"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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

NEIFPE Answers Reformer's Questions

I'm a member of NEIFPE, the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (Facebook page: HERE and @NEIFPE on Twitter).

Last week we received an email from someone who is "not a public school teacher," but "works in a public charter school" and is taking a "class" delivered by the Institute for Quality Education (affiliated with Hoosiers for Quality Education), an "education reform" group in Indiana. The writer asked us to answer three questions. He correctly answered the first, using the group's mission statement. The other two he phrased in "reformy" ways implying that we were for forced attendance at local public schools and that we want to strip privately run schools (charters and parochial schools) of their funds.

To his credit, he did ask us to clarify whether or not we agreed with his answers. We did not agree with two of them, of course, and below are the three questions he asked along with our answers.

Thanks to the NEIFPE team for their work in composing this response.

NEIFPE: Who We Are

From time to time, people have asked us who we are and what we do. Recently, we received a letter asking us to answer the following questions about our organization. Here are the questions and our responses.

What is the goal/vision for the organization?

NEIFPE's mission statement outlines the goal of support for public education.

We are citizens, teachers, administrators, and parents united by our support for public education and by concerns for its future. Recent federal and state reform measures have created an over-emphasis on testing and have turned over public education to private interests. We believe that these reforms threaten the well-being of our children and jeopardize their futures. Our goal is to inform ourselves and to start community discussion about the impact of these measures on our public schools and, more importantly, on our children.

How is this organization working to improve education in Indiana?

NEIFPE advocates for a strong public school system that serves all children in the state. We believe education will be improved when education policy is back in the hands of educators rather than in the hands of politicians and their supporters. We believe that the tax dollars for public education should be distributed equitably to fund schools that are accountable to their communities. We believe that education is for ALL students, regardless of ability, race, and religion, and we believe public tax dollars should not be used for schools that exclude children. We also believe we should use our tax dollars towards the actual education of children rather than for testing and test preparation activities. We believe parents have always had a choice to send their children to public or private schools but taxpayer dollars should support public schools.

We advocate for a system that supports schools in addressing the needs of the students to prepare them for citizenship. We advocate for accountability that focuses on the progress students are making rather than one based upon high stakes testing, test preparation, and data collection. We advocate for developmentally appropriate instruction based upon research driven methods. We advocate for teachers who are knowledgeable in both content and pedagogy.

Is this organization a resource for teachers?

NEIFPE is a resource for information on local and national education policies, not an instructional resource. We try to help teachers make the connection between education policies and the effects of such policies on their classrooms and the teaching profession. Our mission is to inform and engage the general public so that they will understand the impact of current education policies on our communities, our neighborhoods, and our children. We would like the public to understand how their tax dollars are used in education. The resources we provide help others gain a better understanding of education policy, the political agenda in education, and how to defend our public school system. In addition to tracking current legislation, we provide research and evidence for people to use in advocacy efforts. We also provide information to our state legislators to help ensure they have a balanced perspective and understand how legislation will affect public schools, teachers, and students.

Our agenda is, quite simply, the support of public education.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Random Quotes - February 2016


This is how Bernie or Hillary wins: The speech that would seal the nomination

Bertis Downs, a member of the Board of Directors of the Network for Public Education, wrote this for Salon. How many teachers and parents would support a candidate who promised that all public school children would get the education they deserved?

from Bertis Downs
Which campaign wants to lay claim to public schools supporters? Easy. Whoever embraces these ideas first. Just imagine:

...John Dewey once said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that we must want for all of the children of the community.” Well, under my administration, we will actually govern that way and foster the kinds of schools where we would all be proud to send our children. We all know the factors that make a school great: excellent teachers who are respected, compensated, and supported so they can better teach our children; a rich and varied curriculum that includes the basic academic subjects as well as the arts and physical education; safe and healthy learning environments; the school as a center of community; strong leadership that focuses on enabling educators to collaborate, develop, and improve as they teach; reasonable class sizes; and an active and engaged parent and community presence. These describe some of our best schools — both public and private. And these are the attributes our policies need to be building and sustaining, not undermining and discouraging. For too long, our policies have created a de facto parallel system — schools for the Haves and other schools for the Have-nots. We need to shift our thinking and try a different approach — one that strives to improve opportunities for all of our nation’s children, not just a select few. Put simply, we must redouble our efforts to expand on our schools’ existing strengths, while freeing teachers to teach and addressing the lingering inequality that presents challenges to teachers and administrators.

Which classroom would you choose for your child?


Congress passed the reauthorization to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last December. The Every Student Succeeds Act returns much of the task of monitoring the nation's education system to the state. Testing, among other things (such as support for the for-profit charter industry), is still very much a part of the law. Here are two comments about the new law that focus on the same issue – poverty. No improved testing system is going to remove the effects of poverty on the huge number of students in America's public schools who live with unmet physical, medical, emotional, and social needs.

Why are none of the candidates for President talking about America's embarrassingly high child poverty rate?

Before we talk seriously about Every Student Succeeds ...

There are certain requirements

from Stephen Krashen
I offer an updated version as a comment on the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act:
When Congress passes
Every Student Is Well-Fed,
Every Student Has Proper Health Care, and
No Student Is Left Homeless,
Then we can talk seriously about
"Every Student Succeeds."

There's a Way to Help Inner-City Schools. Obama's New Education Law Isn’t It.

from Pedro Noguera
[ESSA is] not addressing the real issues related to poverty that are contributing to why those schools are struggling. Having less emphasis on testing, particularly if states use those resources to devise other means to support schools, will be helpful. But you still don't have federal or state strategies to address issues related to poverty and how they affect schools—that's a glaring omission. The origins of these federal policies were tied to President Johnson's war on poverty. Supplemental funds were sent to school districts serving poor children to compensate for issues related to poverty. Since the enactment of NCLB, the focus on mitigating poverty has been replaced by a focus on accountability as measured by test scores.


from Alfie Kohn

Why Standardized Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers (and Teacher Education Programs)

Assessing any teachers with student standardized achievement tests is invalid. Achievement tests were developed to measure student achievement. The variables affecting a student's standardized test are too many to give a teacher credit or blame for the score.

Legislators who are responsible for requiring that student test scores be used to measure teacher quality listen up: Learn something about tests and measurements before you start passing laws about tests and measurements.

from David C. Berliner, quoted in Audrey Amrein-Beardsley's VAMboozled
Assessing new teachers with standardized achievement tests is likely to yield many false negatives. That is, the assessments would identify teachers early in their careers as ineffective in improving test scores, which is, in fact, often the case for new teachers. Two or three years later that could change. Perhaps the last thing we want to do in a time of teacher shortage is discourage new teachers while they acquire their skills.

Report: Lowest-scoring teachers concentrated in poorest schools

Any teacher who teaches in a school filled with students who live in poverty will become "low scoring teachers." Why is the USA one of only three advanced nations on Earth investing more money in schools for the wealthy than in schools for the poor?

Emphasis added.

from University of Chicago Consortium on School Research
Researchers say, however, that they don’t know whether the discrepancies reflect true differences in the quality of teaching or that it’s just harder to be effective or get high marks in higher-poverty schools.

“They may reflect that it is harder to get high scores in unorganized, chaotic schools or in schools with few resources or instructional supports for teachers, as other studies have shown,” the report notes.


NPE State Report Card 2016

The following is from the introduction to the 50 State Report Card given by the Network for Public Education. Diane Ravitch repeats her oft quoted belief that public education is something that we have agreed to provide for all children of our society because it benefits all of us.

By Diane Ravitch in Valuing Public Education: A 50 STATE REPORT CARD
Educating all children is a civic responsibility, not a consumer good. Sustaining a public education system of high quality is a job for the entire community, whether or not they have children in public schools and even if they have no children. An investment in the community’s children is an investment in the future, a duty we all share.


Plan to change teacher pay and pensions passes after emotional debate

In their continuing effort to cause damage to the public education system, the Indiana House of Representatives has passed a bill, under the guise of easing the looming teacher shortage, which will allow school systems to pay some teachers more money, thereby reducing the amount of money available for everyone else. This is the latest attack on teachers by legislators who are hell-bent on hurting the Indiana State Teachers Association even if that means destroying public education in the process. The bill now goes to the Senate.

by Melanie Wright, music teacher and member of the Indiana House of Representatives
“If we make those salaries negotiable and outside collective bargaining, we will have salaries all over the place,” she said. “Our mid-level teachers will look for options to get out. They already are exhausted from all the mandates that have been put on them.”


Most schools' grades stay flat

Kudos to this superintendent who is determined that the damage caused by the legislature will not prevent his school system from providing the best education it can for its students.

By Chris Himsel, superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools
“It’s not going to change what we do. We try to provide a healthy and safe learning environment that engages our learners in meaningful activities and supports them whenever learning becomes difficult and obstacles get in the way,” he said.

“Nothing’s going to deviate us away from that mission, and our primary focus at this point is not to look back on the past and all the issues that came across with the ISTEP+ and the transition to the new test and the new accountability standards and those kinds of things.”


Saturday, January 30, 2016

The False Choice

Today marks the end of National School Choice week and, after more than 16,000 events nationwide, school choice advocates (aka privatizers) have reason to celebrate. More and more states are jumping on the "choice" bandwagon which means more and more of our public tax dollars are being spent on private and privately owned schools. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that "school choice" is anything more than a way for those private and privately owned schools to choose their students and gain profit. Steven Singer in his latest blog entry titled, Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice, wrote
In reality, it’s just a scam to make private schools cheaper for rich people, further erode the public school system and allow for-profit corporations to gobble up education dollars meant to help children succeed.
Here are a baker's dozen articles about the false choice of school choice. They cover everything from the lack of public oversight of public funds, to the fact that private doesn't mean better (the articles are listed at the end).


Public schools have to accept every student that walks in the door.
  • Privately run schools (voucher and charter) don't have to accept all students. They are free to exclude students at the outset, and they often "counsel out" hard-to-teach or expensive-to-teach students 1, 3, 12, 13


Churchill said, "...it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time..." Having a democratically elected school board doesn't guarantee that schools will be run well, but at least voters have the ballot box to remedy things if there are problems. Corporate board rooms have no such safeguard.
  • There is a lack of accountability with privately run schools. They have no public school board and instead use privately run board corporate board. If you don't like what they are doing to your child you have no legal options. 1, 13


Vouchers and charter schools are touted because they supposedly increase student achievement. We've yet to see that happen.
  • Charters and voucher schools do not do a better job of teaching children than do traditional public schools. Research finds that public schools outperform private schools when you adjust for the fact that public schools serve students from different demographic groups than private schools. 1, 6, 7, 12


America's schools are now more segregated than they have been since the 1960s.
  • Privatization increases segregation. In fact,  "school choice" originated as a way to avoid integrating schools when Jim Crow was abolished. 1, 9


Instead of giving public tax money away to private corporations and religious institutions which don't do any better at educating children, we should fully fund the public schools which educate the vast majority of children. We're one of only 3 advanced nations in the world who spend more money on wealthy students than we do on poor students. That needs to change.
  • Providing tax money to charter schools and through vouchers reduces the funding for public schools. The state, in effect, funds a second (and third) competing school systems which wastes taxpayer money. The money diverted to charters and vouchers is not invested in public schools which serve most students. Poverty and funding equity are ignored leading to cuts in programming. Currently $1.5 billion of public money is diverted to private schools annually. 1, 2, 8, 10, 12


Why are the politically or economically powerful allowed to make educational decisions for the rest of us? Neither Bill Gates nor Eli Broad has any educational training. Allowing them, and others like them, to influence the direction of America's public schools is shortsighted.
  • Privatization is supported by the politically powerful and by billionaires. Many times out-of-state money is used to gain legislative support for privatization. Most americans don't want public money going to private and religious schools. 1, 2, 5, 9, 12

  • Privatization is supported as a way to destroy public sector unions or the public sector in general. 4, 5

  • Only a limited number of students can go to vouchers and charter schools. 2


Most voucher accepting private schools in Indiana are religious...Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. The Indiana Supreme Court found the practice legal despite the state (and federal) constitution's provision against the public funding of religious institutions. The money, according to the court, belongs to the parents thereby freeing the state of any entanglement with religion. It is, however, just a convenient excuse to provide public funding for religious organizations.
  • Privatization through vouchers threatens church-state separation by funding religious schools 3, 12

  • Not all voucher schools meet federal civil rights requirements, such as those in Title VI, Title IX, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Charter schools and voucher accepting private schools often have subpar accommodations for students with disabilities. 4


Individuals don't receive tax money designated for any other public service. Everyone pays for libraries, municipal bus services, roads, water systems, and public parks – even those who don't use them. The same should be true of public schools.
  • Public Education is a public good. Education is not funded just by parents. We all pay taxes to educate all children because we have decided it's a benefit to society. Parents do not have the right to carve out some of our tax money to pay tuition for their child to attend a private school. This is defunding a public trust. 5, 11

  • When they accept public money privately run schools should be required to follow all public rules. Private schools which accept vouchers, and charter schools use a variety of methods to avoid following rules which public schools are required to follow. 5


Public schools are not "failures." "Low performing" schools cannot be blamed completely on teachers, parents, and students. Reducing support to schools because their students score poorly on standardized tests is blaming the victim. Politicians and policy makers need to accept their share of the responsibility for high levels of poverty – the major cause of low test scores.
  • Privatization misuses standardized tests. Privatization needs to blame public schools and public school teachers for "failure," standardized tests are used to rank teachers and schools, a purpose for which they were not designed. 8

  1. Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice
  2. What Could Be Wrong With School Choice?
  3. 'School Choice Week' - A Dose Of Facts To Counter Voucher Propaganda
  4. What ‘School Choice’ Advocates Won’t Tell You: Voucher Programs Lack Civil Rights Safeguards
  5. Frank Cagle: Lawmakers should kill school vouchers
  6. Do vouchers work? Real data needed, not spin
  7. Survey is ammunition, not illumination
  8. A primer on the damaging movement to privatize public schools (also HERE)
  9. 2015 Medley #30 – Vouchers
  10. ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia
  11. Vouchers - The Defunding of a Public Trust
  12. 10 Reasons Why Private School Vouchers Should Be Rejected
  13. Why Don’t We Have Real Data on Charter Schools?


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Musical Interlude: 260 years of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg Austria on July 27, 1756. Today is his 260th birthday.

Mozart had composed over 600 works by the time he died at the early age of 35. He wrote his first piano piece at the age of 5, his first symphony at age 8, and his first opera when he was 11.

The three pieces below written over a period of 6 years (from age 5 to 11) show an amazing growth and maturity for someone so young.

The Allegro in C, written by a five year old...

...and an entire symphony, albeit a short one, written by an 8 year old...

I'm not a big fan of opera, but this short piece about the recording of Mozart's first opera, Apollo and Hyacinth, gives some interesting facts and displays the beauty of Mozart's music.

Further Reading
  • I wonder how Mozart would have done on his state achievement test...


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Be a Republican – Bust a Union


This was posted today by Chalkbeat Indiana...

Bill to loosen union control of teacher pay moves ahead: Democrats on the House Education Committee and ISTA officials opposed the bill
Lawmakers moved ahead with a bill today that would weaken teachers unions’ control over where teachers are placed on salary scales they negotiate for all teachers.
Unions don't control teacher pay any more than school boards control teacher pay. Collective bargaining in Indiana, even though it was severely limited by the legislature in 2011, still allows teachers and school systems to come to an agreement about teacher pay and benefits based on mutual cooperation. Teachers don't demand and get whatever they want. School boards don't announce and get whatever they want. Collective bargaining means that teachers and school boards work together to agree on what's best for their individual school corporation.

Educational issues that used to be negotiated, like class size or school calendars, are now off the table.
This hurts school systems as much as it does teachers. School systems can no longer offer to compromise class sizes vs. salary increases. Teachers can no longer offer to give up smaller classes for more prep time. Parent conference days, duty schedules, inservice days...none of those things are bargainable any more. That affects the school system's ability to bargain just as much as it does the teachers union.

The bill in question, HB1004, would allow schools and school systems to bypass the collective bargaining process and pay some teachers – those in shortage areas like science and special education – more money than other teachers. The union is against this because
...it circumvents unions and could pit teachers against each other.
It also circumvents school boards...it circumvents the ability of teachers and school boards to cooperate. Schools and school systems work best when everyone works together. This plan is a threat to that cooperation and a way to open up the salary system to all sorts of corruption. Do we really want schools to pay their teachers like sports teams pay their players...so they compete for the high paying jobs, jump ship to another school where they can be the superstar in order to rake in the big dollars, hold out for more money?

Hint: No, we don't. A school works best when the staff works together. Why would an experienced teacher want to help a new teacher who might replace him in his high paying position? Why would a young energetic teacher want to share ideas with an older teacher when they could use their new ideas to take over the high paying job? And who will be the big losers if this happens? The students.
“The heart of the teacher shortage in terms of retention is a professional wage, and these bills don’t address that,” said Gail Zeheralis, the union’s lobbyist. “The consequences of House Bill 1004 will be to foster ill will in districts and buildings.”
Teachers unions have been a regular target for Republican lawmakers in recent years. Other bills introduced in the last two years would allow all teachers to individually negotiate their contracts
Before 2010 Superintendents were anxious for the legislature to weaken ISTA. In 2011, they did. Republican legislators have been happy to go along because first, Republicans hate unions, and second, because Republicans have had trouble supporting public education and the ISTA has rarely (though not never) supported them. Even now, when you look at who is getting the benefits from the governor's office and the legislature, it's private schools (through bills geared towards increasing the state's already expansive voucher plan) and privately owned charter schools – because privatization donors are buying the Republican party in Indiana just like they are elsewhere. Public schools, while they enroll the vast majority of students in the state, are the last ones the legislature wants to help. Public schools don't bring in the campaign donations.

In other words, this bill has nothing to do with keeping teachers in the classroom or encouraging more young people to enter the teaching profession. It has nothing to do with improving instruction or helping struggling students. This bill, like so many others from Indiana's supermajority Republican legislature, is politically motivated. It's plain, old-fashioned, union busting.