"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, December 24, 2007
Josh, the poster boy for ADHD, was one of those students.
Impulsive speech and behavior
Lack of motivation
Hyperfocusing on (apparently) irrelevant topics
...did I mention constant motion?
When Josh was in my room I was always afraid he would hurt himself. The chair he was in was usually rolling on the floor...sometimes balanced on a corner. He rarely "sat" in it, preferring instead to use it as a balancing platform like some Albanian acrobat on the Ed Sullivan show (apologies to those of you too young to remember Ed and his "Really big shew"). My fear was that he would finally slip, crashing into the table head first, or slamming his neck against the corner of the chair or table.
But it never happened. His balance was good enough that he never fell...not in 2 and a half years of visiting my classroom.
With his ADHD, however, he did hurt himself. At this point - third grade - he is so far behind where he should be it was finally time to refer him to our school psychologist for testing and placement in special education. At the end of first grade he was reading at a beginning first grade level. At the end of second grade he was reading at a mid first grade level. Now, halfway through third grade, he is barely coping with end of first grade reading. His progress has stopped. He has, as is so often the case, begun to recognize that what he has to do in school is too hard and it is easy to just give up.
I wasn't able to figure out a way to help him cope with his inability to focus and learn.
School is not a good place for all children. Our schools are set up in a 19th century model which works for the middle 2/3 of students based on achievement. Most students are successful enough to learn what they need to learn in order to function in society. However, a child with severe ADHD doesn't fit.
The teaching/learning model that we are so familiar with doesn't work with students who have to deal with severe ADHD (and it doesn't work with children with other learning differences either). A teacher, trying to impart information to a child who cannot attend for more than 30 seconds, no matter how exciting the lesson, will not be successful with that child. ADHD students don't learn that way.
As teachers it's our job to teach to the child. We have to find the way to reach each individual student and gear the instruction to their way of learning - within certain parameters, of course.
What kind of schools do children with ADHD need? I'll have to cover that issue next time. And so far, our way of teaching hasn't worked for Josh.
Monday, December 10, 2007
"Next year, if my daughter attends the same school, she will be in school all day. As a Kindergartner, she will also be very busy. She will have exactly 20 minutes of recess, and then she’ll get back to work." - Peter Campbell*
When I taught kindergarten in 2005-2006 for the first time in 30 years, I was struck by how things had changed for 5 and 6 year olds. It is important that children, many of whom experience school for the first time in kindergarten, be allowed to grow and learn at their own pace.
The best way to explain it is by an analogy which I have used for years. If you are 5 feet tall, and I ask you to touch a 10 foot ceiling you would not be able to reach up and touch it. It is impossible for a normally developed human to reach to a point twice their height. That is why ladders were invented.
In the same way, it is impossible for people to reach specific academic achievement levels before their brains and bodies are developed sufficiently. We wouldn't ask the average 3 month old to walk up the stairs and put herself to bed, but we seem to have no hesitation in asking the average 5 year old to learn concepts which her brain is not sufficiently developed to understand.
Kindergartners, I (re)discovered, have not changed that much in the last 30 years. They still have to run to expend their excess energy...they still jump up and down when they get excited...they still have occasional toilet accidents...and they still cry when they get hurt - emotionally or physically. They still love to be read to, they still like to play with toys that mimic adulthood (building toys, dolls, etc), they still have short attention spans for non-fun activities and they still need an adult to tuck them in at night.
What has changed is the way kindergarten is taught and the curriculum that is presented. Some of it has improved. Literacy research in the last 20 years has shown us some new and better ways to help children grow in their intellectual and academic lives, but we still can't teach someone to read until they're ready.
Kindergarten has now become a place where children have to learn to read. We are expecting 5 and 6 year olds to give up fun - in some places kindergarteners only get 20 minutes of recess a day - and take on the stress of academic competition.
Play is children's work. They learn how to live in the world, how to get along, to solve problems, and to share by playing. They can't learn these things, though, unless they are allowed to get up from their chairs and interact with each other.
Skills based, academically oriented kindergartens are now the rule rather than the exception. Developmentally appropriate practice does not exist in some places any more. Does this help children? No long term studies have been done at this point, but my hunch is that by taking the opportunity to grow at their own rate away from children we are asking many of them to do what they can't do...we're asking them to touch the ceiling without a ladder.
There needs to be a balance between formal schooling and real life learning. When children begin the schooling process the balance should be tipped in the direction of real life learning and move toward academics slowly. There needs to be a wide range of activities provided in which children can learn how the world works. In my opinion, the understanding of science and the world around, social interactions and self expression are just as important in the early years than are reading and math.
"So what do I want? I want what my daughter wants: to be able to spend time with her friends, playing and being a little kid. She doesn’t have any kids to play with on her block, so school is the only place she has any chance to socialize and interact with her peers. I want her to have the chance to make friends. I want her to be given the opportunity to play. I want her to learn how to share and solve problems with her peers. I want this more than I want her to be phonemically aware. There will be time for such academic pursuits when she's a bit older. But there's only so much time she's allowed to be a little girl." - Peter Campbell*
The country which produces the best readers in the world is Finland. Is their language easier to read than ours? Is their method of teaching better than ours? No, I don't think so, but I think that a quick look at how they are different from us is worthwhile to determine why their children learn to read better than ours.
First, they value intellectual development. They have a monocultural society which emphasizes learning for learning's sake and is reinforced in their families. Parents are home with their children more. There is less poverty, better health care, and better nutrition.
Second, their children's first teachers are their parents. Children do not learn to read (formally) until they are seven years old...when they are developmentally prepared for learning. Before that they learn about the world around them...about language...and about their culture. The Finns believe that "play is the most effective learning tool in the early years and sets the stage for a lifelong love of learning."
*Peter Campbell is an activist, educator, and parent. He volunteered as the Missouri State Coordinator for the Assessment Reform Network, part of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (better known as FairTest). Peter holds a BA from Princeton University and an MA from New York University. He has been involved in education for 20 years and has taught a number of different subjects in different academic settings, ranging from English as a Second Language at a Japanese high school in Tokyo to compositional writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia to public speaking at Manhattan Community College in New York City. In the area of assessment, Peter worked for the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in the Assessment and Evaluation division. Currently, Peter is the Lead Instructional Designer for the Office of Information Technology at Montclair State University, the second largest public institution of higher education in New Jersey. In this role at MSU, Peter leads workshops on assessment and helps instructors use technology to enhance teaching and learning.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I give thanks for:
the kindergarten and first grade kids who learn about Thanksgiving for the first time and really get into being Pilgrims and Indians.
the parents who come to school to help with the Thanksgiving feasts and all the crafts associated with the holiday.
the kitchen staff who prepare several great Thanksgiving meals each year - one at school and one at their own homes.
the music teachers who teach the students the same songs year after year and never get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, because they know that each voice is different.
the art teachers who have the students draw the same pictures and make the same crafts year after year and never get tired of seeing the same things over and over again, because they know that each view is different.
the librarians who read the same books year after year and never get tired of reading and hearing the same words over and over again because they know that each listener is different.
the children who hear the same things year after year, who make the same crafts year after year, and who sing the same songs year after year, and who are learning that thanksgiving is more than words, pictures, crafts and songs.
the teachers who are devoted to their students and provide the experiences needed for a well rounded education even though the world seems to want only test-takers.
teachers, parents, paras, librarians, custodians, secretaries, nurses, principals, cooks, bus drivers and everyone else who has given their life to serving the most important resource in our country - our children.
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More than 31,000 signatures so far...
Friday, November 9, 2007
Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
October 21, 2004 (list of 140 signers updated September 14, 2007)
The undersigned education, civil rights, religious, children's, disability, civic, and labor organizations are committed to the No Child Left Behind Act's objectives of strong academic achievement for all children and closing the achievement gap. We believe that the federal government has a critical role to play in attaining these goals. We endorse the use of an accountability system that helps ensure all children, including children of color, from low-income families, with disabilities, and of limited English proficiency, are prepared to be successful, participating members of our democracy.
While we all have different positions on various aspects of the law, based on concerns raised during the implementation of NCLB, we believe the following significant, constructive corrections are among those necessary to make the Act fair and effective. Among these concerns are: over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation rather than richer academic learning; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding low-scoring children in order to boost test results; and inadequate funding. Overall, the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.
Recommended Changes in NCLB
1. Replace the law's arbitrary proficiency targets with ambitious achievement targets based on rates of success actually achieved by the most effective public schools.
2. Allow states to measure progress by using students' growth in achievement as well as their performance in relation to pre-determined levels of academic proficiency.
3. Ensure that states and school districts regularly report to the government and the public their progress in implementing systemic changes to enhance educator, family, and community capacity to improve student learning.
4. Provide a comprehensive picture of students' and schools' performance by moving from an overwhelming reliance on standardized tests to using multiple indicators of student achievement in addition to these tests.
5. Fund research and development of more effective accountability systems that better meet the goal of high academic achievement for all children.
6. Help states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures in order to provide better, more timely information about student learning.
7. Strengthen enforcement of NCLB provisions requiring that assessments must:
- Be aligned with state content and achievement standards;
- Be used for purposes for which they are valid and reliable;
- Be consistent with nationally recognized professional and technical standards;
- Be of adequate technical quality for each purpose required under the Act;
- Provide multiple, up-to-date measures of student performance including measures that assess higher order thinking skills and understanding; and
- Provide useful diagnostic information to improve teaching and learning.
8. Decrease the testing burden on states, schools and districts by allowing states to assess students annually in selected grades in elementary, middle schools, and high schools.
9. Ensure changes in teacher and administrator preparation and continuing professional development that research evidence and experience indicate improve educational quality and student achievement.
10. Enhance state and local capacity to effectively implement the comprehensive changes required to increase the knowledge and skills of administrators, teachers, families, and communities to support high student achievement.
11. Ensure that improvement plans are allowed sufficient time to take hold before applying sanctions; sanctions should not be applied if they undermine existing effective reform efforts.
12. Replace sanctions that do not have a consistent record of success with interventions that enable schools to make changes that result in improved student achievement.
13. Raise authorized levels of NCLB funding to cover a substantial percentage of the costs that states and districts will incur to carry out these recommendations, and fully fund the law at those levels without reducing expenditures for other education programs.
14. Fully fund Title I to ensure that 100 percent of eligible children are served.
We, the undersigned, will work for the adoption of these recommendations as central structural changes needed to NCLB at the same time that we advance our individual organization's proposals.
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
American Association of School Administrators
American Association of School Personnel Administrators
American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA)
American Association of University Women
American Baptist Women's Ministries
American Civil Liberties Union
American Counseling Association
American Dance Therapy Association
American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA)
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers
American Friends Service Committee
American Humanist Association
American Music Therapy Association
American Occupational Therapy Association
American School Counselor Association
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Americans for the Arts
Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
Association of Education Publishers
Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO)
Assocation of Teacher Educators
Big Picture Company
Business and Professional Women/USA
Center for Community Change
Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking
Center for Parent Leadership
The Center for Policy Alternatives
Change to Win
Children's Aid Society
Children's Defense Fund
Church Women United
Citizens for Effective Schools
Coalition for Community Schools
Coalition of Essential Schools
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Communities for Quality Education
COSN (Consortium for School Networking)
Council of Administrators of Special Education, Inc.
Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders
Council for Exceptional Children
Council for Hispanic Ministries of the United Church of Christ
Council for Learning Disabilities
Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform
Disciples Home Missions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ)
Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children (DLD/CEC)
Eduation Not Incarcertation
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Every Child Matters
FairTest: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Forum for Education and Democracy
Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GPAC)
The Holmes Partnership
Hmong National Development
Indigenous Women's Network
Institute for Language and Education Policy
International Reading Association
ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)
International Technology Education Association
Japanese American Citizens League
Jobs with Justice
Learning Disabilities Association of America
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Mental Health America
Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic justice of the United Church or Christ
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF)
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Association for Asian and Pacific American Education (NAAPAE)
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA)
National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities (NAEAACLD)
National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
National Association of Pupil Service Administrators
National Association of School Nurses
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
National Association of Social Workers
National Baptist Convention, USA (NBCUSA)
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents
National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education (NCPIE)
National Conference of Black Mayors
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP)
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
National Education Taskforce
National Federation of Filipino American Associations
National Indian Education Association
National Indian School Board Association
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA
National Pacific Islander Educator Network
National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
National Reading Conference
National Rural Education Association
National School Boards Association
National School Supply and Equipment Association
National Science Teachers Association
National Superintendents Roundtable
National Urban League
Native Hawaiian Education Association
The Network of Spiritual Progressives
Organization of Chinese Americans
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG National)
Public Education Network (PEN)
People for the American Way
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Protestants for the Common Good
Rural School and Community Trust
Service Employees International Union
School Social Work Association of America
Social Action Committee of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Stand for Children
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL)
United Black Christians of the United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Concerns, The
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
Women of Reform Judaism
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Novels a No-No: Update--The Disinformation Doctrine
In other news, did you catch the info in Parade which notes that NCLB means big bucks for the testing companies? This is the free market economy at work...providing profits at the expense of substance.
Making a Profit Off Kids
Over the last two years, 23 states across the country have added more than 11.3 million reading and math tests to their school curricula in order to keep up with the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Michigan alone has tacked on more than 1 million new tests; New York, more than 1.7 million. While experts are debating whether increased testing helps kids learn more, most agree that it does mean big bucks for the testing companies. The school testing and testing services industry (which includes tutoring, test prep courses and the tests themselves) is now an estimated $2.3 billion a year enterprise, with just five big companies controlling 90% of the statewide testing revenue.
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More than 31,000 signatures so far...
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Message text follows:
PO Box 291
Grabill, IN 46741-0291
October 23, 2007
[recipient address was inserted here]
[recipient name was inserted here],
I urge you to add your name as a cosponsor of the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007 (S. 2053), sponsored by Senators Feingold and Leahy, and the No Child Left Behind Reform Act (S. 1194), sponsored by Senators Dodd and Salazar.
S. 2053 and S. 1194 would both allow states to use growth models and multiple measures to assess student learning and school success, rather than simply looking at their performance on a standardized test one day of the year.
S. 2053 would also place greater emphasis on assessments that measure the kinds of advanced skills—higher-order thinking, analytical, and problem solving—students need for the 21st century and would offer states the option to go back to the pre-NCLB testing schedule for statewide tests (at least once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high
S. 2053 and S. 1194 represent a critically important step toward curbing the epidemics of "teaching to the test" and narrowing of the curriculum, both of which have been negative, unintended by-products of NCLB's accountability requirements.
In addition, I have some serious concerns about the act itself. It is flawed to the extreme. The National Council of Churches has spoken to 10 specific concerns which also concern me. Please consider these as you focus on this important legislation.
Moral Concern #1: The No Child Left Behind Act sets an impossibly high bar that every single student will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Since this is a statistical impossibility it will only undermine the important job which public schools do for our country.
Moral Concern #2: The No Child Left Behind Act has neither acknowledged where children start the school year nor celebrated their individual accomplishments. Not every child is the same. Jefferson said, "There is nothing so unequal as complete equality." Children need to be encouraged for their achievements even if they do not meet the standards set by legislators. Teachers know this...
Moral Concern #3: Because the Act ranks schools according to test score thresholds of children in every demographic subgroup, a "failing group of children" will know when they are the ones who made their school a "failing" school.
They risk being shamed among their peers, by their teachers and by their community. The No Child Left Behind Act has renamed this group of children the school's "problem group." In some schools educators have felt pressured to counsel students who lag far behind into alternative programs so they won't be tested. This has increased the dropout rate.
Moral Concern #4: The No Child Left Behind Act requires children in special education to pass tests designed for children without disabilities. Do you understand why some children are placed in special education? It is because they have difficulty learning. It is our obligation, as citizens to provide them with the best possible method of reaching their potential, however, asking them to overcome their disability without restriction is like asking someone who is blind to pass a sight test.
Moral Concern #5: The No Child Left Behind Act requires English language learners to take tests in English before they learn English.
It calls their school a failure because they have not yet mastered academic English. Schools have the obligation to teach English to immigrant students, however, not all students learn at the same rate. Children, especially those who have suffered and come to the USA as refugees, need time to adapt to the culture as well as the language. This is punishing children for the fact that they were not born to English speaking parents.
Moral Concern #6: The No Child Left Behind Act blames schools and teachers for many challenges that are neither of their making nor within their capacity to change.
I have been a teacher for 31 years and in that time I have seen the importance of the relationship between a teacher and his students. The focus on one single measure to determine the success or failure of a child or school is completely contrary to everything I know about good education. When Congress passes No Child Left Without Health Care, No Child Left Hungry, and No Child Left Homeless, then, perhaps, we can talk about No Child Left Behind. Until then, the society in which we live is, in itself, tying the hands of teachers who are dedicated to helping children achieve and find their way in the world.
Moral Concern #7: The relentless focus on testing basic skills in the No Child Left Behind Act obscures the role of the humanities, the arts, and child and adolescent development.
While education should cover basic skills in reading and math, the educational process should aspire to far more. I believe education should help all children develop their gifts and realize their promise—intellectually physically, socially, and ethically. The No Child Left Behind Act treats children as products to be tested, measured and made more uniform. Children are not automobiles or computers. They are human beings and they need the solace of the arts and the health provided by good nutrition and exercise to flourish. NCLB is turning schools into drill centers where the "whole child" is ignored and only the test taking ability is encouraged.
Moral Concern #8: Because the No Child Left Behind Act operates through sanctions, it takes federal Title I funding away from educational programing in already overstressed schools and uses these funds to bus students to other schools or to pay for private tutoring firms. This law punishes children, teachers and schools for the failings of our nation. We spend money on wasteful wars while children in our own cities go to bed hungry. If a child is ill you would not withhold medical care...so if a child needs help you should not withhold money which would increase his chances of success.
Moral Concern #9: The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as "in need of improvement."
A child's zip code is a better predictor of his academic success than anything else. Poor children are being left behind. No Child Left Behind is not flexible enough to deal with the problems faced by these children and their schools every day.
Moral Concern #10: The No Child Left Behind Act makes demands on states and school districts without fully funding reforms that would build capacity to close achievement gaps.
The late Senator Paul Wellstone wrote, "It is simply negligent to force children to pass a test and expect that the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, will be able to do as well as those who have every advantage. When we do this, we hold children responsible for our own inaction and unwillingness to live up to our own promises and our own obligations." To enable schools to comply with the law's regulations and to create conditions that will raise achievement, society will need to increase federal funding for the schools that serve our nation's most vulnerable children and to keep Title I funds focused on instruction rather than on transportation and school choice.
NCLB needs a complete overhaul. History judges societies by how they treat their children. I urge you to focus on what is best for children, not what is politically expedient or economically "responsible." Moral accountability is as important as academic accountability.
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More than 31,000 signatures so far...
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Indiana has decided to move testing back to the Spring. The long experiment in Fall testing is over.
Originally the idea behind Fall testing was to give teachers the diagnostic information which the tests provided to improve instruction. Students came to school after the long summer recess and the teacher, after having gotten the results of the tests back, could direct her instruction to fill in those specific gaps the students needed. But there is a problem with that set up...
ISTEP is no longer used for diagnosis...in fact, very few states use their annual standardized tests for diagnosis...the purpose for the tests in the first place. Now, with the testing insanity which permeates our society, tests are used to rank schools, districts, states and even countries.
There is information about how the students do on the Indiana State Standards, to be sure, however, by the time the information is received by the teacher the school year is half over and most students are no longer at the same place they were when they took the test. It's a question of too little and tool late.
So...in an attempt to return honesty to testing...not reasonable educational practices, but at least honesty...the State of Indiana will now have the ISTEP tests in the Spring. Teachers will work all year to teach their students what is on the test - a questionable educational practice demanded by No Child Left Behind - and in the Spring the students will vomit it all back onto the test...in some cases, literally. The test will be used to rank and punish school systems, schools, administrators, teachers and students and the data from the test will be provided to teachers in the fall of the following year so they can see which standards the students didn't learn and start the process over again. Once again, the students will have changed between the time the tests are taken and the time teachers can use the information. Once again the curriculum will be determined by the test and things like history, citizenship, art and recess will be placed on the back burner so the test gods can be appeased.
The big news is that, in the 2008-2009 school year, the transition year, the students will be taking the test twice...once in the Fall and once again in the Spring. This is so the AYP can be computed for the year. If we waited until the Spring and only gave the test once, there would be no way to compare the new scores to the previous scores...the comparison would be invalid because the test had been taken at different times of the year.
More importantly, however, is the fact that it would have been nearly 20 months since the previous test. McGraw-Hill...the company founded by the family friends of the Bush's...would not get their annual millions from Indiana. The bottom line is money. As it is McGraw-Hill, the publisher of ISTEP will get to keep their annual windfall from Indiana, and in fact, the money they make from the 2008 school year will come earlier.
What's the educational purpose of taking the test twice in one year? The apologists will say it is so that we can track student progress. But teachers can track student progress (and do) every day. The only reasons for taking the test twice...the only reasons these days for giving the test at all, for that matter...are to rank and punish schools and to fill the pockets of the test publishers.
Teachers would just like to be able to do what they were trained to do. We don't need a script telling us what to say. We know how to reach our students. We don't need to be told when our students are struggling. We know when our students are having trouble. We don't need to be punished for teaching students what they need to live in the world instead of what is on "the test." We know that history, health, art and music, and physical education are important for children to learn. We know what to do.
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Monday, October 8, 2007
The time has come for educators, parents and the general public to develop a post NCLB reauthorization strategy. We’ve essentially lost the fight to modify NCLB in any significant way or get rid of it. It’s time for an organized campaign of resistance. We must resist NCTE at every level in every practical way we can to save our students from its terrible effects and to save public education.
Within the next few weeks the House Education Committee will send to the floor of the House its revision of NCLB. Some time thereafter the Senate committee will send its revision to the floor of the Senate. They are likely to face only token opposition and little debate. The press will continue to largely ignore and misrepresent the real threat continuing NCLB poses to public education and American democracy.
What will result, as it now appears, is a slightly softer version of NCLB. It will provide a little more flexibility in how the law impacts English language learners and those with special needs.
But it will not change in any fundamental ways. And so far there is no indication that the Department of Education will make other than cosmetic changes in the way it interprets and enforces the law. Just last week, for example, a new review panel rejected the Reading First proposal of
In particular the Reading First section (Title X) will continue to define reading and reading research in such a way that the DOE will continue to impose absurdly narrow methods, materials and tests on states and local school districts. And the contracts illegally imposed on the states according to the Office of Inspector General reports will remain in force. The consultants who the OIG said have made obscene profits from imposing their own materials and tests on states and districts will not only go unpunished but their profits will continue. The astrologists of reading will continue in charge of the reading space program.
There is little reason to suspect that a change in the White House or an increased Democratic majority in Congress will further modify or abandon NCLB. Democrats George Miller and Edward Kennedy have committed themselves too deeply to NCLB to admit that it is a failure. Both have accepted the false and exaggerated claims of Bush and Spellings that NCLB and Reading First are working.
Though there has been a notable demand that NCLB be discontinued and ESEA revert to its pre-NCLB form, and a few members of Congress have agreed, getting rid of the law never got real consideration. Attempts at informing the decision making in Congress to produce the basic changes needed in NCLB to change it from a negative punitive law destructive of public education into a real reform have largely failed. The unions failed to rally their members and the public: AFT was co-opted to support NCLB from the beginning and NEA was too timid in using its potential political strength to make any real difference. Movement conservatives with massive financial and tactical support from the National Business Round Table and rich right wing foundations have successfully kept NCLB out of the presidential campaign as they did in 2004.
For seven more years terrible things will happen to children as young as 5 as a result of NCLB and Reading First. And as every independent study has shown by 2014 virtually every school and school district will be failing. In the meantime huge numbers of students will drop out as the hand writing on the wall is clear that they won’t be able to graduate with a diploma from high school. And in a time when a teacher shortage is growing many teachers are leaving the profession and young people are being discouraged from entering. And the campaign will increase its attack on teacher education and higher education in general. Blaming teacher educators for the failures of NCLB.
Legal basis for resistance
There is a strong legal basis for resisting NCLB. The investigations of the Inspector General have laid out in explicit detail the ways in which those given the power in the Department of Education to implement NCLB and Reading First violated the NCLB law itself and the original law establishing the Department of Education. Both clearly prohibited the imposition of curriculum and methodology on states and local education agencies. That means that every state contract under NCLB is null and void. It means that contracts establishing assistance centers to advise the states and LEAs on implementation are void and those centers must be replaced.
And in addition to that the processes were illegal because staff and consultants were and still are involved in blatant conflicts of interest.
Legally, states and LEAs have every reason to refuse to enforce their NCLB and Reading First contracts and have the grounds, if necessary, to sue the DOE and the offending consultants. Parents, individually and collectively, also have the right to sue on behalf of their children to get rid of the onerous and destructive effects of NCLB on their children’s lives and education.
There is ample documentation both for the illegality of the implementation of NCLB and for the damage it is doing to children.
Pedagogical Basis for Resistance
From a point of view of scientific pedagogy NCLB is riddled with absurdities:
1. It is punitive. Instead of providing financial and professional support for schools with low achieving students it punishes them. It has already led to transferring authority over schools and school districts from professionals and local authorities to politicians. Already many public schools have been handed over to profit makers.
2. In the name of putting “highly” qualified teachers in classrooms it has undermined state teacher certification programs and made it impossible for rural schools and middle schools to retain experienced teachers and recruit professionally educated teachers.
3. It has perverted science by using the phrases “scientifically based research” and “scientifically based reading research” to describe unproven commercial materials and methods which are absurd in design and unteachable. And it has marginalized a wide range of alternate approaches.
4.It has set absurd goals. Ultimately it requires that all students and all sub groups be “proficient” in reading math and science by 2014. Because “proficient” is essentially undefined. Both the press and politicians including President Bush and Secretary Spellings have freely equated that with having all children above grade level by 2014. That makes the goal absurd since by definition only half of the pupils in any grade can be above grade level, which is the mean score achieved on a particular test. Even Diane Ravitch, a long term supporter of NCLB has called this goal absurd. In the National Assessment of Educational Progress the term proficient is used to name an arbitrary level above basic and below excellent. Only about 20% of those taking NAEP achieve the proficient level currently.
5. NCLB deprofessionalizes teaching. It limits the ability of experienced, professional teachers to make decisions on how best to serve each pupil. In enforcement, a hierarchy is established by NCLB which subjects effective teachers to interference by inexperienced and unqualified staff members empowered to slavishly enforce NCLB.
6. It distorts and narrows the curriculum to reading, math and starting in 2007 science and limiting or eliminating everything else including physical education and recess. It’s absurd that our officials are taking fast foods and sugary drinks out of schools but eliminating physical exercise.
7. NCLB diverts kindergarten and even pre-school from their historical purposes to academic pre-first grades. What is more absurd than five year olds being labeled as failing in the first week of kindergarten because of their performance on absurd tests? And what is more absurd than having children repeat kindergarten as academic failures?
8. In the guise of having high expectations for all young people NCLB has required that children with special needs and English language learners to take the same tests and be subjected to the same curricula as all other children. Further, it punishes the whole school or LEA when either of these subgroups inevitably fails to achieve the unachieveable,
Moral basis for resistance
Framed as a reform which would eliminate differences between ethnic and economic populations of students in school success, NCLB has imposed an immoral, one-size fits all set of mandates which hurt all students but hurts those it claims to help the most.
It measures success by learners and teachers entirely by scores on tests of questionable validity. That devalues any learning that isn’t easily testable by simplistic tests and it narrows the curriculum to what is being tested.
It is robbing children of their childhood imposing tedium and guilt on them and making them personally responsible for the failures of the system. It has made successful learners feel they are failures and taught them that conformity is more important than thoughtful response.
NCLB has turned teachers from committed guides and mentors into automatons powerless to do what they know is best for their students. It has corrupted the moral obligation of teachers to protect their pupils from harm.
It has substituted governmental absolutes for the responsible choices of parents.
Methods of resistance
Educators, their unions and professional associations, educational decision makers, parents, interested citizens and the students themselves all have a range of ways of resisting NCLB.
Only massive resistance can bring it down and get the attention of the politicians.
Teachers and administrators are of course vulnerable. Often taking an overt stand can jeopardize their jobs. On the other hand they are the ones who see most clearly how NCLB is hurting their pupils. Some teachers and administrators will be confident enough to make public acts of resistance. As a profession, educators have tended to self-censor themselves more than is necessary. But as a result of NCLB teachers and administrators will reach a point beyond which their consciences will not let them go. They will refuse to administer certain tests, use certain texts, grade their pupils unfairly. Rather than simply leaving their jobs when they become untenable they will commit acts of resistance and dare their districts to fire them. Groups of teachers in individual schools and districts will of course be more successful if they act together and support each other.
There are ways that teachers and administrators can resist in private ways. Teachers can resist, in the time honored way, by closing their doors and doing what they feel is best for their kids, minimizing the use of absurd tests and materials. And they can keep parents aware of the real progress of their kids and help them to understand why they deviate from mandates. Informed parents are their best defense.
Administrators can protect teachers from some impositions and support their professional decisions for the benefit of their pupils. They can document the effects of aspects of NCLB for parents, school board members and the public. And they can establish a positive atmosphere in their schools that can neutralize some effects of NCLB interventions.
Unions and professional organizations have a responsibility to organize resistance. In
Administrators’ unions and organizations have taken strong positions against NCLB but they haven’t been public enough. They need to call for and support resistance to NCLB.
Parents have a wide range of ways to resist NCLB. They should inform themselves by visiting their children’s classes and observing what NCLB is doing to them. They can talk about NCLB with school administrators and school board members when they see their children being hurt by NCLB. Parents can use the existing PTA to resist NCLB or they can organize parents within schools and school districts to fight use of absurd tests and materials and decisions by school boards that limit the curriculum or eliminate play time. There are a number of specific actions parents can take:
1. They can boycott the tests by keeping their children home when tests are announced or demanding that their permission be obtained for each test. With absurd tests such as DIBELS parents can insist that their children not be tested and that no results be transmitted beyond the school without parental permission. NCLB requires that 95% of each sub group be tested so a few boycotting parents can have a major effect.
2. They can support acts of resistance by teachers and administrators
3. They can contact news media and school board members documenting how NCLB is hurting their children.
4. They can educate themselves and other parents of the political process for electing school board members and support candidates pledged to resisting NCLB.
5. They sue on behalf of their children to protest illegal implementation of NCLB.
Students of course feel the negative impact of NCLB the most. Even young children can, with the support of their parents, resist NCLB. They can write letters and circulate petitions about tests and school policies. For example they can petition the principal to reinstate recess or write to the school board about absurd materials. Children have rights and parents can help them to know how to assert their rights.
Older students in middle school and high school can organize their resistance to NCLB through letters, petitions and demonstrations. It was demonstrations by high school students that eventually brought down the apartheid system in
Ken Goodman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Language, Reading and Culture at the College of Education, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721
Thursday, October 4, 2007
My students are the ones who fall through the cracks...a category of students which is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to No Child Left Behind. Generally I work with the kids who test too well to get the extra help from Special Education, but who are still having trouble in class, failing at one or more subjects, usually reading, and failing the state test mandated by NCLB.
Why is this category growing? Not because NCLB makes kids poorer students, though it might be argued that is true (maybe next week). No, it's because with all the money spent on tests, test prep, and test administration there is not enough to spend on people to work with them. I only work part time...with first and second graders. Where are the kids I worked with who were in second grade last year? They are floundering in third grade...their classroom teachers overwhelmed with the paperwork tasks that have grown since the passage of NCLB. The good teachers do what they can to help the kids, but there is only so much you can do when there are 25 other students waiting for a turn.
In any case, today was the first day in which I worked with my students during my entire time at school. Why, you ask, haven't I done that before. The answer is that I have been too busy with the standardized tests. Yesterday those misused and misinterpreted instruments of torture finally disappeared from my room...the boxes were sent to the central office and from there they will go to wherever it is they go to be scored.
And, as the test makers get rich and keep the pressure on congress to continue the parts of NCLB which give them the opportunity to make the tests...and make the test prep materials so that kids will do better on the tests...and make the text books which the students will use in their classes...I will take a few of the forgotten children, who we can't afford to lose, but who we can't afford to help, and in a half a day of teaching, in half hour session, I'll try to work the miracles needed to keep them from failing.
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 31,000 signatures so far...
To the editor
From Joseph Coladonato
Published in Newsday (10/02/2007)
I agree with Nancy Close, president of the East Islip teachers union, that the No Child Left Behind Act is too focused on high-stakes exams and not on the true progress of individual children ["An educator's lesson for Congress, Opinion, Sept. 25].
Although touted as this administration's greatest achievement, the act is misguided and cruel. In observing the quagmire this administration has created for education, a couple of things are evident. First, taking money away from failing schools is similar to taking a book away from a child who can't read. Second, the act pays too much attention to proficiency and not enough on the value of individual progress. Last, federal mandates need federal funding.
Let's get it right the second time, President Bush.
Consider the folks on the front lines.
Editor's note: The writer is a public school teacher.
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
by California Teachers Association (from and ad on Daily Kos)
Don’t Let Congress Punish Our Students, Teachers and Schools - AGAIN
Vote NO on the Miller/Pelosi NCLB Reauthorization Proposal
California educators have supported the Elementary and Secondary Act since its inception in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it as part of the War on Poverty. CTA supports improving student achievement, closing achievement gaps and accountability, but when the law was reauthorized in 2002 and was named the No Child Left Behind Act by President Bush, it became a system of sanctions rather than assistance to public schools, students and teachers.
NCLB is again now up for reauthorization. And the proposal by California Congressman George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does nothing to improve the law. California teachers are calling on Congress to vote NO on the Miller/Pelosi NCLB reauthorization plan.
The No Child Left Behind Act is Not Working. It is Hurting our Students, Teachers and Schools -- read more.
The NCLB reauthorization proposal by Representative George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does nothing to improve the current law and actually makes it worse -- read more.
The Miller/Pelosi NCLB reauthorization bill will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in California classrooms -- read more.
The Miller/Pelosi NCLB reauthorization bill imposes new federal mandates that undermine local control and employee rights -- read more.
Rather than punishing students and teachers, NCLB should provide proven reforms that improve student learning -- read more.
We can’t let the past repeat itself. This law is too important for the future of our public schools.
Take Action NOW!
Tell Your Member of Congress to VOTE NO on Miller/Pelosi NCLB Proposal
California Teachers Association
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Monday, September 10, 2007
All over Indiana teachers are cramming facts into kids heads in a futile attempt to give them one extra point on the test. All over Indiana teachers are giving kids "test-taking tips" in a futile attempt to get kids to do better by manipulating the process of the test rather than the process of learning. All over Indiana teaching has deteriorated to this mindless, test-driven focus.
In our nation's capital the congress is babbling over No Child Left Behind in a futile attempt to fix the law that has all but crippled American education. Secretary of Education Spellings continues to blather about how NCLB has worked to improve teaching learning and lessen the achievement gap, when, in fact, none of these things have happened.
Standardized testing is no longer used for diagnosing educational needs. It's now just a way of ranking kids. It would be cheaper and just as accurate...and we would get the same results...if we ranked kids by ZIP code. Poverty is the number one obstacle causing the so-called "achievement gap" in the country today. And politics is the number one obstacle to educating children in general.
Poverty, as the media is fond of saying, is no excuse. Gerald Bracey, educational researcher, replies that, true, poverty is not an excuse...it is a condition, just like gravity. "Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty." Poverty doesn't disappear. In fact, the number of children in poverty has increased under the Bush administration. The number of children who are being denied adequate food, clothing, shelter and health care has increased. What's happening in Washington?
Yesterday's newspaper had an article about the super-rich...and how it is the "in" thing to buy a $50,000 handbag.
Read the last two paragraphs again...I'll wait...
It's time to close the Bush tax gifts to the wealthy. It's time to pass the No Child Left Unfed Act, the No Child Left Without Health Care Act, the No Child Left Homeless Act and the No Child Left in Poverty Act. That's the way to make sure that no child gets left behind and to eliminate the "achievement gap."
Monday, August 27, 2007
by Gerald Coles
from The Pulse
While governor of Texas and initiator of the so-called "Texas education miracle" aimed at helping poor and minority children succeed academically, George W. Bush had an opportunity to use a large budget surplus to provide affordable health care for 250,000 poor children. Instead, he called a special legislative session. Declaring "people are hurting out there," Bush pushed through a $45 million tax break for oil well owners.
Fast-forward to 2007 and we find the No Child Left Behind president responding similarly to poor children's needs by threatening to veto a bipartisan bill, the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), that would extend health insurance to millions of uninsured children. Bush worries that the program would be too expensive and (worry of worries!) that it would "encourage more people to go on government health care." Instead, he proposes a federal plan that would remove about one million children currently receiving health insurance and increase the number of uninsured children from nine to ten million. While proclaiming to be making education policy that keeps "a historic commitment to our children," the president apparently sees no connection between children's academic achievement and their health.
Of course the connection is no news for teachers, who see its critical importance everyday in their classrooms, or to researchers who have studied it. For example, Stephanie M. Spernak and colleagues examined health and academic achievement in former Head Start children. They found that children's health status when beginning school predicted third grade achievement scores and "children in poor general health had significantly lower achievement scores than children in good general health in third grade." Similarly, Brenda Needham and colleagues found that self-reported physical health problems were associated with school failure, mostly because health problems contribute to school absenteeism, trouble with homework, and student-teacher bonding. Asthmatic children in the United States miss approximately 14 million days of school, but the rate of school absenteeism is twice as high among poor and minority asthmatic children living in urban areas.
And health insurance makes a difference! A California study showed that after obtaining health care, children who had been in poor health improved their school attendance, attention in class, and the extent to which they kept up with school activities. Of course these changes contributed to improved academic performance. A University of Missouri study found that children who enrolled in the state's health insurance program had 39% fewer school absences. Uninsured children with asthma miss more school days.
Bush's threat to veto the SCHIP legislation illustrates what is often omitted in discussions of NCLB and its chief instructional mandate, Reading First. Besides being an attempt to wreck the public schools, replace a full education with mindless skills training, and increase control over teachers' work and power, NCLB serves as cruel ideological instrument by which to focus the nation on a pretense of helping poor and minority children while making war on them by slashing every federal policy initiative critical to their lives and educational success.
Again, a look back at Texas reveals the template for this policy. While focusing on the so-called "Texas education miracle," which has been soundly debunked by several independent studies, Bush was indifferent to poor children. For example, while he was governor, Texas ranked second highest among states in the percentage of people - especially children - who went hungry. Yet he vetoed a minimal step to help the malnourished, i.e., a bill to coordinate hunger programs in Texas. As governor he slashed the state's food stamp payments, support essential for poor children, by $1 billion. When a reporter asked him about hunger in the state, the governor answered, "Where?" As president, he has cut or attempted to cut federal support for countless programs, such as affordable housing, food stamps, lead decontamination, urban pollution reduction, and Head Start that would better poor children's lives and contribute to their academic success.
Right now educators can make a difference in taking one important step to help poor children's health and education. Go to the Campaign for Health Care at http://www.childrenshealthcampaign.org/. There you'll be able to sign a petition to Congress and the President that calls for health coverage for all children. You'll also find information on how to call your senators and urge them to support SCHIP and how to recruit family and friends in this effort. Both the House and Senate bills would provide additional funds to provide health insurance for millions of poor children. These bills are inadequate in that they would not cover all uninsured children, but are the best the Democrats can do right now in order to get sufficient Republican support to override a presidential veto.
Given the grim realities of current domestic policy, both bills and the final compromise bill will be a critical victory for many poor children. By voicing support for these bills, educators can help defeat one aspect of the war on poor children's education.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Student Loans: On Dec. 21, 2005, the Senate passed $12.7 billion in cuts to education programs — “the largest cut in student college loan programs in history.” Vice President Cheney cast the deciding vote in favor of the cuts. The bill also fixed the interest rate on student loans at 6.8 percent, “even if commercial rates are lower.” Despite Bush’s claims, students will be left off the program.
Pell Grants: Pell Grants have been frozen or cut since 2002; they are now stuck at a maximum of $4,050. In his 2000 election campaign, President Bush promised to increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100. “From 2004 to 2005, 24,000 students lost their Pell grants, according to a report pre-pared by the Congressional Research Service. This was the first drop in the number of students receiving the grants in several years; the number had been growing steadily since 1999.”
Recently a college student asked some pointed questions of the president. He is obviously not used to answering the type of question which deals with facts. Maybe the Washington press corps needs to take a lesson from this 19 year old...
Q: My name is Tiffany Cooper. I’m a sophomore here at Kansas State and I was just wanting to get your comments about education. Recently 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?
Bush: Education budget was cut — say it again. What was cut?
Q: 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I’m wanting to know how is that supposed to help our futures?
Bush: At the federal level?
Bush: I don’t think we’ve actually — for higher education? Student loans?
Q: Yes, student loans.
Bush: Actually, I think what we did was reform the student loan program. We are not cutting money out of it. In other words, people aren’t going to be cut off the program. We’re just making sure it works better as part of the reconciliation package I think she’s talking about? Yeah — It is a form of the program to make sure it functions better. In other words, we’re not taking people off student loans. We’re saving money in the student loan program because it’s inefficient. So I think the thing to look at is whether or not there will be fewer people getting student loans. I don’t think so.
Secondly, on Pell Grants, we are actually expanding the number of Pell grants through our budget. Great question. The key on education is to make sure that we stay focused on how do we stay competitive into the 21st century, and I plan on doing some talking about math and science and engineering programs so that people who graduate out of college will have the skills necessary to compete in this competitive world. But I think i’m right on this. I will check when I get back to Washington, but thank you for your question.