"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

Friday, May 22, 2015

2015 Medley #15

Testing, Poverty, "Reform,"
Charters, Play, Gifted

TESTING

...from Diane Ravitch. Let your senator know that it's time to end the abusive, misuse and overuse of high stakes tests. Click the link in the text below to write to your senator.
As you probably know, No Child Left Behind saddled the schools with a heavy dose of annual testing from grades 3-8, and Race to the Top required states to use those test scores to evaluate teachers. Testing is out of control. The curriculum is narrowed, especially in schools that enroll low-income students, where the scores are lowest. Educators have cheated to save their jobs, and some lost their jobs, their reputations, and their freedom for cheating.

No high-performing nation in the world has annual testing or evaluates teachers by test scores.

The current revision of NCLB retains annual testing unfortunately. However, Senator Tester (ironic name) has written an amendment to change annual testing to grade span testing: once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school.

Learn here how to support his sensible proposal. Write your Senator now. There is no time to waste.

Those who say that annual tests are needed to protect children of color, children with special needs, and English language learners have not looked at the racist history of standardized tests. These are the children most likely to be on the bottom half of the normal curve that governs standardized tests. They are the very children most likely to be labeled and stigmatized by the tests. What children need most are reduced class sizes, a rich curriculum, experienced teachers, fully resourced schools, and the opportunity to learn. This is what they need, not more testing. A test is a measure, not the goal or purpose of education. And it is a flawed measure.



Opinion: Who’s Grading The Kids’ Standardized Tests?

The fact that required tests are high stakes makes everything worse. We're using inadequate and inappropriate assessments to determine the futures of children, teachers, and schools.
In Indiana, these test results form the basis for a letter grade for their school and their district. Schools’ reputations hang in the balance, along with funding.

Incredibly, the people grading these exams, which require more than simple multiple choice answers, are not testing experts, and may not even have a background in education.

Rather, they are $12 an hour temporary workers hired by testing corporations like CTB McGraw Hill, which operates Indiana’s test, and Pearson, which oversees Illinois’ Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

POVERTY

Poverty, family stress are thwarting student success, top teachers say

Research shows it...educators have been saying it for years...now, the best of the best are saying it: The problem with our schools is poverty, not "bad teachers," "failing schools," or unions.

Will anyone listen?
The greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students have little to do with anything that goes on in the classroom, according to the nation’s top teachers: It is family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

Those were the factors named in a survey of the 2015 state Teachers of the Year, top educators selected annually in every U.S. state and jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia and Guam.

Why Do Poor Students Lag Behind Rich Students in Reading Development?
Various popular theories abound in attempting to answer this question. For the longest period of time, the parents were thought to be the problem. More recently, it is teachers of low-income children who have been identified as the problem. That is, teachers in high-poverty schools are either not as talented as teachers in suburban schools or teachers in high-poverty schools simply do not work as hard as teachers in suburban schools. This line of hypothesizing has led to schemes whereby all teachers will be paid (or retained in employment) only when their students make good progress with reading development.

The problem with these popular theories is that they have both been proven wrong by the evidence we already have available.

REFORM

Education “reform’s” big lie: The real reason the right has declared war on our public schools

The practice of excluding practicing K-12 educators from public education policy isn't new. From the first day on the job at the U.S. Department of Education, the nation's schools have been led by lawyers, politicians, and business tycoons. Jimmy Carter set the tone by appointing as the first Secretary of Education, Shirley Hufstedler, an attorney, judge, and college professor. Since then, only two Secretaries of Education, Terrell Bell and Rod Paige, have had experience at K-12 teaching, but none were practicing teachers when they were tapped for the position of Secretary.

It isn't like teachers haven't been talking about this for years. Finally, though, as evidenced by the mobilization of teachers in ChicagoWashington state, and elsewhere, educators' voices are loud enough so that the politicians can hear the sound of votes coming from the public schools...where 90% of America's children spend their educational years.

It's time voices of teachers are heard.
The current age of education reform can be traced to the landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk, subtitled “The Imperative for Educational Reform.” Future dictionaries may mark this report as the turning point when the definition of reform changed from cause to a curse. In 1981 Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell appointed an 18-person commission to look into the state of US schools. He charged the commission with addressing “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” The commission included 12 administrators, 1 businessperson, 1 chemist, 1 physicist, 1 politician, 1 conservative activist, and 1 teacher. No students or recent graduates. No everyday parents. No representatives of parents’ organizations. No social workers, school psychologists, or guidance counselors. No representatives of teacher’s unions (God forbid). Just one practicing teacher and not a single academic expert on education.

It should come as no surprise that a commission dominated by administrators found that the problems of U.S. schools were mainly caused by lazy students and unaccountable teachers. Administrative incompetence was not on the agenda. Nor were poverty, inequality, and racial discrimination. A Nation at Risk began from the assumption that our public schools were failing. Of course our public schools were failing. Our public schools are always failing. No investigative panel has ever found that our public schools are succeeding. But if public schools have been failing for so long—if they were already failing in 1983 and have been failing ever since—then very few of us alive today could possibly have had a decent education. So who are we to offer solutions for fixing these failing schools? We are ourselves the products of the very failing schools we propose to fix.



Have We Wasted Over a Decade?

The crisis in education is not low test scores, "failing schools," "bad teachers," or any other "reformer" bogeyman. The crisis in education is privatization. American schools do good work and need to be improved not privatized.
...when poverty characteristics are taken into account, the accomplishment of US students and schools is even more impressive. Students in schools with between 10-25% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch scored 584, which is higher than the national average for top performing Singapore, a city state where roughly 1 in 10 households earns an income below the average monthly expenditure on basic needs and whose actual poverty rate may be higher. At the same time, United States students whose schools have 75% or more students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, scored 520, roughly the same as African American students, and “tied” with France, 18 places behind the U.S. average.

The PIRLS data tells us something that we’ve known for some time. United States testing data, much like United States educational funding, is tightly coupled with the poverty characteristics of the community tested. Dr. Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California, concluded that the unspectacular scores on U.S. students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are largely attributable to our 21% child poverty rate and the impact that has on communities and individual children. PIRLS results tell a similar story, and the persistent connection between race and poverty in America similarly explains the score gap between African American students and other ethnic groups.

PRIVATIZATION: CHARTERS

Feds Spent $3.3 Billion Fueling Charter Schools but No One Knows What It's Really Bought

Lack of oversight for charter schools is a feature...not a bug. That's how they want it.

Charter scandals are getting more and more press, yet the U.S. Department of Education wants to keep pouring money into the charter industry with no additional safeguards.
Despite the huge sums spent so far, the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to "authorize" charters that receive federal funds. And despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program - designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools - the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48% in FY 2016.



REAL EDUCATION: PLAY

Let the Kids Learn Through Play

Real educators understand that learning is more than just testing, paperwork, and data collection. Real learning happens through life.
...a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.

One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”

The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?

REAL EDUCATION: GIFTED

The Common Core “Deep Learning” Message that All Students are Gifted is Wrong

Giftedness is an exceptionality, and by definition, that means that it's the "exception" not the rule. Every child has positive attributes that can be nurtured. Every child has abilities which can be developed, but not every child is gifted.
...not every child is gifted.

The myth that all students are gifted is wrong, and the idea that all children can blend together with just the right dose of deep learning will destroy any hope for special programming for gifted students in the future.

To blend students together implying that everyone can be gifted with deep learning is both naive and dangerous. It is not unheard of that students who are gifted, without identification, drop out of school and never have their qualities recognized.

Many gifted children currently languish in classrooms. They complete tasks that do nothing to help them achieve all they are capable of doing. Students who come from poverty are especially at risk, because their parents might not have the means or the insight to get their child tested. Gifted children might act out and appear to be anything but gifted!

~~~

The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poisoning Children, then Blaming Them: The Lead Connection

FREDDIE GRAY

Questions surrounding Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore are still being investigated. Gray, however, was no stranger to the police. He had been in and out of legal trouble for years...mostly minor drug charges, and the occasional violent episode as well.

This post is not about the "Freddie Gray" incident specifically...but Gray, like many poor children, especially poor black children, grew up, and are growing up, in deteriorating buildings and central cities across the country. They are still being exposed to out of school factors which have a serious impact on their ability to learn. One of those factors is lead poisoning.


In Poverty and Potential, David C. Berliner lists six out of school factors which make it more difficult for children growing up in poverty to learn.
This brief details six OSFs common among the poor that significantly affect the health and learning opportunities of children, and accordingly limit what schools can accomplish on their own:
(1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children;
(2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance;
(3) food insecurity;
(4) environmental pollutants;
(5) family relations and family stress; and
(6) neighborhood characteristics.
These OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior. [emphasis added]
Freddie Gray grew up in such an environment. Number 4, above, environmental pollutants, played a large part in his life. The Washington Post reported...

LEAD EXPOSURE

Freddie Gray’s life a study on the effects of lead paint on poor blacks
...it is believed that anything higher than 5 micrograms [of lead] can cripple a child’s cognitive development.

...“A child who was poisoned with lead is seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system,” Norton said. She called lead poisoning Baltimore’s “toxic legacy” — a still-unfolding tragedy with which she says the city has yet to come to terms. Those kids who were poisoned decades ago are now adults. And the trauma associated with lead poisoning ­“creates too much of a burden on a community,” she said.

The burden weighs heaviest on the poorest communities, such as the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore where Freddie Gray lived. Here, most houses were built decades ago, at a time when paint manufacturers hailed lead as a cheap additive. The effect of that lead, which Congress effectively banned in 1978, has been profound on Gray’s neighborhood. Statistics between 2009 and 2013 showed that more than 3 percent of children younger than 6 had possibly dangerous levels of lead in their blood, more than double the figure for the entire city.

It wasn’t long after that he was given the first of many blood tests, court records show. The test came in May of 1990, when the family was living in a home on Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore. Even at such a young age, his blood contained more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood — double the level at which the Center for Disease Control urges additional testing. Three months later, his blood had nearly 30 micrograms. In June 1991, when Gray was 22 months old, his blood carried 37 micrograms.

...Dan Levy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of lead poisoning on youths, gasped when told of Gray’s levels. “The fact that Mr. Gray had these high levels of lead in all likelihood affected his ability to think and to self-regulate and profoundly affected his cognitive ability to process information.” [emphasis added]
How much of an impact did early exposure to lead have on Freddie Gray's ability to function in society? How many other children like Gray had lives which were damaged by environmental factors like lead poisoning?

LEAD IS STILL A PROBLEM

We've known about the dangers of lead poisoning for years. It was banned in interior home paints in 1978 and from gasoline in 1985, yet nearly 3 decades later, in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that a half a million American children aged 1 through 5 were still exposed to toxic levels of lead in their environment.

John Thomas raised the issue again recently in his blog (h/t Jan Resseger). In Don’t Test, Then Punish Thomas wrote,
For public school administrators and so called education “reformers” who have fallen in love with testing and metrics, or as critics describe it, “test and punish,” here’s some data that ought to be of urgent interest. One: Lead poisoning lowers I.Q. and is associated with lower standardized school test scores, increased rates of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and increased anti-social behavior. Two: Lead poisoning among children remains a problem for many of our nation’s children. Three: Lead poisoning is concentrated in neighborhoods afflicted with high poverty rates while in more affluent neighborhoods lead poisoning is now almost non-existent. And Four: While investments in school testing have grown over the last two decades, federal, state, and local money for lead testing and abatement among the most at-risk families and neighborhoods has plummeted.

...Coupled with growing income inequality and our love affair with high stakes school testing, the poisoning of our poorest children creates an insidious cycle. Untested children with high levels of lead arrive at school with diminished I.Q.’s, increased behavioral problems, and a statistically significant propensity to fail standardized tests. The schools trying to educate these children, as a result, have lower test scores and are subject to punishments of various kinds, including draconian turn around and closure processes. Closed schools further erode the quality of already distressed neighborhoods. Along with the current war on the poor being waged in legislatures around the country, even fewer resources are available to address the problem. Children from these neighborhoods with high levels of lead poisoning are increasingly concentrated in fewer schools, depressing their test scores, and the cycle continues.
In Chicago, for example, while the adults fight over public schools, charter schools, tests, and union contracts, children are exposed to lead and the fight against lead poisoning gets fewer and fewer resources.

Lead paint poisons poor Chicago kids as city spends millions less on cleanup
Alarming levels of brain-damaging lead are poisoning more than a fifth of the children tested from some of the poorest parts of Chicago, even as the hazard has been largely eliminated in more prosperous neighborhoods, a Tribune investigation has found.

The toxic legacy of lead — added to paint and gasoline for nearly a century — once threatened kids throughout the nation's third largest city. As Chicago's overall rate of lead poisoning steadily dropped during the past two decades, the disparities between rich and poor grew wider.
New Jersey has cut funding...

$50M taken from NJ child protection lead fund
Not spending $100 on a home inspection "will cost you tens of thousands (of dollars), if not hundreds of thousands, for every child who's poisoned" and needs treatment...
The World Health Organization (WHO) says of lead poisoning...
The consequences of brain injury from exposure to lead in early life are loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour. Because the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable and irreversible. They cause diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life.

COSTS AND BENEFITS

We need to expand our fight against lead poisoning. Research shows that we save money by reducing lead exposure.
Each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221 or a net savings of $181–269 billion...

...There are substantial returns to investing in lead hazard control, particularly targeted at early intervention in communities most likely at risk. Given the high societal costs of inaction, lead hazard control appears to be well worth the price.


Cutting funds for reducing lead exposure is counter productive. Inaction damages our future. By not dealing with the problem we guarantee that we'll spend more money tomorrow trying to fix the damage done by lead poisoning today. A rational society would spend less money now and improve the future for ourselves and our children.

See also...

IQ effects of childhood lead exposure persist with age.

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children

Baltimore’s Toxic Legacy Of Lead Paint

Lead exposure in older homes means children 'pay with their lives'

~~~

The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
~~~

Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 Medley #14

Duncan's Accomplishments, Private Schools for the Wealthy, Libraries, Accountability, Teaching Reading, Indiana, New Teachers, Testing

DUNCAN'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Arne Duncan's Record of "Accomplishments"

To be fair, it's not just Duncan. He's doing what his corporate handlers want him to do...demonize public schools and public school teachers to ease the transition to a privatized education system. His reign as national school chief is following in the footsteps of Margaret Spellings and the Bush administration. The surprising thing is that politicians still pay lip service to "supporting public schools." Actions speak louder than words...

My prediction...like Tony Bennett in Indiana, when the Obama administration leaves office, Arne Duncan will find his way to some high paying job in the "privatizing education" field.




TWO TIERED EDUCATION

Obama: Wealthy Ignore Poverty by Sending Kids to Private Schools

Wait...what? Barack Obama, who sends his kids to one of the nation's most elite private schools (to the tune of about $38K@yr), who supports defunding public education at the expense of privately owned and run charter schools, is suggesting that the wealthy (like him) are ignoring poverty?

Obama's secretary of education, who famously remarked that poverty wasn't destiny, has spent the last 6 years telling us that poverty is just an excuse for failure. Duncan, as Obama's education spokesperson, is one of the nation's cheerleaders who expects schools filled with high poverty students to overcome all the out of school factors associated with poverty...things like
  • low birth weight
  • toxic environments like lead poisoning
  • lack of medical, mental health, and dental care
  • food insecurity
  • housing insecurity
  • lack of adequate preschools
Now, President Obama wants us to believe that he is concerned with poverty...that it's a real educational issue...that the rich are ignoring poverty by opting their children out of the public schools? This is something which his policies have encouraged.

Ok, I get it...as president it's probably necessary for him to send his children to a private school like Sidwell. There are security issues at stake and public schools are likely not equipped, nor could they tolerate the security arrangements necessary, for the children of the U. S. President to attend. So maybe I'm being unreasonable. Still, if public education was so important, wouldn't the president's policies, if not his actions on the part of his daughters, reflect that support?
Obama insisted that there needed to be more investments in public schools, public universities, public early child education and public infrastructure, insisting that funding these organizations both “grows our economy and spreads it around.”

In the past, Obama explained, these economic barriers existed for people of color, but he warned that the growing economic inequality was slowly creeping into the lifestyle of the middle class.

“What used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation and this great sorting that’s taking place,” he explained.


LIBRARIES

To the editor

Krashen nails it...complete with references.
Libraries are especially important for children of poverty: The school library and the public library (especially during the summer) are often their only source of books.

We complain about our children's reading levels, but fail to provide the means for improving it.
— Stephen Krashen, USC Professor Emeritus


ACCOUNTABILITY

Should We Hold Arne Duncan and Every Other Reformer Accountable for Every Child They Hurt?

Yes we should.
  • Has the "test and punish" system of education helped our nation's students? 
  • Has closing and defunding neighborhood schools in favor of spending millions of dollars without public oversight on charters and voucher schemes helped the most vulnerable students in our nation?
  • Has the "reform" of public schools led by billionaires like Gates and the Waltons eased poverty, reduced the "achievement gap," and increased learning?
  • Has the obsession with test scores given us higher achieving students?
The answer to all those questions is, of course, no. We are, in fact, hurting our most vulnerable students more. Those who are responsible ought to be held "accountable." As President Bush (II) said when talking about No Child Left Behind, "...an accountability system must have a consequence; otherwise, it's not much of an accountability system."

Those who have supported the status quo of "reforming" the nation's public education system since 2001 ought to now take responsibility for what they've done.
A new era of accountability should begin with reformers taking the log from their eyes before trying to remove the mote from educators' eyes. It should start by holding accountability systems accountable. We could then proclaim to policy makers, school patrons, and other stakeholders that we have met the challenge, reinvented accountability and shown that education is worthy of increased investments.

By the way, too many reformers escalate the political battles, claiming that we need smarter accountability systems where everybody holds everybody else accountable. But I wouldn't even contemplate systems where both sides hold each other accountable and risk the blame game spinning out of control. If reformers want to hold us accountable for each child, wouldn't we have to hold them accountable for every child damaged by their policies? Wouldn't we end up in an even greater education civil war?

Or maybe we should...

CAN YOU TEACH?

Don’t Teachers Know How to Teach Reading?

Do you know how to teach reading? Do "teachers today" not know how to teach "anymore?"

Teachers, how did you "learn" how to teach reading?
So why don’t teachers seem to be able to teach reading like they used to? Why do they have to go through all kinds of professional development like they never learned anything before they entered the classroom?
  • Has this been an intentional plan to de-professionalize teaching by those who want to privatize schools? Is it because of exaggerated claims that students weren’t reading well enough 30 years ago? Has the authority over how to teach reading been stolen from teachers?
  • Have the education schools sold out to commercialized companies and not provided the right kind of reading instruction to teachers? Is there too much concern about making a profit on reading programs?
  • Are the Teach for America types, or the online fast-track programmed teachers, ill-prepared to teach reading? Who’s monitoring those programs?
  • Did NCLB and RTTT change the way teachers are supposed to teach? When there is so much concern about high-stakes test results, teachers will find it difficult not to follow the program that will appear to help them succeed.
  • Is it because wealthy parents are pushing children too hard, to read too early and poor parents don’t push hard enough?
  • Are there more children with disabilities in the regular class who need remediation? Are regular education teachers required to learn how to teach special education? If so, how is that fair to the students in their classes who don’t have disabilities?


INDIANA

Mike Pence’s 2015 education agenda: Wins, losses and consolation prizes

Here's a summary of the damage done to public education in Indiana by the Pence Administration and his lackeys in the legislature.
...here’s a bill that addresses every one of Pence’s priorities: more money for schools in general, an extra funding boost for charter schools and career and technical education, an expanded the voucher program, more flexibility for teachers and schools to try innovative techniques, added bonus pay for highly rated teachers and big changes to the roles of the Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

NEW TEACHERS

New Teacher Attrition And The Recession

The good news: it's not true (at least according to this study) that 50% of all new teachers leave the field of education by their 5th year. On the other hand, fewer college students are opting into the field of education, and morale is still a problem.
The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS), a terrific project by the National Center for Education Statistics, tracks a nationally representative cohort of beginning teachers (those who started in 2007 or 2008) through their first five years and documents their turnover outcomes. Results from this survey have been trickling out every year (see our post here), but the most recent report presents outcomes from these teachers’ first four years.

The headline story, as reported in the Washington Post, was that roughly 17 percent of these new teachers had left the profession entirely within their first four years. A number of commenters, including the Post article, hastened to point out that the BTLS estimates are far lower than the “conventional wisdom” statistic that 40-50 percent leave the profession within the first five years (see here for more on this figure; also see Perda 2013 for a similar five-year estimate using longitudinal data). These findings are released within a political context where teacher attrition (somewhat strangely) has become a contentious political issue, one which advocates tend to interpret in a manner that supports their pre-existing beliefs about education policy.

...new teacher attrition during these years was far lower than is often assumed, and certainly that teachers are not fleeing the classroom at a greater clip than in previous years. This is important, and cannot be "explained away" by any one factor, but we should still be careful about generalizing too strongly these findings beyond this particular time period, given that the BTLS cohort of teachers entered the classroom almost precisely at the time that the "great recession" began. This is, of course, not a new or original point – it was, for instance, mentioned briefly in the Post article. And it's hardly groundbreaking to note that labor market behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Still, given all the commentary about the BTLS results, it may be worth reviewing briefly.


TESTING

A True Testing Reminder

Individualize instruction...and then hold everyone to the same "standard." Loosely translated this means, "allow everyone to be different, then punish them for not being the same."
No one can understand the pressure of a high stakes test unless you are personally involved. The weight that is tied to your heart grows heavier and heavier as April and May approach. You completely relinquish control of your class to the state or testing company. They create the test, you cannot see it, they decide when you can give it and how long the kids have to take it, and you cannot even be in the same room with them. You spend every day with your students, you have learned their strengths and weaknesses, and you have differentiated instruction and followed IEPs, now every test is exactly the same. Oh, the irony of it all.


~~~

The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
~~~

Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Random Quotes - May 2015

TESTING

No need to test every student

From Stephen Krashen
There is no need to test every student every year. We can get the same information from low-pressure testing of small samples of students, each student taking only a part of the test, and extrapolating the results to larger groups, as is now done with the NAEP test. This will save money, reduce anxiety, and give teachers more time to teach.

When you go to the doctor, they don't take all your blood. They only take a sample. 



Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Standardized Testing (HBO)

Learning isn't supposed to make you sick. Stress is not always negative...except when it is...and the stress associated with high stakes tests for children beginning at about age 8 is bad. Why do we do this to our children?

From John Oliver
"Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit."




SCHOOL FUNDING

News of Stephen Colbert's generosity goes viral, spurs more donations nationwide

Thank you to Stephen Colbert for helping the children of South Carolina. But why should he have to? Why isn't the education of our children a big enough priority for us to fully fund?

From Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh
It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and Stephen Colbert has to buy the Air Force a bomber.


IMAGINE…

We need to invest in our public schools...not private charter schools operating without public oversight.

From Gail Cosby (IPS School Board Member)
Imagine if this board and administration were willing to invest in our own schools, our own students, our own leaders, and our own teachers in the same manner in which we keep investing IN OUTSIDE ENTITIES.

(Phalen Academy will be receiving at least 1.2 million dollars more than school 103 received to educate the same children.)



TEACHING

Testing: Who is Advocating for the Students?

Many good, dedicated, inspirational teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers. We're driving the best out of the profession.

From an Indiana Teacher
"I still love teaching and working with young children, but the testing and culture are killing the profession..."

Stephen Colbert throws Peter Cunningham under the bus.

Take a look around: Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings, Bill Gates, the Walton Family, Michael Bloomberg, Jeb Bush...these "reformers" don't know anything about the day to day business of public education. Yet they have, over the last couple of decades, tried to buy  expertise and tell teachers what they are doing wrong.

From Fred Klonsky
...there is something very wrong when billion dollar philanthropies run by people who know nothing about teaching give all that money to people who know nothing about teaching to tell teachers that they are wrong about what they know about teaching.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON

Two appropriate quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson Graduation Speech, Western New England University

From Neil deGrasse Tyson
...when you know how to think it empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Super Stellar Reply To Girl's Question About Learning Disabilities

From Neil deGrasse Tyson
At a recent talk, a girl walks up to the microphone and asks the astrophysicist if there are people with dyslexia in his field. Tyson explains that yes, there are, as well as colleagues with a number of other types of learning disabilities. Citing autism, dyscalculia and ADD as examples, Tyson explains that rather than seeing these conditions and disorders as a hindrance, they are empowering.

“The answer is yes, but it’s a hurdle,” Tyson says. “But in the Olympics, what do you do when you come up to a hurdle? You jump over it.”


DO SOMETHING

We Have To Do Something

My Random Quotes pages wouldn't be complete lately without something from blogger extraordinaire, Peter Greene. Here he reminds us that the object is not just "to do something." We have to do something that makes sense. If something is harmful, doesn't work, or wastes time and money -- like our national high stakes testing obsession -- then we ought to stop doing it.

From Peter Greene
Even if we accept "We have to do something" as a Real Thing (which it isn't, because the "crisis" is manufactured, but even if), it does not follow that an urgent Need To Do Something means that we must urgently Do Something Stupid.

If the treatment is damaging, don't use it. If the food is harmful, don't eat it. And if the test is a bad test that wastes time and money, makes the students miserable, damages the credibility of the school, and returns no useful data-- then don't give it!!

What can retired teachers do? Help win a Supreme Court decision.

Retired teachers, public school activists, supporters of public education...have helped turn around anti-educator legislation in Illinois by winning at the state supreme court. While giving economic breaks to the wealthy, the political forces in Illinois blamed teacher pensions for making "Illinois broke."
Who kept track of this injustice as they formed grassroots groups of people in addition to alerting, networking, goading, and educating while contacting unions and government agencies and media sources and legislators and social networking organizations?

Among others...five retirees.
The important quote from this blog post by Ken Previti...
“A hero is a man who does what he can.” – Romain Rolland
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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Monday, May 11, 2015

More Than a Test Score

IREAD-3

Test scores have been released. Indiana's third grade reading test (IREAD-3) scores show a decline in reading achievement for third graders state wide and locally.

3rd-grade reading ability slips: All local districts decline, as does statewide average
Scores were slightly lower across the board this year for a statewide test that measures third-graders’ reading ability, data released Friday show.

All four Allen County public school districts saw their passing rates decline, mirroring a dip in the statewide average of 84.2 percent from 85.6 percent last year.
The test passing rates for each Allen County, Indiana public school system, as well as the rate from last year, were listed...

Third-grade reading test results reported
Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) -- 89.0% passed, compared with 89.7% in 2014;
Northwest Allen County Schools (NACS) -- 90.1% passed, compared with 91.9% in 2014;
Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) -- 72.5% passed, compared with 74.5% in 2014;
East Allen County Schools (EACS) -- 78.2% passed, compared with 82.5% in 2014.
So all four public school systems in Allen County "mirror" the state's drop in IREAD-3 scores. The declines are small...but are they significant*? We're not told. We're also not reminded that the students who took the test in 2014 are not the same children who took the test in 2015 and therefore comparisons between the two are questionable.

[*Significance, validity, and reliability actually mean something when we're discussing standardized tests and using the results to label, blame, and punish. Do members of the Indiana state legislature, members of the state board of education, or the governor know what they mean?]

POVERTY

An interesting, yet consistent fact is the highest scores in the county were made by the two school systems with the lowest free and reduced lunch rate, a standard measure of school/child poverty level. SACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/3.6% and NACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/6.1%. FWCS and EACS have rates of 57.9%/8.2% and 42.5%/7.4% respectively.

Does the IREAD-3 test measure reading achievement, or socio-economic status?

The pattern is similar state-wide. There are a few outliers, but in general the pattern of low poverty schools scoring high, and high poverty schools scoring low, is consistent. For example, 99.3% of third graders in North West Hendricks Schools, with a free/reduced rate of 13.5%/6.6% passed IREAD-3. By contrast, only 53.7% of third grade students in Indianapolis Public Schools passed, with a free/reduced rate of 72.4%/3.4%.

Feel free to check out some yourself...you can find the free/reduced rates of Indiana's school systems, and schools here:
Indiana DOE Compass
And a list of the IREAD-3 pass rates here:
Sortable Table: Find Your District’s Spring 2015 IREAD-3 Pass Rate
Take a look at cities like Gary, South Bend, and East Chicago, compared to a place like Carmel or Porter Township.


VALID AND RELIABLE?

What exactly does the IREAD-3 test measure?

According to the Indiana DOE web site, the purpose of IREAD-3
is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three.
Looking through the web site we can't find much about the validity* and reliability* of the test, however, which would seem to me to be fairly important, considering that third graders can be forced to repeat third grade reading instruction if they don't pass.

Indeed, I'm not the only one who has had trouble finding this information. Indiana Parents For Fair Testing also couldn't locate information about the validity and reliability of IREAD-3.
IREAD-3 has been inadequately piloted prior to its use. With no public information available about the test’s validity or reliability, parents can not evaluate whether or not the test does what it purports to do.
Is the IREAD-3 valid and reliable? Perhaps. Like other standardized tests published recently, we'll have to take their word for it because it's illegal to see the tests and review them. Without established validity and reliability how do we know that IREAD-3 measures what it purports to measure?


LABELS

Returning to the Indiana DOE web site, we see that a passing score on IREAD-3 is a score of 446. One would hope that classroom teachers get more information than this...although, with only a few days left to the school year it's not clear what Mr. Smith, for example, can do for Sally who got a score of 425. She's either going to have to take third grade reading instruction again (if it didn't work the first time what changes are going to be made to have it work next time?) or retake the test during the summer window (June 1 through July 24) after somehow learning what she didn't learn the first time.

Indiana no longer provides funding for remediation. That money now goes to pay for more testing. Mr. Smith could volunteer to tutor Sally, Sally's parents could pay him to tutor her, or send her to another tutor...but, perhaps, like many low scoring children, Sally's parents haven't got the money to pay someone to tutor her. What then?

In the meantime, Sally, along with other Hoosier children, are labeled as failures and will have to repeat instruction or repeat a grade (which doesn't work).

And it's all based on one test...
  • which likely measures a child's socio-economic level more than his/her reading achievement
  • with unknown reliability and validity
  • with arbitrary cut scores
...and this is how we educate 8 and 9 year olds in Indiana...


HOW ABOUT THIS INSTEAD...
  • Stop using one or two standardized tests (IREAD-3 and ISTEP+) to completely evaluate a child's level of learning...especially tests which are questionable in quality.
  • End retention in grade, especially when it's based on just one test like the IREAD-3. It doesn't work. It's never worked. It's a failed "remediation." [See the recent excellent blog post by Russ Walsh, Retaining 3rd Graders: Child Abuse, Mississippi Style (NOTE: It's not just Mississippi).]
  • Hold policy makers responsible for the level of poverty and other out-of-school-factors which have an impact on achievement in the nation, state, city, and school district. Children are not the only ones at fault. Parents are not the only ones at fault. Teachers are not the only ones at fault. Understand that there are out-of-school-factors which weigh heavily on student achievement. 
  • Give local educators and school boards a voice in how to evaluate children's learning instead of relying on the political winds in the legislature, state board of education, and governor's mansion.
That would be a start.


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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Saturday, May 9, 2015

$3.3 Billion in Unregulated Tax Funds for Charters

In case you missed it...


The Center for Media and Democracy has a new report about charter schools...

New Documents Show How Taxpayer Money Is Wasted by Charter Schools

Democracy Now has a (16 minute) report and interview with Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Some highlights...
"The new report analyzes materials obtained from open records requests regarding independent audits of how states interact with charter schools and their authorizers. It concludes that the anti-regulatory environment around charter schools, coupled with their lack of financial transparency, warrants a moratorium, rather than increased charter funding..."

"...we know that the $3.3 billion have fueled an industry that now devotes millions of dollars each year to lobbying for more charter schools, and devotes millions of dollars advertising on public airways for people to send their kids to charter schools, things that public schools don’t have a chance to do. Public schools don’t have the budget to advertise their benefits. Even though these things are called public charter schools, in many respects these operate in many instances for the private sector, for the benefit of CEO’s and Wall Street."

"...the goal is to abolish the public schools."



Democracy Now continues its coverage of the charter industry with a (3 minute) report by co-host Juan Williams detailing with suspension rates of special needs children who are being pushed out by charter schools to improve test scores.
"...the problem is that so many of the charter schools are not subject to monitoring or auditing on a—at the same level as public schools are, so it’s hard, really, to get a lot of the facts. Of course, the Success Academies insist that they retain their children at better levels than the public schools, that their test scores demonstrate that they are doing an excellent job in terms of education. Well, we’ll continue to see how this plays out as the charter school—the battle over charter schools spreads across America."



Williams' article in the New York Daily News...

Success Academy parent's secret tapes reveal attempt to push out special needs student
What school officials did not do, Zapata said, was provide the kind of special education services that her son’s individual educational plan, or IEP, requires.

That plan calls for daily speech therapy and occupational therapy for Yael. It also requires him to be placed in a smaller class, one staffed by both a regular teacher and a special education teacher.

At one point in the tapes, a Success official can be heard telling Zapata:

“We’re technically out of compliance because we aren’t able to meet what his IEP recommends for him.”
and
In a second meeting, the mother asks why Success admitted her son through a lottery but is not providing him all the services he needs.

“If they have those special education needs, you’re absolutely right that they need to be fulfilled,” an official replies, but then quickly adds that the network doesn’t offer smaller special ed classes in kindergarten.

“We will help them find the [appropriate] DOE placement,” the official says.

In other words, lottery or not, kindergarten kids like Yael who need smaller classes should find a public school that has one. [emphasis added]
$3.3 billion spent on profits, advertising, and lobbying instead of instruction. Add to that more billions redistributed from public schools and spent on private schools through vouchers. Tell me again how public schools are "failing?"

This is why all American children deserve fully funded public schools with public oversight. Public funds spent on public education ought to work for everyone.

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Picture Walk - May 2015

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

DOUBLE STANDARD

Legislators are quick to say, 'look how much money we're spending on education.' They don't tell you, however, that much of that money is not going to public education. Instead, it's going to vouchers and charter schools...as well as to a huge bill for poorly constructed, inadequately researched, overused, and misused standardized testing.

Indiana legislators just passed a budget which many are touting as containing a substantial increase for "education." Unfortunately the increase is going for more expensive testing, private school vouchers, and charter schools. Also, the legislature has decided that schools in high income areas ought to get more...and schools in high poverty areas ought to get less.
"When you take the virtual schools, the charter schools and the vouchers and add them together at their most optimistic prognostications of enrollment you have 8% of the total student body of the state of Indiana. They are getting a third of that $474 million, a third. Those 137 school districts are losing $500,000." Ann Delaney on Indiana Week in Review (start at about 2:40) this week when asked to comment about the "education session" of the indiana General Assembly and the 137 public school districts that will lose money even though the average increase is 2.3%.



TESTING

Ask a teacher about Indiana's state assessment, ISTEP+.
  • Is it aligned to a developmentally appropriate curriculum?
  • Does it really give teachers any more information about how their students learn?
  • Are results returned in a timely fashion with useful data for guiding instruction?
  • Why are we spending so many millions of dollars which could be (and should be) used for instruction?
ISTEP+ means millions of tax dollars wasted for the sole purpose of grading schools and teachers...and it doesn't really do a good job of either of those things.


Assessment is an important part of education, but teachers assess students every day and a teacher's assessment of a student, through grades, observations, quizzes and yes, even tests, is more accurate than standardized tests.



"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



How much of our education budget is being spent on something other than the students? Testing is one of the biggest thieves of resources from the classroom. We're holding schools with minimal resources -- lack of books and materials, poor technology, large class sizes, leaky roofs, poorly supplied bathrooms -- to the same standards as schools in wealthy areas with state of the art science labs and computer access.

The corporatization and privatization of public education is hurting the most vulnerable students. The reason is profit. Testing companies are stealing billions of tax dollars which should be used for the benefit of students.



TEACHERS




POLITICS



COLLEGE AND CAREER READY

President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the usual gang of "reformers" -- who mostly know nothing about education, even less about public education, and virtually nothing about urban public education -- have been obsessively focused on international test scores. We have to raise our nation's test scores and the way to do that is to make sure that every child is "college and career ready."

Test scores, according to the "reformers," are the only things necessary to make all children "college and career ready" so all we have to do is make the tests better and all our children will succeed.

That is, of course, wrong. We have known for decades that there is a direct correlation between school achievement and poverty. We learned in the 70s that programs targeting children in poverty helped improve achievement. We also know that best practices for early childhood education and young children must include play, hands on learning, and multi disciplinary projects. Worksheets, and paper and pencil activities have a place early on, but a very small place, and testing certainly should not be the focus.

"College and career ready" academics are something that ought to wait until children are closing in on college and career ready chronologically! This quote from a Bloomington, Indiana mom is simple, yet perfectly on point.


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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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Monday, May 4, 2015

John Oliver takes on Standardized Tests and Pearson

"Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit."

[NOTE: NSFW Some images and language might be offensive...just like Pearson's tests.]


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