employees of 2%-6%. He excluded teachers, of course, instead deferring to the Teacher Compensation Commission whose recommendations for an increase to an average of $60,000 he then proceeded to ignore.

Yes, the pandemic has caused economic problems for the state, but the Governor is still promising, yes, promising to raise teachers salaries. Eventually, he said, Indiana "will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay." So teachers will get their hopes up and continue to wait. Think: Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football...

Meanwhile, the supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) is doing what they have done annually since 2011...diverting public tax money from the state's constitutionally mandated public schools to increase the church and state merger in the form of private and parochial school vouchers.

Responding to the continued disrespect of teachers, and the consistent move towards privatization, Avon Community Schools Superintendent, Scott Wyndham tweeted,
Could more money help attract young people to a career in education? Perhaps, but it won't happen if the supermajority in the legislature has anything to say about it. If passed by the IGA, one-third of this year's increase for education will go to the 5% of students who don't attend public schools. Until we stop moving public money to religious institutions, we're not going to be able to attract new teachers (or fully fund public schools).

Governor Holcomb has joined with the Republicans in the state legislature to shrink the pool of Indiana's qualified teachers. Without an incentive to seek a career in education where will our future teachers come from?


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Don't Punish the Students!


Anyone who has been paying attention to education news knows that the Biden administration has, at least at the time of this writing (Mar 2, 2021), refused to cancel the required federal testing for this school year despite the pandemic and despite Candidate Biden's promises to the contrary. In her blog, Diane Ravitch reminded us...
The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.
[Note: Cardona was confirmed on March 1, 2021]

If you're interested, surf the internet to find other stories about how Biden has broken this particular promise...but that's not the purpose of today's blog post. I'm more concerned about how the results of the tests will be used.


What's the purpose of the state standardized tests?

Since the state tests were instituted, they have been used by privatizers to illustrate how public schools in the United States are "failing." The truth is, however, that the tests mostly measure family income, and the concept of "failing" American schools is a myth.

During No Child Left Behind, state standardized tests were given to rank schools to determine which were worthy of praise and which were worthy of punishment. "Failing schools" -- i.e. those schools with high levels of poverty which regularly scored lower on standardized tests -- were punished with closure, state takeover, and replacement of staff.

During Race to the Top, the test was used to do the same as during No Child Left Behind but added "failing teachers" to the punishment list. Tests were (and in some places, still are) invalidly used to evaluate teachers. Those teachers who taught in "failing schools" were deemed to be "failing teachers" and would be subject to job loss or other punishment. In addition, Arne Duncan's Education Department virtually abandoned so-called "failing schools" and emphasized opening charter schools.

The Every Child Succeeds Act, which we're currently living under, has eased some of the punishments (it eliminated the requirement to evaluate teachers using state tests, for example), but the tests are still required every year in grades three through eight.

The educational reasons for testing include (but are not limited to) things like the diagnosis of students' learning and analysis of curriculum, but there are a pile of other issues with standardized tests, however, that make their value questionable.


One of the more damaging uses of standardized tests has been to determine whether third graders' reading achievement is sufficient for them to be promoted to fourth grade. Currently about two-dozen states and the District of Columbia have laws that either require or allow for the retention of third-graders who fail a standardized reading test.

Third graders should be retained, the argument goes, because reading is different in fourth grade. In the primary grades, one learns to read. Beginning in fourth grade one "reads to learn." While this might be true, depending on a school's curriculum, there's no evidence that retaining kids in third grade helps.

In a recent blog post, Peter Greene, at Curmudgucation, discussed another argument for third-grade retention. That is, that third-graders who read well have a better chance of graduating from high school. Therefore, if we have third-graders who don't read well, we need to retain them in third grade until they do...
..."Double Jeopardy" ties third grade reading proficiency (more or less as defined by NAEP) to high school graduation as well as tying both to poverty.

Without getting into too detail, the report finds that students who are not reading proficiently in third grade are more likely not to graduate, students who are poor for at least a year are less likely to graduate, and students who are both are even less likely to end up with a diploma. Black and Hispanic students who lagged in third grade reading skills were also less likely to graduate.
As Greene points out, they're confusing correlation with causation.
Hernandez has identified correlations, not causations. Research might well show that third grade shoe size is a good predictor of adult height, but it does not follow that making third graders wear bigger shoes, or making them stay in third grade until their feet are big enough, will lead individual students to grow taller, nor raise the average height of adults.
Retention in grade based on the state standardized test, or for any reason, is a remediation method that doesn't do what it purports to do. The "additional time to learn" argument has been disproven by the fact that after two or three years any academic advantage to retention disappears. Most students who are "behind" when they are in third grade are "behind" when they get to high school.

Retention in grade has been studied for more than a century and it has yet to be proven to be an effective method of helping students improve. At worst, retention increases the chance that a student will drop out of high school. At best, retention doesn't do permanent damage to a student's mental and emotional health.
Studies with the strongest research methods compare students who were retained with similar students who were not retained. They ask whether repeating a grade makes a difference in achievement as well as personal and social adjustment over the short run and the long run. Although individual studies can be cited to support any conclusion, overall the preponderance of evidence argues that students who repeat a grade are no better off, and are sometimes worse off, than if they had been promoted with their classmates.

You've probably noticed that the world is in the midst of a global pandemic. As such, schools have been closed, opened, closed again, half-open...in short, trying to find workarounds in a sometimes futile attempt to educate their students.

Some students have been on a hybrid schedule...in school part-time and at home part-time. Some students have been at home, working from a computer, for an entire year. Other students have been "lost"; their school systems have been unable to locate them. Parents often have difficulties juggling the online education of more than one child with their home and work responsibilities. Everyone wants students back in school. Students. Teachers. Parents. Everyone.

Given the problems associated with school over the past year, what do you think this year's Spring standardized tests will show?

It's absolutely likely that more students than usual will score below state cut scores on their achievement tests this year. It's further likely that those students who are the most vulnerable will score the lowest. How will those test scores be used?
  • Will more students be subjected to retention because they "fell behind" during the pandemic?
  • Will state Departments of Education fail to adjust cut scores (because those cut scores are usually arbitrary choices) so that fewer kids "fail" the tests?
  • Will states continue grade retention practices despite the challenges to curriculum expectations during the pandemic?
"Yes" answers to any of the above questions are what worry me about giving this year's mandated tests because pro-privatization states (aka Republican-dominated) will no-doubt use the results of the tests to bad-mouth public education and public school teachers. They'll blame the teachers unions (indeed, they already are), the Democrats, or local school boards for the low test scores. They'll use the low scores to pass even more anti-public education bills that divert public dollars into the accounts of religious schools and charter operators. They will renew their accusations of "failing schools" and demand more "accountability" while ignoring real factors leading to low student achievement.

Instead, let's...

Cancel federally mandated standardized tests for this year (and next year, and the next...). They don't help and they're a waste of time and money.

Provide resources to schools and teachers so they can meet the needs of their students. Let teachers...the education professionals...make educational decisions, not legislators.

And here in Indiana, divert public money for education back to public schools for a change.