"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.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 15, 2018

American Selfishness: Sabotaging Our Own Future.

THE CURRENT OUTRAGE

The government of the United States appears to be in chaos. The citizens of the United States are in an uproar. The U.S.-based broadcast media is reaping the benefits of its self-invented short-attention-span news cycle.

It seems insignificant, then, to focus on something as mundane as "where will we be in 20 years" or whether our leaders 30 years hence be able to guide us through a crisis. It's much more exciting to focus on the latest outrage from Washington which, at the moment, is the President's 's**thole countries' comment.

Eventually, however, this outrage will morph into the next outrage...and we will turn our attention back to the day to day. We'll go back to work, selling goods, providing services, or, in the case of America's public school teachers, supporting every child who enters our classrooms. It won't matter where they or their ancestors came from. It won't matter what problems they bring with them. We accept them all.

As teachers, we know the importance of every child. We understand that we are educating the citizens of tomorrow. The classrooms we work in today hold the first responders, doctors, teachers, and leaders of the future. Every national, state, or municipal leader in America is someone's child, and the majority of those children grew up attending public schools.

"I BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE"

It would seem logical, then, for us to recognize that the children in our public schools are the key to the future of our nation. It would seem logical that we would do everything in our power to provide all of them with the best education we can – for the common good. The nation's future depends on the quality of our leaders, and our leaders of tomorrow are sitting in our classrooms today.

Unfortunately, not all humans are logical.

Nations with high achieving schools, such as Finland, secure their future by investing heavily in education. They focus on equity...providing for all the needs of all their children. The small number of Finnish children who live in poverty (less than 5%) also have free medical care and other national safety nets to support them as they grow.

But here in the U.S. (child poverty rate – greater than 20%) we tend to focus more of our attention and more of our investment on rich children than poor children (See HERE and HERE). That might be good for our rich children, but with the increase in economic inequity in the U.S. and the removal of the few social safety nets we have, we're shortchanging a greater and greater percentage of our children.

WHY ARE WE IGNORING THE MAJORITY OF AMERICAN CHILDREN?

We're hurting ourselves and our future because we're so focused on those in power getting the most for themselves (and money equals power, so those with money get the "best" for their children), keeping poor kids poor, keeping black and brown kids poor, and keeping black and brown kids in separate schools. We're writing off a huge percentage of American children...among whom may be the people we need to lead us through the problems of the 21st century.

And for some reason...we just don't care. Oh, individually we might, and for sure, politicians will give lip service to "better education" and "opportunity for all." But as a nation? No, we don't care about public schools – at least not as much as we care about the Super Bowl, the new iPhone, our Facebook profile, getting as much for ourselves as we can...etc.

Can We Be Serious?
Poverty and racism and pedagogy and curriculum and standards and infrastructure and a plethora of threads tied up to the question "Why can't we make our schools better?" But if we dig past all of these, we get to a fairly simple answer.

As a country, we aren't serious about it.

SEGREGATION: SCHOOLS FOR THE WEALTHY, SCHOOLS FOR THE POOR

What would wealthy parents do if their children went to school and had to spend the day with their coats on because the heat didn't work on the coldest day of the year?

Right...we all know that would never happen. We all know that we wouldn't allow schools for the wealthy to be in such disrepair. Schools for the wealthy don't have to choose between support staff and heat. They don't have to choose between a well stocked library and toilet paper.

But, when the children attending the school are low income children, now a majority in America's public schools...and mostly children of color...there doesn't seem to be enough money to take care of building maintenance that children of the wealthy would never have to worry about. Low income children are the children who are exposed to lead in their drinking water. Low income children are the children whose schools don't have libraries or trained librarians. Can you imagine a school for wealthy children having the same problems?

‘Kids are freezing’: Amid bitter cold, Baltimore schools, students struggle
Jeffrey San Filippo, a teacher at Calverton Elementary/Middle School, said that when he arrived at work Tuesday morning, the building was “extremely cold.” Later in the morning, the temperature in his classroom was in the mid-40s. After lunch, students gathered in the cafeteria to finish the day “because the classrooms were entirely too cold,” he said.

Students were wearing gloves and winter coats, San Filippo said. Some called their parents and asked to go home.

“I think this really just shows Baltimore City’s facilities have been underfunded for years, and this is what happens when you have a cold spell,” he said. “The boilers can’t keep up, and students are made to suffer.”

A fact/reality check on Gov. Hogan's Baltimore schools claims
Years of deferred maintenance projects left city school students shivering in classrooms with temperatures below 50 degrees — again. This news is not exactly, well, news. Six years ago, I was also a Baltimore City teacher forced to decide between upholding the uniform policy (no coats or hats!) or letting students freeze in my classroom. It was precisely the necessity of purchasing my own space-heaters or copy paper or books that pushed me to leave the classroom and commit to ensuring resource equity through education finance innovation.

SELFISHNESS: SELF SABOTAGE

Why are other countries able to take care of all their children...to prepare properly for the future...but we're not?

Simple...it's good old American selfishness. "I've got mine and if you don't have yours it's not my problem."

This is the individual equivalent of "America First." We're going to close the door on immigrants because whatever's happening to their country isn't our problem. People fleeing from war, famine, and disease...not our problem.

It's how we do things in the U.S. My kid goes to the best school in the state. Your kid's school has no heat, no books, no toilet paper? Not my problem. The new tax law...which provides for the permanent well being of the corporate sector, but expires for the middle class and low income Americans...is an example of this. The wealthy have theirs...if you don't have any, too bad, but it's not my problem.

We're living through a national epidemic of selfishness and stupidity.

As Jim Wright at Stonekettle station said,
“Fuck you, I got mine” is a lousy ideology to build civilization on.
We're too selfish...too stupid...to understand that what happens to my neighbor has an impact on me. What happens to the poor in America, has an impact on all of us. What happens in "s**thole countries" has an impact on the United States. To think otherwise is to live in ignorance and displays a monumental lack of foresight.

It seems we would rather sabotage our own future than help others.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Medley #1

Shortchanging Our Children and our Future,
Retention-in-Grade, Struggling Readers,
Why Teachers Quit, Chalkbeat

SHORTCHANGING OUR CHILDREN...AND OUR FUTURE

Missing an S for Science in the STEM Frenzy

Like other aspects of America's infrastructure, our public education system is being systematically dismantled. We're shortchanging the future of the nation by not providing a full curriculum for all our students.
Two in 5 schools don’t offer physics! In both Alaska and Oklahoma, about 70 percent of high schools don’t offer the course. Florida and Utah are close behind, with nearly 60 percent of high schools lacking physics. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Maine do much better, with only about 15 percent of schools not offering the subject.

Small schools are hurt worse, raising questions about the quality of science instruction in charter schools.

Ninety percent of America’s kids attend public schools, so dwindling science instruction is troubling. But it’s not surprising. Defunding public education is intentional, meant to transform schools into technology hubs—charters for the poor.

What message are we sending to the future?

RETENTION-IN-GRADE

Held back, but not helped

Yet another state discovers that retention-in-grade doesn't help students.

Louisiana is one of the states where you have to pass a test to move on to the next grade (in fourth and ninth grades). After a retention rate of around 25%, they've found that the process doesn't really help.

Retention is a problem that even educators contribute to...not just legislatures, school boards, or politicians. It's true that the legislatures and politicians are the ones who pass the "third grade punishment" laws (fourth grade in Louisiana), but rarely do teachers or administrators object beyond the "we need to make those decisions" stage. Those voices shouting "retention-in-grade doesn't work" are drowned out by the crowd shouting "we have to do something" followed by "what else can we do?" And therein lies the problem.

Teachers can't solve the problem of retention-in-grade on their own. Retention is ineffective as a method of remediation, as is passing a child to the next grade without any intervention. Intervention takes time and costs money.

States should stop wasting millions on testing, and, instead, spend that money on remediation. Struggling students need extra help, not another year doing the same thing over again. Research has repeatedly shown that intensive intervention works...but it costs money.

Only when we decide that our children are worth the cost will we be able to provide the education that each child needs.
Students who fell short were assigned mandatory summer-school classes, after which they took the test again. If that second attempt wasn’t successful, students couldn’t move on to fifth or ninth grade. The practice of retention in Louisiana also extended beyond the high-stakes grades. In 2015-16, more than one-third of all retained students were from grades K-3. In that same year, 10 percent of all ninth graders were held back. In a presentation a few years ago, a top education-department administrator, Chief of Literacy Kerry Laster, wrote, “We retain students despite overwhelming research and practical evidence that retention fails to lead to improved student outcomes.” Laster’s presentation, based on 2010 data, reported that 28 percent of Louisiana students did not make it to fourth grade on time.


WHY TEACHERS QUIT

Why Good Teachers Quit Teaching

Teachers are leaving the profession faster than they're entering. The non-educators in statehouses and legislatures are forcing teachers to do things that are not educationally sound. This has been going on for too long.

In what other profession do outsiders dictate practice? Who tells your attorney how to practice law? Who tells your plumber how to fix a leak? Who tells your doctor how to diagnose an illness?

Let teachers teach.
Bonnie D. left after 30 years of teaching because she felt the system was no longer acting in the best interest of all students. “Everything became all about passing the ‘almighty test,'” she says. “Decisions were made by the administrators to concentrate only on those students who could perform well. Call me old fashioned, but I always did my best to reach and teach every student in my room, not simply the ones who had the best chance of passing a test.”

In addition, many teachers worry about the effect high-stakes testing has on kids. “Sometimes tests coincide with a bad day,” Michelle S. tells us, “or a day when a student is just not feeling it. That is an incredible amount of stress on kids—especially those classified as ‘bubble kids.'”


Why It’s So Hard to Be a Teacher Right Now

Many legislatures are still relying on test scores to tell them which schools are "good" and which are "failing." That continued stress, added to the attitude out of the U.S. Education Department that public schools are a "dead end" means that being a teacher is not getting easier.
...test-prep stressors haven’t gone away, Weingarten says they started to abate late in 2015 when President Obama signed into law an act that gave states more power to determine public school curricula without the threat of federal penalties tied to standardized test scores. “There was hope things would get better,” she says.

But then a new source of stress emerged: the 2016 election, and President Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos to the post of Education Secretary. DeVos is a prominent charter-school advocate, and at times has been highly critical of America’s public schools. (She once said America’s public schools are “a dead end.”)

CHALKBEAT'S GREAT AMERICAN TEACH-OFF

Watch Out Padma, Here Comes Chalkbeat!

Chalkbeat accepts money from the forces of DPE (Destroy Public Education) such as the Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Anschutz Foundation, EdChoice, and the Walton Family Foundation. They claim that their supporters (complete list here) don't impact their editorial decisions.
Here's what I do know--teaching is not a competition. It's not a reality show. If it were a reality show, it would be judged by experts like Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris. The thing is neither of them would deign to participate in an exercise like this one by reformy Chalkbeat. More likely it will be an exercise in determining who can best read the Moskowitz Academy Scripted Lesson Plan, or who can make the Most Kids Pass the Test, or some other reformy nonsense.

I'm personally offended that Chalkbeat deems itself worthy of judging teachers. I've been reading Chalkbeat since it started. I rate it biased, reformy, ineffective, and totally unqualified to understand our jobs, let alone judge our work. We do not cook meals. We do not just do test prep. We deal with real people, and they have many more layers than the artichokes they prepared three ways on Top Chef last week.


A QUICK PEEK

There are always many more articles I'd like to post than I have room for (I try to keep the Medleys to between 4 and 8 articles). Here, then, are some that I recommend...without comments.

When Readers Struggle: Background Knowledge

This is the first in a series on struggling readers by Russ Walsh. As of Jan 7, there is a second post, When Readers Struggle: Oral Language
Whenever I ask a group of teachers to identify areas that seem to cause difficulty for struggling readers, lack of background knowledge is sure to be near the top of the list.

Liking Those We Don’t Like: The Dissonance Involved with Supporting Public Schools
It’s one of the most exasperating issues for parents and educators, but education goes relatively unmentioned in each campaign.

We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does.
Is your district drawing borders to reduce or perpetuate racial segregation?

American kids are 70 percent more likely to die before adulthood than kids in other rich countries
A new study ranks 20 wealthy countries on childhood deaths. The US comes in last.

Lawmakers want more research before they spend big on preschool. When it comes to vouchers, there’s no such hesitation.
Lawmakers have demanded lots of proof to determine whether preschool helps kids...

Yet they’ve requested no long-term study of another similarly designed, tuition support program — vouchers for private schools...

The Lasting Payoff of Early Ed
The benefits of early education are found to persist for years, bolstering graduation, reducing retention, and reducing special education placements.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Resolution #4: Do Something

The last in a series of resolutions for 2018...

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #4
  • Speak out for public education.


FIND YOUR VOICE

Now that you've educated yourself about public education and have learned what the forces of DPE (Destroy Public Education) are doing to privatize schooling and end public education, what can you do about it?

You can speak out.

Find your voice. Become a vocal supporter of, and activist for, public education.

WHO GETS HEARD?

Example 1: Have you ever seen a news show on the topic of public education? Who are the "experts" frequently brought on to discuss "what's wrong with our schools?" They are...
  • Lawyers
  • Businessmen
  • Politicians and other policy makers
  • Pundits
Who is often missing from those discussions?
  • Teachers
  • Parents
Example 2: Take a quick look at the history of the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education. Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary, has never attended a public school. She never worked in a public school. Her children never attended a public school. Yet, she is responsible for policy affecting the 90% of American children who attend public schools.

And she's not the first unqualified person to have that position.


There have been eleven U.S. Secretaries of Education. Only three of the eleven had training and experience in K-12 education. A few were public school students as children, but for most of them, that's the extent of their public school experience.

Add your voice to the voices supporting public education. The voice of public education is rarely heard by non-educators and the general public. Public education needs voices to compete with billionaire privatizers like Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad. Public education needs voices to compete with political privatizers like (in Indiana) Bob Behning and Dennis Kruse.

Public education needs your voice. Speak out on behalf of your students/children and local public schools.

TELL YOUR STORY

Parents (and grandparents) and teachers (active and retired) are the most important voice in public education. We are the ones who know public education the best. We are the ones who are involved in the schools every day of the school year. We are the ones who see the drain that vouchers and charter schools have on our neighborhood schools. We are the ones who see the loss of programs, the increase in class sizes, and the negative impact that the overuse and misuse of testing has on children and adults.

Tell your story. Tell the stories of the children in your classroom. Tell the stories of your children at home. Let the public know what's happening to our schools.

MAKE SURE YOUR VOICE IS HEARD

You already know what to do...
  • Write to your legislators. Once you know the issues, tell your legislators how you feel about what they're doing.
  • Call and visit your legislators and tell them how you feel about that they're doing.
Indiana residents use the links below to find your legislators.

State Legislators

United States Representative

United States Senate
  • Educate your friends, family, and neighbors.
  • Promote public education and supporters of public education on Social Media.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Write to national newspapers. Start your own blog and write about public education.
  • Join with others in your city, county, or state who are working to support public education.
  • Let your local school board members know about your concerns for public education.
  • Testify at state legislative committee meetings and state school board meetings.
  • Work for candidates who promise to support public education. Once they're elected, hold them to their promises.
  • Run for public office.
Family and work responsibilities might restrict what you can do. Personal finances might restrict what you can do. Physical limitations might restrict what you can do. But, everyone can do something.

Once you have the knowledge, teach others.

Do Something.


YOU ARE THE VOICE FOR STUDENTS
  • Vote. Make sure you're registered.
Indiana voters, you can register (registration deadline, April 8, 2018) or check your registration online, here: Indiana Voter Portal
  • Vote for candidates who support public education.
  • Vote for candidates who support public education in every primary and regular election.
  • Vote for candidates who support public education in every primary and regular election, during off-year elections as well as every four years.
  • Vote.
You are the political voice for your students/children.

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #1
  • Read aloud to your children/students every day.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #2
  • Teach your students, not "The Test."
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #3
  • Educate yourself.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #4
  • Speak out for public education

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Resolution #3: Educate Yourself

A series of resolutions for 2018...

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #3
  • Educate yourself.

BUT I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TIME

Teachers are overworked and overstressed. Often teachers go home after a difficult day at school and spend an hour or two on planning, assessing student work, or on piles of mostly meaningless paperwork.

A few hours later, after a rushed meal, minimal time with family, and a night of not-enough-sleep, it starts over again.

Weekends are a bit better...time to catch up on everything.

It's no surprise, then, that teachers feel like they don't have time to find out what's happening in the politics of public education. They only know that it seems like each year there are more and more restrictions on what and how they can teach, more tests for their students, fewer resources, and larger classes.

Meanwhile, the forces of DPE (Destroy Public Education) continue to move forward increasing funding for charter schools and unaccountable voucher schools by diverting public money from public schools.


THE ARGUMENT FOR EDUCATING YOURSELF

Make the time.

I know...I'm retired. I don't have to get up and face a classroom of kids every day. It's easy for me to say. I get it.

But things have changed since I retired. I can write letters and blog posts, and argue with legislators in support of public education and public educators, but I'm out of date. A lot has changed since I last had my own classroom in 2010. I don't know what today's classrooms are like in your school.

Teachers, this is your profession, and it consists of more than just the time you spend with your students. I would ask you to think of time spent educating yourself about what's happening in education as one part of your professional development.

The political world of public education will
  • affect your students and your children, if you have any, as they progress through school
  • affect you and your economic status while you're working and in retirement
  • affect how many more years you will be able to teach
  • affect how large your class sizes are
  • affect your academic freedom
  • affect what you teach, how you teach, and how often your students have to pause their learning to take a standardized test.
Right now, legislators, most of whom haven't set foot in a classroom since they were students, are making decisions which will affect you, your students, and your classroom.

This is your profession. You owe it to yourself, your students, your future students, and your community, to educate yourself. Be the lifelong learner you wish to see in your students.

[If you're not a teacher, you owe it to yourself, your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, and students of the community, to educate yourself. What happens to public education affects your children – and all of the above – and your community.]


WHERE TO START

Here are some places to start (feel free to add more in the comments)...

Read Books (in no particular order)

Read Blogs (in no particular order)

Listen to Podcasts


NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #1
  • Read aloud to your children/students every day.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #2
  • Teach your students, not "The Test."
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #3
  • Educate yourself.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #4
  • Speak out for public education


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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Resolution #2: Teach Your Students, Not "The Test"

A series of resolutions for 2018...

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #2
  • Teach your students, not "The Test."


NO, DON'T TEACH TO THE TEST

I taught third grade in the mid-1970s. At that time the State of Indiana didn't require standardized testing for evaluation of teachers or promotion of third graders. Nevertheless, my school system used standardized tests in grades three, six, eight, and ten. The purpose of the test was to see how our students were progressing, and to diagnose any specific problems. Oh, and we were specifically told by the administration not to teach to the test. It just wasn't professional!

When the results came back (always within a couple of weeks) we were able to see how each of our students was doing in particular areas, and plan our instruction accordingly.

10 years later, Indiana started the ISTEP. We were still told to remain professional and not to teach to the test.

YES, TEACH TO THE TEST

In 2001 everything changed. No Child Left Behind shifted the attention from students to test scores. No longer were we told not to teach to the tests. Teaching to the tests was now encouraged because, of course, the test covered everything the students needed to learn (No, it didn't). The school's success depended on the test scores. Individual students were only important insofar as they contributed to the success of the school. It was time to teach so that test scores rose. Nothing else mattered. Teach test taking skills. Teach test-like questions. Teach skills the students wouldn't normally get to until later in the year because it will be on the test. Focus on the "bubble" kids. Why are you teaching kids about dinosaurs...it's not on the test!

WHY NOT TEACH TO THE TEST?

What happens when you teach to the test, instead of teaching to your students' needs?

1a. It skews the curriculum.

When you spend your day (or most of it) teaching to the test, other content gets lost. Elementary teachers, especially, teach all subjects. If, in a 6 or 7 hour instructional day, most of the instruction is how to take a test and drilling on presumed test content, then there won't be much time left for non-tested content such as social studies, science, health, or read aloud (see Resolution #1). If the goal of public education is a well-rounded education, then a well-rounded curriculum is the logical route to take. Focusing only on test content is not the way to get there. FairTest says,
High-stakes testing often results in a narrow focus on teaching just the tested material (test preparation). Other content in that subject as well as untested subjects such as social studies, art and music are cut back or eliminated. High-stakes testing also produces score inflation: scores go up, but students have not learned more. Their scores are lower even on a different standardized test. This undermines the meaning of test results as well as education.

1b. It redirects a teacher from curriculum-teaching to item-teaching (aka it skews the curriculum).

Testing expert James Popham defines this as follows...
In item-teaching, teachers organize their instruction either around the actual items found on a test or around a set of look-alike items...

Curriculum-teaching, however, requires teachers to direct their instruction toward a specific body of content knowledge or a specific set of cognitive skills represented by a given test...In curriculum-teaching, a teacher targets instruction at test-represented content rather than at test items.


1c. It creates a one-size-fits-all curriculum instead of allowing teachers to focus on students’ individual interests and abilities (aka it skews the curriculum).

It forces teachers to focus on state (or national) standards instead of the needs of his/her students. Standards are important, but sometimes individual students need something else.

1d. It excludes the affective domain (aka it skews the curriculum).

A child is more than a reading and/or math test score. The school day, and instruction, should reflect that. A well-rounded curriculum includes the arts, civics, play, and other content.

2. It promotes convergent, rather than divergent thinking – excludes higher order thinking skills.

How much creativity is extinguished by focusing on one right answer? How is problem-solving improved?

3. It makes the test an end in itself, instead of a means to an end.

Not all students learn at the same rate. Some students take longer. When a standardized test-based curriculum is forced on a classroom there will be some students who aren't ready for some of the content. This is why many states have required the educationally unsound practice of in-grade retention to punish third graders who cannot pass the test.

Instead of a test-based curriculum or in-grade retention, students should receive high quality instruction and, when needed, intervention using best practices at their instructional level.

Student learning, not a test score, should be the goal of education.

4. When teachers are evaluated by test scores, it incentivizes a conflict of interest.

Ethical and professional problems can occur when a teacher's livelihood is dependent upon student achievement.


New Year's resolution #2 depends, of course, on where and what you teach. It might be easy for one teacher (an art or foreign language teacher, for example) not to teach to the test, since there aren't state required tests for all subject areas. English and Math teachers might have more difficulty. If you're a classroom teacher who is forced to "teach the test" you'll have to adjust this resolution to meet your own circumstances.

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #1
  • Read aloud to your children/students every day.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #2
  • Teach your students, not "The Test."
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #3
  • Educate yourself.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION #4
  • Speak out for public education


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