"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

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Bush Legacy - Health Care

I know that President elect Obama is busy building his cabinet and figuring out how to pull our economic butts out of the fire. I hope, however, that he jumps on the health care issue quickly. Aside from sucking the life out of the American people in two economically disastrous wars...aside from killing decent public education in the name of saving the poorest among us...aside from handing the riches of the American people to his friends and family...aside from making this one of the worst industrial countries in terms of "good places to raise children"...he has put the proverbial fox in charge of the "health care chicken coop."

Here's just a sampling of the "Bush Legacy" on health care from Think Progress.

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– Since 2000, the ranks of the uninsured have grown by 7.2 million.

Health care premiums have doubled under Bush. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have risen from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008.

– The fastest growing component of health care is health insurers’ administrative costs.

Enrollment in Medicare private plans doubled. Through such plans, insurers “have increased the cost and complexity of the program without any evidence of improving care.”

– The combined profits of the nation’s largest insurance companies and their subsidiaries increased by over 170 percent between 2003 and 2007.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Nation at Risk

You had to be there.

When the Federal Government released A Nation At Risk in 1983 the response was dramatic. People were decrying the poor education our children were receiving and blaming it on the "education establishment" and teachers. It didn't matter that it was not true or that the facts were being twisted to make public education look bad. What mattered was the the Reaganites were finally going to get what they wanted...a complete dismantling of public education. They're still at work, trying to bring down public schools by any means necessary, but they haven't succeeded yet, because America's public schools are among the best in the world. At the end I have linked to a couple of articles which discuss that.

In the meantime, Carl Glickman has taken language directly from A Nation At Risk and applied it to the current financial mess. I wonder if it will be accepted like the original was?

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The Latest Nation at Risk Report

The Latest Nation At Risk Report: The Education Roundtable to Tell Corporate America How to Stop Ruining America.

We feel compelled to report to the American people that the business and financial foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur— companies that extolled themselves as models of excellent practices have deceived the American people with sloppy, undisciplined, and greedy practices that are driving Americans out of their homes, threatening their retirements, and dashing their hopes of a financially secure future. Indeed, if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre corporate financial performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

As it stands, our businesses have allowed this to happen, with greedy CEOs and upper management taking enormous benefits for themselves while preaching and dictating to our schools the need to adopt their “sound” business practices of unbridled free markets, privatization strategies, and the notion of competition as the force for change. Taxpayers are now providing an initial $700 billon bailout of some of these companies, whose CEO’s have been actively involved in dictating to policy-makers that America’s schools should model the management style of the private sector.

God forbid that our schools become more like these kinds of businesses! Our business and financial communities have, in effect, been committing rash, thoughtless acts of unilateral financial disarmament, dragging our citizens and their children into economic insecurity while having many of these same citizens pay the bill. By making their terminology, practices and transactions incomprehensible to the lay audience, these business leaders enjoyed a decade-long end run around the public and our alleged watchdog agencies. The hubris of high rollers on the top floors of America’s giant companies permitting unfettered profit-taking at the expense of others has no limit. To be blunt, the business community has become an industry at risk of implosion.

To help our colleagues in the business community, we educators hereby recommend a new guiding and monitoring organization for business and financial institutions. The Education Roundtable will gather a team of the country’s top educators, whose charge will be to set business standards, goals, and accountability structures for all corporations and financial institutions. To promote a greater culture of accountability, the Roundtable will also require each entity to publish a report card every year, based on a series of standardized assessments.

Our final word, perhaps better characterized as a plea, is that all segments of our population will give close attention to the implementation of our recommendations. Our present plight did not appear overnight, and the responsibility for our current situation is widespread. Reform of our corporate and financial system will take time and unwavering commitment. For no one can doubt that the United States is under challenge from many quarters.

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Epilogue

There will be some angry readers out there who will bristle as I have lifted some of the exact wording of the Nation at Risk Report of 1983 and changed the word “schools” and “public education” to “business and financial institutions.” And yes, I have taken plenty of liberties to extend and add sentences to define all business and financial leaders and stock market manipulators as untrustworthy, immoral, dangerous people who have let our country down; crushing the day to day lives and long term hopes of the large majority of Americans who can not afford to lose their jobs, their homes, and their savings. And my business friends -- if there still are a few left -- will bristle at the idea that educators and lay people, with no experiences in business or finance, should be taking charge of what they need to do. If so, the point has been made and hopefully, sincerely taken before further policy making.
Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Study of Reading Program Finds a Lack of Progress

By Maria Glod

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; A06

Students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study.

The final version of the study, released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education, found that students in schools that use Reading First, a program at the core of the No Child Left Behind law, scored no better on comprehension tests than students in similar schools that do not get the funding.

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

Whitehurst said the study showed some benefits. First-graders in Reading First classrooms were better able to decode, or recognize, printed words than students in schools without the program. Decoding is a key step in learning to read.

Reading First, though popular with educators, has been tarnished by allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement in recent years. Federal investigators have found that some people who helped oversee the program had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has assured lawmakers that measures were taken to prevent future management troubles.

"Reading First helps our most vulnerable students learn the fundamental elements of reading while helping teachers improve instruction," Spellings said. "Instead of reversing the progress we have made by cutting funding, we must enhance Reading First and help more students benefit from research-based instruction."

The study, among the largest ever conducted by the department, tracked the progress of tens of thousands of students in 248 schools nationwide over three academic years. The students took a widely used reading comprehension test, and researchers observed classrooms.

Reading First, which requires schools to use instructional techniques supported by scientific research, provides grants for reading instruction. It focuses on five areas: awareness of individual sounds, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension.


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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.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Computerized "Reading Incentive" Programs

Excerpted from Chapter Five of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006, 6th edition).

What about computerized “reading incentive” programs like Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts?

by Jim Trelease

Twenty-five years ago when The Read-Aloud Handbook was first published, the idea of computerized reading-incentive/reading management programs would have sounded like science fiction. Today it is one of the most hotly debated concepts among both educators and parents: Should children read for “intrinsic” rewards (the pleasure of the book) or should they be enticed to read for “extrinsic” rewards—prizes or rewards (or grades)?

Advantage Learning System’s Accelerated Reader and Scholastic’s Reading Counts, the two incentive industry leaders, work this way: The school library contains a core collection of popular and traditional children’s books, each rated by difficulty (the harder the book, the more points it has). Accompanying the books is a computer program that poses questions after the student has read the book. Passing the computer quiz earns points for the student reader, which can be redeemed for prizes like school T-shirts, privileges, or items donated by local businesses. Both programs strongly endorse SSR as an integral part of their program and require substantial library collections. Both Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts have expanded their scope beyond “incentives” to include substantial student management and assessment tools, with Accelerated Reader having the largest customer base nationally.

Too many schools are doing the same thing with reading programs that other districts sadly have done with the game of basketball.

Before going forward on this subject, I must note, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I have been a paid speaker at three Accelerated Reader national conventions. I spoke on the subjects of reading aloud, SSR, and home/school communication problems, topics I have addressed at conventions for nearly all the major education conferences, from International Reading Association (IRA) and the American Library Association (ALA) to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

I have written and spoken both favorably and negatively about these computerized programs but in recent years I've grown increasingly uneasy with the way they are being used by districts. Too often I see them being abused in ways similar to basketball, for example. In its original form, Dr. James Naismith was trying to shape an "indoorsy" exercise that would have an "outdoorsy" flavor to it. He invented basketball less than three miles from the home I'm sitting in right now. A century later, some people still use it as a form of exercise, some a form of sport, and others take it to another level and turn it into a local obsession—maybe even a form of legalized child-abuse—while warping the original intention of the sport. I don’t have to spell out those towns, cities, and states.

When I survey my seminar audiences nationally, I meet an increasing number of dedicated educators and librarians who are alarmed by the way these programs are being used. The original design was a kind of "carrot-on-a-stick"—using points and prizes to lure reluctant readers to read more. For a while the big complaint from critics was about these points or incentives. But I didn't have a problem with that as long as the rewards didn't get out of hand (and some have). As for incentives, my family's been benefiting from those frequent traveler "point programs" for decades. Every professional athlete, every CEO, and most sales reps have incentive clauses in their contracts. Who says this is bad business?

As I see it, the real problem arrived when districts bought the programs with the idea they would absolutely lift reading scores. "Listen," declares the school board member, "if we're spending $50 grand on this program that's supposed to raise scores, then how can we allow it to be optional? You know the kids who'll never opt for it—the ones with the low scores, who drag everyone else's scores down. No—it's gotta be mandatory participation." And to cement it into place, the district makes the point system 25 percent of the child's grade for a marking period. Oooops! They just took the "carrot" off the stick, leaving just the stick—a new grading weapon. Do you see the basketball connection now?

Here is a scenario that has been painted by more than a few irate librarians (school and public) in affluent districts that are using the computerized programs:

The parent comes into the library looking desperately for a "7-point book."
"What kind of book does your son like to read?" asks the librarian.
The parent replies impatiently, "Doesn't matter. He needs 7 more points to make his quota for the marking period, which ends this week. Give me anything."

In cases like that, we're just back to same ol', same 'ol: "I need a book for a book report. But it's due on Friday—so it can't have too many pages."

Draftees vs. Enlistees:The difference is in the "attitude."

The only time the incentives really work on attitudes is when it's voluntary. It's the equivalent of the difference between "enlistees" in the Army and "draftees." There's a big difference in their attitudes: one is in for a career (volunteer), the other (draftee) is in for as little time and work as possible.

As for the research supporting the computerized programs, that's hotly contested with no long-term studies with adequate control groups. True, the students read more, but is that because the district has poured all that money into school libraries and added SSR to the daily schedule? Where's the research to compare 25 "computerized" classes with 25 classes that have rich school and classroom libraries and daily SSR in the schedule? So far, it's not there.

Believe it or not, high reading scores have been accomplished in communities without computerized incentive programs, places where there are first-class school and classroom libraries, where the teachers motivate children by reading aloud to them, give book talks, and include SSR/DEAR time as an essential part of the daily curriculum. And the money that would have gone to the computer tests went instead to building a larger library collection. Unfortunately, such instances are rare. Where the scores are low, oftentimes so is the teacher’s knowledge of children’s literature, the library collection is meager to dreadful, and drill and skill supplant SSR/DEAR time.

Are there any other negatives associated with these programs?
Here are some serious negatives to guard against:

  • Some teachers and librarians have stopped reading children’s and young adult books because the computer will ask the questions instead.
  • Class discussion of books decreases because a discussion would give away test answers, and all that matters is the electronic score.
  • Students narrow their book selection to only those included in the program (points).
  • In areas where the “points” have been made part of either the grade or classroom competition, some students attempt books far beyond their level and end up frustrated.

Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district must decide its purpose: Is it there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?



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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Case Against Standardized Testing

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 eleventh and twelfth 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)

11. We are undermining and losing our best people.

As an educator, I can attest to the increasing levels of frustration and dissatisfaction within the ranks of teachers. We are losing fully 50% of new teachers in the first five years of embarking on what they hoped was a lifetime career.(54) We are also losing a staggering number of veteran teachers, some through retirement, others through the frustration of seeing what has happened to education.(55) Think about it: are we really supposed to believe that a teacher comes home at the end of the day and says to her husband—“Honey, it’s been an unbelievable day at school; our reading scores just shot up 2 percent over last year.” The real truth is that educators are made from a complex confluence of personal factors, and principal among them are a love of learning and a kind of reverence for making a difference in the lives of youngsters. By subverting that, by elevating merely routine performance to the front of what makes for education, we are actively undermining the very rationale for why good teachers want to teach.(56) And slowly, over the course of a generation, if we lose enough truly inspiring educators, we will lose their students too—the ones who see no particular reason to want to go into teaching themselves.

12. We are undermining essential American values.

Last, but not least, and perhaps most insidiously, high-stakes standardized exams support a very dangerous world-view. Jim Cummins, the intrepid advocate for literacy and second language acquisition, calls the NCLB mindset “an ideology.”(57) It is one that believes there is a single measure of human excellence, that conformity to the designs of those in authority is mandatory and that deviating in any way from the norm is wrong and to be punished Had it been our principal educational impulse since America’s inception, I believe there would not have been developments like Jazz and women’s suffrage, or figures like Anne Sullivan, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony or Franklin Delano Roosevelt—that we would be today a much less confident, innovative and resilient people.

At its core, the high-stakes standardized testing movement is asking students not only to not think for themselves, but to passively accept that all knowledge is controlled by authority. That you exist only as an individual, not as part of some larger social whole, and that you will be successful or fail based upon your individual ability to do exactly what others expect you to. If you step outside of that and try to do something based upon conviction, creativity or critical insight, your academic record along with a raft of social opportunities will be damaged. In fully embracing a high-stakes standardized testing regime, we are subverting a substantial part of what makes America unique and productive: our ingenuity, our self-reliance, our faith that we make a better tomorrow through creativity and collaboration, not conforming to others’ ideas about what we ought to know or be able to do. Instead, we are being asked to stay passively in our chair and make a selection from answers provided, obey all commands and regulations—no matter how punitive, ridiculous or restrictive—blithely accept the accuracy, fairness and lack of transparency surrounding the exams, and voice not a single word in opposition to the entire noxious enterprise.

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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.
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