"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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Random Quotes - August, 2014

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

NEA President Elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia on high stakes testing...


...we believe the results of tests should be used for what they were designed to measure. No commercial mass-produced industrial strength standardized factory test should ever...may I just say ever...ever...never be used as the determining factor in any...any...any high stakes decision on any level for any child or any adult...enough is enough!

WHAT CHILDREN NEED

Parents, I Cannot Protect Your Children by Peg with Pen
I teach at a school with 73% free/reduced lunch. Over 40 languages are spoken within my school. I know what our children need - they need wrap around services for poverty, books, librarians, small class size, health care, nurses, counselors, recess, quality food, and the opportunity to express their interests as they talk, read, write, play, sing, dance, create and smile. But you see, that doesn't create corporate profit. Poverty must be ignored in order to keep corporate profit churning.

VOUCHERS

Cruel Cuts: Philadelphia Public Schools Pay The Price For Pa.’s Expanded Neo-Voucher Program by Simon Brown
...it’s important to remember that when voucher programs expand, it often comes at the expense of public schools.

LEAVING CHILDREN BEHIND

Commencement 2012: Professor Eleanor Duckworth's Convocation Speech


DISINCENTIVES TO BECOME, OR REMAIN, A TEACHER

Maybe it's Time to Ask the Teachers? by Linda Darling-Hammond
American teachers deal with a lot: low pay, growing class sizes and escalating teacher-bashing from politicians and pundits. Federal testing and accountability mandates under No Child Left Behind and, more recently, Race to the Top, have added layers of bureaucracy while eliminating much of the creativity and authentic learning that makes teaching enjoyable. Tack on the recession's massive teacher layoffs and other school cuts, plus the challenges of trying to compensate for increasing child poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity, and you get a trifecta of disincentives to become, or remain, a teacher.



A GIFT FOR NEW TEACHERS

The Teacher as Sisyphus by David C. Berliner
The best gift we can give to our newly minted educators, many of whom will be working in our public school systems, is a society that gives the parents of the children they teach jobs that pay fair wages and provide basic benefits. That would be the best gift to give our new teachers and administrators.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Back to School Letter by Mark Cross, Superintendent of Peru Elementary School District 124, Peru, Illinois
...we will not let political nonsense distract us from our true mission, which is to keep your kids safe and to provide them with a world class education.
~~~

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!



~~~

Saturday, August 23, 2014

2014 Medley #20

Poverty, Teacher Shortages, Draining Money from Public Schools, Charters

SNAKE OIL

David Safier taught high school in Oregon for more than 30 years. He's now a blogger and columnist in Tucson, Arizona and writes about politics and education. He published an article on Thursday, August 21, in the Tucson Weekly titled, Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen.

Safier exposes the hypocrisy of school "reformers" who like to blame schools, teachers and unions, but won't (or can't) do anything about the real cause of much of the nation's low achievement -- an exceedingly high child poverty rate.
...leaders of the Education Reform/Privatization movement have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars purposely, systematically, repeatedly denying the connection [between poverty and achievement], or at least minimizing its importance. Low achievement by students from low income families isn't about poverty, they maintain. It's about failing schools, bad teachers — and, of course, teachers unions which pamper their members and ignore the needs of the students.

...if we drink the reform/privatization snake oil, if we believe our schools can make children from poor families achieve at the same level as children from well off families, we'll ignore the fundamental truth that poverty and poor educational achievement are inextricably linked. We'll forget that if we address the root causes of poverty — even if we can lessen the adverse impacts of poverty on children — we'll raise student achievement whether or not we improve our schools. And if we work on making our schools better at the same time, we'll achieve a multiplier effect. We won't work the miracles the snake oil salesmen promise, but we're far more likely to see genuine improvement in student achievement, especially from the lowest achieving students who live in the greatest poverty.
The bottom line, of course, is money.
[real improvements] cost money, and the people funding the reform/privatization movement absolutely don't want to spend more money on wages, social programs or education. So they continue to push their wares on a gullible public which is willing to believe the reform/privatization snake oil will cure our educational ills.



TEACHER SHORTAGE - NO SURPRISE

What is causing Indiana's teacher shortage?

There's no question about what's causing the loss of thousands of experienced teachers. There have been a host of legislative changes over the last few years which make the profession of teaching less and less desirable.

Rumor has it that Indiana administrators collectively encouraged the legislature to pass anti-union legislation, so Indiana led the way with new rules which weakened collective bargaining, removed due process rights, lower requirements for becoming an educator, and use test scores to evaluate teachers. Now that that's been accomplished school systems are finding that they're losing their strong core of experience.

The state of Indiana has made it much more difficult to remain teaching for an entire career. The bottom line, as the second article below makes clear, is money.
West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky) Killion believes it’s the combined impact of recent legislative reforms giving less freedom to teachers in the classroom and basing salaries on standardized testing, meaning in some cases districts are cutting pay.
Pension change pushes teachers to retire
While none of the administrators said they were happy to lose veteran teachers, they did agree that the situation does help the bottom line: young teachers make far less money, so that will help a bit with the budget crunch most districts are under.
What It Costs To Be A Teacher

Again we read that teachers pay in order to do their jobs...
No more pencils, no more books could be the refrain of the nation's teachers as they dig ever deeper to prepare their classrooms. Or as the meme puts it: "Teaching is one of the only jobs where you steal supplies from home to bring to work!"

..."We are vilified often but are the first to champion the kids we teach," she adds. "Find another 'white collar' profession that people will stay in with pay freezes, pension and medical roulette and constant public criticism. That's your story. Not what I'm willing and happy to do for my students."

"I have averaged about $1,000 per year for the last 29 years," says a veteran teacher. "When my financial planner heard that, he asked, incredulously, 'Do you have any idea of the lost opportunity costs associated with that? I replied with equal incredulousness, 'You mean I could have been investing that $1,000 each year in my future? Oh, wait ... I was!"



DRAINING PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Cruel Cuts: Philadelphia Public Schools Pay The Price For Pa.’s Expanded Neo-Voucher Program

Philadelphia has stopped paying for public education. Politicians don't blame themselves for the cuts to schools...guess who is the scapegoat...
...to Corbett, “doing better” meant making public schools worse by robbing them of badly needed funds and transferring that money to charter schools and private schools through tax credits. Corbett wasn’t able to achieve his voucher goal in 2011, but he got his way in 2012, adding another $50 million to the EITC – which is the very amount that Philadelphia public schools were forced to borrow last year.

Of course Corbett doesn’t blame the problems in Pennsylvania’s most populous city on budget cuts. Instead, he went after teachers unions.


CHARTERS IN TROUBLE

Flanner House charter school to close amid cheating allegations

One charter school in Indianapolis closed because of a cheating scandal...
The school’s decision to close means its students will have to enroll at other charter schools or schools operated by the city. Parent meetings are expected before the end of the week.
Nearly $1 Million from Gulen-related Charters Went to Firms Named in FBI Probe

Other charters are under investigation by the FBI...
In June, the FBI raided 19 Concept Schools locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, including the group’s Des Plaines [IL] headquarters. Search warrants showed they were seeking records concerning Concept’s use of the federal “E-rate” program and companies hired under that program, which helps pay for high-tech upgrades.

...The federal E-rate program requires competitive bidding in hiring contractors in an effort to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. There’s no such requirement, though, imposed on charter schools by either CPS or the state charter commission, even though the privately run schools depend almost entirely on tax dollars and CPS requires competitive bidding for its own schools.

Nor do they require charter operators to report to officials who their vendors are or how much they are paid.
FBI Tracks Charter Schools
Charter schools are such a racket, across the nation they are attracting special attention from the FBI, which is working with the Department of Education’s inspector general to look into allegations of charter-school fraud.
Public dollars, private rules: The charter school calculus

When it comes to getting public money, Charters are "public schools." When it comes to being responsible to the public for their use of tax money, charters are "private corporations."
The phenomenal growth of charter schools nationwide has been aided by a canny legal strategy in which the schools claim to be public for the purpose of taking in tax dollars but private for the purpose of evading government oversight...


~~~

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, August 21, 2014

"In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!"


Come York or come Hampshire, come traitors or knaves,
If ye rule o'er our land ye shall rule o'er our graves;
Our vow is recorded—our banner unfurled,
In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!

-- The Song of the Vermonters, 1779 by John Greenleaf Whittier


INDEPENDENT VERMONT

The Vermont Republic was founded in 1777 and lasted until it joined the union as the 14th state in 1791. Control of the area, called the New Hampshire Grants, was in dispute between New Hampshire, and New York.

In January, 1777, a group of representatives from towns in the area declared themselves independent and the Vermont Republic was born.
On June 2 of that year, the name of the fledgling nation was officially changed to "Vermont" (from the French, les Verts Monts, meaning the Green Mountains)...
Today, Vermont still shows its independent spirit. On August 19, the state, through its Board of Education, released a Statement and Resolution which declared its independence from the nation's standardized testing insanity...at least on paper.

Before we get to that, however, let's look at Vermont and the Common Core...

COMMON CORE

Common Core: Mixed Review of New Computerized Tests for Students

Vermont adopted the Common Core along with 43 other states and is proceeding with its implementation -- testing and all.
...Vermont’s “hands are tied” when it comes to the federal dollars the state receives for education, making it impossible for the state to objectively gauge the quality of the tests.

“Right now, we can’t step away from the money,” he said. “The only thing we can do is give the testing the dignity it deserves — which is not a great deal.”

Rebecca Holcombe, the secretary of the Agency of Education, says the tests will be more difficult and schools should expect to see their scores drop in the first few years of the implementation of Common Core.

“My fear is that people will see low scores and say that it’s a failing school,” she said. “We’re the same school we were the day before the test, and to say otherwise, does an injustice to our kids and to our teachers. Until we look at how our kids are developing, not just in one year, but in several, I don’t think it’s fair to make that kind of inference.”
So the state is jumping right into the Common Core and its testing. Not all Vermont citizens are convinced that's a good idea...
In interviews with educators, administrators, government officials and citizens, criticisms of the tests surface again and again: The tests take too much time, they’re not providing useful information, there’s no evidence to show SBACs are any better than any enumeration that’s come before.

Those concerns may be justified, Holcombe said.

“We don’t know whether those are the skills that will make you successful or even whether it’s the information that you need to know,” she said. “We’re in new ground, new territory.”
but, who listens to ordinary citizens, anyway...


Common Core: Vermont Schools Brace for New Tests, Standards


One problem with the Common Core is that they were rushed "to market" and students, teachers, schools, school systems and states don't have time to prepare. This means that testing over standards which haven't been thoroughly taught will likely occur and student test scores will plummet just like in New York...
...hurried preparation is the norm. Because the Common Core standards must be implemented this school year, the state has adopted a “ready or not” approach. That’s left some schools and teachers scrambling to comply.
Diane Ravitch argued that the Common Core has never been tried...never been piloted. No one knows whether the standards, developed in secret, are adequate or appropriate. Bill Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, and member of the Vermont Board of Education agrees.
Officials say it is likely that 70 percent of students will not achieve proficiency the first year on the SBAC tests. That prediction, Mathis said, should make Vermonters raise their eyebrows. “These (standards) have never been validated in a real life context,” he added.
Brent Kay, Superintendent of the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union school district, acknowledges the reality of the situation...
“I’m not trying to be critical, it is a challenge,” Kay said. “Any kind of change of this magnitude is going to take time. And because the assessment’s starting next year, we’re just not going to be ready.” [emphasis added]
RESOLUTION AGAINST TESTING

Despite the fact that the state has adopted the Common Core and revamped its entire testing system accordingly, the State Board of Education released a statement which is essentially a Declaration of Independence against the testing craze currently afflicting America's public schools.

Vermont State Board of Education: Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability
...the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation.

Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
The principles adopted by the Board return testing to its "proper role" and demand that it be removed as an instrument of evaluation of educators. It also states that when reporting school scores it will "include a report on the adequacy of resources provided by or to that school in light of the school’s unique needs."

It calls for a reduction in the amount of time spent testing.
The State Board of Education advocates for reducing the amount of time spent on summative, standardized testing and encourages the federal government to reduce the current requirements for annual testing in multiple subjects in every grade, 3-8, and then again in high school. Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes.
It calls for an end to using standardized tests for high stakes decisions...
WHEREAS, the overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in the nation’s public schools by hampering educators' efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and...
In short, the Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability calls for the common sense use of testing in Vermont (and the rest of the nation) and increased resources to provide an equitable education for all students.
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act") to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
The state of Vermont must abide by federal law and since they adopted the Common Core they are stuck with the testing, unless the state legislature follows Indiana's lead and "unadopts" the Common Core. However the State Board of Education has made a strong statement against the current "reform" movement program of test and punish.

This is what our state boards of education should be doing instead of playing politics, promoting charters and voucher plans, and all those other things which don't contribute anything to the education of children. It's time to stop abusing our students with the overuse and misuse of standardized tests. Vermont has taken the first step. Who's next?


~~~

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, August 17, 2014

2014 Medley #19

Good Teachers, Bad Teachers, Blackmail, Democracy, Charters, Literacy

DEFINE 'GOOD TEACHER'

A Dozen Essential Guidelines for Educators

For the last several years Alfie Kohn has been blogging for Psychology Today under the title of The Homework Myth: How to Fix Schools so Kids Really Learn. Last October he wrote a list of "core principles" which he said would help give our children the schools they deserve. Read these two before you read the next article...
11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure—and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.

12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.


Other Data: 20 Signs You’re Actually Making A Difference As A Teacher

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." -- Attributed to Albert Einstein (See here)

What do students remember about their teachers?

When I meet students I have had in class over the last 4 decades they invariably bring up one thing -- the books I read to them. No one has ever mentioned spelling words, or math problems, or even recess. No one brings up standardized tests, reading vocabulary or subjects and predicates.

Several of my students who have become teachers have written to tell me that they are reading one of the same books I read to their class.

Of course teachers must teach content, how to read and how to add and subtract. But students learn because of who the teacher is...not just because the teacher presents material. How do you know that you're doing something right as a teacher? Here are a few ways...
1. Your students are asking questions, not just giving answers...
3. You have listened as often as you have lectured. Another lesson in authority...
4. Your shy students start participating more often without being prompted...
5. A student you’ve encouraged creates something new with her talents...
6. You’ve been told by a student that, because of something you showed them, they enjoy learning outside of class...
12. You’ve let your passions show through in your lessons...
16. One of your students becomes an educator...

DEFINE 'BAD TEACHER'

Ten Reform Claims That Teachers Should Know How to Challenge

What constitutes a "bad teacher?" Arne Duncan, and his host of "reformers" claim that it's student test scores.
Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem.

Response: Lots of teachers agree with you. But can you describe your plan for firing bad teachers and not good ones? How will you separate the two groups? How will you make sure that only the bad teachers are impacted by this?

...Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year.

Response: Can you tell me how many hours you work in a year? Can you guess how many hours I work in a year? Can you guess three things that I might be doing in the summer to get ready for September?
Harper's Index
Average number of hours per week U.S. public-school teachers are required to work to receive base pay : 38

Average number they actually work : 52
Source: National Center for Education Statistics (Washington)




DUNCAN BLACKMAILS STATES

Superintendents forced to tell parents their schools are failing, even though they aren’t

Arne Duncan has blackmailed states into accepting his idea of school "reform" -- more charter schools and teachers evaluations based on test scores. If states don't do what he demands they they are thrown back into the pit of No Child Left Behind where everyone fails.

Twenty-eight superintendents from the State of Washington added a cover letter to the required NCLB letter. The NCLB letter tells the parents that their child's school is a "failure." The superintendents' cover letter let's them know that it's NCLB and the U.S. DOE which has failed, not their child's school.
The label of "failing" schools is regressive and punitive, as nearly every Washington school will not meet the NCLB Requirements. Some of our state's and districts' most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled "failing" by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials -- as well as the U.S. Department of Education -- acknowledge isn't working.
Even Duncan's own Department of Education understands that NCLB is a punitive, damaging law. That's why they allowed the waivers in the first place. But, your state can only be excused from the stupidity of NCLB by adopting equally damaging "reforms." Since the state of Washington hasn't followed his rules he is forcing them back to the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Duncan's petulance will punish schools, teachers, and students. Education doesn't matter. Learning doesn't matter.
... instead of giving strings-free waivers, the department designed a list of school-reform hoops that states had to promise to jump through in order to receive one. Those included the establishment of assessment systems that link teacher evaluations to student standardized-test scores, a highly controversial practice...

There is a consequence to having an NCLB waiver pulled. It means that the state has to revert back to meeting all of the requirements of the law —even those requirements that Education Secretary Arne Duncan himself had said repeatedly were unattainable.
“We’ve got 60 languages, we’ve got high mobility, we’ve got high poverty,” Frank Hewins, superintendent of the Franklin Pierce School District, said Wednesday. “When you have students with those challenges, the metrics established by this law are nonsensical.”


28 superintendents to parents: Schools are not failing
The additional letter tells parents that nearly every school in Washington won’t meet the No Child Left Behind requirements this year, and that the 28 superintendents are “proud of the significant academic progress our students are making.”

“Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials – as well as the U.S. Department of Education – acknowledges isn’t working,” the superintendents’ letter says.

EDUCATION IN A DEMOCRACY

The founding fathers understood the importance of an educated populace.

Jefferson said, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." and “[T]he tax which will be paid for this purpose [education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

Madison wrote, "Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty."

Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

And John Adams plainly agreed that public education was so important that the people ought to pay for it. "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."

The government, then, has a vested interest in making sure that everyone has the opportunity to be educated to the extent that they are able (and not, as Mitt Romney said, just to the extent they can afford). It's the government's responsibility to see that...
  • all children are afforded an equitable education
  • students are prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship
  • students can grow to be economically self-sufficient
  • tax money used for public education is used responsibly
Home School Upheaval: Texas Court Rules Against Religious Freedom Right To Unregulated Home Education
There’s also a well-established legal right to home school. But that right, like all rights, is subject to certain restrictions. Parents do have the right to home school, but they don’t have the right to provide their children with a substandard education or, like the McIntyres, deny their children an education altogether. The law is clear: You can believe Jesus is coming back at midnight if you want. You can even tell your children that it’s a fact.

But you still have to teach them how to read.

CHARTERS

Charter schools claim to be public schools when they want public money, but then they claim they are private entities when they are expected to be responsible with the money.

Lawsuit: Virtual charter school owes $600K for services
Indiana Cyber Charter School, a virtual charter with locations in Fort Wayne and Avon, is accused of not paying Pennsylvania-based National Network of Digital Schools for contracted services and not following through with an additional repayment plan agreement. National Network filed the lawsuit July 25 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.. . . The school listed 200 students enrolled for 2013-14 academic year, according to state data. Passage rate for this spring’s ISTEP exam was 54.4 percent — 20 percentage points lower than the state average.
NJEA decries 'massive corporate takeover' of Camden schools
The NJEA supported the original law, passed in 2012, but said the amended bill would allow charter-school expansion that ran counter to the original intent of the legislation.
California state auditor probing LA's Magnolia charter schools
After sampling transactions from Magnolia campuses in 2012, L.A. Unified found over $43,000 in duplicate payments to vendors, flagging those as potential misuse of funds.

The Los Angeles Unified school board ordered a second audit in 2014, voting to close two of the schools if any fiscal problems arose.

IMPROVE LITERACY

COLUMN: Boosting children's literacy skills in four easy ways

This is a good list of things everyone should do to increase literacy. I would also add (among other things)...
Parental education is essential...
Challenge yourself to devote 20 to 30 minutes a day to boosting a child's literacy skills. It could not only change the way that child starts the school year, but it could also change his or her life. 


~~~

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, August 15, 2014

Tenure - Speaking Up for Students

There's more to being a teacher than just getting kids to pass "the test."

Tenure=DueProcess
Due process rights are important because they allow us to stand up for our students, through giving voice in supporting and protecting them. With due process, teachers can stand up for the student who we think may be unfairly suspended, especially when a parent is not available to defend the child. We can fight against rescinding support services of a special needs child because those services are too costly. Many times, parents may not be able attend their child’s CSE/IEP meeting. The only one in the room advocating for that child may well be the teacher.

PERMANENT STATUS

My 8th year of teaching was the 1983-84 school year. I taught "Reading Readiness." For those who don't remember it, "Reading Readiness" was a class for students who finished kindergarten but were not ready for first grade. It was, in essence, a second year of kindergarten. Let me be clear...I don't believe that grade retention, in any form, has been shown to be an effective remediation technique. Studies have shown that retention, even in the earliest elementary grades, usually doesn't work and often harmful. However, in 1983 I didn't know what I know now.

In any case, I taught a modified first grade curriculum, and tried to fill in the gaps of learning the students missed the previous year.

With the recent national discussions over teacher tenure an incident that happened during this year came back to me.

When I began my career it took 5 years of positive evaluations before a teacher was granted "permanent status." That meant that I had to be evaluated in each of my first 5 years. At any time during those years I could have been fired...for any reason. At the beginning of my 6th year I was given permanent status. This meant that, if an administrator wanted to fire me I was entitled to a hearing. It didn't mean that I couldn't be fired. It just meant (the same as it means today) that there had to be a legitimate reason for my firing...a reason supported by data presented by the administration. And I had the right to respond. That's what tenure meant then. That's what it means now for K-12 teachers.

BOBBY

One of my students during the 1983-84 school year was Bobby (not his real name). Bobby was a special education student. He had been identified in preschool as being a student with special needs and for the previous 2 or 3 years had been in the classroom designated for special needs preschoolers at our school system's special education center.

At this time in our history, the school system did not have fully mainstreamed special education. We had two elementary special education classrooms for a system with 11 elementary schools. The "primary class" was for students in grades Kindergarten through 3, and the "intermediate class" was for students in grades 4 through 6. The year that Bobby entered my class the system had about a dozen identified elementary aged special education students. The youngest of those, aside from Bobby, was a fourth grader. My classroom was chosen as an alternative because I taught a flexible curriculum and the children in my class were Bobby's age-peers. Alternatively he would have had to have been either alone in a classroom, returned to the preschool with much younger students, or in the designated special education classrooms with much older students. At least, that was my understanding at the time.

Our school system had too few special education teachers. We didn't identify many special education students instead allowing them to sit in general education classrooms and fail. We didn't have building level special education teachers who could collaborate with general education teachers and their identified students. Getting a student tested was difficult and identifying a student for special education was almost impossible.

In short, we were understaffed and our special needs students were underserved.

During the IEP meeting for Bobby at the beginning of the year, our Director of Special Education, Mrs. Jones (not her real name), indicated that my class was the best place for Bobby's placement. Under the circumstances, this was likely true, though with an important qualification which I spoke aloud.

I was a young teacher. I had only taught for 7 and a half years (counting the half a year I spent in another school system). I had had very little (if any) training in special education. When Mrs. Jones said that my class was the "best place for Bobby" I interrupted and said,
"My classroom is the best place that we have available for Bobby."
After the parent left, Mrs. Jones got in my face and scolded me. She growled,
"You could have gotten us sued!"
I was surprised and backed away. She could see that I didn't know what she was talking about.
"What you said about your class not being the best place for him! They could sue us for that!"
My first thought, though I didn't say it, was that "maybe we ought to be sued." Bobby was not in the best placement for him...if only for the fact that the "teacher of record," the special education teacher who was in charge of his education, never appeared in my classroom that year. We had no contact, no collaboration, and I was given absolutely no help or direction...but I didn't know all that yet. At the very least, what I said was true. My class was the best place we had available. That it wasn't the best possible place for him, and therefore just the best place we had available, was, in my opinion, obvious.

She continued her scolding,
"You need to be an advocate for our school system!"
This incident took place over 30 years ago, so I'm not sure how I really responded. I might have just wished I had said what follows...in any case, in real life, or in my mind, I said,
"No, I don't. I need to be an advocate for my students."
Looking back 31 years later, I understand why Bobby was placed in my classroom. Back then special education was still struggling to move into general education classrooms. The "least restrictive environment" concept was interpreted as "a separate classroom." Learning disabled students weren't identified because we didn't have enough money to hire qualified staff. Mrs. Jones, I ought to add, was instrumental in bringing our school system's special education program into federal compliance. She cared about the students she advocated for. Notwithstanding this incident, she worked hard to get them into appropriate placements, and she pushed for, and got, increased funding for special education.

However, those improvements were still years away. I knew at the time that I wasn't prepared professionally to be responsible for the education of a 6 year old special education student. In my opinion, the school system, instead of providing an "appropriate" education for Bobby, used my classroom as a "dumping ground" because the alternative was worse. As a classroom teacher, focused on what was best for my students, I knew that Bobby's placement in my classroom was not in his best interest, even though it might have been the best that we had.

But I had no power within the school system with just a short, seven year history at only one school. I was arguing with the Director of Special Education, someone who had years of experience and who had a significant amount of power within the school system.

In the final analysis Mrs. Jones was correct that we could have been sued because of what I said. But whether I was right or wrong, if this incident had taken place within my first 5 years I could have been fired on the spot...told to gather my belongings and leave. If there had been no union/school system contract, no legal protection of due process, I likely would have been fired. I doubt that my principal that year would have stood up for me. This was, as it turned out, not the only noise I made that year advocating for my students...

However, since I was a teacher with permanent status, I was free to speak openly about what I thought was best for my students. I was free to defend them...to be their voice. 

Indiana doesn't offer its teachers that protection any longer. School "reform" helped along by the legislature, has removed the legal right to due process for teachers. Now, if a teacher speaks up on behalf of what she feels is best for her students, the school system is free to fire her.


~~~

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!


~~~

Monday, August 11, 2014

Random Quotes - August 2014

TESTING

The state of Vermont stood strong against the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan. They lost their NCLB waiver, and were forced to send a message to all parents telling them that their schools were "failing." Instead, they wrote a letter to parents letting them know how federal education policy is failing. It would be nice to see more states do this. Where are all of Indiana's "local-control" Republicans? An important read...

An Important Message to Vermont Parents and Caregivers
The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.

...It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day.

NEA president-elect: Teachers are neither strangers to, nor enemies of, tests.
Too often and in too many places, we have turned the time-tested practice of teach, learn, and test into a system of test, blame, and punish. That’s not right, it’s not education, and it’s not good for our students.



TENURE BATTLES

The battle over tenure isn't really about tenure...or "bad teachers"...or students rights. It's about destroying the teachers unions.

Why that ruling against teacher tenure won't help your schoolchildren
What's curious about this is that they seem to have a unanimous view about the reason California schools are supposedly so bad: It's the teachers unions.

Not the imbalance of financial resources between rich districts and poor. Not the social pathologies--poverty, joblessness, racial discrimination, violence--that affect educational attainment in disadvantaged communities.

Not California's rank at the very bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to the quality index published by EducationWeek. That's 30% below the national average of $11,864, reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state.

..."Students Matter has done nothing that will put a needed book or computer in a school," Cohen observes. "Not one wifi hotspot. Not one more librarian, nurse, or counselor. Not one more paintbrush or musical instrument. Not one hour of instructional aide support for students or professional development for teachers. They don’t have any apparent interest in the more glaring inadequacies that their considerable wealth and PR savvy could help."

@Campbell_Brown Lawsuit Fails the Test of Common Sense
If teacher tenure and due process is a threat to school quality, why is it that the best public schools in New York State and in the nation, all have strong teacher unions, teacher tenure and due process, and brilliant, independent-minded teachers who stay in their profession over the course of long careers? Do we really want the schools in New York to be like schools in Mississippi or Louisiana, where teachers work in fear of offending legislators, abusive administrators, or self-interested parents, and can be easily removed from their posts for reasons having little to do with the quality of instruction in their classroom?

The Misleading Argument That Blames Teacher Tenure
In short, if you're a tenured teacher, you are an impediment to Excellence. The only way you can help children is by getting rid of your tenure, standing up straight and walking to Arne Duncan in Washington DC and saying, "Please sir, I want to be fired for any reason. Or for no reason. I want to take personal responsibility for all the ills of society. Neither you, society, poverty, parents, nor children themselves are responsible. I'm ready to be dismissed at the whim of Bill Gates or the Walmart family and I agree with you that Katrina was the bestest thing to happen to the New Orleans education system." 


CHARTERS

Charter schools are not public schools. They are private schools running with public money. They are for the most part unaccountable to the public.

Tax money should be for public schools, run by elected public officials. As poor a system as that is, at least it's accountable to the people.

How will charter schools deal with their corruption scandals?
Management companies insist — without much challenge from the state — that taxpayer money they receive to run a school, hire staff and pay suppliers is private, not subject to public disclosure.

Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan charter schools association, said school expenditures are “appropriately public” while “things that would be related to the company itself and its internal operations are appropriately private.”

Greg Lambert, an NHA representative, spelled out the company’s position to the board of the Detroit Enterprise Academy in 2010 when several members were demanding more transparency.

“Mr. Lambert stated that the public dollars became private when they were received by NHA. He further indicated that because NHA is a private company, the information need not be disclosed.”

THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION - CURMUDGUCATION

During my career there were always education fads which came and went. The "next big thing" was always going to make teaching easier, learning better, and everyone happy. Of course that didn't happen and we were able to take the good things from each fad and toss the hype. Most of those things were, in the long run, worthwhile because they either 1) added something good to the curriculum or pedagogy or 2) gave us an idea of what not to do.

Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) sees a change in that. Now, the "fad" -- No Child Left Behind, Common Core -- has become the law.

The Permanent Politicizing of Education
The traditional approach is that somebody sells it to the state department of education, and soon, college professors and state ed department employees fan out to do professional development across the state. Teachers listen critically and take back what, in their professional opinion, belongs in their classroom. Rinse and repeat every three to five years.

But CCSS and NCLB dispersed consultants from new educational corporate start-ups, whose argument was not "We've brought some ideas that we think will help you." It was "Politicians have passed some laws that mean you must pay attention to us." How many PD arguments about effectiveness or validity or educational soundness have been cut short by a presenter who shrugs and says, "You know, we could argue about this all day, but the bottom line is that here's what the law says."

NCLB and RttR determined that politics would be the delivery system for delivering educational programs, meaning that folks who want to sell a bridge to Educationville must sell it to politicians, not educators. NCLB was not about winning the hearts and minds of teachers; it was about compelling them to get in line with the force of law. CCSS promoters did not set out to convince educators across the US that CCSS would make schools better; they sold it to federal politicians and high-level bureaucrats.
Greene continues...despairing over the destruction of the teaching profession.

The 21st Century Teacher
She will be a low-skill, low-cost, highly replaceable cog in a big machine. She will not be a bad person, but she will be adrift in an institution that offers her little real help to do a job for which she has little real training, and she will have a damned hard time doing the job well, as much as she may want to. Her one consolation will be that the job won't be hers for long.


READING WARS

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Diane Ravitch blasted the "Balanced Literacy" program in NYC and San Diego.

She didn't critique the program or it's value so much as its implementation. It was implemented top-down without necessary teacher buy-in. She was correct, of course, though, in my opinion -- as a former Reading Recovery (an important facet of Balanced Literacy) teacher -- it was not the Balanced Literacy program that was at fault. It was, like so many other things, forced upon the teachers without adequate professional development. The announcement that "we are now doing Balanced Literacy" came from on-high and anyone who disagreed be damned.

Token professional development was provided and some folks found it worked, but others weren't convinced and not enough time was spent in actual learning about what Balanced Literacy actually is.

Whether she liked the program -- in its true form -- or not doesn't matter. Last week she came out in favor of a "balanced literacy" approach (note the non-caps). In her comments below she states that "Reading teachers understand that students need both phonics and meaning." In its simplest terms, that is balanced literacy.

A big problem in the U.S. is the lack of time for professional development and the fact that American teachers spend such huge amounts of time -- compared with other nations -- in direct contact with students. One of the most important facets of the Finnish educational "revolution" is that children are in school for about a half day, teachers spend the rest of the day in collaboration with their peers, study, lesson planning or professional development. When you train your teachers well, the Finns have found, your children don't need to spend as much time in school.

Why I Don’t Care About the “Reading Wars” Anymore
As for me, I no longer think this “war” is a worthy cause. Reading teachers understand that students need both phonics and meaning. They know that children need to be able to sound out words but that it is boring to do that for weeks on end. Children need meaning. They get it when their teachers read to them, and they get it when they learn to read by themselves.

I am no reading expert, but I can see good sense in both approaches. I have seen balanced literacy classes where children were enjoying reading. I understand the importance of phonics as a tool to help children get off to a strong start. Wise teachers know when and how to use the literacy approach they need. Children’s needs are different. Good teachers know that and don’t need to be told by legislators how to teach. (And for older children, I love grammar, spelling, and diagramming sentences).

I read recently that NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina was reviving balanced literacy in the New York City schools, and some of my old allies wrote to ask if I was outraged. No, I was not. Balanced literacy can co-exist with phonics. Children need both decoding and meaning. Most important, they need to learn the joy of reading. It unlocks the door to the storehouse of knowledge.

~~~

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!


~~~

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Make An Investment In Our Future

While Campbell Brown is leading the charge against the few "bad" teachers in the nation, which will make hiring and keeping qualified teachers more difficult...

While the U.S. Department of Education is pushing charter schools (among other things) which will remove public accountability from public schools...

While public schools are being closed, even against parental wishes (so-called "choice"), disrupting students and neighborhoods...

...poverty in the "world's richest nation" continues unchecked.

NATION

The Number Of Families Living On Virtually Nothing Has More Than Doubled Since The 1990s
The number of households who survive on $2 or less per person each day has increased by 159.1 percent since 1996, growing from about 636,000 to about 1.65 million by mid-2011, according to a new analysis from H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin in Stanford’s Pathways Magazine. Families living in this state of extreme poverty now make up 4.3 percent of all non-elderly families with children.
$2 a day for a family of four comes to about $3000 a year. Just for comparison, the federal poverty level for a family of four is about $25,000 a year.


STATE

Not just poverty, but homelessness, too. Right here in Indiana with the envious budget surplus, and the Governor who refuses to participate in medicaid expansion...

One State’s Homeless Student Population Grew By 121 Percent Since The Recession Started
The number of homeless students in Indiana schools has more than doubled since before the Great Recession, according to the Indianapolis Star, giving the Hoosier State the dubious distinction of having one of the largest jumps in student homelessness of any state over that period of time. Overall, student homelessness is up 121 percent in Indiana.
A total of 16,223 Indiana students were homeless in the 2012-13 academic year, the paper reports, compared to about 7,300 homeless students in 2006-07.

LOCAL

Poverty in our local (Fort Wayne) area is up, too.

Poverty reach spreads in Fort Wayne, Indiana
All area school districts have had increases in the number of students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, an indicator of low-income households, said Corona, a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board. About 70 percent of FWCS students qualify, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

The number of people in the nine counties served by the food bank in northeast Indiana has remained the same or dropped slightly in recent years, Corona said. Many are in the category of “food insecurity,” people “living on the good-natured ability of organizations like ours, families and friends to get them through week by week.”

EDUCATIONAL IMPACT

We know that poverty has an impact on student learning...

Test Scores, Students and Learning Our overall scores are unspectacular because of our high rate of child poverty.
Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these profoundly impact school performance.

This is compelling evidence that the problem is poverty, not teachers, teacher unions or schools of education. This is also compelling evidence that we should be protecting students from the effects of poverty, not investing in the Common Core.
Investing in Young Children
Across the U.S., large numbers of young children are affected by one or more risk factors that have been linked to academic failure and poor health. Chief among them is family economic hardship, which is consistently associated with negative outcomes in these two domains. [emphasis added]


Instead of blaming schools, teachers, and teachers unions for poor academic achievement, we need to invest in our children...

Only three advanced nations provide more resources for their rich children than their poor children. The U.S. is one of them.

That needs to change.

Meanwhile the top 1% control about 37% of the nation's wealth.

~~~

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, August 7, 2014

Makin' Whoopi

MAYBE IT'S IGNORANCE

Ok, so Whoopi Goldberg is 1) either completely ignorant of what "tenure" means to a K-12 teacher or 2) she's been bought by the corporate "reformers" of television land.

Whoopi, for those of you who don't know yet...claims to love teachers (yes, her mother was a teacher), but hates "bad" teachers. So, since "bad" teachers are ruining it for everyone we need to support the legal fight against them and against "tenure" laws which give "lifetime employment" to "bad" teachers. Right? Not quite.

Ken Previti, over at Reclaim Reform, suggests that, instead of cursing her, we should educate her...

In defense of Whoopi Goldberg: She needs to be educated about due process.
Please email, tweet or otherwise contact Whoopi with the correct definition of tenure as you educate her about the scapegoating teachers are having inflicted upon them all across America. She needs massive amounts of our input; please help her understand.
This prompted a heated discussion on Diane Ravitch's blog entry, Ken Previti: In Defense of Whoopi Goldberg. It's a great discussion...have a look.


THE EDUCATION OF WHOOPI

I don't see any problem with trying to educate Whoopi Goldberg in the truth of K-12 tenure...as long as we don't expect it to make a difference.

See, Whoopi might be the "liberal voice" on The View, but that doesn't mean anything when it comes to public education issues.

Democrats, Liberals, and other fellow travelers
  • When Barack Obama was running for President in 2008 a lot of us -- not knowing that he had his hands in corporate pockets -- assumed that he would come in and overthrow No Child Left Behind and usher in a new day in public education. Unfortunately, his promising words fizzled once he moved into the White House.
"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 talking to the NEA, Summer 2007
  • Who remembers that Davis Guggenheim was the one who helped Al Gore blow the whistle on the corporate destruction of the environment?
  • What about the Dems in Illinois? Check out Mike Klonsky's blog if you want to be informed about how the Democrats are treating public educators in the Land of Lincoln. And do I even have to mention the Democratic Mayor of Chicago?
  • How about NY Governor Cuomo -- Democrat, right? Let us also not forget that until 2001 Michael Bloomberg was a Democrat.
There is no guarantee that traditional friends of public education will support us...just because they call themselves Democrats or liberals. Just because Whoopi Goldberg is the "liberal voice" on her TV show doesn't mean that she will support public education the way we want her to.

Teach her the truth about tenure and due process...but don't hold your breath.


VERGARA

Immediately following the Vergara trial I entered into a discussion with a conservative friend -- like Whoopi, a child of a teacher who ought to know better -- and he continually tried to partisan-ise the whole issue.
Its funny the CTA is complaining about money when they just spent $2 million in the State Superintendent's race. They are also attacking Eli Broad, a life long Democrat.
Yeah, like Eli Broad is a "friend of public education."

...and later...
...One of reasons public education is not discussed now is that Republicans are from suburban/rural districts where their constituents believe they have good schools and they do not want to rock the boat; and the Democrats are mainly from urban areas where they do not want to take on the public teacher unions.
Again...blame the unions for bad teachers.


...and...
There are very little [sic] Republicans left in California; so these are mainly Democrats who are concerned about public education and the power of the CTA. Some schools are in such horrible shape, that the State passed a “Parent Trigger Law”, which allows 51% of parents with children attending a low performing school to sign a petition and force actions such as closing the school down completely, replacing the principal, firing 50% of the teachers, or converting it into a charter school.
His point was that "even the Democrats are in favor of busting the union and getting rid of tenure." Oh, and the parent trigger will solve all the problems of "public education."

The surprise was that I wasn't surprised that Democrats are into "school reform" up to their elbows. I think he was the one who was surprised that I didn't try to deny the Democrats involvement. He just assumed I was "one of them."

Here's an idea...and this is one for Whoopi, too (after all of us educate her):

How would it be if we held a meeting about "bad" teachers in which the local administration presented facts proving that the "bad" teachers were actually "bad." After all, we wouldn't want to accidentally fire the "good" teachers, would we? If an impartial observer agreed that the teachers were, indeed, "bad" then we fire them. Just like that! Problem solved.


~~~

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!


~~~