"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

Monday, November 22, 2010

No child left unfed...No child left without health care...

Thomas Friedman in his editorial, Teaching for America, speaks highly of Arne Duncan and his Department of Education Plan.
Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession.
The "most innovative reforms?" If that means opening more charter schools, paying teachers based on test scores (merit pay) and firing the staffs of "failing" schools, then I guess he's right. However, none of those "innovative reforms" result in higher achievement.

He then says that too many of our teachers come from the bottom half of their graduating classes...
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes.
And again, bringing Finland into the conversation...
That is why Duncan is starting a “national teacher campaign” to recruit new talent. “We have to systemically create the environment and the incentives where people want to come into the profession. Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’”
I agree...we need the best teachers we can get...with the best training. But there are some things about Finnish (and other examples) education that Friedman conveniently left out.

Here's Stephen Krashen commenting on the same article:
Tony Wagner, Arne Duncan, and Thomas Friedman ("Teaching for America," Nov. 20) agree that Denmark, Finland, and Sweden outperform the US because their teachers graduate in top one-third of their classes

There is another explanation: Poverty. The percentage of children living in poverty in Denmark is 2.4%, in Finland, 2.8%, and in Sweden 4.2%. In the US the percentage is 21.9. Poverty means poor nutrition, substandard health care, environmental toxins, and little access to books; all have a strong negative impact on school success.

Middle class American children attending well-funded schools outscore nearly all other countries on international tests. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty.

Increasing pressure on teacher education, teachers, and parents will not improve achievement, but if we can protect children from the effects of poverty, American tests scores will be at the top of the world.
(Paul Thomas of Furman University also responded. You can read his response HERE.)

The "reformers" (Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, now with the help of Oprah Winfrey and Thomas Friedman) ignore the social costs of poverty when they push their "reforms." They say that poverty is just an excuse, yet when we look at the real data, schools which have a larger number of students living in poverty have higher drop-out rates and lower test scores.

Lack of nutrition, health care, higher levels of lead poisoning...all contribute to the "Achievement Gap." The Achievement Gap won't disappear until we solve the nutrition gap and the health care gap.

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