"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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Zen of Public Schools

Zen master D.T. Suzuki is quoted as saying that "before studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. While studying Zen, things become confused and men are mountains and mountains are men. After studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains."

In the public schools, if you're merely looking in from the outside, you might observe that teachers are teachers and learners are learners. If you dig a little deeper, though, you see that teachers are learners and learners are teachers.

It's true. A good teacher never stops learning and good teachers learn from their students. The true test of a "master" teacher is the understanding that no one ever becomes a "master" teacher. By definition (at least my definition), a master teacher is one who has "mastered" the art of teaching. Since education is an ever-changing field, and since every student needs something a little bit different, teaching, as an activity, can never be mastered. That's as it should be. Once education becomes static intellectual growth ends.

One of my goals as an educator is to have my students learn how to learn. Thus they become their own teachers and once again teachers are teachers and learners are learners.

There is another dichotomy in public education. That is, the people who know about teaching and learning do not have much input into what needs to be taught and how the education should proceed. People who know next to nothing about education are often the ones who make the important decisions affecting schools. Public schools are run by the "public." In general this means politicians.

One needs only look at the state legislature battles (pick a state...any state) to see what damage this does. It is the legislators who decide how much money the schools get, what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught. It seems as if everyone considers himself an expert at education because he attended school at one time or another.

In Indiana money is doled out to school systems by means of a complicated funding formula. This determines how much each school system and ultimately each school will get. I don't claim to understand how the funding works...it's way above my math abilities, however, I do know that it's not enough.

It's not enough because the state wants public schools to be, as Bill Moyers put it, "the permanent emergency rooms of our country's dysfunctional social order. They are expected to compensate for what families, communities, and culture fail to do."

Social scientists, politicians, parents, the media, even many educators believe there's a "crisis" in education - especially in the public schools. I don't think that's true. I think the crisis is in society and since no one wants to take responsibility for the enormous inequities in our society, it is blamed on the public schools.

The obsession with testing is so that schools will be "accountable" to the greater society. Where is the society's accountability, though? Why is it that we can spend billions of dollars on a contrived war, and ignore the "economy gap" in our society? Why is it that educators have to accept No Child Left Behind to eliminate the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and local, state and national governments don't have to accept the "soft bigotry of urban neglect?"

There is an achievement gap in our society, but it's not in schools. The real achievement gaps are:

  • the gap between what our leaders say they will do and what they do

  • the gap between what we as a society value, and what we are willing to spend to get it

  • the gap between what we're willing to spend to "promote democracy" around the world and what we're willing to spend to equalize our democracy at home


  • BTW, after making the statement about men and mountains Dr. Suzuki was asked "What is the difference between before and after?" His reply was "No difference - only the feet are a little bit off the ground."

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    No Family Left Behind

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 12:00 AM

    Snohomish County opinion

    The No Family Left Behind Amendment
    By Richard Slettvet

    "The relationship between SES [socioeconomic status] and achievement was consistent across all 20 countries. Students with highest levels of SES, as measured in this study, had an educational advantage over their lowest SES counterparts. This reinforces the associations previously documented in the literature both in the United States and abroad between SES and student educational achievement."
    — U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, April 2006)


    WASHINGTON — Acknowledging the role that families play in the educational success of their children, Congress today enacted the No Family Left Behind (NFLB) Amendment to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.

    The NFLB will increase standards of accountability for Congress and the president to ensure that all families achieve high socioeconomic status (SES). Congressional districts that fail to achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) will be subject to corrective action.

    Key provisions of the NFLB follow:

    " In all 20 countries, 15-years-olds who live in a two-parent household have higher mathematics literacy achievement, on average, than those students who live in non-two-parent families (NCES)."

    Congress and the president shall take action to ensure that all students live in a two-parent household. Students in congressional districts that fail to make AYP will be given the opportunity to transfer, at government expense, to the two-parent family of their choice.

    " ... having parents of high occupational status is associated with higher student mathematics literacy performance on average in all 20 countries included in the study (NCES.)"

    Congress and the president shall develop economic and trade policies to ensure that all parents have jobs with high occupational status. For congressional districts that fail to make AYP, the government shall provide low-occupational-status parents with training for and employment as brain surgeons, chief executive officers, professional athletes or supermodels.

    " There are clear educational achievement disadvantages to receiving instruction in a language that is different from the one spoken at home ... (NCES)."

    English shall be spoken in the homes of all students attending public schools. Establishment of the Homeland English Language Police (HELP) to enforce this portion of the law is herein authorized.

    Highly qualified elected officials

    All members of Congress are required to pass the high-school exit exam in their respective states. Elected officials failing to pass the exam shall be labeled "not highly qualified" and will not be permitted to use the congressional cafeteria or barber shop, or to vote on any issue involving education, the economy or stem-cell research.

    Any president who is unable to correctly pronounce "nuclear" shall be denied access to nuclear weapons.

    Any member of Congress who asserts that the Earth is only 10,000 years old shall be required to hike the Grand Canyon, rim to river, carrying the thighbone of a T-Rex, until he or she has an epiphany.

    Other

    Congress will report SES statistics by social, ethnic, racial, religious, political party, IQ, hobby, and favorite reality-TV-show subgroup. Congressional districts that do not meet AYP for two consecutive years for any subgroup cited above will be identified "in need of improvement." Congressional districts that consistently underperform may be contracted out to the private sector.

    Richard Slettvet is a special-education teacher working in the Edmonds School District.
    Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Sick of NCLB

    I got an email this morning from an old friend and former college roommate who has been an educator for more than thirty years. He has spent his professional life in public education, trying to help kids make the transition to adulthood, doing his best to change things for the better. He has been a teacher, administrator, and now, a superintendent. We haven't always seen eye to eye on educational issues, but we do agree that what we do with our students while they're in school will determine not just their futures, but the future of our nation.

    In his email he told me that he was sick of complaining about NCLB and was hoping that a change in administration will change the direction education has taken in the last 5 years. He said that I was preaching to the choir with him and that he agreed with what I had to say.

    Well...I'm sick of complaining about NCLB, too...but I'm even more sick of watching it damage students and teachers, destroy schools and school systems, weaken public schools in general, and misrepresent what is happening in the public schools of the United States.

    I wish I could believe that a change in administration would change the course of public education in the US, but I believe that the errors of NCLB go much further than the current administration. The errors of NCLB go to the very nature of the economic and social culture of the US.

    No child left behind is the logical outgrowth of the now discredited report "A Nation at Risk." It is no mistake that the errors in that report were quashed by the Reagan administration.* Yet the myths of that era were embraced by the nation by Democrats as well. Bill Clinton was just as eager to develop a "national curruculum" as the Republicans. His administration was just as quick to call for the grade retention of students who didn't pass "the test" as the Republicans. He was just as willing to use standardized testing as the benchmark from which all school results are gathered and compared as are the Republicans.

    We don't have the luxury of being sick of complaining about NCLB. The students who are under our care are being damaged right now. If we sit back and wait for things to change who will be the voice of the students who are being pushed to drop out so their low test scores won't effect AYP? Who will be the voice of the 5 year olds who are being drilled and killed so they can improve their DIBELS scores?

    If not us, who? If not now, when?

    * See Gerald Bracey's "The 10th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education"
    http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbra0010.htm

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    One Thin Thread

    by Brady Dennis

    Jerrick Blue was 6 months old when social workers placed him in the care of his aunt, Patricia Blue.

    His mother, Jerothea, who battled mental problems and once was arrested after chasing a neighbor with a knife, never again played a role in his life. She died in 1996.

    Aunt Pat, a short, round woman who worked nights as a nurse at Tampa General Hospital, raised Jerrick as her own.

    She toted him to church and made him take out the trash. She made him go to school, get regular haircuts and wear clean clothes. She taught him to answer questions with "ma'am" and "sir."

    She shielded him from the darker side of his family, the relatives who lived in sketchy neighborhoods near Ybor City. She told Jerrick that working held more honor than stealing. She hammered home the dangers of selling drugs. . .

    Read the rest at the following link. Read it...you need to.

    http://www.sptimes.com/2006/10/22/Floridian/One_thin_thread.shtml

    Monday, October 9, 2006

    A Must Read - Jonathan Kozol

    If you're like me you skipped my last posting (yes, I wrote it, but never read it...too long) since it was too long and dry. It didn't have anything in it but the oft-repeated "what's wrong with NCLB." Most people I talk to are tired of me ranting about it all the time.

    One nice thing, though is the list of References I put at the end. In it you'll find enough proof that the National Reading Panel was a political entity more interested in pleasing the anti-public education forces than in improving schools, and that NCLB is slowly but surely killing our system of public education.

    I realize that not everyone will be interested in reading those books, but there is one book that you should read if:

    1. you ever had, currently have or will have children or grandchildren in the public schools of the US
    2. you have ever worked or will work in the public schools of the US
    3. you pay taxes that support the public schools of the US
    4. you are anyone else

    The book is
    The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol (2005). Crown Publishers. New York.

    The first thing you should look at when you get the book are the appendices.

    The first appendix shows the per pupil spending in public schools in six metro areas. As you would expect, the spending for rich, white kids is 30-100% more than for poor black kids. This is important information if for no other reason than to answer the people who say "You can't fix schools by throwing money at them." Hey...it works for the rich, white kids.

    On a deeper level, though, it shows what is really wrong with the public schools in the US: They are trying to function in a society that allows extreme poverty and racism. The problem with public schools is not the schools...but the world in which they are situated.

    Poor kids are often born into literacy-free environments where there are no books, no respect for learning and not too much conversation either. By the time they're five and ready to start kindergarten they are already way behind their wealthier peers. Minimal help has been provided by pre-schools like Head Start, but that program has been slashed by the current administration. What used to be a good program which reached only a small number of children who needed it is now a good program which reaches only a
    TINY number of children who need it.

    When you read Kozol's book he'll show you how the Civil Rights movement of the 60's led to integrated schools in various places around the country. He'll also show you how those schools were successful in closing the black/white achievement gap. Finally, he'll show you how we have lost nearly all of that to re-segregated school systems...worse than before in many places.

    Two years ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education (which outlawed "separate, but equal" education). The irony is that since that time we have tried integrated schools, found that they worked to educate
    all children, and then, because it was socially difficult, gave it up. We now live in a country which segregates its children racially, ethnically and economically more than ever.

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    No child left behind-Wikipedia

    WARNING: This is too long. If you don't like to read rants by an old man skip it and wait for the next.

    After reading the entry at...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_child_left_behind

    ...as Roger suggested, I would like to add my 2 cents to the list of reasons the law is inadequate and, in fact, harmful to children.

    For the obsessive-compulsive among you I have also posted references...but no page numbers. You'll have to find those yourself. I may be working half time, but I don't want to spend my extra moments researching.

    1. Introduces an element of accountability into public school education and the expenditure of public funds for education.

    Already in place by the states before NCLB

    2. Links State academic content standards with student outcomes.

    Already in place by the states before NCLB

    3. Requires schools and districts to focus their attention on the academic achievement of traditionally under-served groups of children, such as low-income students, students with disabilities, and Blacks and Latinos. Many previous state-created systems of accountability only measured average school performance, allowing schools to be highly rated even if they had large achievement gaps between affluent and disadvantaged students.

    The reality is that these disadvantaged students are being left further behind by the obsessive focus on testing...since we know that the only thing that correlates positively with standardized testing is income.

    4. Supports early literacy through the Early Reading First initiative.

    This is the same initiative that has been wrought with scandal and fixes for publishers who are friends of the Bushies.

    http://www.susanohanian.org/show_research.html?id=128
    http://www.susanohanian.org/show_research.html?id=129
    http://www.districtadministration.com/pulse/commentpost.aspx?news=no&postid=17185

    5. Increases the quality of education. Schools are required to improve their performance under NCLB by implementing "scientifically based research" practices in the classroom, parent involvement programs, and professional development activities.

    Scientifically based research practices are based on the National Reading Panel's report...a report so filled with errors that the only teacher on the panel wrote a rebuttal which appeared in the final report.

    Among other errors from the NRP is the fact that the summary of the report in the "small book" is NOT the same as the information in full report.

    6. Establishes the foundation for schools and school districts to significantly enhance parental involvement and improved administration through the use of the assessment data to drive decisions on instruction, curriculum and business practices.

    What?

    7. Measures student performance: a student's progress in reading and math must be measured annually in grades 3 through 8 and at least once during high school via standardized tests.

    It measures the students' ability to take tests and is as reliable as their zip codes. Period.

    8. Emphasizes reading, writing, math and science achievement through a number of "core academic subjects" that include subjects as diverse as algebra and art.

    All over the country non-tested subjects like art, music, and social studies are being neglected to provide more time for drill.

    9. Provides information for parents by requiring states and school districts to give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts explaining the school's AYP performance. Schools must also inform parents when their child is being taught by a teacher or para-professional who does not meet "highly qualified" requirements.

    Yes it does this, but the info in the report card is nearly all based on standardized tests which only shows how well students do on standardized tests...and how much money their parents make.

    10. Gives options to students enrolled in schools failing to meet AYP. If a school fails to meet AYP targets two or more years running, the school must offer eligible children the chance to transfer to higher-performing local schools, receive free tutoring, or attend after-school programs.

    ...and then the school which was "failing" gets less money to improve.

    ...and who gets to transfer? In New York and Chicago (for example), less than 1% of eligible students were able to transfer because of overcrowding.

    Also...the definition of a failing school is debatable...in Florida, for example, it is possible for a school to be rated "A" by the state and yet still be labeled "failing" by NCLB.


    11. Gives school districts the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency, even for subgroups that do not meet State minimum achievement (AYP) standards, through a process called "safe harbor," a precursor to growth-based or value-added assessments.

    It punishes school districts for having students stay in school. The so-called Texas miracle orchestrated by Rod Paige, Bush's first Secretary of Education, was based on students being pushed out of school after 9th grade if they could not pass the tests, and by actual cheating on the tests by school systems. Guess who took no responsibility whatsoever for either of these activities.

    12. Increases flexibility to state and local agencies in the use of federal education money.

    Yes.

    13. Provides more resources to schools. Federal funding for education has increased 59.8% from 2000 to 2003.

    Reduces funding for schools which need it most.

    14. Seeks to narrow class and racial gaps in school performance by creating common expectations for all.

    This is another way in which the most at-risk students are hurt by NCLB. It assumes that "one size fits all," which is not true. With the wide diversity among students there is a need for alternative assessments and expectations based on reason and sound educational practices. The gap between the academic achievement of children in poverty and children of the middle class and wealthy has increased since NCLB was introduced.

    Furthermore, the percentage of children in poverty has grown under the Bush administration. This Compassionate Conservatism is ravaging the families of the poor.

    15. Addresses widespread perceptions that public education results fall short of expectations.

    It guarantees that all public schools in the USA will, eventually be failing schools by requiring a statistically impossible goal of 100% of students passing "the test" be reached by 2014.

    REFERENCES

    Allington, Richard (2002). Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Bracey, Gerald (2004). Setting the Record Straight. Portsmouth NH, Heinemann

    Coles, Gerald (2003). Reading The Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation and Lies. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Emery, Kathy, and Ohanian, Susan (2004). Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Garan, Elaine (2002). Resisting Reading Mandates: How to Triumph with the Truth. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Graves, Donald (2002). Testing is Not Teaching. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kohn, Alfie, and Shannon, Patrick (2002). Education, Inc. Turning Learning into a Business. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kohn, Alfie (2000). The Case Against Standardized Testing. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann

    Kozol, Jonathan (2005). The Shame of the Nation. New York. Crown

    Meier, Deborah, et.al (2004). Many Children Left Behind. Boston. Beacon Press

    Ohanian, Susan (2002). What Happened to Recess and Why are our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? New York. McGraw-Hill.

    Ohanian, Susan (1999). One Size Fits Few. Portsmouth NH. Heinemann

    The Testing Trap

    The tests are over for another year. The fall tests in our state take up most of the months of August and September. The actual tests only take place during one or two weeks, but the amount of time spent on them is much more than that.

    In each building in our district there is a Test-Coordinator. This is most often a guidance counselor, but in some elementary buildings the job belongs to the Resource teacher. [In our system the title Resource teacher is not reserved for the special services teacher who works with LD or MIMH students. The Resource teacher is more correctly defined as the "teacher of at-risk students." The job of the Resource teacher includes working with small groups of students, making or collecting materials for teachers to use in their classrooms, monitoring at-risk students, and too much more to list here.]

    It is up to these people to coordinate the testing program in their buildings. Here's how it works in our elementary building.

    In August, the test-coordinators go to meetings conducted by their local school system and meetings conducted by the state. These meetings are held to inform schools of new testing rules and regulations (and there are ALWAYS new rules and regulations) so that the school won't be in violation. There are usually 3 - 5 meetings for the test-coordinators to go to before the testing actually begins. Meanwhile, in classes throughout the building, "test prep" has begun. "Test-prep" is defined (by me) as the time in which children are drilled with techniques for answering tests and for drilling as much more information into the kids' heads as possible.

    The tests arrive about a week before they are actually scheduled to begin. The test-coordinator has to count the books, sort them for each class, and make sure that all the "extras" are counted as well. The extras include pencils, manipulative punch out cards, and envelopes to hold the manipulatives.

    The tests need to be kept in a locked room so no one can see any of them. The test-coordinator can distribute the examiner's manuals so teachers can make their schedules, but nothing else. Once the schedules are made the test-coordinator needs to round up people to test students with accommodations such as calculators, extended time, etc. These additional testers must be certified teachers...and are not always easy to find and schedule.

    On testing day, the tests are signed out to the teachers administering them, and the fun begins. Students sit through anywhere from 1 to 4 testing sessions a day, lasting for 1 to 3 hours. At the end of the day the test books must be returned to the locked room.

    Once the testing is finished make-ups must be scheduled and administered, usually by the test-coordinator and then the books must be made ready for shipping to the central office.

    There are bar code stickers for the tests in our state. These bar codes have all the information previously bubbled on the front of the tests and include information about the student, his or her socio-economic status, accommodations, IEPs, ethnicity, etc.

    The bar codes must be checked to make sure that they are accurate and that all the information is up to date. Any changes must be bubbled on the test. The bar codes are then placed on the tests...this process can take a long time depending on how many students are in the building and how many tests each of them received.

    Then the packing begins...and it must be done a specific way. The tests from each classroom are labeled and put into bundles. The bundles of tests must also be labeled and put in boxes which are, you guess it, labeled. Every item must be accounted for...all tests, practice tests, and manual must be returned.

    Everyone knows that the time it takes for the tests to be administered is time that no instruction takes place and is therefore time lost from learning. However, the hours and hours of preparation for the tests, organizing, and finally packing up the tests are also lost. The Resource teachers and Guidance Counselors cannot spend that time with students or parents. The effort to make sure that everything is done correctly is draining and the test-coordinators are not given any margin for error.

    All tests and packaging are checked again at the central office and finally they are shipped out for scoring. By mid year the scores will be returned...not for diagnostic purposes for which the tests were originally intended, but for ranking, for pitting one school against another - one class against another, and for politicians to use as a tool in their election campaigns.

    The testing companies themselves have indicated that the tests are more often than not, misused. This however, does not stop them from selling the tests to states and making enormous profits.

    The hours wasted on these tests are gone for another year. The actual instructional value of the tests and their resulting scores are negligible. The cost in salaries for building and district test-coordinators, for printing, shipping and scoring is enormous and the results are most often misused to rank schools not to help students learn.

    It makes no sense.