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

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

Monday, May 2, 2016

Random Quotes – May 2016


The Scores Are In: School Reformers Earn F's

An excellent young teacher I know spent a few years teaching in the urban district of a large midwestern city. After several consecutive years of prepping for the test, practicing the test, administering the test to get ready for the test, and watching his students fail the test, he left teaching and became a children's librarian. Now he can actually do something to help children.
...students at the bottom, clustered in low-income schools, the kind of young people that reformers swore they knew how to save, suffered most from being force fed years of test preparation...

...tens of billions of dollars had been devoted to massive school reform. Most of that money went to testing companies, company executives, or passed through lobbyist’s hands to self-serving politicians, or to school reform experts who gave high-priced speeches, and to pay bureaucrats to gather, tally and study all the data.

Here’s Who’s Creating Indiana’s New School Tests

A new test won't change a thing. The idea that "experts from the field of education" (aka actual educators) ought to be the ones to choose the test is admirable. However, the uneducated legislators and policy makers have obligated those experts to choose a test which will be misused. It doesn't matter what test they choose. It's invalid to use a student achievement test to grade schools, evaluate teachers, and rank students.

If the committee chooses an "off the shelf" test it still won't matter. Achievement tests don't claim to be valid for evaluating teachers and schools. Here are some examples of test descriptions...
  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills – "offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas."
  • Stanford Achievement Test (Pearson) – "reliable data to help measure student progress toward content standards and high expectations. This multiple-choice assessment helps to identify student strengths and needs, leading to effective placement and instructional planning."
  • Terra Nova – "educators can review student results in the context of common school and district criteria, plus key enhancements that help your educators improve achievement and learning."
  • NWEA MAP Test – "...Inform instruction using valid, reliable, and real-time data...Measure the growth of every student over time regardless of on, above, or below grade level performance—and even if standards change"
Test developers understand that tests are only valid when used to measure what the test was developed to measure. We don't use blood tests to check for broken bones. We don't use teaspoons to measure temperature. We shouldn't use student achievement tests to evaluate teachers and schools.
The ISTEP+ Review Panel will hammer out details of the replacement — what a new test will look like, its length and how state officials can use it to rate schools and teachers.

“Rather than trying to pick a rabbit out of a hat during the legislative session with policymakers, who generally are not testing experts, we thought best to assemble a panel of experts from the education field,” said Bosma.

There has to be a better way...

The fact that students did better when the test was on paper rather than on computers only shows that the test has weak validity. What are we really measuring – student achievement or test-taking/computer skills?
...student performance across the state demonstrated that students did better when taking the exam on paper as opposed to computer. Given the high stakes nature of the results of these exams for districts one can’t fault systems for trying to give themselves a competitive advantage by gaming the system. However, what do such strategies have to do with an accurate measurement of student achievement?


“Tests Great”–“Less Knowing”

The quest for a piece of the public education fund pie has distorted the teaching/learning process.
...perhaps it’s time someone pointed out that test-based accountability, which has meant more drill and test prep and cuts in art, music, drama and all sorts of other courses that aren’t deemed ‘basic,’ has failed miserably–and there are victims.

Students have been the losers, sentenced to mind-numbing schooling. Teachers who care about their craft have been the losers. Craven administrators who couldn’t or didn’t stand up for what they know about learning have been the losers. Add to the list of losers the general public, because the drumbeat of bad news has undercut faith in public education.

There are winners: The testing companies (particularly Pearson), the academics who’ve gotten big grants from major foundations, profiteers in the charter school industry, and ideologues and politicians who want to undermine public education.


Teacher Pay Decay

If things were fair, politicians, pundits, and policy makers salaries would be adjusted by the same percent as teacher salaries...
Teacher pay nationally has, adjusted for inflation, dropped 1.8%

Nine states have seen teacher pay drop from 6.5% to as much as 13.7%.

That "top" 13.7% drop belongs to Indiana. Congratulations, hoosiers.

NPE: Teacher Voices on Teacher Evaluation

Check out the above article, but the quote comes from a commenter.

Comment by NY Teacher – April 20, 2016 at 8:23 PM
One 40 minute observation (out of a 180 day school year) is the equivalent of a movie reviewer watching a random 45 second clip of a two hour movie - and then trying to accurately judge the film.

Imagine judging Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer by watching him run one play.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Musical Interlude: That Satin Sound


Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born to two musicians on April 29, 1899.

He began his own musical career -- starting piano lessons -- at the age of 7. At 15 he wrote his first song (1914)...and spent the next 60 years writing and playing music.

During my "big band phase" Ellington was one of my favorites.

Check out the bios below...


Here are 12 excellent minutes of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

First, a couple of live entries...

One of my favorites...including the violin! It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) – 1931

This one's for Marty (So when's the next album coming out?). Satin Doll – 1953

Duke lent his skills to arranging some classical pieces, too. Here's Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt Suite – Arr. 1960

...and the Overture from the Nutcracker – Arr. (with Billy Strayhorn) 1960


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 Medley #12

Testing, Losing Our Way,
Vouchers, Charters, the Right-Wing


The following passage has no link. It was posted on Facebook by my wife who supervises student teachers for Indiana University. The passage below is from one of her students, a student teacher, who can already see what damage we are doing to our children. This is what happens when lobbyists for testing companies buy legislators.
I guess I didn't realize how draining ISTEP was on students (especially those with disabilities) until I experienced it myself. Their patience, motivation to do any work, and stamina was extremely low. I tried my best to help keep students motivated/upbeat but it did not work very well. I really did not do a lot of teaching this past week which is sad to me because there are a ton of kids not getting services...it is painful to watch these kids struggle through these tests.... It's just really tough to see students not even come close to being able to accomplish what is expected of them. These tests are not designed with students with any sort of special need at all.


America, You Great Unfinished Symphony

I read Bob Herbert's Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America last summer (2015). I had read an excerpt on Bill Moyer's web site and immediately got a copy. So far I've read it twice and both times I've been amazed at the insanity that is driving our nation to the brink of disaster.
  • We're sending our young men and women off to war without preparing for their return (not to mention that we're sending them off to war for no apparent reason).
  • We're letting our highways, bridges, and other necessary infrastructure deteriorate to a dangerous level because of tax inequality. We aren't collecting enough money to keep the country running (e.g. from large profitable companies paying no taxes such as Merck, Seagate, GM).
  • We're selling off our school system to people like Eva Moskowitz and companies like Pearson because the privatizers have sold American people the lie that our public schools are failing and only privatization can help.
  • ...much, much, more
The book review below (written by my daughter) asks
Why don’t we act? Why do we keep voting for candidates who don’t represent our interests? Herbert doesn’t have an answer for that–just a call to action that we keep refusing to take.
Click the link to read the whole review (at the original site, all ad revenue goes to fight cancer, so be sure to read it there). Then get a copy of Losing Our Way and read it. This is an important book.
Losing Our Way is just about the saddest book I’ve ever read. It took me well over a month to read it, even though it’s great, because I had to keep stopping so I wouldn’t sink into a terrible depression.

Losing Our Way is basically the story of everything that’s wrong with the United States today, from our failing infrastructure, to struggling schools, to wage stagnation and income inequality, to endless wars in the Middle East. Bob Herbert knows his stuff, and he doesn’t pull any punches. He illustrates the alarming statistics with stories of Americans, like the teenager who is struggling to finish high school while also working third shift to support her family, the woman whose back was broken in a bridge collapse in Minnesota, and the soldier whose legs were blown off by an IED in Afghanistan. Each story is alarming, depressing, and enlightening. I think a lot of Americans have felt for years that something was not quite right in the United States, and Herbert is able to connect the dots.
Here is Herbert's keynote address at this year's NPE National Conference in Raleigh.


School Daze: Some Colo. Parents Are Demanding Taxpayer Money For Religious Education

Americans United for Separation of Church and State understands what the Indiana Supreme Court does not – that students have a right to a taxpayer funded education, not a taxpayer funded religious education. No other public service allows citizens to earmark their tax money for a privatized version of the service (although there are people who wish that weren't so).  We don't give vouchers for books and deduct that from the public library fund. We don't give vouchers for private security services and then shortchange city, county, and state police departments. People can't refuse to pay for public parks because they have a nice yard...or refuse to pay for road maintenance because they don't drive.

Public education should be no different.
The thing is, no parent is being denied a religious education for their child if that’s what they want. Just because they have to pay for that education themselves without government assistance doesn’t mean anyone is being treated unfairly.

Americans United opposes vouchers because they are so frequently government bailouts for religious schools. That’s what IJ is seeking in its lawsuit and while all students have the right to a quality public education, none have the right to publicly funded religious instruction.

Fortunately the Colorado Supreme Court has already weighed in on this matter. Let’s hope this latest attempt to force taxpayers to subsidize sectarian education is quickly dismissed.

Maryland’s Mistake: Vouchers Comes To The Free State

The Washington Post, owned by privatizer billionaire Jeff Bezos, was thrilled that the Democrats, who have a majority in the Maryland legislature, passed a voucher bill for their state. Apparently the Post thinks that the lead poisoning that started Freddie Gray on his way towards his death at the hands of the police could have been prevented had he gone to a private or parochial school.
Observed the newspaper, “They stressed the urgency of helping young black men in the city. Education…is key to better futures, and the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last April shone new light on the shortcomings of the public school system and the injustice that does.”

Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old man who was arrested by Baltimore police in April of 2015 for possessing a switchblade. He received rough treatment in police custody and later died of a broken neck. Six police officers have been charged in his death. The legal cases against them are ongoing.

It’s clear this was a tragic incident. What’s not so clear is how vouchers might prevent it from happening in the future.
Public funds ought to go to public services which serve everyone. Voucher schools, too often, don't.
Instead of weakening public education by siphoning money away to private, religious schools that elevate preaching over teaching and retain the right to kick anyone out who doesn’t agree, Maryland lawmakers would have done better to focus on the public schools that need help. After all, these are the institutions that are educating the vast majority of Maryland’s young people.


Charter School Begins Shutting Down—Students are Pushed Out

If you don't think "it's all about the money," think again.

Real public schools, belong to their community. Community public schools build a history of children and grandchildren attending the same school that parents and grandparents attended. There is stability in the teaching staff...teachers at such schools often spend their entire careers in one school. That stability and continuity is good for children and the community.

"reform" has given us instability in the form of charter schools which can, and often do, close at a moment's notice...charter schools which take the money and run...charter schools with no publicly elected school board, high teacher turnover, and profit for shareholders driving the bottom line.

Here we have a charter school which closed, leaving parents and children to scramble for a new school. This is the "free market" at work. A private school that can't make it closes and students are returned to the public school...which, by law, must take everyone. We should not be spending public funds on charter schools. We should be repairing and improving our community, neighborhood and small town schools instead.
Milwaukeeans were shocked to find out that the troubled North Point Lighthouse Charter School gave parents just a few days’ notice in February that it would shut down three grades before closing down entirely at the end of the school year.

But as the Shepherd can report exclusively, the school, chartered by the City of Milwaukee, will keep the state aid for the estimated 60 students who have been transferred from the school, even though they won’t finish the school year there.

How Charters Destabilize Public School Districts: Let Us Count the Ways

Charters don't succeed any better than real public schools. They have ways of avoiding hard-to-educate students. They have ways of avoiding the accountability that is required of real public schools. Patrons of charter schools can't go to a publicly accountable school board with questions or complaints.

Charters are private corporations taking our tax money and only sometimes using that money for the benefit of students.
Three recent press reports—from Nevada, Chicago, Illinois, and Massachusetts—document how expansion of charter schools is undermining the public schools that serve the majority of students including those with the greatest needs. The same theory of charter school expansion operates all three locations—competition, innovation, and growing opportunity for students who have been left behind. Instead all three recent articles describe diversion of desperately needed public tax dollars, destabilization of public schools, lack of regulation, and all sorts of ways that students with the greatest needs get left farther behind.

Charter schools exploit accountability loophole

Charters can legally work "behind closed doors." What could go wrong?
But the accountability promise made in 2001 counts for little when the authorizer is a private college or an appointed state board filled with a majority of charter-friendly members. When Ball State threatened to revoke charters for poor-performing schools, some charter operators simply shopped for another sponsor. Thus, Timothy L. Johnson Academy – formerly sponsored by Ball State – is now overseen by Trine University. In total, four schools facing the loss of their BSU charters operate today under private oversight.

How did Trine, Grace College and others determine that failing schools deserve a second chance? Only they know – Indiana law allowed the private schools to tap into millions of dollars in taxpayer-provided tuition support with no public oversight.


Cruz is Right to Blame Public Schools for People Not Buying His Crackpot Ideas

What used to be "extreme right-wing" has now become mainstream.
This is funny for other reasons too. Really. It is. Because Ted Cruz is right about something. But he thinks it’s a bad thing when really, it’s good. Because it shows that the educational system works by teaching kids history and geography – the old “reading, writing and arithmetic.” But it also teaches kids to think for themselves.

Ted Cruz and his type call being taught to think “indoctrination,” when in fact is an immunization against indoctrination. The indoctrination Cruz is pushing with his “constitutional conservatism.”

As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to Charles Yancey in 1816, “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Which is why Republicans hate public education with a purple passion.

Bruner: Pre-K Programs Are Federal Plot to Make Children Gay

This candidate for the Texas State School Board will likely be elected. She follows in the tradition of Don McLeroy who famously said, "Somebody's gotta stand up to experts..." because those same "experts" disagreed with his religious beliefs. There are way too many people who will vote for her because they believe that being educated corrupts you. [See Listen to Experts]
As with pretty much all of her other comments, she offers no evidence to back up any of her claims and we’re left to offer only wild guesses as to where in the world she got this one. Or where she got the one about President Obama working as a gay prostitute to finance a drug habit. Or the one about LBJ assassinating JFK. Or the one about baby dinosaurs starving themselves into extinction after they left Noah’s ark. Or that there are cobras sneaking into the country.

If you’re just finding out about Bruner, you probably think we’re making this up. But we’re not. Here’s our blog file on her to prove it.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 Medley #11 – Money

Money, Privatization, and Profit


Dear White Educators

An open letter to white educators.

Few bloggers write with the passion, intensity, and insight of James Boutin. In this piece he explores his journey as a white man coming to terms with his own privilege.
At some point in time, all of us have to sit down and take inventory. We have to clear the smoke from the mirror and really look at ourselves. In this difficult process, we come to realize that as we come to accept ourselves, we also must learn to accept that much of who we are is rooted, like it or not, in the roles society has created for us. To deny this is fantasy.

For you see,
"All the world's a stage,
And all men and all women are merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances;
and one man in his time plays many parts,..."
Nobody else can play your role. I do not get to run from or deny my whiteness. It is one of the many parts of my role for which I am responsible to play in this life. No, I did not have a choice, but that does not alleviate me from facing a socially constructed identity for my public life that history demands I own.


Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State, and the Nuisance of Democracy

Speaking of privilege...here's an interesting take on philanthropy.

Many of the "gifts" that the super wealthy give through their foundations are tax-exempt. In that way, the money is partially subsidized by American taxpayers, who make up the difference in the amount of taxes the wealthy don't have to pay because of such loopholes.
Regardless of political stands or projects, all philanthro-barons with their own foundations are generously subsidized by taxpayers. When a baron says, “It’s my money to use as I please,” he or she is wrong. A substantial portion of every tax-exempt foundation’s wealth—39.6 percent at the top tax bracket for filing in 2016—is diverted each year from the public treasury, where voters would have determined its use.43 Taxpayers subsidize not only the philanthropy of the Koch brothers, Soros, and the others but also their political work. Part of the megaphilanthropist’s wealth goes into a personal cache; part goes into a tax-exempt cache. The money saved by not paying taxes goes wherever the philanthropist wants, including to political work.

American democracy is growing ever more plutocratic—a fact that should worry all admirers of government by the people. Big money rules, but multibillionaires acting as philanthropists aggravate the problem by channeling vast sums into the nation’s immense nonprofit sector. Their top-down modus operandi makes this a powerful tool for shaping public policy according to individual beliefs and whims. And they receive less critical scrutiny than other actors in public life. Most people admire expressions of generosity and selflessness and are loath to find fault. In addition, anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.


Drastic Public School Cuts in Memphis—The New America

In the past, schools closed or opened because of population changes. With the privatization of public education we've seen schools closed because of the economic condition of their neighborhood, and then replaced with publicly funded, privately run, charter schools [See Chicago and Boston].

Instead of supporting, improving, and encouraging neighborhood schools, privatizers in board rooms, executive offices and state legislators are closing schools and dumping the students into privatized new schools. The "community school" is disappearing. Those schools were often a central part of a community where teachers spent their careers and taught children and grandchildren of former students. With the loss of community schools a symbol of stability and cohesion has disappeared.
This new wave of cuts in major cities like Memphis is especially troubling. It signals the end of public schooling as we know it.

Is it even legal?

In the meantime, we get to watch little kids who should be home playing or spending time with their families, parading around with signs begging adults to keep their school programs open.

This isn’t just Memphis. It is America. This is what we’ve become.


ALEC Relentlessly Cashes in on Kids and their Public Schools

Public schools are closing, charter schools are opening, and public funds are being diverted to private and parochial schools through vouchers. Why? Mainly because there is a whole s**t-load of money to be made from public tax revenues directed at education.

There are some, of course, for whom the public schools are a danger to their faith. For example, Jerry Falwell famously said, "I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" Falwell, his followers, and their political descendants, are against public schools specifically because they don't teach religion.

There are others who are against public schools because of the teachers unions. They ignore the fact that schools are run by administrations and school boards, and claim, instead, that the unions are the ones making the rules.

There is a substantial amount of overlap among these groups, but the driving force behind the privatization movement is money...and the intensity in which ALEC churns out anti-public-education model legislation is proof. The "non-profit" group is intent on the privatization and profitizing of public education.
“Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015… ALEC’s education task force has pushed legislation for decades to privatize public schools, weaken teacher’s unions and lower teaching standards. ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. ALEC model bills divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of ‘voucher’ and ‘tuition tax credit’ programs. They promote unaccountable charter schools and shift power away from democratically elected local school boards.”


College Debt, Regret, and Readiness

How does the cost of higher education limit and damage the future of today's young adults? How do young men and women from poor families pay for college? How long do they end up paying for their education after (if) they graduate? How many graduates end up paying for an education in a field in which they can't find work?
...we have an entire generation of Americans for whom college costs are the biggest problem in their lives. They can't afford to put money into the economy. They postpone buying homes and having children. They struggle with the stress and strain of living under the shadow of huge debt. How can the fact that some are required to take remedial college courses be a huge issue that must be screamed regularly from the rooftops, but the house of debt that has been dropped on them (amidst promises that college would be their passport to the middle class) merit barely a mention?

How can we pretend to talk about making students college and career ready and not talk about the crushing cost of college?


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Choice – No Choice, Part II, Choosing Profits over Children

A few weeks ago I posted Choice – No Choice, a rant about how the "choice" that "reformers" are so excited about is selective. They don't, for example, want parents to have the choice of opting out of "the test."
"Reformers" are all for giving parents "choice" when it comes to "choosing" a private or charter school, but not when it comes to high stakes achievement tests.


The "choice" it seems, is only among ways that will put money into corporate or church pockets. Private school coffers (vouchers) and corporate CMOs (charters) are part of the "choice" parents can exercise. In other words, we can use vouchers to give public tax money to churches and we can enrich unaccountable charter schools, their corporate boards, and CEOs. However, parents don't have any choice when it comes to restricting the amount of tax dollars flowing into the pockets of Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Everyone must take "the test." Our state legislators have made that "choice" for us all.

In the early years of "reform," we were told that "choice" would open up the public schools to competition. Good schools would proliferate and the bad ones (the ones with poor kids) would close. "Choice" was important because it would improve education for everyone.

When "reformers" found out how hard educating students actually was, however, that reason fell by the wayside and we are now told that parents should have "choice" for "choice's" sake. We're told that parents ought to have the option of public funding for their children's education no matter where they choose to send them. Thus we have the situation in Indiana where millions of tax dollars are going to "failing" private schools and charters.

And by "failing" schools, I mean those schools with high numbers of poor children. Since the only way "reformers" can come up with to judge the quality of schools is by test scores, and we know that standardized tests measure a child's economic status more than anything else, it's generally safe to assume that a "failing" school is one with high numbers of poor children.

Could it be that getting all that taxpayer money into the church and corporate pockets was the purpose of "choice" in the first place?


Vouchers now cost the taxpayers of Indiana $135 million. More millions are going to charter schools run by unaccountable corporate boards instead of publicly elected school boards. And Indiana has had their share of charter schools which have squandered funds meant for children's education.

That's more than $135 million that the taxpayers of Indiana paid so that the state could support quality public schools for everyone. That's more than $135 million that could should have been used for programs and for wraparound services for all children, especially those in need. It should have been used for services like full-time school nurses, social workers, and guidance counselors. It should have been used for programs like the arts and physical education more than once a week, libraries staffed by librarians, and academic support services for struggling students.

Instead, public schools are losing much needed funds which get funneled into private schools and privately run charter schools.


Do students who attend private and privately run schools receive a better education?

D and F private schools awarded more than $8 million in vouchers
According to state accountability letter grades, released earlier this year, 16 private voucher schools received a grade of D or F. Ten of the 16 private schools were in Allen and Marion counties.

Horizon Christian Academy in Fort Wayne was the largest recipient receiving $1,306,617 in vouchers. The school earned a letter grade of F in 2015.
Note: The Horizon schools in Fort Wayne, were originally charter schools. Ball State University withdrew their charters because of poor performance, so they reopened as private schools...

Most Indianapolis charter schools scored below the Indianapolis Public Schools average on ISTEP
Many Indiana schools saw rock-bottom passing rates on last year’s tougher ISTEP exam but in a city where public and charter schools compete for students, it’s worth noting that a majority of charter schools in the city had passing rates below the district’s average.

Just 29.1 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students passed the 2015 ISTEP. That’s far below the statewide average of 52.5 percent but many charters posted even lower scores. Three of the charter schools that had the lowest scores in the city have since closed.

Voucher program promotes religion, not better education
Voucher students were eligible to receive $134.7 million in taxpayer-funded tuition assistance this year, the report said. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 300 private schools that enroll voucher students are religious schools. With maybe three exceptions, those are Christian schools, primarily Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Protestant.

Proponents used to argue that the program saved the state money, because it would have cost more to send the kids to public schools. But with a majority of voucher students never having attending public school, they can no longer make that claim.

When the voucher program was created in 2011, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels emphasized the idea that students should attend a public school for a year to qualify. It was only fair, he said, that public schools should get a chance to show they could meet the children’s needs. But that idea fell by the wayside as legislators created additional ways to qualify.
Yes, there are successful private and charter schools in our state, just as there are successful public schools in Indiana. It's important to understand, however, that private and charter schools, as a group, do not do any better than public schools as a group.

And if they don't do any better, why don't we use public funds for all of our public school students? Why don't we provide extra resources for our most difficult to educate students: students for whom English is a second language, students who come from impoverished backgrounds, and students who have difficulty learning.

Public funds ought to go to public schools and every neighborhood and town ought to have fully funded, high quality public schools for their children.

For all children.