"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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Close my school? No Way!!

Last Thursday evening I attended a "town-hall" meeting with two members of our local school board to talk about the proposals on the table to reorganize our local school district. No one denies that there is a problem with funding the schools. The teachers' association agreed last year to 0% pay increases, and increased insurance costs among other things. It's no secret that the Wall Street mess, coupled with the lack of competent leadership in the national and state legislatures and departments of education have put our schools, locally and across the country, in financial jeopardy.

Our superintendent, who was hired last year, has come up with five plans, none of which will make people happy. They all involve closing schools.

Nearly everyone agrees that closing schools is going to be necessary. We have too many high schools in our district, and our elementary schools vary from nearly empty to bursting at the seams. Redistricting also seems to be warranted.

We're one of the largest school districts in the state by area. Our children are rural, suburban, small town, and urban. We are a culturally diverse district with a large non-English speaking population (a recent influx of Burmese refugees). Our district faces problems with transiency, poverty, and unemployment. We have schools ranging from "Four Star Schools" (a honor bestowed by the state of Indiana) to schools on probation and facing state takeover and likely privatization (those with the highest poverty levels as you might expect).

The town hall meetings which have been taking place all over our 350 square mile district have revealed something very interesting though not very surprising. Most people agree...it's ok to close a school, as long as it's not our school.

The school board members informed us that this was the same feeling throughout the district. It was ok to close schools, but most people, in all areas of the district, wanted the closings to be elsewhere.

I was reminded of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallop Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, an annual poll tracking how people in the US feel about the schools. As has been the case for many years, people ranked the schools in their community better than the schools nationwide. 51% gave their local schools an A or a B as a grade as opposed to 19% for the nation as a whole. In addition, 74% of parents of public school children, who are the people who deal directly with the schools and know much more about what goes on in their local school than do their legislators, awarded the school their oldest child attended a grade of A or B.

At this point you might begin to recognize a pattern here. The majority of people, and a larger majority of parents, feel like their local schools are doing a good job. It's the "other" schools around the country that are so bad.

In a sidebar included in the poll results the late Gerald Bracey asks why the seeming contradiction seems to exist.
It’s a constant in the PDK/Gallup polls: Respondents say their local schools are OK but the nation’s schools are average to awful.
The reasons for this disconnect are simple: Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957. Think, A Nation at Risk. People who wax positive about public schools are so rare that the June 1996 School Administrator put pictures of all six of us on its cover as “The Contrarians.” Negative information flows almost daily from media, politicians, and ideologues. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a $50 million project, Ed in 08, inundated Americans with negativity through its web site, TV ads, and YouTube clips.
But what about the test scores? Don't they show that our public schools are "failing?" Again, Gerald Bracey...
In the 'Progress in International Reading Literacy Study,' American kids in low poverty schools stomped the top-ranked Swedes," he said. "Even kids in schools with up to 50 percent of the students in poverty attained an average score that, had they constituted a nation, would have ranked fourth. Only American students attending schools with more than 75 percent poverty rates scored below the international average of the 35 participating countries.
As long as politicians ignore poverty as an issue in the US our schools are going to be "failing." Who is doing the failing, though? The kids? the teachers? or those who continue to promote an economy with the largest percentage of children in poverty in the developed world?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Who's a Good Teacher?

Here's an interesting post by Walt Gardner about the firing of 241 DC Public Schools teachers...and teacher evaluations. He makes a rather unique suggestion that part of a teacher's evaluation should come years after his/her students have finished school...interesting.

Who's a Good Teacher by Walt Gardner

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fire the principals and the teachers...part 2

It's popular these days to demand accountability...but as we've discussed before it's not accountability for the banks who brought the country to the brink of economic collapse...it's not accountability for the insurance companies who decide who lives and who dies by denying coverage when it doesn't fit their "bottom line"...it's not accountability for the politicians who involved us in a war so we could be protected from weapons of mass destruction which didn't exist. No...it's accountability for teachers because they haven't solved the problems of child poverty, hunger and lack of medical care.

This time it's Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools who, like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, didn't attend a public school, though who, unlike Duncan, actually taught for three years as a recruit of Teach For America. On the other hand she has a Bachelor's degree in Government and a Master's degree in Public Policy. She taught for a few years, but she's not an educator.

During Rhee's short tenure (a little over three years) as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools she's done her share of firing and hiring, then firing some more. But last week she outdid herself by firing 241 teachers as well as a handful of others including librarians, custodians, counselors and others. Most of the teachers were fired based on the new IMPACT Evaluation process, a "growth model" process using student test scores.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a report late last year which, among other things, had this to say about "growth models,"
BOTA (the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council) has significant concerns that the Department’s proposal places too much emphasis on measures of growth in student achievement (1) that have not yet been adequately studied for the purposes of evaluating teachers and principals and (2) that face substantial practical barriers to being successfully deployed in an operational personnel system that is fair, reliable, and valid.
The report was sent to Secretary Duncan on October 5, 2009. Perhaps he didn't have time to read it or share it with school leaders throughout the nation. The Secretary of Education is probably too busy to share important research like this with school systems and states (sarcasm intended).

The questions are clear. Should kids be evaluated by test scores only? Should teachers be evaluated by student test scores? Does the "growth model" make a difference? The answer to these questions is "no" if you look at the research, but Duncan, Rhee, et al, don't care much for research unless they're using it to bash teachers for not using "Scientifically Based teaching techniques."

The public has accepted that students can be evaluated by one standardized test and that teachers can be evaluated by the standardized tests of their students.

As long as pundits (like Duncan and Rhee) proclaim that teachers are awful because -- look at the test scores -- we'll have this problem. As long as people keep blaming the "unions" for the poverty that the government won't address (the US has the highest level of childhood poverty in the developed world) then we'll continue to have this problem. As long as we let non-educators define the problem as being "test scores" we'll have this problem.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teachers try to Educate Duncan

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Annual Meeting took place earlier this month in Seattle. And it just happened that Secretary of Education Duncan was also in Seattle at the same time.

Some of the AFT teachers, along with teachers from Seattle, went to the location of Duncan's speech in order to picket the Secretary with signs such as "Race to the Top: First place business, last place students."

The speech organizers convinced the picketers to meet with Duncan in exchange for good behavior during the speech. Jesse Hagopian, a laid-off Seattle Public Schools teacher wrote about the meeting. His article was printed and reprinted. I caught up with it at Schools Matter.

Clueless in Seattle

The Secretary and the teachers met and exchanged comments...
A study by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research released in October 2009 examined the academic effects of the closings on students at 18 elementary schools shut down between 2001 and 2006. The study concluded that the vast majority of students went from one low-performing school to another, with no achievement gains--and in fact, even saw temporary decreases in test scores during the stressful period when the announcement of their school being slated for closing was made.
Moreover, a massive study by Stanford University, looking at data covering some 70 percent of all charter school students nationally, found that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1--and an astonishing 83 percent of charter schools were either no better, or worse than, traditional public schools.
ONE TEACHER from Detroit opened our meeting with Arne by summarizing the results of our "pre-assessment," saying, "What you are doing is stepping up privatization, charterization, and segregation and inequality...and you know that."
Secretary Duncan tried to respond but he was unprepared. My question -- how much does he really know about the public schools in the United States? We know that he has never taught in a public school classroom -- has never even attended a public school.

Some of his comments:
There is nothing inherently good or bad about charters...
To be clear, we [the Department of Education] want curriculum to be driven by the local level, pushing that. We are by law prohibited from directing curriculum. We don't have a curriculum department.
No one is mandating merit pay (but he admitted he supported merit pay).
Mr Hagopian summarized...
While Arne's performance during our lesson was disappointing, none of us educators were surprised, given his chronic absenteeism from the realm of pedagogy. As a spokesperson for Arne recently admitted to the media, his only instructional experience came as a youngster when "his mother ran an after-school program for underprivileged kids in a church basement, and he was both a student there and a tutor."
Parents: Don't let Arne close your child's school. If the federal government can bail out the banks and find the money to bomb children in Afghanistan, then we know there is enough money to build a world-class education system in your neighborhood. Demonstrate and speak out for the funding your school deserves rather than let it be shut down or privatized.
Students: You are not a number generated by a Scantron machine. You are a passionate, creative young person who can change the world. Refuse to be categorized solely by a test score and demand an education that speaks to who you are and what is important to your community.
Teachers: Unions brought us the weekend. They are indispensable, don't let Arne bust your union. Fight to make your union stronger. Replicate the success of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators in Chicago--the reform caucus newly elected to run the Chicago Teachers Union--with its vision of social justice education and social movement unionism in unflinching opposition to those who would seek to profit off of the public schools.
Click here...it's worth reading the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Diane Ravitch speaks to the NEA

From EAEA Broadside Online...

News from the NEA-RA
(The 2010 NEA Representative Assembly took place in New Orleans from June 26 through July 6.)

Diane Ravitch, author and professor, received NEA's highest award, the Friend of Education Award.

Ravitch was Assistant Secretary of Education during the first President Bush’s administration. At that time she supported vouchers and high stakes testing. Later, however, her views changed and how she is an outspoken critic of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Her new book which summarizes her change focus is The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

She spoke to the delegates at the 2010 NEA-RA. Click HERE to read the entire speech online. Below are some highlights.

~~~~~
Wherever I went, I met teachers who understood that there is a rising tide of hostility to teachers, to the teaching profession, and to teachers’ unions. You see it almost daily in the national media, in Newsweek magazine with its dreadful cover story about firing teachers, and Time magazine with awful columns, and in the New York Times and the Washington Post and all of the major media. 
~~~~~
[High stakes testing] undermines education. High-stakes testing promotes cheating, gaming the system, teaching to bad tests, narrowing the curriculum. High-stakes testing means less time for the arts, less time for history or geography or civics or foreign languages or science.
~~~~~
Why expand the number of charters when research shows that on average they don’t get better results than regular public schools? Last year, a major evaluation showed that one out of every six charters will get better results, five out of six charters will get no different results or worse results than the regular public schools. A report released just a couple of weeks ago by Mathematica Policy Research once again shows charter middle schools do not get better results than regular public middle schools.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, on whose board I served for seven years, has tested charter schools since 2003. In 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, charter schools were compared to regular public schools and have never shown an advantage over regular public schools. Charter schools, contrary to Bill Gates, are not more innovative than regular public schools. The business model and methods of charter schools is this — longer school days, longer hours, longer weeks, and about 95 percent of charter schools are non-union.

Teachers are hired and fired at will. Teachers work 50, 60, 70 hours a week. They are expected to burn out after two or three years when they can be replaced. No pension worries, no high salaries. This is not a template for American education. 
~~~~~
The Race to the Top plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers is a very bad idea, badly implemented. Legislatures should not decide how to evaluate teachers.

~~~~~
The current so-called reform movement is pushing bad ideas. No high-performing nation in the world is privatizing its schools, closing its schools, and inflicting high-stakes testing on every subject on its children. The current reform movement wants to end tenure and seniority, to weaken the teaching profession, to silence teachers’ unions, to privatize large sectors of public education. Don’t let it happen!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

No Significant Impacts on Student Achievement in Math and Reading

A new research study on 36 charter middle schools in 15 states reports that "charter schools had no significant impacts on student achievement in math and reading."

The study was done for the US Department of Education by Mathmatica.

In the press release for the study, Mathmatica announced the following findings.
  • On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement in reading and math. However, these averages mask wide variation across individual charter schools in their impacts.
  • Study charter schools were more effective for lower income and lower achieving students and less effective for higher income and higher achieving students. In addition, charter schools in large urban areas had positive impacts on students’ achievement in math; those outside these large urban areas had negative impacts on achievement.
  • Study charter schools did not significantly affect most of the other outcomes examined, including attendance, student behavior, and survey-based measures of student effort in school.
  • These charter schools did positively affect levels of satisfaction with school among both students and their parents.
Phil Gleason, lead author of the report, said,
“In this study—the most comprehensive and geographically diverse using charter school lotteries to date—our findings are consistent with prior evaluations that focused on a broad range of schools. We found that the average charter school in our sample did not have positive impacts on students’ math or reading achievement. And like previous lottery-based studies that have focused on single, urban districts, we found that charter schools in large urban areas and those serving a more disadvantaged student population had positive impacts on students' achievement in math."
Will the results of this study - as well as previous studies - change the US Department of Education's push for charters? Will this "scientifically based research change Race to the Trough Top?

For more information read the Press Release, the Questions and Answers page, and the Final Report of the study.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Evidence Against Charters

The Christian Science Monitor's caption for the AP photo: "Bill Gates shakes hands with Nelson Smith, President and CEO of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, at National Charter Schools Conference in Chicago Tuesday, the same day that a government study found that charter schools do no better than public schools in student outcomes." -- From Schools Matter.

More on the study coming up...