"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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Standardized Tests decrease learning Part 2

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The ninth and tenth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

9. The higher the stakes, the lower the bar.

High-stakes standardized tests are not good measures of academic excellence. As mentioned previously, they measure a narrow band of logical sequence operations which are useful only for taking further exams. In fact, because states are under tremendous pressure to show that their academic programs are working, the truth is that state exams are becoming less and less demanding.(49) It is a truism: just as in gym class where every student must jump over a bar at some minimum height, the temptation is to continually lower the bar until a vast majority can make it. This is not driving the system toward Olympian heights of excellence; on the contrary, it is driving the system toward lower and lower levels of acceptability. Why is it that some states like Georgia and North Carolina have such remarkable pass rates on their State-wide exams but such a dismal pass-rate on the NAEP exam?(50) The answer is that high-stakes exam bars are not set very high, and are certainly not indicative of students who are ready for college, work or the complex demands of being an adult. Look at the amount of remedial instruction now required on college campuses before students can even begin taking introductory classes. On the route of trying to measure and prove academic excellence, we are guaranteeing ourselves a progressively larger share of mediocrity. We are being dumbed- down in a systematic, organized and expensive way.

10. Shallow is as shallow does.

The American public’s perception of how public education is performing continues to slide in an era of standardized testing. Surveys confi rm that Americans view public education unfavorably, saying that standards are too lax and that students are leaving with low skill-levels.(51) Interestingly, when the same respondents are asked about their own public school, the one at which they send their children, their perceptions are that the school performs quite well.(52) In other words, it is the “other” schools that aren’t doing well, the ones that are educating “other” children. No doubt, media coverage of school shootings, falling test scores and inadequate supplies and resources contribute to a general perception that schools are failing. But even when the news is apparently good, when pass rates or test scores move up, the public is being encouraged to believe in a very shallow and unreliable measure of what makes for a “quality” education.(53) As much as students are being dumbed-down by the lowered bar of high-stakes exams, their parents and the public are being asked to swallow whole that the complex, interrelated and open-ended process of education can be reduced to a single number, up or down, black or white. Standardized exams are equally adept at dumbing-down the American public—the very ones being asked at election-time to vote on school-funding levels, school-board candidates, and—yes, sadly—even presidential candidates.

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Standardized Tests decrease learning Part 1

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The seventh and eighth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

7. More anxiety = less learning.

High-stakes standardized tests increase the levels of fear and anxiety of young students, and it is a well-documented fact in education that the higher the levels of affective interference, the less able students are to complete even low-order thinking tasks—not to mention the more refl ective, higher-order skills which are crucial for brain development and future employment. The stories coming in from around the country, even around the world,(44) of students unable to sleep at night, acting out, exhausted from stress(45) and generally working themselves into emotional wrecks(46) as a result of hype surrounding exams(47) is truly disgusting. These are children, some as young as eight years old, being put in highly stressful situations where their test performance may have extremely serious repercussions for their teachers, their parents and the fate of their school. Why are we doing this again? Oh, right—for the good of the children.

8. Narrowing the curriculum to a lifeless skeleton.

Fact: 71% of schools(48) report having to cut back on important electives like art, music and gym class in order to find more time for remedial instruction in math and reading. Some critics might consider this a step in the right direction, more like our highly competitive adversaries in China, India and Japan. But, as previously mentioned, in terms of brain development, pedagogical excellence, real-world skills and fostering intrinsic interest in learning, this is a huge net loss for children and our society. Doing more and more of what is not working does not equate with an effective educational program. We are asking children to do the metaphoric equivalent of bang their heads against a concrete wall for hours every day—and when we discover that it isn’t working, we are urging them to do it harder and for longer periods of time.

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We're Ruining Brains and Promoting the Achievement Gap!

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The fifth and sixth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

5. We are ruining brains.

Brain development is perhaps the most pressing reason why we need to rethink our current high-stakes testing mania. By age 9 or so, young people have the physical structure—the hardware, if you will—of their brain in place. Over the next ten to twelve years it is crucial that they actively utilize different brain functions—develop the software—in order for it to reach its maximum potential.(36) Structured complexity in the classroom, an enriched array of choices and modes of assessment, varied social groupings all contribute to growing the brain in particularly fruitful ways. And so does creating an environment in which adequate time, physical activity and low stress levels are baseline considerations.(37-38) Similarly, the aesthetic appreciation found in music and the arts as well as more contemplative activities like spirituality and compassion are not things that happen without schools making them a priority, or at least a possibility.(39) All of these are currently being shunted aside in our mad rush to increase test scores. As a result, we are in danger of producing a generation of learners who cannot critically think, appreciate the arts, nor marvel at the profound mysteries of our universe. And, tragically, once these abilities are neglected long enough, up through the age of 24 or so, there is less of a chance that they will ever be fully integrated into a person’s intellectual repertoire.

6. Exams merely ratify the achievement gap.

The oft-stated purpose of NCLB is to narrow the achievement gap between whites and students of color. Yet, we know, and have known for a long time, that the most reliable predictor of a student’s standardized test score is the square-footage of their principal residence.(40) In other words, students of affluent families almost universally score higher on exams than do students in under-privileged homes. Researchers have found that by the age of six, children in affluent families have been exposed to fully 2 million more words than have been children in more trying circumstances.(41) They are more likely to have been read to regularly, engaged in enrichment activities like travel and museums and also to have had access to adequate nutrition and health-care. Is it any wonder that there is a substantial achievement gap when there is a veritable gulf of difference between the haves and the have-nots in America? (I don’t even understand why we are surprised by this.) But to then take the one reliable instrument which has always privileged well-to-do students and make it the basis of comparison and academic achievement for every kid in America is simply to lock in place existing inequities. Poor children are, by far, more likely to drop out, have a stressful home-life, get suspended, repeatedly move and change schools, run afoul of the law and act out during class.(42) They are also least likely to be interested in or motivated by abstract questions or the need to score highly on an instrument far removed from their personal experience. We are not closing the achievement gap under NCLB as major research studies have shown,(43) but, rather, we are confirming and institutionalizing at the level of policy how real and profound are the differences between rich and poor.

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Dirty Dozen #3 and #4 (they're short ones...)

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The third and fourth of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

3. A lousy way to teach and learn.

Standardized tests result in the kind of “drill and kill” pedagogy that we know is ineffective. In his ground-breaking book How Children Fail, John Holt wrote this about how and why children learn:

The child who wants to know something remembers it and uses it once he has it; the child who learns something to please or appease someone else forgets it when the need for pleasing or the danger of not appeasing is past.

Brace yourselves: Holt wrote this 50 years ago in 1958! Teaching in a standardized testing environment encourages lousy teaching techniques—memorization, drill-and-kill, rote learning—and results in the kind of shallow, fl eeting and compartmentalized knowledge that is ineffective and prone to turn children off from school. We have known this for over five decades—why would we go back to a kind of instructional practice that never worked in the fi rst place?

4. Learning is natural and inherently valued.

As mentioned above, a standardized classroom results in poor pedagogy that gets the learning equation backward. Learning should be pursued for its intrinsic value, not because someone is forcing one to learn. Why do students put in hours and hours rehearsing for musical concerts, plays or practicing sports? Because, in fact, they see intrinsic value in those activities; in a word, they choose to pursue them. The same could and should be true for our academic subjects if and when we focus on giving students choices and responsibility for designing a learning plan. Course work should have much greater relevance to a student, as well as a specific and practical application beyond school. Mostly this means making explicit the connection between a given subject and a student’s life—contextualizing it, bringing it home personally, giving them and their community a stake in seeing that learning matters.(35) Once students are hooked on learning—not for reward or avoiding punishment—they will do far more for themselves and their intellectual development than we could ever imagine. Unfortunately, in the current environment, students are told repeatedly: the reason they need to spend hours learning some abstract, disconnected operation or set of facts is that it will someday be on an exam.

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Dirty Dozen #2

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[The second of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

Harm Number 2. The future is in the right-hemisphere.

The skills that are most necessary for today’s work environment are much more right-brained: creativity, whole analysis, a collaborative people orientation, aesthetic appreciation, complex reasoning and critical problem-solving.(33) It is a fact that standardized tests do not, and cannot, measure these kinds of aptitudes.(34) Right-brained abilities are much more dependent on instructor modeling, personal exploration and experience, effective pedagogy and inspiring curriculum. This is precisely why America’s best private schools do not overly bother themselves with standardized tests, but, rather, attempt to directly build academic skills—love for learning, creative problem solving, stimulating reading and discussion, critical thinking—that can be transferred to other endeavors.

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wait till next year...

Time out from school stuff to talk about the Cubs.

They finished the 2008 season last weekend with the best record in the National League. In past years, that would have meant that they won the pennant...and for me...that's fantastic.

Some might say that this year's team was "the one" that was going to finally win the championship after all this time...and now the dream is over, but no...I don't look at it that way.

Sam, this is for you...

The dream's not over...but it's just not the same dream that you're thinking about. I've been following the Cubs for a while now, and I know it hasn't been all roses, but look at the good things that have happened over the last 132 years:

5 division championships in your lifetime (I think, right? 84, 89, 03, 07, 08)
a 2008 no hitter
heros galore (Sandburg, Dunston, Dawson, Maddux, Grace... and more to come)
excitement and fun (see the above, plus Sosa, Zambrano, and others)
the NL MVP on the last place team
16 National League Pennants...including the very first in 1876
116 wins and the best winning percentage ever
"It's a great day for baseball, let's play two."
10, 14, 23, 26 (retired jerseys...and #31 when Maddux retires - maybe)...and you can name all the players who go with those numbers, right?

I could go on...but you get the idea. Baseball is not a game of championships...it may seem like that every October, but it's not. It's a game of history and courage. Name one person in any other sport who could compete historically with the likes of Babe Ruth, or Jackie Robinson (ok...you might be able to name one...but not as many...Cobb, Young, McGraw, Williams, Dimagio, Stengel, Gehrig, and on and on, ad infinitum). Think about the Cubs in terms of that...in terms of their historical significance. They are the longest continuously operating professional "major league" sports team in the world...and I dare any Reds fan to disagree since they went "minor league" in the American Association in the mid 19th century. They're one of only two of the original National League founding members and the only team to have remained in their original city (the Braves are the other). The history of the Cubs, like every other baseball team is filled with good guys (Sandburg, Maddux, Jenkins and Sosa) and riddled with bad guys (Wilson, Sosa goes here, too) and great moments (Z's no hitter) as well as tragedy ('03, '69, Sosa - again). Their place in history is immoralized in "Tinker to Evers to Chance." Their individual stories are as interesting and human as any other team...Banks coming from the Monarchs right to the Cubs with no time in the minors, Williams quietly becoming one of the best players in the game, Jenkins and his record setting consecutive 20 win seasons, Santo playing with diabetes for 11 years without anyone knowing it, it's all there. It is all part of the game.

The Joy of baseball is not in who wins or loses, but the paths the teams and players take. What's remembered? The fact that the Yankees won another World Series in 1956, or Larsen's perfect game? What's important...that the Reds won the '19 Series, or that Shoeless Joe couldn't "say it ain't so?" What do you remember about Banks? That he was on a team that lost or that he hit 512 home runs and said, "Let's play two." What's more important...the number of Championships a team has, or the players who bring us the excitement every day from April through October? It's not the teams...it's King Kelly, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Rick Sutcliffe, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandburg, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, Sammy Sosa, and Carlos Zambrano.

What happened last week was just a squeak in the door of history. The Cubs will be back next year and will provide us with everything we need for another great season of baseball. They'll give us encouragement to persevere in the face of adversity...to come back, day after day, year after year always there...always trying their best. They'll teach young fans and old fans alike about hope and possibilities. And when they do win, we'll celebrate, but we'll know that it's fleeting...and not the end, but just one more life lesson that we can learn from baseball.

Oh...and they're not cursed...they are blessed (Hey if you're going to use religious jargon, then I can too). They have the best ball park in the majors...in the best neighborhood in the majors...with the best fans in the majors...They have all those famous players - all those good guys...all those wins (more than 10,000!)...all that history...

Yeah...it would be nice if they could win a pennant or a series before I die, but that's not what's important about the Cubs. The Cubs have one of the best attendance records in baseball...yet they haven't "won the championship" in 100 years. Why is that? Why do we (the fans) keep coming back for more each year?

When you can answer that (and I think you can), you'll understand what really makes the Cubs important and why it's in your blood...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Dirty Dozen #1

The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.

The first thing to do is to read the entire article. We just finished the first of several standardized testing sessions for the 2008-2009 school year. In our school system we give the ISTEP (the official test of the State of Indiana) and NWEA, a computer based standardized achievement test. NWEA is typically given twice a year, and in some schools three times. ISTEP, this year will be given twice...Fall and Spring.

I am amazed at the excessive reliance on these tests as a means to judge students, teachers, schools, and school systems. They are overused and misused in a manner which has rightly been termed "educational malpractice."

Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.

From the article...

[Here is the first of twelve principal harms which] flow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)

Harm Number 1. In the trash-bin of history: low order thinking skills

Standardized tests, typically multiple-choice and lacking in breadth and depth, tend to measure low-order thinking skills, the kind of short-sequence logic operations which are routine and involve immediate recall of discrete but obvious facts. There are two problems here: fi rst, these types of questions are often abstract, with no connection to a student’s life and are therefore inherently uninteresting and unable to pierce through to their real-world concerns. We know, or should, that connection to a student’s identity is one of the surest ways we can bring him or her into the world of academia.(31) In a word, students find these problems unimportant and useless, and many don’t care enough to put forward a good effort. Second, the kind of skill-set that these questions build is rapidly becoming obsolete in today’s economy. When you look at jobs that are being outsourced to Asia, it is exactly this kind of rote, sequenced operation that workers in India and China are able to do much more cheaply than the best-trained American workers.(32) Bottom-line: even if American students master these kinds of short, logical operations, executing them over and over again, the reality is there won’t be much demand for these skills in the world of work.

[Peter Henry is in his 20th year of teaching, having worked at De La Salle (1988) and Park Center High Schools (1992), and since 2003, at the Urban Outreach site for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College where he teaches Native Americans. A graduate of Carleton College (1983) where he majored in Comparative Literature, Mr. Henry has studied in France and Mexico and taught both French and Spanish before moving into English and Humanities in 1994. He received a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from the University of St. Thomas in 1990. He is the founder of the New Teacher Network (www.newteachernetwork.net), an online learning community for new teachers, and consults with school districts on new teacher training and induction programs. He lives in a frontier era log cabin on the banks of the Apple River in western Wisconsin where he grows vegetables, raises chickens and serves as a board member in two local environmental organizations.]

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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 HERE.
More than 33,000 signatures so far...