"Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next. Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do." -- Candidate Barack Obama, Summer 2007

"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

Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Medley #10

Tenure, Privatization,
Unions and Teachers, ADHD


Kansas lawmakers pass school finance bill merging funding equity with education reforms
Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers.

They say the proposal is intended to ensure that school administrators are free from regulations that would keep them from firing substandard teachers.

“If you talk to administrators, they want this,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican. “They want really good teachers to thrive. They don’t want to be in a position to protect those teachers who are under-performing.”

State law had required administrators to document conduct and provide a hearing for teachers they want to fire after three years on the job.

The bill means terminated teachers would no longer be able to request a hearing.
K-12 teachers in America know, however, that "tenure" is not a guarantee of a job for life. It's simply a guarantee of due process.

In a comment to another post about the Kansas legislature stripping teachers of due process someone wrote,
No Government employee, not one one [sic], deserves tenure. They are no better than the rest of us.
The commenter is right that government employees "are no better than the rest of us." However, he's wrong because he doesn't understand what tenure means in K-12 education. Everyone, even government employees, deserves due process.

More articles reminding anyone who will listen that tenure equals due process.

The myth of teacher tenure
It is a myth that teacher tenure provides a guarantee of lifetime employment. Tenure is no more than a legal commitment (set by the state and negotiated union contracts) to procedural due process, ensuring notice and providing a hearing for generally accepted reasons for termination, such as incompetency, insubordination, and immorality.
Five Myths About Tenure and FILO
2. Tenure Guarantees a Job for Life

A zombie argument that won't die no matter how many times it is shot in the head. Tenure guarantees due process. Tenure guarantees that districts can only fire teachers for some good reason. That is it.
Dear Bill Maher: Here's Why You're Wrong About Tenure
...tenure is not a guarantee of a job for life: it is simply a guarantee of due process. Let's make it easy, quick, and inexpensive to remove a bad teacher: everyone is for that. But let's make it fair. Tenure is nothing more than a guarantee that firing a teacher is just that. 


Privatizing Wisconsin schools is no answer

Reduce funding for public schools through tax cuts and budget cuts. Then, give away what's left to private corporate charters and private schools through vouchers. It's not about improving education. It's about changing public education to a national privatized education system.
Our recent ranking as the worst state for African-American students' reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is an embarrassment, and these experiments haven't helped one bit.

For the past 20 years, we have been messing around with Milwaukee's school system through a series of charter and voucher schemes that have not been proven to have better outcomes than public schools. Despite it being part of their intended purpose, these schools have done nothing to close the achievement gap between African-American and white students.

Yet the Wisconsin Legislature continues to work to dismantle public education through a series of new laws to further expand charter and voucher schools statewide.

Charter Schools: The Promise and the Peril

The first mistake in this article is the claim that "A charter school is a public school..." It's not. It's a private school, run by private corporations (some for-profit, some not for-profit) taking public money.

The second mistake is the statement that, "A charter school is a public school governed by a nonprofit organization..." Some charters are, indeed, run by nonprofits, however that is by no means true in every case.
A charter school is a public school governed by a nonprofit organization under a contract—or charter—with a state or local government. This charter exempts the school from selected rules and regulations. In return for funding and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards as defined by its charter.

Emanuel avoids direct answer on charter school performance

Rahm Emanuel is looking out for the charter schools run by his buddies. He won't admit that they were brought in to privatize the Chicago Public School system, beat the union, and fill his friends' pockets. He won't admit that they don't do a better job than the Chicago Public schools did with the same students.
The number of privately-run charter schools in Chicago has grown — from none in 1996 to more than 130 today, with more set to open later this year. Charters and other privately run schools now serve nearly one of every seven Chicago public school students.

But, even as many parents have embraced the new schools, there’s little evidence in standardized test results that charters are performing better than traditional schools operated by the Chicago Public Schools system, an examination by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University has found.

In fact, in 2013, CPS schools had a higher percentage of elementary students who exceeded the standards for state tests for reading and math than the schools that are privately run with Chicago taxpayer funds.

Charter-mania, high-stakes testing and teacher-bashing: Can Rhee’s approach be stopped?

The status quo "reform" agenda isn't working...and hasn't worked for the last 3 decades. It's time to end the testing insanity and go back to teaching and learning.
And so here we are in 2014, the year which 100 percent of kids were supposed to be proficient on the standards. And you know, we’ve got 90 percent of the schools in the country that are now declared quote, you know, “failing” – which some people thought was the goal of the law to begin with. But we really haven’t made strides on meeting a 21st century learning agenda, because we’ve driven all of the instruction around low-quality multiple-choice tests.

Education “reformers” resort to Fox News-style scaremongering

Read Shock Doctrine. It defines the process that the privatizers have been following perfectly.
  1. Wait for or create a disaster.
  2. Rush in with money for privatization.
...so-called education reformers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by spreading confusion. Their sound bites are their strongest weapons — but for that to remain so, they need to ensure that sustained, reality-based discussions never take hold, because their words ring hollow to the well-informed.


10 Myths and Facts about Teacher Unions

Part of the move towards privatization is based on union hate.
Myth 4: Unions only defend bad teachers

Fact: Unions defend the due process rights of all teachers equally. There are bad teachers, just like there are bad bankers and bad grocery store managers. A union, however, seeks to help all employees grow in their abilities and performances for the best interests of the employee and the employer.

Myth 10: Unions are ruining education

Fact: States, districts, and schools with a strong union culture have a strong component of collaboration. In fact, the states that perform the best in the U.S. are strong union states. The same can be said about most schools. Likewise, while the focus seems to continue to be on "defending the taxpayer," unions are often times the only organization left defending the best interests of students and teachers.

Teachers: A Call to Battle for Reluctant Warriors

Anthony Cody asks if teachers are ready to stand up...
But the truth leaks out. Reed Hastings reveals his aspiration to use the expansion of charter schools to sideline elected school boards across the country. Charter schools, sold on the basis that traditional schools are broken, rarely do better, and in many cases do worse than the schools they replace. Teach For America novices turn over at such high rates that they promote instability wherever they go. The destruction of due process feeds high turnover, as is already seen at many charter schools where it is absent or weak. And the instability and churn that is the hallmark of corporate reform is damaging to students and their communities.

Guest commentary: Teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions

The following is a perfect example of how the U.S., as a nation, doesn't care about its children.
It's interesting how so many people with limited or no classroom teaching are quick to weigh in on educational issues. From Bill Gates and Eli Broad to Michelle Rhee and now Tony Smith, these self-proclaimed education "reformers" are short on education experience and long on placing the blame for educational failures where it doesn't belong.

The recent opinion piece by Tony Smith, former superintendent of Oakland Unified School District is full of misleading and false statements that only serve to distract us from the real problems facing our schools.

Contrary to what Tony Smith and the plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California case contend, laws protecting teachers' rights don't punish children. When students in our poorest neighborhoods receive a substandard education, it's not because hordes of "bad teachers" are being protected at their expense.

Our students are punished by the chronic underfunding of schools, which denies them access to smaller class sizes, a balance of new and veteran teachers, a curriculum that includes both the arts and career training, and sufficient support services.


Confirmation of neurobiological origin of attention-deficit disorder

ADHD is a real, neurologically based condition.
The neurobiological origin of attention-deficit disorder (ADD), a syndrome whose causes are poorly understood, has just been confirmed by a study carried out on mice. Researchers have identified a cerebral structure, the superior colliculus, where hyperstimulation causes behavior modifications similar to those of some patients who suffer from ADD. Their work also shows noradrenaline accumulation in the affected area, shedding light on this chemical mediator having a role in attention disorders.
See the results of the study HERE.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Too Many Effective Teachers?


Indiana released an analysis of school staff performance evaluations recently...and some people don't, can't or won't believe the results.

Indiana school board members say teacher ratings unfair
“I find it hard to believe that a system of evaluation where only a handful of people are said to need improvement is accurate or effective,” at-large board member Gordon Hendry said. “Clearly, the system failed.”
State school board member Gordon Hendry is upset because too many teachers in Indiana are doing a good job. His point seems to be that there can't possibly be that many good teachers in Indiana, so the system must be flawed.

In other words...we know that there are bad teachers, but our method of catching them didn't work.

To be fair, Hendry isn't the only board member who questioned the results of teacher evaluations.
Indiana districts that haven’t raised salaries in years could have felt pressure to rate teachers higher to make sure they were eligible for an increase this year, board member Cari Whicker said.

“We have a system set up where it’s punitive,” she said. “There’s a feeling of, we have to give everyone a good score so that people finally get a cost of living adjustment.”
Whicker, a public school teacher, also seems to doubt the results -- at least according to this story. Her attitude seems to be that we've forced schools/principals/evaluators into cheating -- giving teachers higher scores than they deserve -- because educators need a raise.

The implication is that there must be more bad teachers out there. Everyone knows there are more bad teachers, right? All you have to do is read the papers to know that there are bad teachers everywhere...Michelle Rhee says there are. Arne Duncan says there are. Everyone knows it. If our evaluation system didn't catch all the thousands (millions?) of bad teachers out there then there must be something wrong with the evaluation system.

One assumption is that bad teachers are responsible for low test scores, therefore low test scores are proof that there are bad teachers.

The director of a state "reform" group, Stand for Children, a group in favor of privatizing public education, thinks the evaluation system is wrong, too. Why? Since so many kids didn't pass the test it must be because their teachers aren't any good?

Making the grade
The state director of Stand for Children, an education reform group, points to passing rates on ISTEP+ as evidence that Indiana’s new teacher evaluation systems are flawed. Justin Ohlemiller asks how 87 percent of teachers are rated effective or highly effective if one in four students didn’t pass the standardized test.
Since 75% of Indiana's students passed the test only 75% of Indiana's teachers are "good" -- is that it? So where are all the bad teachers?


Isn't it possible that most of the teachers who are in our classrooms are doing a good job? Do there have to be more bad teachers than 13% of our state's teaching staff?

Maybe the bad teachers are among the nearly 50% of teachers who leave the profession within their first 5 years?

Maybe the bad teachers are among the 15% of teachers who leave the classroom every year. Maybe they were fired, were counseled out, were asked to resign, quit, or retired?

The teacher turnover rate is a growing and expensive problem for school systems. In 2011 the turnover rate for teachers was 16.8%...20% in urban schools. Maybe the bad teachers are among the ones leaving.

Finally, I would never claim that there are no bad teachers in Indiana's public schools. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is room for improvement among even the best teachers in the state. We can all improve, no matter what we do.

So maybe some of the bad teachers are the ones who only had 5 weeks of training before they were dumped in a classroom. Maybe some of the bad teachers have alternative licenses and entered their classrooms with content knowledge, but no knowledge of how children learn. Maybe some of the bad teachers received good evaluations because of administrative incompetence.

Maybe we need to quit misusing standardized tests for teacher evaluation and evaluate teachers using something more appropriate.


Maybe there's something else at work here. Glenda Ritz, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a National Board Certified Teacher, found an interesting correlation.

7 of 8 Indiana educators effective, state finds
Ritz did raise one alarm – noting when comparing the data by A-F school performance grades, there is an increase in the percentage of educators who fall within the improvement necessary and ineffective categories.

“There is a marked decrease in the percentage of highly effective educators between schools that receive an A and those that receive an F. Thirty-two percent of teachers in A schools are rated as highly effective, in comparison to just 11 percent in schools that received an F,” she said. “Highly effective educators are vital to school turnaround and my Department will be working to address this gap moving forward.”

Locally, in Southwest Allen County Schools only one educator was found ineffective out of 456 staff members. About 92 percent were found to be effective or highly effective.

Fort Wayne Community Schools reported 83 percent effective or highly effective, with 2.6 percent needing improvement and less than 1 percent ineffective.

And Northwest Allen County Schools had about 95 percent effective or highly effective.
So, there are more bad teachers in F schools than in A schools. How did that happen? Are F schools failing because of the bad teachers or because of something else?

What makes a school an A or an F school, anyway? Steve Hinnefeld in his blog, School Matters: K-12 education in Indiana, has some answers.

Indiana school grades align with poverty
Indiana’s A-to-F school grades may say a little about whether schools are effective, but they appear to say a lot more about how many poor children attend the schools.

The 2013 grades, approved recently by the Indiana State Board of Education, track pretty closely with the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fewer poor kids, the higher the grades, and vice versa.
Not just schools, but school systems, too.

Indiana school corporation grades align with poverty too
The Indiana State Board of Education approved A-to-F grades for public school corporations this week and – no surprise – the grades reflect poverty, just like the grades for individual schools do.

Among the state’s 289 school corporations, most low-poverty corporations got As and Bs. But nearly three-quarters of high-poverty corporations got a grade of C or worse.
We have known for years that the effects of poverty have a huge impact on a child's achievement...much more than their teacher or school. We also know that there are things we can do to offset the effects of poverty.

Instead of trying to blame low test scores on unidentified bad teachers maybe Mr. Hendry, Ms. Whitaker and Mr. Ohlemiller will be willing to help us lobby the governor and state legislature to
  1. reduce class sizes, especially in high poverty areas and in early childhood classrooms
  2. ensure that schools have a full curricula including fine arts and physical education, a full school library staffed by professional, and time for recess.
  3. provide wraparound services for students who need them, such as counselors, nurses, school psychologists, and social workers.
  4. provide age-appropriate preschool and early childhood education without hours and hours of inappropriate tests
  5. require professional preparation for public school teachers including training in pedagogy and child development
  6. fully fund public education
(h/t to CTU)

Teachers get the blame for the failure of politicians, pundits and policy makers to solve the problems associated with America's poverty epidemic. How are we going to fill our classrooms with great teachers if the teaching profession is blamed for all the ills of society? Who will want to teach with no job protections and no professional autonomy? Are teachers the problem, or is it the fact that America leads the developed world in child poverty? Who is accountable for the condition of our schools, the resources they receive, and the neighborhoods the children live in? Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, wrote,
...public schools are rooted in their communities. They exist to serve the children of the communities. If they are doing a poor job, the leadership of the school system must do whatever is necessary to improve the schools -- supply more staff, more specialists, more resources -- not close them and replace them with new schools and new names. Accountability must begin at the top, with the leadership of the school system. It is the leadership that has the power to allocate resources and personnel to needy schools, and it is their responsibility to do so.
Accountability begins at the top...I like that. Let's start there. What are the governor, our legislators, and the members of the state school board doing to make learning easier for struggling students...I mean, besides blaming teachers?


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 Medley #9 - Why Teachers Quit

Why Teachers Quit

Why teachers quit is a recurring theme on this blog. Teachers all over the country are tired and frustrated by the destruction of their profession. It might sound paranoid to say that the destruction of the teaching profession is a purposeful plan by privatizers and transformers*, but it doesn't really matter if the result is the same. Fewer students are going into teaching. Veteran teachers are retiring for the wrong reasons. There are more and more inexperienced and poorly trained teachers in our nation's classrooms, especially classrooms containing low income students. Morale is low.

The constant refrain of "failing schools," "bad teachers," coupled with state budget cuts (or budget redistribution to charter schools or vouchers), have made a career in education much less desirable. "Reformers" harp about bad teachers and claim that we need "great" teachers in every classroom. That claim, however, is denied by the actions of legislatures which do everything they can to turn the profession into a job for script reading babysitters. The result is that fewer students are looking at teaching as a future life-long career.



Fewer PA college students want to be teachers
All across the state, at public and private institutions, the number of students enrolled in education programs has plummeted.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the state-owned universities such as Kutztown and East Stroudsburg, which were founded in the 19th century to train teachers for Pennsylvania schools.

Students hesitant to pursue teaching
Deans and administrators at six local colleges reported a drop in undergraduate education majors this fall. The numbers vary from slight to significant.

At IPFW, for example, the number went from 1,020 education majors last fall to 822 this fall – a 19 percent drop. At Huntington University, the number went from to 188 to 178 – a 5 percent decline.

Even Ball State University’s Teachers College, a nationally ranked program, saw its undergraduate enrollment drop from 1,491 last year to 1,368 this year. At the same time, Ball State and other Indiana colleges are seeing an increase in graduate education programs, as students rush to get advanced degrees before legislative changes take effect limiting the pay and benefits long associated with further education.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs plummets
...working conditions for teachers continue to deteriorate. The latest national survey by MetLife found that teacher satisfaction levels have plummeted, perhaps not coincidentally at about the same rate as enrollments in teacher education programs in California. In 2008, 62 percent of teachers expressed satisfaction with their jobs, the highest level since 1984. By 2012, only 39 percent said they were satisfied – about the same level as in 1984.

Another possible cause has to do with the regimen of reforms that have put unprecedented pressures on teachers as a result of the negative sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law, along with the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program. As described in a report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, teachers in California faced what it called “a new normal of rising expectations and reduced support.”

“Teachers start telling their cousins and nieces and nephews and younger brothers and sisters, ‘Don’t go into teaching,’” said Michael Fullan, a Canadian educator and organization expert who is working with a number of California school districts on what he calls “whole system reforms.”

“When you are allowing the teaching profession to decline, you get a self-perpetuating future that goes downwards because good people don’t go into it, and those who do go in don’t find it satisfying,” Fullan said. [emphasis added]

The Coming Teacher Shortage
"If I can help just one kid figure out the right bubble to fill in on his test, I will feel like I've made the world a better place," said no young person ever. The inspiring, exciting image of teaching-- the independence, the intellectual searching, the firing of imaginations, the sparking of young minds, the nurturing of fragile young souls, the passing on of vibrant living knowledge, the participation in the miracle of growth, the guiding on a path to being fully human-- all those things that fired us up about teaching-- we got that bug from our own teachers and our own school experience. But far more of today's young people associate school with the drudgery of clerical work, the autonomy of assembly line workers.


Those teachers who are staying...or just starting out...are discovering that tests and so-called "accountability" rule the classroom. There is little room for teacher or student creativity. Teachers are rarely allowed to use their expertise to make decisions based on students' needs. The school day is taken up with data collection and the constant threat of misused standardized tests.

Kindergarten teacher: My job is now about tests and data — not children. I quit.
In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.
A ‘Dear John’ letter to Florida — from 2010 state Teacher of the Year
Realize who the experts are. Our educators are our experts, having the hours of experience that leads to credibility and depth of knowledge. Be leery of self proclaimed experts and reformers who can talk the talk, but don't have the experience, knowledge or credibility because they have never walked the walk.
Ron Maggiano, Virginia Teacher, Retires Over 'Testing Regime' That's 'Suffocating Creativity'
“When I started teaching, the worst thing a teacher could do is teach to the test. Now, all we are doing is teaching to the test. From the first day of school to the final exam, that’s all we are doing,” Maggiano told the paper.

Maggiano told the outlet that he would rather retire than be part of the education system as it stands.

“I don’t think I’m leaving the education system. I think the education system left me,” Maggiano added.
‘I would love to teach but…’
...no one ever asks the teachers, those who are up to their necks in the trenches each day, or if they do, it is in a patronizing way and our suggestions are readily discarded. Decisions about classrooms should be made in classrooms. Teachers are the most qualified individuals to determine what is needed for their own students. Each classroom is different. It has a different chemistry, different dynamic, different demographic, and the teacher is the one who keeps the balance. He or she knows each student, knows what they need, and they should be the ones making the decisions about how to best reach them. Sure, using different resources and strategies among schools may make data sharing more difficult, but haven’t we gone far enough with data? Each child is not a number or a data point. They can only be compared to the developmental capabilities set forth by medicine, not education, and to their own previous progress.

In addition, teachers cannot and should not be evaluated on the grades of their students. Who then would try to teach the boy who will never progress past third grade due to a brain injury? Who then will teach the girl that refuses to complete any work? Who then would teach any special education classes? What stops me from skewing my grades to keep the world off my back? Education cannot be objectively measured. It never could, and our problems began when we came to that realization and instead of embracing it, decided to force it into a quantifiable box that is much too small and too much the wrong shape.
Wake Co. teacher resigns in email over low pay
I have found it more and more difficult to pay my bills every month and continue to fall further and further into debt, not to mention the feeling of absolute disrespect that I feel every time a new "expectation" is mandated for our classrooms while all of our resources are being taken away.
Updated: List of Public Teacher Resignations


Politicians and policy makers, most of whom have never set foot in a classroom as an educator, are passing laws and instituting regulations for every aspect of teaching. Never before have so many unqualified policy makers regulated a profession. Never before have so many experts been left out of the decision making process.

The reason is simple -- money. Test publishers, private school entrepreneurs, charter management organizations, and voucher proponents are buying legislators' votes. The voices of public school teachers aren't heard because they aren't accompanied by enough dollars.

Bill Gates, a billionaire college dropout with no experience in public education, has a huge influence on public education policy. The Walton Family, billionaires with no experience in public education are paying legislators (through their donations) to divert public funds to voucher programs. Eli Broad, the Joyce Foundation, Mark Zukerberg (Facebook), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and dozens of other deep pocketed individuals and foundations are pouring money into privatization schemes and killing public education.

Why would the Democratic Party, so well supported by teachers in the past, promote Race to the Top, a plan dividing the nation's school children into winners and losers, and promoted by a man who, while sitting in the chair of the nation's highest ranking educator, has absolutely no experience teaching in (or attending) a public school? Money.

Indiana's legislators -- attorneys, auctioneers and florists -- support policies completely at odds with the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction who won her election with more votes than the governor. Follow the money (see also here and here).

Will America's professional teaching force be replaced with 2 to 3 year temps?

Why Do Teachers Quit?
This overwhelming desire to help students is a common thread among all the teachers I speak with. They all cared for their students deeply, but even this couldn’t keep teachers like Hayley or Emma in the classroom. Simply put: everything else—the workload, the emotional toll, the low pay—was just too much...

“To improve the quality of teaching,” Ingersoll says, you need to “improve the quality of the teaching job.” And, “If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”
Report: Shocking Loss of Teachers in Louisiana Due to State Incompetence
At some point, even Louisiana has to worry how they will replace the teachers who have retired and resigned. And who will want to become a teacher when working conditions are so poor and teachers are treated so poorly by the state education department.
GOP policies could create a teacher shortage in NC
Teacher turnover last year was the second highest in a decade. There are more early retirements. Teacher training enrollments in the state’s university system are down 7 percent.

No surprise. After all, legislators killed a program to recruit top students for teacher jobs through scholarships. A modest form of tenure is being phased out. A master’s degree no longer will be rewarded with higher pay.

And there’s North Carolina’s disgraceful 46th-place ranking in average teacher pay. That’s lower than the neighboring states of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Indiana universities rethink student teaching
“Teachers are beginning to be reluctant to host a student teacher,” said Joyce Rietman, director of USI’s advanced clinical experience and co-teaching. “Their name is on (the) test scores. It’s scary and risky to take a student teacher.”

School districts around Indiana have already begun linking teacher ratings to how students perform on state standardized tests or other student growth measures. Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, doing so will be mandatory, and districts will make decisions about compensation, tenure and layoffs based on the results.

Some universities are having a harder time placing their students because teachers don’t want their evaluations affected by the potential mistakes of a rookie.


Shocking News -- Teacher Morale Lowest it's been in Decades
It's official. The job satisfaction of American teachers has dropped to the lowest point in decades.,,According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, about a third of our public school teachers are considering a job change.

Does this surprise anyone who is familiar with what's been happening to public schools since A Nation at Risk?
Yes, teacher morale is lower than it's been in decades.
  • if you had no job security
  • if your job evaluations depended on factors beyond your control
  • if you were demonized daily by the media and politicians
  • if your professional expertise was ignored because you weren't a billionaire
  • if your private personnel information (valid or invalid) were published in the newspaper
  • and if you still had to put in your 50 hours a week just to keep your head above water...
...how would you feel?

*transformers - In her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools Diane Ravitch wrote that privatizers and so-called "reformers" don't actually want to "reform" public education but to "transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy." She said that corporate executives "believe in transformative change and disruptive innovation" which might work for business (though that is debatable) but not for education. The "reformers," politicians, pundits and policy makers who seem hell-bent on destroying America's public schools are "transformers" not reformers.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

North Carolina Joins Third Grade Punishment Club

North Carolina has joined Indiana and other states in punishing third graders who have difficulty reading by retention in grade.

States, just as individual teachers, schools, and school systems continue to use retention as a remediation policy even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it just doesn't work.

Last September I wrote about the false dichotomy of Retention vs. Social Promotion. It's time to repost that again.
Alternatives to Retention: A False Dichotomy

Teachers, Parents, Administrators, and policy makers all denounce social promotion. Many will claim that retention is the only option left when students can't or won't perform. Are those the only two options? In today's world of low budget schools, large classes, overtested students and overworked teachers it's unrealistic to believe that an average school system would have the money to choose a different path. However, that's what it would take if we were serious about student achievement.

Students who are retained are most often males, low-income, and minorities. The main deficit for students who are retained is reading. Reading is the one skill which needs to be nurtured before a child begins school. That's why good preschool programs are so important for low-income children. Good preschool programs cost money.

The fact is that as a nation, we don't really care about student achievement. We care about test scores. If we really cared about student achievement we wouldn't be closing schools whose students are struggling. We wouldn't be evaluating teachers using test scores and punishing those teachers who work with the most difficult to educate students. We wouldn't be rewarding "successful" schools with more funding, and we wouldn't be replacing experienced educators with trainees.

We would be investing more in the education of students who need the most help. We would be providing incentives for our most gifted educators to teach in the most difficult situations. We would be focused on the root causes of lower achievement -- poverty and societal neglect.

While we as educators have no control over what we should be doing, there are some things that we can do. Retention and social promotion are not the only choices. Instead of retention or social promotion the following alternatives to retention are worth exploring and investing in...
  • Promotion or retention with additional instruction is more effective than either policy alone.
  • The issue is not what to adapt but how to provide appropriate instruction given student diversity.
  • Future research should denote attention to locating, developing, and evaluating effective organizational responses to differences in student abilities and competencies.
  • Utilizing the concept of "schools within a school," have teams of teachers, who hold students to high educational standards and communicate the belief that all can succeed, while engaging all students in challenging, meaningful activities that range from authentic problems to explore real-world issues. Also, relating classroom activities to students’ culture, knowledge and experience are recommended as viable, instructional alternatives to retention.
  • Tutorial (i.e., peer, cross-age, and adult), extended "basic skills," cooperative learning, extended year programs, multi-grade groupings, and individualized instruction through technology are additional alternative approaches recommended from the research.
  • Remedial help, before-and after-school programs, summer school, instructional aides to work with target children in regular classrooms, and individualized education plans can provide the support for students being promoted but still needing to improve academically.
  • Recruiting parents, university students, and community volunteers to work with students having difficulties is still an important source of support. Parent involvement continues to be needed for the success of all students.
  • Base eligibility for promotion on multiple measures rather than on a single test; develop measures of achievement that measure what is actually taught in class.
  • Avoid the tendency to teach only "the basic," instead, provide a varied and challenging curriculum.
  • Include the average child while attempting to raise the level of the low achiever so that higher promotional standards mean higher achievement for all students.
  • Support a curriculum philosophy that is designed to meet the needs of the child.
  • Alternative placement programs should be considered for the over-aged middle school students to provide an instructional program and a support system based on acceleration rather than remediation.
  • Teachers and administrators should consistently resist parental and societal pressures to increase the academic demand of the curriculum to developmentally inappropriate levels, and resist enrollment, retention, and placement practices that are based on a single developmental or screening measure.
  • Implement pre-service and in-service training programs for teachers and administrators, emphasizing strategies that provide students additional time and individualized attention.
  • Consider adopting or adapting one of the model programs proven to help at-risk students on the basis of identified needs and a collective vision...
  • [emphasis added]
Early and intense intervention works better than retention or social promotion.

See also


N.C. ‘read or flunk’ plan gets mixed reviews from local educators
“The research is clear that when students are retained, their chances of graduating drop dramatically,” Crystal Hill, executive director of elementary education in Mooresville Graded Schools, told about 200 educators and advocates at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in northwest Charlotte...

Panelists and audience members voiced frustration with a state budget passed this week, which cuts money for teacher assistants and instructional supplies, ends tenure and shifts money to private-school vouchers.
North Carolina Read to Achieve Parent Information
The Read to Achieve law requires third graders who score at Level 1 or 2 in reading on the third grade EOG be retained and not promoted to the fourth grade. However, students can receive a good cause exemption by showing proficiency on a Read to Achieve test (given after the EOG) or through a completed reading portfolio. If your child scores a Level 1 or 2 on the EOG and does not qualify for a good cause exemption, then the school will notify you in writing that your child must achieve proficiency before being promoted to the fourth grade. In addition, some students with an IEP who are being taught on alternate academic achievement standards, some limited English proficient students, and students who have been retained more than once before third grade also can receive a good cause exemption.
Students, teachers grapple with Read to Achieve law
For students who don’t end up successfully passing the portfolio assessments or any of the other ways to demonstrate reading proficiency, they’ll then be expected to attend six-week summer reading camps as a last-ditch attempt to make it into the fourth grade...

If a parent chooses not to send her child to summer camp, that student must repeat the third grade. But for those students who do attend summer camps but don’t successfully pass, they will be placed into a hybrid third/fourth grade classroom in the fall, in which classroom instruction will be designed to meet fourth grade standards but non-proficient readers will continue to receive remediation.


IREAD-3: Too Much Pressure
Students who do not pass the second time may be retained in 3rd grade.
Share the Responsibility
For too long the argument has focused on two bad approaches to solving the problem of low student achievement and neither of them improve children's learning.

On the other hand we do know what works. We do know how to keep many at-risk children from failing. Unfortunately, we don't want (or can't afford) to invest the money, time or resources to get it done.

What works in school is early and intensive remediation.


Florida: Does Retention (repeating a grade) Help Struggling Learners? Conclusion: No.
There are sufficient data to conclude that retention in the absence of well-funded, guaranteed, and high-dosage interventions is ineffective or harmful. This includes the most recent research using the most rigorous methods to control for pre-retention differences.
Ohio: Why a Third Grade Reading Guarantee on Its Own Won’t Help Ohio Children
This kind of “you must pass the test to be promoted” policy comes into vogue periodically. Ohio tried to enact one in 1997, but it was eventually watered down and has had little effect on improving Ohio students’ performance.
Arizona: No free pass for 3rd-graders
Arizona officials estimate that 1,500 third-graders are at risk of not being promoted at the end of this school year because they won’t meet new reading requirements.

Move On When Reading, a law passed in 2010 that goes into effect this year, mandates that schools hold back third-graders who score in the lowest category of the reading portion of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, known as AIMS.
Iowa: As reading scores stagnate, state considers holding students back
Under the proposed rules, parents of a struggling reader in third grade would have the choice of enrolling the pupil in an intensive summer reading program. If the parents refuse summer school, the child would be held back. The board plans to cast a final vote to accept these rules early this year.

"We really aren’t looking at it as being punitive,” said Dave Tilly, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education, "but we really want to get parents to take their child’s literacy development very, very seriously.”
Michigan: The Third-Grade Crackdown Club
...retaining students is costly-- an average of $10,000 per retention--and the money would be better spent on tutoring. Oddly, in a time when economic efficiency is righteously pursued in public education, this doesn't seem to be a factor. Lawmakers and commenters seem bent on penalties, but it's hard to put a finger on who deserves blame when kids aren't reading fluently by the third grade...

As a middle school teacher who's attended dozens of retention meetings, this is my observation: most retentions of older children aren't based on inherent academic weakness. They happen because kids have checked out, stopped trying. Failing a grade is used as both threat and punishment. Although it's rare, there are cases where retention is the right decision. But that call should be made by teachers and parents, not at the statehouse.
Oklahoma: Parents, teachers denounce Reading Sufficiency Act
“The Reading Sufficiency Act is a law that was passed that says students this year in the third grade have to read on grade level, per the results of a test, or they cannot pass...”
Texas: The Promise and Perils of the Texas School Success Initiative
...what is in the best interest of children is not always incorporated into good teaching practice or even good public policy. Note that, even with evidence of an adverse impact on public school students, Texas’ testing practices were incorporated into the national education plan, No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law in 2002.

Furthermore, Texas policymakers have recently considered expanding test-retention policies to include 13 standardized end-of-course exams. In their proposals, regardless of the student’s grade in the subject area, he or she would have to pass the end-of-course test or fail the class (Cortez and Romero, 2005).

See also Third Grade Again: The Trouble With Holding Students Back


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Testing: From Bad to Worse

This month third grade students in Indiana have had their instruction interrupted so that they could take the ISTEP Applied Skills tests, and the Indiana IREAD-3 test.

Next month the second part of the ISTEP will be administered (testing window: April 28 through May 13).


Last school year (2012-13) I asked a friend who teaches third grade in one of our public schools how much time was spent on testing. He thought about ISTEP, IREAD-3, Acuity, DIBELS, and some other locally chosen tests (See here for a list of state assessments) and came up with this response...
Actual time spent on doing the tests = 54 hours, add an extra 20 hours for DIBELS...

Add another 25 hours for test prep. This would be test strategies, getting familiar with the format but primarily a huge chunk of review for the tests or trying to quickly cover a topic in case it's on the test but we have not had the chance to teach it yet.
That's about 100 hours devoted to testing or test prep...and doesn't include what I would consider to be appropriate classroom assessments such as reading comprehension tests, math quizzes, spelling tests, and content area chapter tests.

The school day for elementary students in our district is about 6 3/4 hours. That's been extended now in order to make up for over a dozen snow days this year, but I'll use 6 3/4 hours as the length of an elementary student's school day in our school system. Subtract about 45 minutes for lunch and recess...another half hour for art, music or PE each day...plus time for announcements, the pledge and a moment of silence, walking in the hallways to and from lunch and other transitions, ending instruction in time to get ready to go places like a special area class or at the end of the day dismissal and we're at about 5 hours as the length of an instructional day. A simple division problem converts those approximately 100 hours devoted to testing into about 20 instructional days.

So, about 20 school days -- nearly 3 weeks of instructional time -- is devoted to testing and test preparation in third grade. The length of the school day varies of course depending on the school -- secondary students have a longer school day, but they also have more and longer standardized tests to take. That's more than a full academic year of testing and test related activities by the time a student graduates from high school.


What is the purpose of all that testing?

Achievement tests are primarily used to determine how much of a particular curriculum students have learned (criterion-referenced tests) or how students compare to other students who have taken the same test (norm-referenced tests). Both types of tests have limitations. Neither type of test can test the entire curriculum. There are aspects of student learning that cannot be tested, like perseverance, excitement, leadership, reliability and a sense of wonder. Neither type of test is value free, which means that some students will miss test items because they are members of a particular cultural, ethnic or socio-economic group. The scoring of multiple test items is objective, however, the quality of the questions determines whether or not a test is free from bias. Even when test scorers use rubrics, there is some subjectivity involved in scoring short answer or essay questions. For a good summary of the problems with standardized tests see What's Wrong With Standardized Tests? by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

In addition, standardized tests measure only a small part of what goes into a student's learning. Out-of-school factors weigh heavily on student achievement. Things like low birth weight, adequate medical and dental care, food insecurity, environmental pollution, and family stresses can affect student achievement. Teachers matter, of course, but there is a much larger impact on achievement from outside the classroom.
...roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms
Standardized tests, then, don't measure everything that goes on in a classroom...nor do they measure only what goes on in a classroom.

In Indiana test scores are used for more than simply measuring achievement.
  • A student who fails IREAD-3 can be retained in third grade
  • Failed ECAs in High School can be used to refuse diplomas to students
  • Student test scores are used in teacher evaluations
  • Student test scores are used to determine teacher pay
  • School letter grades are based in large part on student test scores
  • Persistently low student test scores can mean state takeover of schools
All these uses of student test scores are inappropriate. The tests were developed to measure student achievement and, while they don't even do that well, that is all they should be used for. They should not be used to measure teacher and school effectiveness, or to deny promotion or graduation of students.

Finally, tests don't improve schools. Schools are improved by
  • finding ways to help students deal with out-of-school factors interfering with achievement (such as the effects of poverty)
  • lowering class sizes
  • supporting a complete curriculum with the fine arts and physical education
  • supporting school libraries
  • providing early childhood programs
  • providing well maintained school facilities
  • providing funding appropriate to the needs of the students. 


High stakes testing is harmful to schools and students. Tests are being misused to the point of child (and public education) abuse. And last night I read that Indiana is going to add another layer of testing for the 2014-2015 school year.

Why Indiana Students Should Prepare For Two Rounds Of Standardized Testing
Students will take both the state’s current test, the ISTEP+, and a new test called the College- and Career-Readiness Transition Assessment, or CCRTA, in spring 2015.

“It is two tests,” says Indiana Department of Education Director of Assessment Michele Walker. “It’s two separate sets of standards that are being assessed there.”

Two tests are necessary because of the ongoing dispute over the Common Core. Eager to exit the national initiative to share academic standards, Indiana lawmakers have directed education officials to administer the ISTEP+ next year. But Indiana also promised the U.S. Department of Education it would give a test assessing college- and career-readiness at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Most Indiana public school students already take more than one standardized test in a year so the title of this article is misleading -- it implies that everyone just takes the ISTEP. First of all, the ISTEP itself is two tests -- an applied skills portion and a multiple choice portion taken at two different times during the year. Second, there's also IREAD-3, ECAs, LAS Links, mCLASS, and Acuity...

How much more instructional time is going to be wasted when CCRTA is added to the already excessive list of tests? How much more learning time is going to be lost to the excessive, obsessive, and abusive use of standardized tests?

United Opt Out: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - March, 2014

Here are some graphic images from around the net -- plus my own 2 cents worth of comments. Click on any image to see the full sized version.

What CCSS Really Means

The Common Core State Standards - Standards we didn't need, which require that billions of tax dollars are spent on replacements for tests which are misused, in order to give those dollars to test-prep and test publishers who (along with billionaires who don't know anything about education) donate money to politicians (who also don't know anything about education) who then pass laws about education, including the adoption of new standards.

U.S. is [not] #1

U.S. Students from low-poverty schools score very high on international tests. Nearly one-fourth of our children live in poverty.

The problem is not "failing schools" or "bad teachers." The problem is that in our society the children of the poor are not valued. We're one of only three OECD nations who spend less money on our students in poverty. The "education crisis" is really a crisis in poverty and greed.

Just Your Typical Class

No More Tests

Once during a parent conference a parent said to me, "I don't know why he won't behave. I spank him and spank him...but he doesn't get any better." My response was something like, "If it's not working then stop doing it and try something else."

The same is true for test scores...we keep making public education more and more test focused, yet the test scores don't go up. Maybe it's time to end our test obsession and try something else...like helping teachers teach, reducing poverty, and increasing support and resources to public schools.

Learn From Mistakes - Don't Repeat Them


Privatizers want to take over the public sector because that's best for everyone. "The government can't do anything right. Public sector unions, for example, are only in it for the money."

Is it possible to trim government waste without "throwing out the baby with the bathwater?" Is government really the "public sector" since Citizens United? Are corporations "people, my friend?"

Mother Jones has a corporate seating chart for congress, showing who the members took money from to get elected. They also have a list of Capitol Hill's top 75 corporate sponsors over the last 25 years.

If private corporations are already controlling the government by buying elections does that mean that there is no public sector any more?

What Would Gates or Duncan Do?

I'd love to see how Arne Duncan or Bill Gates would do in front of a Kindergarten class or Middle School class for a year, but that wouldn't be fair to the students. Neither Duncan nor Gates have the slightest idea what teaching a class of students really entails.
Pick the business of anybody on the Gates Foundation board of directors. Pick any one. Now imagine me, a teacher, showing up at the CEO's office and saying, "Hey, some of us at my high school formed a study group and we've come up with some recommendations about how your business should be run. And if you don't want to listen to us, we'll call up our friends in DC and make you listen to us." -- Peter Greene in Curmudgucation: The Wrongest Sentence Ever in the CCSS Debate

Teacher Evaluations

Here's the formula used for evaluating teachers in New York State. What happens if you don't teach a tested grade or subject? In some places your evaluation is based on the success of how students do in other grades or classes. Some places are threatening to add tests for every grade/subject.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day, 2014

Happy Pi Day

Just wait till next year!

March 14 is chosen as the day to celebrate pi, because the numerical date, 3/14, represents the first 3 digits of pi. Hardcore Pi Day celebrants are planning special events for 9:26:53 a.m. on March 14, 2015, as the numerical date 3/14/15 9:26:53 represents the first 7 digits of pi, 3.141592653.

A Brief History of π from San Francisco's Exploratorium

Pi has been known for almost 4000 years—but even if we calculated the number of seconds in those 4000 years and calculated pi to that number of places, we would still only be approximating its actual value. Here’s a brief history of finding pi:

The ancient Babylonians calculated the area of a circle by taking 3 times the square of its radius, which gave a value of pi = 3. One Babylonian tablet (ca. 1900–1680 BC) indicates a value of 3.125 for pi, which is a closer approximation.

The Rhind Papyrus (ca.1650 BC) gives us insight into the mathematics of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians calculated the area of a circle by a formula that gave the approximate value of 3.1605 for pi.

The first calculation of pi was done by Archimedes of Syracuse (287–212 BC), one of the greatest mathematicians of the ancient world. Archimedes approximated the area of a circle by using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the areas of two regular polygons: the polygon inscribed within the circle and the polygon within which the circle was circumscribed. Since the actual area of the circle lies between the areas of the inscribed and circumscribed polygons, the areas of the polygons gave upper and lower bounds for the area of the circle. Archimedes knew that he had not found the value of pi but only an approximation within those limits. In this way, Archimedes showed that pi is between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71.

A similar approach was used by Zu Chongzhi (429–501), a brilliant Chinese mathematician and astronomer. Zu Chongzhi would not have been familiar with Archimedes’ method—but because his book has been lost, little is known of his work. He calculated the value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter to be 355/113. To compute this accuracy for pi, he must have started with an inscribed regular 24,576-gon and performed lengthy calculations involving hundreds of square roots carried out to 9 decimal places.

Mathematicians began using the Greek letter π in the 1700s. Introduced by William Jones in 1706, use of the symbol was popularized by Leonhard Euler, who adopted it in 1737.

An Eighteenth century French mathematician named Georges Buffon devised a way to calculate pi based on probability. You can try it yourself at the Exploratorium's Pi Toss exhibit.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!