"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 30, 2007

No more novels...

Here is the latest in the tragedies perpetrated by No Child Left Behind...an entire school system has decided that novels take too much time away from practicing for the test.

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.

— Staff
Parade
2007-10-28

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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Note to the Senators...

Message sent to the following recipients:
Senator Bayh
Senator Lugar
Message text follows:

Stewart Bloom
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
school).

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.

Sincerely,

Stewart Bloom
260-450-9042

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Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


-----
No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 31,000 signatures so far...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More testing...

ISTEP Bonanza for McGraw-Hill

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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Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


-----
No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 31,000 signatures so far...


Monday, October 8, 2007

It’s time to Resist NCLB: A Post- reauthorization Strategy

by Ken Goodman

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 Puerto Rico because it didn’t conform sufficiently to DOE mandates.

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 Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand teachers unions have had a tradition of including methods and curriculum in their concerns. There are numerous examples of successful campaigns by unions to refuse to administer tests and support their members in their refusal to conform to unprofessional impositions. NEA’s California affiliate went beyond NEA’s position recently and called for abolition of NCLB. They need to take the next step of organizing their members to resist NCLB and supporting them when they do. The unions and professional organizations need to take the lead in organizing local, state, and national demonstrations against NCLB. They are probably the only ones who could bring a million teacher to Washington to show the politicians the professionals care about what happens to their students.

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 South Africa. Students have the right to a voice in how their schools and classrooms will run.

NCLB came about through the clever manipulation of the democratic system to control Congressional decision making. United, educators, students, parents and the informed public can use the democratic system to resist NCLB and bring it down.

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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

I work while the test makers get rich...

I walked into the house tonight and immediately realized that the good feelings I felt were because of the time I spent today with my students and the time I spent today reading about ways to reach them.

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.

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Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
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Let's get it right

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.


-----
Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


-----
No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking on the link on the side.
More than 31,000 signatures so far...