"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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Access to books can help increase reading achievement.

Three research studies have shown that access to books is as strong a predictor of reading achievement as poverty.

The most recent study (Schubert, F. and Becker, R. 2010. Social inequality of reading literacy, A longitudinal analysis with cross-sectional data of PIRLS 2001and PISA 2000 utilizing the pair wise matching procedure. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 29:109-133) showed that the home print environment was a strong predictor of reading achievement, even when income, parental education, aspects of schooling, language used at home, and other aspects of the home environment were controlled. The authors concluded that the home print environment was as strong a predictor as socio-economic status (see the references to the other studies below).

What does this mean in the real world? It means that closing or cutting funding to public libraries and slashing school library budgets is counterproductive in the quest to help children grow in reading.

Writing about changes in reading instruction in Milwaukee, Bob Peterson and Stephen Krashen recently wrote:
Research also tells us that the children who do better on tests of reading comprehension are those who have more access to books and who read more. Studies consistently show that better school libraries, those with better collections and with a credentialed librarian are related to higher reading scores. What this means for Milwaukee is that any reading plan has to involve improving school libraries. This is especially important in high-poverty areas, where the school library is often the only source of books for children.
Our school system just eliminated Middle School Librarians, replacing them with non-certified staff. 

~~~

Achterman, D. 2008. Haves, Halves, and Have-Nots: School Libraries and Student Achievement in California. PhD dissertation, University of North Texas. http://digital.library.unt.edu/permalink/meta-dc-9800:1

Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2010. An analysis of the PIRLS (2006) data: Can the school library reduce the effect of poverty on reading achievement? CSLA Journal, in press. California School Library Association.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Assessment and Accountability or Educational Malpractice and Cruelty?

On Monday I have to stop teaching to give inappropriate tests to kids with learning disabilities. They get accommodations for some of it...I can read the questions on the math, or social studies, or science, for example, but...

But...and here's the crime in all this...they are required to take the "Reading/Language Arts" portion of the test...at (what the state defines as) grade level with no help.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't a disability mean that a child has trouble in a particular area...and that area is usually reading (though not always)?

I'm not against assessment and accountability, but this is not assessment, it's torture and educational malpractice. It's not accountability, it's cruelty.

Read this from Mrs. Mimi's blog...
Don't tell anyone, but I used to just call it quits after a while.  I mean, enough is enough, right?

Me: (noticing that one friend, a friend who struggles in reading... I mean STRUGGLES) (kneeling down and whispering) Are you okay?
Friend: (tears streaming down face) (STREAMING!) I just can't do it anymore. (Is your heart breaking yet?)
Me: I know it's hard, sweetie, but you just have to do your best.
Friend: The words are just too hard.  I'm not smart enough.
Me: (trying not to let tears stream down my face because I have to get this kid to try and finish) Just try a few more and then we'll stop.
Friend: And we'll go back to learning?
Me: (choking back sob) Yes, honey, we'll go back to learning.
This story of a child wanting to "go back to learning" is, unfortunately, not isolated. There are many stories of kids falling apart emotionally, vomiting from nervousness, acting out in disturbing and pathetic ways...

The indifference in this country (or is it outright antagonism) towards the needs of our children is telling...and disheartening.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Truth about Librarians

Children's Author Elsa Marston sent this to her librarian's listserv. Someone needs to forward it to Governor Mitch (Indiana), Arne Duncan, and President Obama...though I'm not sure how much good it would do...
Dear the government,

I don't like that you're firing our school librarians. I am a first-grader at Childs school, and I think that Ms. Williams is a great librarian. She reads wonderful stories, and her voice goes up when it is supposed to and down when it is supposed to.

She helps me find books and makes me interested in reading and makes books exciting for me. Ms. Williams makes us feel special. She knows each kid's name.

Childs school will never be the same without Ms. Williams in the library. Why are you firing our school librarians?

Anna W. 
The letter appeared in a local newspaper's (Bloomington, Indiana) Letters to the Editor. No further comments are needed...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Happened to Play in Kindergarten?

I read the following passage a few days ago.

"What kind of professional wants to spend every working hour doing what research says is best for children and best practices only to be second guessed and overridden, asked to do things that aren't developmentally appropriate? (Can anyone say play in Kindergarten anymore?)" -- Natalie Holland

We (the American public) are going to get what we pay for. When teaching becomes (continues to become) simply reading the script and instruction on how to fill in bubbles, then we're going to get teachers who are adept at reading scripts and showing kids how to fill in bubbles.

Right now, in Florida, the attack on Public Education has reached a new level. Teachers will be judged by their students' scores on a test - experience doesn't count for anything. The politicians are pushing it through...and when it fails to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, as it surely will, teachers will, again, be the ones to blame.

It doesn't seem to matter what research into best practices says...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cleaning up after 34 years

It's something you probably never think about. In August, 1976, when I walked into my first classroom at Monroeville Elementary School I gave no thought whatsoever to how much "stuff" I needed to save throughout my teaching career.

We teachers are notorious pack-rats. We save everything...because literally everything can be used to teach something. Sometimes we might save an item for no other reason than, "Wow, I might be able to use that for...um...something."

Most of this stuff I'll pitch or give away to other pack-rat-teachers, but I have an idea for things I don't want to keep, but would like to remember. I'll take digital pictures...and save the images on my computer.

Among the treasures I've found while cleaning out over the last few weeks are:

1. Dice. Not just 6 sided dice, but four sided, 8 sided, 12 sided and 20 sided dice as well...and not just dice with dots on them. I have dice with numerals, functions and pictures. These I'll give away.

2. Dozens of Magnets. One of the greatest inventions known to teachers is the magnetic chalk board (or, to newer teachers, the magnetic white board). At one of the schools I taught at we had floor to ceiling magnetic chalkboards along an entire wall. I put everything up there...schedules, pictures, student work, reminders, photos...and I was always collecting magnets. I'm going to save some of these...give the rest away.

3. Plastic Baskets...for holding books, markers, pencils, scissors, glue...anything that students might use in a small group. Also plastic storage containers of various sizes...dozens of them. Give away.

4. Computer software and equipment for computers which have been gone for years...and, of course, none of it is compatible with today's technology (and even if it was we wouldn't want it!). Yes...I even found an old laptop computer. Throw away/recycle.

5. Books. Old textbooks, favorite read alouds. (NOTE: If you don't read aloud to your students EVERY DAY you're not doing enough. Every elementary teacher...no matter what grade...should read aloud to his/her students each day. see Jim Trelease's Web Site and the Read Aloud Handbook.) I'll save some of these...give them to my children and grandchildren. Others I'll leave for other teachers.

6. Tote bags, briefcases and back packs. Why I needed to save more than a dozen of these things I'll never know. I got one at every Reading Recovery conference I went to...and since the program was cut I've saved them all...in protest. I also still have the Reading Recovery decal on my door window. I'm going to save the decal and put it up on my bulletin board in my office at home. The tote bags I'll give away to other teachers.

7. A change of clothes. When you teach long enough in an elementary school setting you will almost certainly have been exposed to various bodily fluids...sometimes a change of clothes is necessary.

8. Change. It's like my room is a giant easy chair. So far I've found $3.53 to add to my retirement savings...

9. Photos of students and notes from students. Some of them are parents of children in my current school. Some of them are teachers in my school system. Some are dead. Some are in prison. I don't have pictures of all of them...and that's something I regret. Each of my students, even the ones I couldn't reach, meant something to me. I touched each of their lives...and each of them touched mine. We love our children...we laugh with them, play with them, cheer for them, worry about them, puzzle over them and cry for them. Being a teacher is much more than just presenting material...These items are a chronicle of my professional life. They're coming home with me.

10. Miscellaneous other stuff like recipes, plans for activities (some of these are ancient), old posters and pictures, student records, rubber stamps, boxes and boxes of pencils (with dried up erasers) and pens, 3-ring binders, stickers, dried up markers, and more post it notes than you can count. Give away everything that anyone wants...and toss the rest.

Next week I'm going to start working on my file cabinets. I have two of them that haven't been opened for a long time. Who knows what treasures I'll find in there.

Lessons Learned:

Don't save everything.
Take more pictures.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Three Outstanding Letters...

Notice that Time and Newsweek wouldn't print these letters.

Submitted to Newsweek but not published
04/03/2010

To the editor
Newsweek describes Pres. Obama's education plan as "centrist" ("More big effing deals," April 5, p. 33). Hardly. It is a radical plan, involving far more testing than we have ever seen in the history of American education.

According to the "Blueprint for Reform," released by the Department of Education in March, the new standards will be enforced with new tests which include "interim" tests in addition to those given at the end of year. No Child Left Behind only required reading and math tests. The Blueprint recommends testing in other subjects as well. The Blueprint also insists we measure growth, which could mean testing in the fall and in the spring, doubling the number of tests.

The most radical aspect of this plan is that there is no research showing that this vast expenditure of time and money will increase learning.

— Stephen Krashen

~~~

Submitted to Time Magazine but not published
04/01/2010
To the editor

re March 29, 2010 p. 49 "Making the Grade"

Obama's plan, AKA "The Blueprint," gets a grade of "D." The reason it gets such a high grade is because it does call for literature-rich classrooms, teacher professional development, and self-directed student learning. One wonders how all that will fit in when in "The Blueprint," the word "standards" is used 48 times, "assessment,"37 times; "thinking," 2 times, "library," 1 time. "Reading," "writing," and "book" are never mentioned.

Using his own standards, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should be replaced. When he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores for Chicago were dismal. Let Duncan play basketball with Obama. The Secretary of Education should be somebody who knows something about education.

The Good Ole Boys Club has got to go. Nepotism and profiteering should not continue from NCLB into Race To The Top and "the Blueprint" (for LEARN). Transparency is needed, but is not happening. The same people chosen by NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), who stacked the deck on the National Reading Panel are now choosing the recipients of the RTTT (Race To The Top) grants.

Education is not about which company can make the most money with their tests. It is about developing a life long love of learning. This cannot be read into "The Blueprint."

— Jane Watson

~~~

Published in New York Times
April 4, 2010
To the editor

In "Enforcing School Standards, at Last" (editorial, March 31), you assert that teachers’ unions reacted fiercely to the concept of taking student achievement into account when evaluating teachers. There are many reasons this is so.

I teach English to high school sophomores. I first encounter my students in their mid-teens and for merely 45 minutes each day. I have no influence on their upbringing, family lives, social conditions or habits. I can’t control their attendance or whether they do homework.

Also, on what basis will I be evaluated? Test scores? Based on what tests? Will they measure students’ appreciation of literature, their formation of values and priorities, their social skills or myriad other aspects of education?

Perhaps we need new ways to evaluate teachers, but until the discussion moves from vague platitudes to an earnest discussion of the issue, teacher unions will continue to object.

The writer is the United Federation of Teachers representative at DeWitt Clinton High School.

— Alan Ettman

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Florida's Attempt to Destroy the Teaching Profession

In the past few days the state of Florida has taken the forefront in the nation-wide assault on public education and the teaching profession.

Diane Ravitch put it this way:
The assault on public education and the teaching profession is now in full swing, as states scramble to qualify for the billions of federal funds in President Obama's Race to the Top program. The latest outrage just occurred in Florida, where state legislators passed an extraordinarily stupid piece of legislation. This law abolishes teacher tenure and ties teacher pay to student test scores. In addition, the state will no longer consider either education or experience as factors in teachers' compensation. What teachers earn will depend on their students' test scores.
In other professions experience is a positive thing. To the legislators in Florida, however, teaching experience is not a plus. The national trend towards assuming that all or most teachers are incompetent established by No Child Left Behind and reinforced by the Race to the Top has been codified into law in Florida.

Valerie Strauss, in her Answer Sheet blog on the Washington Post web site wrote:
...the folks behind this either don’t care about public education or don’t understand a single thing about it...The bill was sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher, the new head of Florida’s Republican Party...He got that post with the influential support of Florida’s former governor, Jeb Bush...Bush’s brother, Neil Bush, co-founded a company called Ignite! Learning that created software used in Florida for FCAT test prep.

What a small world.

It’s pretty clear that this bill is intended to force teachers to accept lesser pay and benefits and a worsening of conditions in the classroom...Florida’s teachers are going to have to make a very loud stand against it. It would be very helpful if they had the support of Education Secretary Arne Duncan...Duncan and President Obama have unfortunately supported the notion of using standardized test scores as a measure to evaluate teacher performance. This is what happens when idealogues take the notion to extremes.
There's very little chance that the current administration in Washington will have any objections to this. They have been against teachers and public schools from the day they took office (during the campaign, then Senator Obama decried the over use of standardized tests, especially when he was talking to teacher). They cheered when an entire school full of teachers were fired because of the poverty that they and other politicians refuse to address (See also here, here, here and here).

Thankfully, teachers in Florida are speaking out - as we all should do.

Again, from Valerie Strauss:
They are taking to the streets, literally and digitally, to transmit their horror over legislation that would end teacher job security, increase student testing and tie teacher pay to student test scores. It also prohibits school districts from taking into account experience, professional credentials or advanced degrees in teacher evaluation and pay...They also plan to bring their protest to Washington D.C. soon, to let their representatives in Congress and federal officials know that they don’t want what they consider an assault on their livelihood and on public education...
Join the facebook group supporting the Florida teachers.