"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, December 15, 2009

The Race to Nowhere...

The administration's Race to the Top, like No Child Left Behind before it, promises to do exactly the opposite of what is best for the public schools in the US. Race to the Top, instead of helping schools in need, is a plan to close schools and open charter schools. The few schools who can prove that they are not "failing" will benefit, but the vast majority of public schools in the US will be hurt by this.

Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch have found themselves at odds on policy over the years, but they share a passion for improving schools. Bridging Differences, an Education Week blog, offers their insights on what matters most in education. It's written letter style, one to another and today's entry is from Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under the first President Bush
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...From Bridging Differences

Dear Deborah,

I understand why you were taken aback by that article in the "Style" section of The New York Times last week that described how charter schools have become a must-have among hedge-fund managers, billionaires, and other members of the social elite in New York City. The article bothered me, too. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it worries me. Having written the history of the New York City public schools, I was reminded of the origins of free schooling in certain northeastern cities in the early 19th Century, when wealthy men decided that it was their civic duty to help civilize the children of the poor. In their view and in their day, they were doing good deeds, but their schools were stigmatized as charity schools for children of paupers and were avoided by children of the middle class. Outside of big cities, public education emerged as a community response to a community's need to school its children, not as a charitable venture.

Today, with the proliferation of charter schools, we may be seeing a resurgence of the historic pattern as public schools are privatized and taken over by very rich men (and women) who see themselves as saviors of the children of the poor. Naturally, you find this a repellent portrait because it undermines the democratic foundations of public education. It means that our society will increasingly rely on the good will of wealthy patrons to educate children of color. It means that education is seen as a private charity rather than as a public responsibility. Let's hope that the new owners who have taken over these schools are able to sustain their interest. After all, having 500 children in your care is not the same as having a stable of polo ponies or a vineyard in Napa Valley. If the children don't produce results that make the sponsors proud, they may pick a different hobby.

Though the rise of the hedge-fund managers as charter school operators may distress us, it thrills others because it dovetails so perfectly with the Obama administration's Race to the Top. I don't know about you, but I am getting sick of the rhetoric of the Race to the Top, as it implies the very opposite of "equal educational opportunity." But "equal educational opportunity" is so...yesterday, so now we shall all "race to the top," to see who can get there first. Who can privatize the most schools? Who can close the most public schools? Which district can replace the most public schools with charter schools? Who can compel their teachers to focus intently on those pesky math and reading test scores? Who can boot out the most teachers whose students didn't get higher scores than last year? Who seriously believes that this combination of policies will produce better education?

We try not to be New York City-centric, but so much is happening in this city that it is hard not to see it as a bellwether. After all, NYC not only was a faithful representation of No Child Left Behind, but it is now outfitting itself to be a faithful representation of the Race to the Top. This is not a hard transition because NLCB and the Race to the Top are really the same, except that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's "Race" has nearly $5 billion as a lure to persuade states to climb aboard the express train to privatization.

In the past few days, Chancellor Joel Klein has announced that he is closing nearly two dozen public schools. Some of these schools are the anchor in their communities; some have long histories as gateways for immigrant children. In recent years, the Department of Education decided that it does not like large high schools, so it has been closing them down and sending their lowest-performing students to other large high schools, which then have lower scores and more disciplinary incidents. Some of the large high schools were beyond saving, but most could have been improved by a thoughtful plan of action, including smaller classes, better supervision, and the kinds of resources that hedge-fund managers pour into "their" charter schools. Unfortunately the data-driven MBAs at central headquarters know nothing about instruction and curriculum or about any strategies that might improve a school. They have no school-improvement strategy. What they know best is how to shut down schools, and in this they will find funding and encouragement from the Obama administration.

As soon as the central administration decides to close a school, it is a fait accompli. New York City has a rubber-stamp "board" of 13, with a majority appointed by the mayor, serving at his pleasure; it approves every executive decision, with only a single dissenting vote (the heroic Patrick Sullivan, a public school parent). Public hearings are pro forma; no decision is ever reversed. Parents and teachers may protest 'til the cows come home, and they can't change a thing. Their school will be closed, the low-performing students will be dispersed, and either new small schools or charter schools will take over their building. Some of the schools that will close are, funnily enough, small schools that were opened by Bloomberg and Klein only a few years ago.

Does anyone believe that this sorry game of musical chairs will improve education? Does anyone in Washington or at central headquarters grasp the pointlessness of the disruption needlessly inflicted on students, families, teachers, principals, and communities in the name of "reform"? Do these people have no shame?

Diane

Monday, November 23, 2009

Obama's Vision for Education

Obama's plan for improving public education is to rely on charter schools, which have been shown to be no better than "regular" public schools, and to pay teachers for the performance of their students on standardized tests which, aside from being divisive, is a blatant misuse of achievement tests and a sure-fire way to invite cheating and corruption. Didn't we learn anything from Bush's so-called Texas Miracle which involved wide-spread cheating to improve test scores? As a commenter to this article put it, "We should not be surprised that Obama has no idea how to improve public schools, his children have never attended one."

Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education under Bush I, was frequently at odds with the policies of progressives in education. Bush II and No Child Left Behind moved her to our side.

This article is part of a continuing conversation between Ravitch and Deborah Meier on the Education Week Blog

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Obama's Vision for Education

By Diane Ravitch

Dear Deborah,

I have been trying to ascertain what President Obama plans to do to reshape the federal role in education, and the outlines of his policy are becoming clear. So far, we have not heard much about what he will do to fix the No Child Left Behind approach, but the signs are not encouraging.

One point is clear: He prefers charter schools to regular public schools. After his election, he first visited a charter school, not a regular public school. The day after the 2009 election, he and Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Wright Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, which caps its class sizes at 20. That is a class size, by the way, that is out of reach in most urban public schools. The president seems eager to turn over as many public schools as possible to private management. I find it laughable that so many of his critics call him a socialist and a man of the left, when in education, he is quite obviously a force for privatization of public education.

The president is a strong supporter of performance pay. In his visit to the charter school in Madison, the president took the opportunity to remind the nation that teachers should be evaluated in relation to their students' test scores. The funny part of this was that he "went off script" to tell everyone that his daughter Malia came home from school with a 73 on a science test. Logic should have compelled the president to demand an immediate investigation of Malia's teacher, who had obviously failed in her responsibility to make Malia an A student. But, no, the president said that Malia, apparently upset by her low grade, had "started wanting it [the higher score] more than us," and on her next science test, she got a 95. The president did not seem to realize that his little family story had undermined his campaign to blame teachers if students did not score well. Malia got a low score initially because she didn't try hard enough, not because her teacher was ineffective.

Too bad that no one in the U.S. Department of Education briefed the president and the secretary on the latest merit pay evaluation. This one, produced by the National Center on Performance Incentives at the request of the Texas Education Agency, reviewed the results of the nation's largest merit pay program (PDF). Called the Governor's Educator Excellence Grant (GEEG) program, it handed out some $300 million over three years to teachers in 99 high-poverty schools. The plan relied on test scores, and the performance of individual teachers.

The good news: The teachers liked the extra pay; they collaborated to get extra pay. Teachers had positive attitudes about the program, whether they got the bonuses or not.

The bad news: The program had an "inconclusive" impact on student achievement, which the evaluation characterizes as "weakly positive, negative or negligible effect" on gains.

So, having seen little return from its sizable investment, Texas plans to expand the program, and of course, President Obama wants every state to pump federal dollars into pay-for-performance, even though we have yet to see any evidence that this is a sensible investment of scarce public funds.

Two things are becoming clear to me: One, people who have an agenda will pursue that agenda regardless of evidence. They will tell you that conditions weren't exactly right, that the bonus should have been larger, that the program should have been tweaked this way or that way. But the bottom line is that teachers got bonuses, and the impact on student achievement (using those same lousy measures that we complain about) was hard to quantify.

The other is that the Obama administration has an education plan that was written by corporate-style ideologues. They are determined to fasten a business plan on the schools and will not be deterred by arguments or evidence. If incentives and sanctions work in the business world, then by gum, they will work in education. If deregulation is what the corporate sector wants, then why not foist it on the schools as well.

So, the outline of the Obama education vision is emerging. It is a business plan, designed by people who know nothing about schools and care nothing about evidence.

The nation's public schools are in for a rough ride.

Diane

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Are You Doing Wrong?


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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blinded by Reform

by Mike Rose

Posted on Oct 21, 2009

It’s gotten lost in the splashier news, but big things are going on at the U.S. Department of Education.

Following on the unprecedented federal reach of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is extending further and putting serious money behind its education initiatives, inviting states and districts to compete for federal dollars. The department wants to increase the community college graduation rate. For K-12, it wants to stimulate the production of better state standards and tests, measure teacher effectiveness, turn around failing schools and increase the number of charter schools. Through a third initiative it wants to spark innovation and scale up the best of local academic programs.

This is a moment of real promise for American education, from kindergarten through college. It has even created the season’s oddest political couple: With the Department of Education’s blessing, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Rev. Al Sharpton are about to tour the country for educational reform.

Reform is in the air. But within many of these reforms are the seeds of their undoing.

For example, the Education Department is putting a lot of stock in charter schools as “engines of innovation”—in fact, it will not consider a state’s proposal if the state has a cap on charters. Yet a number of research studies—the most recent from Stanford—demonstrate that charter schools on average are no better or worse than the regular public schools around them. Some charters are sites of fresh ideas and robust education, but so are magnet schools, and career academies, and—we seem to have forgotten this—regular old schools with strong leadership and a critical mass of good teachers. But the reformers’ overvaluation of charter schools seems to dim their view of these varied manifestations of excellence.

Another example is the department’s attempt to link evaluation of teacher quality to student performance. (Merit pay could also follow.) And, again, the department will not consider a state’s proposal if the state outlaws such linkage of evaluation and student performance.

This linkage has a common-sense quality to it, especially what is called “value-added” analysis: that is, the degree to which a class’ test scores improve from the beginning of the school year to the end. Yet among experts in educational testing and measurement, there is a good deal of disagreement over the legitimacy of using these techniques to judge teacher quality. There are a host of factors that can affect scores: the non-random mix of students in a class, the students’ previous teachers, the lobbying of senior teachers for higher-scoring classes or the assignment of such classes to a principal’s favored teachers. There are also technical issues with the analysis of the test data. And there are significant conceptual concerns about exactly what the tests are measuring. In fact, the National Research Council, the prestigious, nonpartisan government agency, has just issued a statement reinforcing all of these concerns.

The Department of Education champions “evidence-based” and “data-driven” practice. Why, then, does the department espouse approaches that warrant scrutiny?

I think there are three interrelated reasons.

Given the immense pressure in politics for a quick result, there is a tendency in social policy toward single-shot, magic-bullet solutions, solutions that are marketable and have rhetorical panache but are simplified responses to complex problems. Charter schools will transform American education, or the linking of student test scores to teacher effectiveness will pressure teachers to change the way they teach and their expectations for what students can achieve.

This magic-bullet thinking is enabled by the paucity of schoolhouse-level knowledge of teaching and learning in the formation of educational policy. Not many policy analysts have taught school and, with few exceptions, those who have taught spent only a youthful year or two in the ranks. More troubling is something I have witnessed over the years: On-the-ground, intimate knowledge of teaching and learning is not valued, and is seen as an imprecise distraction from the consideration of broader economic and management principles that lead to systemic change. It’s like setting up a cardiology clinic without the advice of cardiologists.

The third element involves the rhetoric of reform. The advocates of the current model of test-based accountability have been very successful in depicting their critics as “anti-reform traditionalists,” as “special interests” or, the kiss of death, as members of the “education establishment.”

There is a lot to say about the accuracy of this depiction, for many who are tarred as establishment traditionalists have a long history of challenging traditional school practice and working to change it. But for now I want to focus on the way this demonizing rhetoric can jeopardize the work of the reformers themselves.

Take, for example, the concern expressed by teachers’ unions about linking student test scores to teacher evaluation. It is easy to characterize these concerns as special-interest pleading, but some of the evidence cited by the unions comes from researchers with no vested interest in teachers’ bread-and-butter issues. (One such researcher is a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.) When legitimate concerns about reform techniques are easily dismissed as “anti-reform,” then you have a closed policy system, one shielded from self-correction.

It is good news indeed that school reform has become a top national priority, that the ways schools are structured, children are taught and teachers evaluated have become issues worthy of federal attention. But for reforms to be effective and sustained, they need to be grounded on the best we know and examined carefully and from multiple perspectives.

Mike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of “Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us.”


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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Monday, October 19, 2009

Testing program takes fun out of reading

Published online on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009 in the Fresno Bee

By Derek Boucher

Last week, a friend of our family came to us distraught after her child, a student in the Clovis Unified School District, read the adolescent favorite "The Name of This Book is Secret." Despite having a very positive experience with the book, she failed her school's Accelerated Reader comprehension test.

This resulted in a lowering of her English grade. Accelerated Reader is a popular, expensive commercial program used in many of our schools today. Last year, we learned of another child who was discouraged by a librarian from reading Hemingway's classic "The Old Man and the Sea" because it was considered too low for that child's reading level.

As we transition into another school year, parents throughout Clovis Unified and other Valley schools have been notified that a portion of their child's English grade will be determined by completing novels, and answering narrow comprehension questions online about the story.

The concept is simple: Pass the online test and the student gets points that go toward their grade. No points are awarded if the student fails the test. Fail the test, and no retakes are allowed. This program is very convenient for teachers who simply upload the AR points from the computer and translate them into a grade. No fuss, no mess!

But this is so typical in today's schools, where lust for high standardized test scores and short-term gains often overshadow the more important and difficult work of creating curious learners and life-long readers.

One might assume that adults with long résumés might ask the question: What is the long-term impact of this program on our children?

Different studies suggest that incentive programs (reading to get prizes or a grade) tend to have a deleterious effect on young readers. When the incentives (or punishments) to read stop, the children stop reading as well. This shouldn't be surprising, since performance and learning tend to decline when extrinsic motivators are present (Kohn, 1999).

In most schools today, reading has not been presented to children as an inherently pleasurable experience, but as a vehicle to get a prize or a grade.

Voracious readers understand that literature allows us to lose ourselves in the world of a story. Avid readers engage in intensely enjoyable experiences with plot and characters.

In contrast, programs like Accelerated Reader teach students to read literature in a superficial manner. Students read with a mind to skim for the facts they will need for the quiz, which is very different from the thoughtful engagement we want to see when our children open a book. One parent shared with me he is going to buy Cliff's Notes so his child will be sure to pass his next AR test.

A study by Carter (1996) suggests that incentive programs create a system where "the rich get richer." Children who are already strong readers will usually do quite well on comprehension tests. In contrast, resistant readers become demoralized when, after struggling through a book, they are left with zero points because they failed their AR test. This reinforces their perception that reading is not for them.

Here's a challenge to educators who favor Accelerated Reader. Choose any piece of literature you like. Ask a friend to read the same book. After reading, create 15 comprehension questions. Quiz one another. Don't cheat! You can't refer back to the book, and you can't discuss what you enjoyed about the story. (Too subjective!) And, you only get one try. Now repeat the process 10-15 times in nine months. See how you like it.

Derek Boucher of Clovis teaches science at Roosevelt High School.

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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Proven track records...

Published in Education Week
09/23/2009

To the editor
Recent Education Week stories highlight troubling contradictions in federal efforts to guide public school reforms. On the one hand, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demands a "proven" track record for programs seeking grants from his $650 million innovation fund ("Duncan Sets Bar on Fund," Aug. 26, 2009). Yet, on the other, the priorities and requirements spelled out in the Department of Education's school improvement and Race to the Top grant guidelines either have no track record or, worse, have a track record of failure ("Tight Leash Likely on Turnaround Aid," Sept. 2, 2009; Rich Prize, Restrictive Guidelines," Aug. 12, 2009).

Mr. Duncan says his recommendations for improving underperforming schools are based on an analysis of programs working at the local level, but offers anecdotes rather than solid evidence. Meanwhile, readily available independent research, such as that of the Vermont researcher William J. Mathis, casts serious doubt on his nostrums.

Many organizations that have submitted comments in response to the Race to the Top Fund's draft guidelines have noted this lack of evidence. There are widespread concerns that the secretary will retain and even intensify the misuse of standardized tests. For Race to the Top, this means relying on student scores to evaluate teachers, though, once again, there is no evidence this will improve teaching and learning.

If his required reforms are based on solid research, Secretary Duncan needs to share it with the public. In an ongoing fiscal crisis, $3.5 billion in new school improvement aid is an awful lot of money to invest in anything less than proven remedies.

— Lisa Guisbond

Lisa Guisbond is Policy Analyst for National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Boston, Mass.

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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Book Week

September 26 through October 3 is Banned Book Week.



Catcher in the Rye . . . Harry Potter . . . Captain Underpants . . .
Every year, there are hundreds of attempts to remove books from schools and libraries. Celebrate YOUR freedom to read and right to choose your book during Banned Books Week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Teachers MUST speak out.

From Susan Ohanian:

Teachers MUST speak out. They must do it for children, for the preservation of teaching, for democracy itself. And here's a way to make this easier than you might think.

I write this to reach out to teachers who feel trapped in a nightmare of test prep and other Standardisto mandates from which they can't seem to escape.

Longer ago than I want to admit, I was a teacher who felt totally isolated in her classroom. I had a vision of how to teach--from reading books by Jim Herndon, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and a host of others--but I had nobody to talk to about this vision.

Joining NCTE brought me colleagues, which is why, despite my horror at what the leadership chooses to do these days, I try to stay loyal. I know there are thousands of teachers in that organization trying to do the right thing. And I hope that, like me, the organization brings them kindred spirits to sustain them.

Early on in my teaching career I started writing. New York Teacher, the rag published by the AFT, insisted that nobody would read book reviews, but I continued to submit long reviews in the style of New York Review of Books, and then harangue the editor until he agreed to publish them. I didn't even get free review copies of the books.

I received wonderful mail about those reviews, and here's my best story. My physicist husband had arranged for an Einstein celebratory conference in upstate New York, and noted theoretical physicist and Einstein collaborator and biographer Banesh Hoffman was the keynote speaker. When my husband picked Hoffman up at the airport, the first thing Hoffman said was, "You related to the woman who writes those reviews for New York Teacher?

As it happens Hoffman cared a whole lot about public education--in places other than the ivory tower--and had written the classic The Tyranny of Testing (first published in 1962 and still in print). A professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, he read book reviews in New York Teacher.

Who could know?

And that's my point here. You have no idea of the power of your voice until you exercise it. As a teacher, your voice has been systematically silenced by a union that pretends to represent you, by professional organizations that decide to collaborate with corporate interests, and by a culture that ignores you.

With the help of EPATA (Educators & Parents Against Test Abuse), born out of a meeting in Fresno, CA in September 2009, Stop National Standards is working to help you find very specific avenues in which you can be heard.

We publish an ACTION page, actions both local and national, that you might join. These actions range from writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper about the Baca Bill to joining in the University of California strike, to silently putting cards in public places.

OK, being a shy person (except in print), I admit that the Say YES card distribution is currently one of my favorite actions. Go have a latte and leave a card. Go to the library, and leave a few cards. Sort your mail at the counter in the post office and leave a card.

You don't need to say or write a word to do this. This morning I went to Staples and picked up my first 1,000 cards. Tomorrow I'm going out and having a latte.

You MUST do something--for the sake of the children, for the preservation of teaching as a profession, for the very fiber of democracy itself, and for the survival of your own soul.

Silence is no longer an option.

Choose an action you can do, and DO it. And please write and tell me about what you're doing.

susano@gmavt.net





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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:

• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.


Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obama speech debacle proves Arne Duncan does not know how schools work

by Edward Hayes, Examiner.com

Opening day is one of the three worst days of the school year for a principal. Imagine if you will twelve hundred students who are collectively ambivalent about school, a hundred anxiety-ridden teachers, and if you are in Chicago, twenty of them are rookies; perhaps a dozen school buses driven by nameless people whose only qualification is that they can pass a drug test, and a goofy array of parents, many of whom do not speak your language, all descending on you at one time. That is what the first day of school looks like to a principal. Every possible question from where is the chalk to why isn’t first period basket weaving class covered, is coming your way.

You’ve spent the latter half of the summer preparing individualized student schedules, at least a third of which are wrong, hiring new teachers at the last minute because the ones that left were hired by higher-paying school districts in their last moments; repopulating rooms with desks, computers, and stuff that was removed so that the janitorial crew from GITMO could thoroughly clean them; and registering students new to the neighborhood, some of whom present false paperwork because the school in their community is worse than yours. Oh, by the way, the first home game is tomorrow night and the lights on the football field aren’t working.

This describes an average, ordinary, garden-variety school opening. My personal worst was day one at Roosevelt Elementary in Bellwood. Just as I walked up to unlock the school’s door at the very early hour of 6:30 AM, the bloody water main in the middle of the street burst. It stayed ‘burst’ all day. Roosevelt, since renamed Thurgood Marshall, was totally without running water for sinks or toilets. I was forced to work out a bussing plan to get my K-6 kids to the restroom throughout the day. It was my very first day as a principal of any school.

The last thing I needed then, or any principal needed Tuesday, was a Presidential speech controversy. Can you also imagine how many parent phone calls principals and real superintendents must have fielded over the last week? It wasn’t enough that parents were holding the principal under siege to get privileged scheduling or the best teacher assignments or special intervention with the coach of one of the autumn sports, nooooooo. This year, the principal also had to explain President Obama’s innermost intentions and covert motivations. There must have been parents on both sides of the issue, which means the poor slob principal likely made a whole new portfolio of enemies as he or she was caught in the middle of the needless political controversy.

It was no bed of roses for teachers either. Establishing class control is an essential day-one task; so is presenting the syllabus or setting an academic tone. How do you do that with a presidential address breaking into your private time with new children and dominating the landscape? Furthermore, given the complete variation in school scheduling across the nation, did Obama’s speech come at the beginning, end, middle, or during normal passing times? Did it interfere with the lunch schedule and force some teachers to hold kids and lose lunch time or prep period time contrary to union contract? Were classrooms all completely set up with televisions on the very first day of school? I betcha the GITMO crew appreciated that added requirement. If televsions weren't universally available, that translates to a school-wide assembly of hundreds of youngsters under the supervision of teachers who cannot yet identify them. Nice.

Students love drama. The clever and theatrical ones certainly used the occasion to generate a little late summer tension and distract the teacher from more mundane tasks. And how many of our educators were able to keep their personal politics from showing in the glare of this foolishness? If you had an opinion one way or another, your bias showed, and since Obama is more of a black guy than any other description, did old-fashioned racism get injected into places where it wasn’t before all of this transpired?

Educationally, this was a debacle. National Nice Guy and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is, at the lowest level of interpretation, Obama’s education advisor. Duncan was wrong and ‘misspoke’ in declaring Obama’s speech as unprecedented because George Bush 41 and Ronald Reagan also addressed school children. Duncan was inept in suggesting a Pyongyang- style lesson plan inextricable linked to the president’s person instead of the nation’s welfare. When I was in high school, JFK challenged us to ask what we could do for our country, not what we could do for him. Duncan was disingenuously crude in changing the DOE website lesson plan in the vain hope that no one would notice, and then Arne looked like an Arne Duncan in telling the country that we were silly to object to the speech. If he truly believed that, why did he change the lesson plan after it began to take fire?

Worst of all, Duncan made the first day of school across the nation for nearly 100,000 public schools much more difficult than it had to be for the very people he is supposed to be helping: educators, students, and parents. Why? Because this man does not have any idea of how schools work. He has never taught a public school classroom, and he surely has not taken on the gargantuan task of running a school. Yet there are those of you out there completely willing to believe that he reformed Chicago Public Schools. Clearly he failed to provide the President with simple, useful advice in the area of his alleged expertise. Sure give a speech Barack, if you must, but not on the first day of school.

Oh, the other two bad days for a principal. The last day of school, and the day you get fired so the district can establish an Arne Duncan charter school. Madness.
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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:

• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.


Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Duncan's Background and Duncan's Plans

And if you're not convinced that the issue is one of poverty, instead of schools, check out this entry by Jim Horn over at Schools Matter. While the rightwing nut jobs think Obama is trying to subvert our children with his speech on September 8, he spouts the business view of education and ignores the real effect of poverty on learning.

Duncan's Background and Duncan's Plans

by Stephen Krashen

Sent to Time Magazine, September 5, 2009

What I learned from "Can Arne Duncan (And $5 Billion) Fix America's Schools?" (Sept. 14) is that Secretary of Education Duncan's only experience in education is helping out in his mother's after-school tutoring program, which was somehow enough to get him an administrative position with Chicago public schools.

I also learned that when he was head of Chicago public schools, he tried a number of odd schemes, all known to be ineffective, to improve performance (e.g. charter schools, bribing students, merit pay, closing down schools). These schemes resulted in "modest gains," a description that is much too generous, according to an article in USA Today on July 12.

Duncan's plan now is to use these discredited approaches nationwide, and expand the Bush administration's testing program, also shown repeatedly to be ineffective.

All this is because he thinks American schools are "dysfunctional," despite analyses that show that the problem is poverty, not the quality of our schools: American students who do not live in poverty do very well on international tests when compared to students in other countries.

In her book, "Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids Caught in a Killing Curriculum," published in 2001, Susan Ohanian, an experienced and award-winning educator who has actually taught in public schools, pointed out that:
"The pattern of reform … has spread across the nation: Bring in someone who has never been involved in public education; proclaim that local administrators and teachers are lazy and stupid; use massive testing to force schools into curriculum compliance" (page x).
Since this passage was written, this pattern of reform has clearly spread to the highest levels.

Stephen Krashen

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1920299,00.html
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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Children need play...

It's the Kindergarten problem again...

Earlier this year the Alliance for Childhood came out with a report called, "Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School."

In that report, they said...


...by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk.
In the last 6 months there have been numerous media references to this report.

On April 29, 2009 in the New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein wrote:


...all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children’s educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.

In the May/June 2009 issue of the Harvard Education Letter, David McKay Wilson wrote:


A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics...concluded that play was essential for healthy brain development. And a cross-national study of 1,500 young children in 10 countries found that children’s language at age seven improved when teachers let them choose their activities rather than teaching them in didactic lessons.

On August 8, 2009, MSNBC presented "Tutoring Tots" in which Jacqueline Stenson, quoting from the report, wrote:


kindergartens have changed dramatically in the last two decades “from places where love of learning was thoughtfully nurtured into pressure-cooker classrooms where teachers are required to follow scripts, labor under unrealistic one-size-fits-all standards, and test children relentlessly on their performance. Kindergarten has ceased to be a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress.”

On August 24, 2009, writing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Kirsten Stewart, quoting from the report, wrote:


the nation is "blindly pursuing education policies that could well damage the intellectual, social and physical development of an entire generation."

Finally, today, August 30, 2009, Patti Hartigan wrote in the Boston Globe:


5-year-olds don’t learn by listening to a rote lesson, their bottoms on their chairs. They learn through experience. They learn through play. Yet there is a growing disconnect between what the research says is best for children -- a classroom free of pressure -- and what’s actually going on in schools.

In schools across the country, children are being asked to perform academic tasks, including test taking, that early childhood researchers (and I would venture to say, teachers as well) agree are developmentally inappropriate and potentially damaging!

I had hoped that the federal role in education would encompass change I could believe in...

Unfortunately for the kindergartners of the US things haven't changed at all. "No Child Left Behind" is still leaving sound educational practice behind.



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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:


• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time

These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Teachers Leave the Profession; An American Tragedy

I'm not about to leave the teaching profession after 33 years, but at this point in our history, half the teachers who start teaching leave by their 6th year. Why is that? Sarah Fine explains it well...Ken Bernstein, a high school science teacher and blogger, examines her reasons.

The article below and the one it references should be read by anyone interested in Public Education, including our President and his Secretary of Education. Unfortunately, the voices of teachers and students are being drowned out by politicians, pundits and talk-show hosts, as well as poverty, exhaustion and the daily pressure of walking into a classroom.

Take 20 minutes and read this...

Stu

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originally posted at Daily Kos


It happens all the time. People come into teaching, full of enthusiasm, sometimes accompanied by real talent. But they do not stay. After all, we lose half of those entering into teaching before they start their sixth year, the bulk of those before they start their fourth. There are lots of reasons. Some, like those entering through programs like Teach for America, never intended to make a career of it. Others find they cannot handle the pressures, or live on the salaries.

I could give you statistics, but that is often not effective. I remind you that Stalin said that the death of millions was a statistic, but the death of an individual was a tragedy. So let5's look at a tragedy, the death of a teaching career, after the magical three-year mark, of a gifted teacher who is able to explain why she is leaving.

Sarah Fine puts it bluntly in the title of her Washington Post op ed: Schools Need Teachers Like Me. I Just Can't Stay. Please read the whole thing. It won't take long. Then we'll talk.

It is rarely one reason when a person who is dedicated to the ideal of teaching chooses to abandon the profession. Money is certainly part of it. The job can be hard, and the term "burnout" is often applicable, but not because of the difficulty of the job, at least, the part of the job that involved dealing with students, even the most difficult students.

Fine acknowledges that her own story is not unique, writing
In 2005, the year I started teaching, nearly a third of new teachers in the District of Columbia were recent college graduates who had enrolled in Teach for America or the D.C. Teaching Fellows program. Statistics suggest that many of these recruits have already moved on. Nationally, half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years, and in urban schools, especially the much-lauded "no excuses" charter schools, turnover is often much higher.
One reason not directly addressed in Fine's piece is that most urban charter schools are not unionized. For better or worse, that means that the teaching staff lacks the protections a union can give them, making them subject to abusive or unrealistic demands by administrations. We see this in the paragraph following what I have already quoted from Fine, who has already told us that she uses the term "burnout" as as a kind of shorthand:
When I talk about the long hours, for example, what I mean is that, over the course of four years, my school's administration steadily expanded the workload and workday while barely adjusting salaries. More and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported. One afternoon this spring, when my often apathetic 10th-graders were walking eagerly around the room as part of a writing assignment, an administrator came in and ordered me to get the class "seated and silent." It took everything I had to hold back my tears of frustration.
Here I would interject that some of what troubled her about her own situation is becoming increasingly the case in public schools that are unionized as well. The idea of micromanagement - especially in ways that interfere with the teachers' ability to really connect with the students, are among the most troubling problems teachers encounter. We see it in canned lessons, rigid pacing guides used to require everyone to be on the same page at the same time.

The idea that decisions are made behind closed doors is also something we all encounter. Or, if the doors are not closed, the voices of those of us in the classroom are not included when the decisions are being made. Fine writes about spending weeks with fellow teachers revising a curriculum proposal only to see it rejected by her administration without even looking at it. We see this now on a national scale: on July 27 I posted Education: what is wrong with this picture? in which I pointed out that the panels involved in drafting new national standards for English and Math and the support panels included a grand total of one classroom teacher and no participation by the professional organizations for the two curricular areas.

Fine is a gifted writer. She acknowledges her frustration in not being able to reach all her students, and worries about those who fall through the cracks. As a teacher myself, that draws me to her, because even after 14 years I still wrestle with the same worries. That demonstrates the kind of caring that is usually essential to reaching the most difficult students. And reading the description of the classroom, where we realize that she herself - not her school - provided the library of young adult literature for her students, that she honored them by posting their efforts at poetry, it is easy to see her as the kind of teacher who draws students to what she asks, who is effective in having her students go beyond their comfort levels. And even while expressing pride in her students effective performance on the required external test does not make up for the sense of failing students who did not succeed.

That kind of frustration can break a lesser teacher, even one with the support of her administration. If one enters the profession wanting to make a difference,or as Fine puts it,
it only seemed right that I "give back" after spending 22 years in a suburban, Ivy League bubble
those failures can cut very deeply, that can be devastating to on'e moral and sense of purpose. Even as one struggles with the sense of failure for those one did not reach, being able to persist, to try to adjust, to maintain one's effort on behalf of those students one is reaching, is critical if we are going to make a difference in the lives of the people served by the kind of school in which Fine taught. Note that I said people, not children or students. In many cases it is by what we do for those in our classroom that also inspires and sustains the adult members of their families, who seeing possibilities opening up for their children are inspired to overcome inertia and despair and themselves try to make a difference in their own lives.

What Fine describes as most devastating is the lack of respect for the profession. She reminds us that
Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.
Here the problem is more widespread than many are willing to recognize. All professions have underachievers, and/or people who perhaps should be encouraged to leave the profession. That is certainly true of elected legislators, it is very true of lawyers (remember, that profession includes the likes of Orly Taitz), we have seen how true it was of bankers, and far too many in medical fields are more concerned with the money they make than with the real health of their patients. Yet no other profession is subject to the constant drumbeat of criticism, to the palpable lack of respect for the profession. Even a president who claims to be committed to improving education is prone to the kind of rhetoric that paints with brush strokes far too broad.

It is true in teaching, as in other fields, that some are far more effective in reaching their students, in having those students succeed no matter what measure you use - score on external tests, persistence in doing work, developing the ability to work independently in the domain. Our approach should not be to incentivize those teachers, but rather to use them to help understand how and why they are more successful, and thus to empower other teachers to greater success. Instead we see arguments for merit pay for teachers based at least in part on performance on test scores, including statements and actions by our President and his Secretary of Education, ignoring all the evidence both in education and in other fields of the ineffectiveness - and sometimes the destructiveness - of merit pay as a means of improving overall performance in the field.

Our Secretary of Education is not only insisting upon using student test performance as a key factor in making such merit pay decisions, he is also insisting upon states expanding the use of charter schools, despite a clear lack of evidence that they are any more effective overall in teaching students, as a recently released study at Stanford made clear.

Fine taught in a charter school. It is dangerous to make policy by anecdote, and in referencing her experience, it is not my intent to do so. But she illustrates very clearly that merely setting up a charter does not overcome many of the problems inherent in education, particularly in situations such as inner city minority neighborhoods. Students will arrive absent the skills and knowledge one should be able to expect at that grade level. Issues of family dysfunction, poverty, nutrition and health, are not overcome by magically doing away with the normal structure of the traditional public school, including having unions to protect the rights of the teachers. Many charters are able to select out the more difficult to educate students, or the ones whose families are not seen as being as "supportive" of the school and its mission. The hours worked by their teachers are often not sustainable, which also contributes to high turnover of staff which undercuts the effectiveness of the school.

Some charters are more successful, especially those able to develop and maintain a clear sense of mission, one which is a product of a group effort of the entire staff, not just of one person. The flexibility that allows that to happen in a charter is key. And perhaps we should acknowledge that, and rather than insisting states merely allow or even mandate more charters, start trying to give a similar flexibility to "traditional" public schools so that they can meet the needs of the students in their classes.

In any case, teaching is a key to the success of our students. We have known about the high turnover among teachers for many years. It has been an important issue since before I began my own Master of Arts in Teaching program in 1994, and it has gotten worse in the decade and a half since. If we cannot develop and maintain a sufficient core of competent or better teachers, we will not overcome the crisis of education that we currently face, which is far more than the issue of international economic competition, an issue which receives too much attention at the expense of things far more basic. We will not be educating our young people to be participants in the representative democracy we pretend to be. We will not be empowering each student to pursue that which most energizes them for work or even for avocation. We will not be equipping our students to be able to learn on their own, to be willing to take intellectual risks.

All of that requires teachers. I am about to start my 15th year of teaching. I am still learning how to be more effective for the students in my care. By all counts I am at least a pretty good teacher, more than minimally competent even on my occasional bad days - and remember, teachers are human, and like those in other fields we have days where we are not as effective.

Fine closes her piece like this:
Having a base of teachers who teach for more than a token few years is critical to school reform. It helps principals and school leaders develop trusting relationships with teachers. It helps teachers collaborate with one another. Most of all, it helps students. A teacher with experience is not always a good teacher, but a good teacher is always better after a few years of experience. As my former principal not-so-subtly put it: "The kids don't need one-year wonders. There is no such thing as a one-year wonder."

Four-year wonders are better than nothing, but still not enough.
We need to listen to the voices of teachers. Effective organizations regularly do exit interviews of those leaving, hoping thereby to be able to make adjustments to improve conditions for those remaining. We do not as a regular practice do this in education. We should. Learning why people leave is critical information.

Sarah Fine has done her own exit interview. She has taken the time and used her expressive gifts to explain her decision to leave teaching. He piece appears in the newspaper serving our national capital city. It is unfortunately that so many involved in educational policy are not in town to read it.

But we can. We can pass it on. We can reflect upon what we learn from her, and perhaps thereby from many like her who leave the teaching profession far too soon.

Peace.

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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reform, Duncan Style...

From Friday's Washington Post

Duncan Does it again...
...the program is also a competition through which states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.
Our Secretary of Education, who, once more it must be noted, has never taught a day in his life, has his facts wrong. The "reforms" he talks about don't work.

1. ...states do not have to have licensed teachers teaching
"...students learn more when their teachers are licensed—a requirement that in most states means they have had formal training in both how and what to teach."
"...teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, both before and after controlling for student poverty and language status."
2. ...states can have as many charter schools as they want. Studies have shown that charter schools do not perform better than Public Schools
"Charter schools have been found to be underperforming for over a decade."
"...there is little evidence that charter schools are producing, on average, achievement impacts that differ substantially from those of traditional public schools"
3. ...states can get more money by using merit pay for teachers and principals based on test scores.
"Theory, research, and practice all suggest that carrots (merit pay for teachers, cash rewards for students) and sticks (public shaming, threatening to close down schools that need help) are as ineffective as they are insulting."
"For more than a century, such plans have been implemented, then abandoned, then implemented in a different form, then abandoned again. The idea never seems to work, but proponents of merit pay never seem to learn."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Change the test...

It seems that Rod Paige's Houston Miracle, in which schools falsified scores and pushed out low achieving students has been duplicated in Chicago.

The Houston Miracle-that-wasn't formed the basis of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB is being helped along to a third term by the Obama administration and the new Secretary of Education, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan. It seems that Duncan's Chicago plan is the same as the Houston plan of 8 years ago...cheat.

A business oriented group, the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, has finished a report on the Chicago Public Schools. They found that the "increased scores" on "the tests" for the Chicago Public School system were due to changing the requirements...lowering the standard, so to speak...lowering the passing score on the test. Read it.

Education in Chicago: Chicago Public Schools Have Improved? Baloney!

by Bill Sweetland | Posted 07.06.2009 | Chicago
...The committee's logic is compelling.

The stark conclusion: Nothing that Paul Vallas, Mayor Daley or Arne Duncan did in the last 15 years has had any significant effect on the number of CPS students who can read and write acceptably and do arithmetic, fractions and elementary algebra easily. It's all an illusion.


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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Research Roundup

Fairtest has a report about recent research on No Child Left Behind. The current administration, led by President Obama and Ed Secretary Duncan, are continuing the assault on public education begun by President Clinton and pushed by Bush and company.

The only thing is...and we have been saying this for 8 years now...it doesn't work. Here's the research to prove it...
Two recent reports add to the mounting evidence that the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) is failing on nearly every level, and another finds serious harm done to students by California’s exit exam. The Civil Rights Project and Bill Mathis analyze NCLB, while Sean Reardon evaluates California.
NCLB is not achieving its goals and may in fact be degrading education. That’s the conclusion of the latest in a series of 13 reports from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA (formerly the Harvard Civil Rights Project). As the report’s foreword put it, “We have bet the future of federal education policy on a theory of accountability that does not work.”
Click here to read it all...pass it around...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Deception at School

The Daytona Beach News-Journal Online.com ran an editorial about the failure of the Florida state standardized testing program, FCAT (Florida's version of ISTEP) titled, Let FCAT drop out: A decade's testing hasn't improved Florida's grad rate

Here's a response...

Letters to the editor for June 23, 2009

Deception at school

Some are content to just suggest the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test needs to end. The Daytona Beach News-Journal offers statistics and results that illustrate the costliness and lack of overall positive benefits that the FCAT, imposed by former education reform governor Jeb Bush nearly 10 years ago, has achieved.

The goal of this mock diagnostic achievement test has been to dramatize the "failure" of many schools. And ultimately to use the sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind act to close those schools and offer alternatives that usher in an education system that deviates from traditional public schools.

Often cited for the failures of these schools has been the quality of teachers, as if the teachers were the cause of the failures. In reality, the FCAT has caused many quality teachers to abandon their jobs in the face of such false accusation.

High quality teachers have seen their traditional roles, as developers of individual potentials, be transformed into trainers who repetitiously pound required FCAT information into the memories of their students in order to make the "A."

Long before the existence of the FCAT and the NCLB, the results of education research revealed the most prominent cause of low performance in public school to be poverty. Those who have worked hard to convince the public that public school teachers were the reason nonwhite students generally performed more poorly than their white peers wanted to avoid the truth. In this way they would not have to invest public tax money in solving the real problems that the deprivations of poverty cause. The public has nearly bought their charade.

The News-Journal is keeping the deception in the news. It knows the importance of traditional public education's role in preserving true democracy.

BILL ARCHER, Daytona Beach

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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Silence Is The Enemy

WARNING: This entry, and many of its links, contain descriptions and information about sexual abuse and sexual violence.

Today, while reading Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I came across an entry called Silence is the Enemy: Rape in Africa. Having heard about this a few months ago, I read the blog and was directed to the Discovery Magazine's blog, Intersection.

Read it, get involved, support Doctors Without Borders, join the Facebook group, frequent the blogs that support the doctors who are in the field treating the survivors.

Here's part of the original post from Intersection, written by Sheril Kirshenbaum.
Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why? Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help. We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them. I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.
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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama's Plan to Corporatize American Public Education

CEOs, Businessmen, Politicians...they are the so-called "school reformers." Where are the educators?

From Schools Matter:
While many of us were out busting our humps to gather up a few dollars and votes for the change we thought we could believe in, the Harvard boys were cutting backroom deals with the multi-billionaire oligarchs to fully engage their plan to corporatize American public education, beginning with the urban schools.

There is no wonder that Spellings and Paige were running around breathless and wild-eyed, even as it became clear that McCain was going down. The insiders knew the Bush charter plan would not only go forward under Obama, but it would be slammed into overdrive by the clan of vulture capitalists and tax credit leeches who paid plenty to play the high stakes game for control of American schooling.
The plan is still Merit Pay, Charter Schools, Privatization, Free Market Competition...

From the Nation, quoted in Schools Matter:
. . . the single-mindedness--some would say obsessiveness--of the reformers' focus on these specific policy levers ["free market competition"] puts off more traditional Democratic education experts and unionists. As they see it, with the vast majority of poor children educated in traditional public schools, education reform must focus on improving the management of the public system and the quality of its services--not just on supporting charter schools. What's more, social science has long been clear on the fact that poverty and segregation influence students' academic outcomes at least as much as do teachers and schools.
Let's try this instead...

A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education:
More than a half century of research has documented a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement. Weakening that association is the fundamental challenge facing America's education policymakers...

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Framework Cannot by Itself Meet the Challenge...

Continue to pursue school improvement efforts. Research support is strongest for the benefits of small class sizes in the early grades for disadvantaged children, and for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools...

Increase investment in developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school, and kindergarten education. Every American child should arrive at the starting line of first grade ready and able to learn...

Increase investment in health services. Research supports the provision of prenatal care for all pregnant women and preventive and routine pediatric, dental, and optometric care for all infants, toddlers, and schoolchildren, in order to minimize the extent to which health problems become obstacles to success in school...

Pay more attention to the time students spend out of school. A body of research has shown that much of the achievement gap is rooted in what occurs outside of formal schooling...
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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Early Entrance to Kindergarten - Update

On March 20 I published a blog entry titled Early Entrance to Kindergarten. In it I explained how our central administration had gone from denying that we let students into kindergarten whose birthdays are after the state cutoff date, to saying that it is a unique situation and it doesn't happen very often.

I proved that we do, indeed let students into kindergarten early, and that it is not a unique situation (18 for the current year).

I've been after the administration to take the lead in finding a method of screening children whose parents request early entrance to make sure they're ready for the academic focus of our kindergartens.

Last week I asked for an answer.

Me: I'd like a response.

Deputy Superintendent (DS): I thought we had answered this.

Me: Are we going to continue to allow children who are younger than the state's minimum to enter kindergarten without screening them?

DS: The state says that we are to let everyone into kindergarten.

Me: No, that's not correct. The state says that we may enroll students whose birthdays are after the cutoff date. It would be different if we had developmental kindergartens, but ours are academic and we need to make sure that the students are ready.

DS: There are 6 year olds who enter kindergarten who are not ready.

Me: That's not the point. We're letting children into academic kindergartens who are not ready. That ends up hurting children and costing the district money in extra supports, special services and retentions.

DS: Our kindergartens have developmental standards.

Me: I'm not saying that there are not children who might benefit from early entrance, but not all of them do. We need to screen them to make sure that the students who are allowed to enter early are ready. I'd like a yes or no answer - are we going to continue to allow children into kindergarten on early entrance waivers?

DS: Our district policy is to allow them in.

That was the end of the discussion. Time to get the kindergarten teachers involved. I'm not going to fight this battle alone. I've made the noise, done the research and argued the position...alone.

If that doesn't work, maybe the school board will help.

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No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
Dismantle NCLB!
Sign the petition by clicking HERE.
Nearly 35,000 signatures so far...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

NYT - "Soaring dropout rate..."

Today's New York Times included an editorial about the dropout crisis in the US. We're "losing ground" to our competitors overseas, it said. The dropout crisis they said, will require "a lot more money and a national strategy."

The "scope" of the dropout crisis is "alarming," the numbers are "disconcerting." The dropout crisis "presents a clear danger to national prosperity." Read it for yourself, here...it's not long.

Meanwhile, in Florida, whose dropout rate, according to the Times, is one of the nation's highest at 20.1%, approximately 20,000 seniors won't graduate because they failed the state "graduation test." See "Schools Matter: Over 20,000 Florida Seniors Denied Diplomas By State Exit Exam Policy."

One of the things I've learned along the way is that when too many students fail a test (in this case 80% failed the Reading, 74% failed the Math), then the problem is not with the students...it's with the tests.

Doesn't anyone else notice a pattern here? I wonder if the high drop out rate has anything to do with the insane torture that passes for testing in the United States. How many kids are going to stay in school once they know that the odds are 4-1 that they won't "pass the test" and graduate?

Secretary of Education Duncan knows how to fix this...his answer to everything is Charter Schools - and it's generally for profit Charter Schools. It seems that we have to get our schools out from under the thumb of the nasty teachers' unions...that will solve all the problems.

I'm glad that Obama is going to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice candidate...I'm glad that Obama is mending fences with our neighbors on the planet...but at the Department of Education, it's business as usual...blame the teachers...blame the students...blame the educational system.

Statistics for 2006 show that nearly 1/5 of American children live in poverty. The current economic situation has likely raised that number. I wonder if anyone sees any relationship between the poverty rate and the dropout rate?

I wonder if the CEO's of the major test manufacturers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, et al) are worried about where their next meal is coming from...

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