"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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

From The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman
We reject “Waiting for Superman” and the privatization of PUBLIC Education by hedge fund millionaires and corporate interests. PUBLIC Education is not for sale!
The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman was produced by The Grassroots Education Movement. The film is present by Real Reform Studios, produced, directed, filmed and edited by; Julie Cavanagh (teacher), Darren Marrelli (school social worker), Norm Scott (retired teacher), Mollie Bruhn (teacher), Lisa Donlan (parent).


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Surprise! Test-Based Incentives Don't Increase Achievement

A new report from the National Research Council confirms what most teachers already know...that paying teachers or students for test scores doesn't help achievement levels...rewards or punishment connected to high stakes tests doesn't help anyone.

Valerie Strauss reports in the Answer Sheet at the Washington Post:
Incentive programs for schools, teachers and students aimed at raising standardized test scores are largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement, according to a new report researched by an expert panel of the National Research Council.

The report said that standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance — including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind law — “fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” according to a summary of the lengthy document.

The report, together with a number of other studies released in the past year, effectively serve as a warning to policymakers in states that are moving to implement laws, with support from the Obama administration, to make teacher and principal evaluation largely dependent on increases in students’ standardized test scores.
The punitive nature of such testing practices over the last few years is proof enough that the politicians and corporate interests have two goals in mind -- the destruction of the teaching profession and the privatization of America's Public School System.

Let's see where the state and national legislatures go with this information. Will they revise No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to correspond with the research? Or will they continue to sabotage Public Education and then blame teachers for the problems? What about the states which have already made plans to evaluate teachers based on test scores? Will any of that change or will the evaluations continue as an excuse to blame teachers and their unions? Will the Obama administration change its tune or will Secretary of Education Duncan and President Obama continue to cheer public school closings?

Finally, isn't it time to stop the testing insanity?

Every teacher, parent and tax payer should read this!

Read the entire article in The Answer Sheet.

And while you're at it Read this letter written by eight New York Teachers of the Year.

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UPDATE: More on the National Research Council Report

National Research Council Rebukes NCLB (Duncan-Gates-Broad) Policies Based on "Primitive Intuition"

National Testing Push Yielded Few Learning Advances: Report (VIDEO)

National Research Council Criticizes High-Stakes Testing

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Our Children as Prisoners: A Modest Proposal

Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

Nathan Bootz, superintendent of Ithaca (Michigan) public schools, asked Michigan Governor Snyder to change his school to a prison in order to increase funding for students.

In a letter to the editor in the Gratiot County Herald, Bootz wrote:
Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future...by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz
Superintendent
Ithaca Public Schools
What a great idea and much better than a bake sale!!

Stephen Krashen chimes in on Schools Matter.
Nathan Bootz is right: Prisoners get a much better deal than many students do: they get health care, libraries, and good food – children of poverty get little or none of these. For many children, school is worse than prison.

These same children are also exposed to a mechanical, rote, test-prep oriented curriculum in school, while children of high-income families are exposed to a curriculum that emphasizes creative problem-solving. This adds mental torture to the physical discomfort of poor nutrition and lack of health care that many poor children endure.

The deadly curriculum children of poverty get in school was documented decades ago by Jean Anyon, and is more true than ever today, thanks to No Child Left Behing testing hysteria, made even worse by current US Department of Education policies.

We are even seeing the elimination of recess, in order to jam in more test-prep time. Ohanian's book, What Happened to Recess? is as relevant today as it was when it was published ten years ago.

Ironically, middle class children who attend well-funded schools do very well on international tests: They score near the top of the world. Our overall scores are less spectacular because we have such a high rate of child poverty, the highest of all industrialized countries. Providing poor children what our prisoners already have would profoundly improve school achievement.
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Friday, May 27, 2011

More Hypocrisy

One of the basic tenets spouted by the corporate "reformers" and their politician friends is that bad teachers are ruining American public education. Newsweek has featured "bad teachers" on its cover. The movie Waiting for Superman blames bad teachers and the teachers unions for everything.

Where are all these bad teachers coming from? The answer to that seems to be that they come from greed. The conventional wisdom, at least in the Governor's mansions and state houses in places like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, is that teachers are so greedy that they will spend years in the classroom simply to get their high wages and retirement pensions.

Arne Duncan has indicated that teaching experience doesn't matter and people like Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates seem to believe that the older you are, and the more teaching you have done, the less qualified you are to remain in the classroom.

How do the Duncan's, Rhee's and state politicians propose to find "good" teachers? The answer it's clear, is to recruit them for Teach for America.

That's just what's happening at the University of Washington.

Students in the Master's program at the University's College of Education, who must spend years getting training, experience in classrooms, and pedagogical background in education before they're allowed to teach, are now being told that they must compete for jobs with Teach for America candidates who are being given teaching credentials after just a few weeks of training.

In a must-read post titled Plan to host Teach for America at Univ. of Washington highlights hypocrisy of ed reform Parents Across America notes that,
Here they have been spending two years following the rigorous standards the dean ostensibly believes in, diligently studying the art and science of teaching, paying their own way for a $23,000 ($50,000 nonresident) masters degree at what they thought was a reputable teaching institution. They are spending hours of in-class time in actual public school classrooms getting invaluable experience, all in the hopes of applying for one of the rare teaching positions in the fall. Now they are being told that a stream of fresh grads will be brought in alongside them at U.W., given a special, condensed education, will do little to no student teaching, but will compete against them for the same jobs.
Furthermore, Bill Gates has offered to pay the $4000 fee for the TFAers.

It turns out that there is a connection between Teach for America and the University of Washington's new Dean of the College of Education, Tom Stritikus. Stritikus is a Teach for America alumnus and is making things easy for TFA to move into position in Seattle.

The Save Seattle Schools Community Blog reported on a series of communications between Dean Stritikus and TFA:
The day before [Stritikus'] appointment was even announced (August 18th), he contacted Wendy Kopp, the head of TFA. He asks her if she wants to build an on-line endorsement program for TFA with UW and to do press for him. She replies, “As you say, this is a terrific moment in the history of TFA and hopefully is a just a harbinger of all that’s to come in terms of the influence of alumni on teacher education.”

Further on in the e-mail, she says, “Let’s absolutely see what we can cook up in terms of ways of working together…”

Just one week later, he is tries to get together with TFA staff in Washington, D.C. He says, “I would love to be able to get a set of possible ideas for collaboration on the table and identify priorities.”

Also that week, he says, “I offered to help Janis in anyway she needed.” Janis is Janis Ortega, the TFA director for Puget Sound.

In an e-mail on Sep 13, 2010, again just weeks after he became Dean, Stritikus writes to a TFA official and says, “By that time (9/29-10/1), I will have talked to key faculty, developed a sketch plan for the master’s degree, and gotten a handle on the certification issues.”
Naturally the students at the College of Education are upset. They are spending thousands of dollars and years of their lives training for careers in education.
One student referred to the UW-TFA deal as a “slap in the face.” You can’t blame them for feeling betrayed by Stritikus and the university...

It must feel like running a 10-mile race, only to have the judges allow a group of new runners join in the last 100 yards and race you to the finish — on skateboards.
Is it really bad teachers? Can you make better teachers by replacing education students who spend years studying for their careers with recent graduates who get 5 weeks of training?
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 2

In the fall of 1975 I was assigned to Sunnymede Elementary School in Fort Wayne for my student teaching. It was a split assignment. I would spend half the semester student teaching in kindergarten...and half the semester student teaching in first grade.


That was thirty-six years ago...plenty of time to forget a four month educational experience, however I haven't forgotten everything.
1. The kindergarten teacher: Mrs. L was a strong teacher. She kept her students focused on their tasks gently, yet firmly with a combination of personal strength, psychology, and a keen understanding of children's needs. 
One of the things she needed from me was a "male influence" for one of the boys in the class. The boy was a difficult behavior problem...because of a difficult home situation. He is the student I remember most from the class. He had a "deer in the headlights" look...and was starved for attention. Each day when he came in he latched on to me and hung on me most of the day. During read aloud time time he climbed on me -- even if I was the one reading. I remember that he was not a very good student and spent most of his time trying to get someone to pay attention to him. 
 I also remember the advice she gave me about "difficult days." They were frequent during student teaching. Mrs. L was adamant...the difficult days don't go away, but they do become less and less frequent...and less and less painful. We all have them in the classroom, but as we grow professionally we learn how to analyze them for clues on how to improve our performance. Those "difficult days" become the basis of our education practice...the focus of our development as professionals.
2. The first grade teachers: I student taught with Mrs. M, but they were a team of 4 superior teachers. My time in kindergarten taught me about children...but student teaching in first grade gave me an insight into how a team of teachers could work together, building on each others' strengths. I also spent time observing one of them, Mr. J. There were very few men teaching primary grades (K-3) in those days, and I was impressed with his ability to relate to young children. An interesting aside: Mr. J retired this year after 37 years of teaching. That means, that he was in his third year...more experienced than I was, but still a newcomer.
3. Classroom management, organization, a caring approach to discipline...those are things I learned about. Some of them I improved upon as I grew professionally...classroom management was always difficult for me...large groups of children still scare me!
4. The biggest eye-opener was the vast differences in children's behaviors and abilities. I saw that in the classrooms...and in the halls. One of the most vivid memories I have is of another kindergarten teacher carrying a student to the buses every afternoon because the child was throwing a tantrum...every day. The child cried when she got to school every day...and cried when she had to leave. Transitions are difficult for some. 
5. After I student taught I did some substituting before I got a job teaching kindergarten.  I will never forget the first time I substituted. I walked into a fourth grade classroom at Sunnymede and spent about 40 minutes trying to figure out how to read the plan book. I was beginning to panic...realizing that I had absolutely no idea what any of the plans meant. Five minutes before the students arrived I was saved. The man who had student taught in that very classroom during the same semester I was there walked in. He knew how the class was run, what the teacher wanted to do, and most important, how to read her lesson plans. He spent about an hour with us...got me started...and things went smoothly after that.
Education classes, internships, student teaching...those are just the beginnings of the process of learning to be a teacher. Good teachers grow each year...focusing on where they need to improve and never letting go of the goal of improvement. The attitude of the greatest teachers is "I still need to learn how to do this better." Becoming a "master teacher" includes acknowledging weaknesses and working to improve day after day...year after year.

Sunnymede Elementary closed its doors a few years after I left. I found this yearbook on the web. Many of the sixth grade students shown in the yearbook were in Mrs. L's kindergarten during the time I was there.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 Medley #3: Myths, Duncan, Teachers as Criminals, Poverty

There's too much again...too many important points to be made.

Five myths about America’s schools

Contrary to common myths, 1) our schools are NOT failing, 2) Unions DO NOT defend bad teachers, 3) Billionaires DO NOT know what's best for education, 4) Charter schools are NOT better than public schools, and 5) effective teachers are important, but NOT the magic bullet.


Mr. Duncan, you are a shining example

I've said it before...Arne Duncan is a Sociology Major/Basketball Player. He doesn't know beans about education.
Your lead sentence, “I have worked in education for much of my life”, immediately establishes your tone of condescension; for your 20-year “education” career lacks even one day as a classroom teacher. You, Mr. Duncan, are the poster-child for the prevailing attitude in corporate-style education reform: that the number one prerequisite for educational expertise is never having been a teacher.

Criminalizing Teachers

In an earlier entry I listed this as a P.S. but it's important. Los Angeles schools actually seems to enjoy making teachers look and feel like criminals...
...at the end of the process, our principal looked at all of her evidence and decided that she had failed. After that meeting, our Human Resources representative accompanied her back to her classroom to get her purse, where I and a few other colleagues were waiting for her in case she needed our support. As they arrived, Ms. HR informed us that she was not allowed to talk to us, and we were not allowed to talk to her. A security officer joined them, and then my friend was escorted out of the building as though she’d been accused of a crime.

(A judge later found the principal’s claims of her poor performance in the classroom completely baseless. His 40+ page decision explained in detail how virtually all of the evidence collected against her was either laughably flimsy, or supported her contention that she was, in fact, a very good teacher.)

...Even if there had been merit in the attempted dismissal, she hadn’t been accused of breaking the law. She hadn’t behaved in a threatening or hostile manner. In truth, there was no evidence to suggest she’d done anything wrong. So why call security? What was the point of treating this woman– who had exclusively devoted over two decades of her life to teaching needy kids– like a suspect? What kind of organization would humiliate people like this, in front of their peers and community, for no good reason? I wrote my resignation letter as soon as I got home.

Ten things teachers need to reclaim their profession
  1. Allow our teachers to use best practices rather than canned programs
  2. Permit teachers to adjust and modify their lessons to fit their students’ knowledge and skills rather than prepare them for high-stakes testing.
  3. Test score ‘data’ can only become relevant when interpretation for individual students is corroborated by their teachers
  4. Abolish all goal-setting based on annual high-stakes testing scores.
  5. Eliminate both scripted and paced lesson mandates
  6. Eliminate all punitive policies that pronounce harsh judgments on students, teachers, schools and districts based on unchallenged interpretations of student test scores.
  7. Codify regulations against administrative use of direct and/or implied threats of repercussions to those teachers who follow their State Standards for the Teaching Profession rather than curricular and/or pedagogy directives which utilize a script-like pacing without allowing for teacher modification and adjustments to fit the classroom clientele.
  8. State Standards for the Teaching Profession should be the guiding principles for all teacher evaluation protocols used by administrators.
  9. Teachers should have the freedom without fear of recrimination to express their professional opinions inside and outside of school sites regarding school practices and policies.
  10. Develop an enhanced parent-teacher communication protocol complete with translators for second language learner parents who are not fluent in English.

Missing the point on poverty and reform — again
In the current climate, anybody who raises the issue of how poverty affects students runs the risk of being labeled as:
  • a defender of the status quo
  • someone who uses poverty as an excuse for bad teachers who are protected by bad teachers unions
  • someone who believes that certain kids cannot learn as well as other kids.
None of those are true.

Teacher Evaluations Based on Test Scores Will Requires Dozens of New Tests
Bloomberg's school CAO Shael Polakow-Suransky (Class of '08) has marched out the plan in New York City, this one with a price tag of over $60,000,000 for testing companies to develop tests for grades 3 through 12 (twice a year) in math, science, English, and social studies.

These tests come on top of the annual NCLB testing and the end-of-course Regents' Exams. Initial implementation is planned for this Fall, even though no community or teacher input has been sought or received, and no validity or reliability has been established for these tests that the testing industry is still cooking up. And what happened to the new Chancellor? The last time we saw him, Mr. Wolcott was walking his grandson to school and preparing pink slips for 4,500 NYC teachers.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

UPDATE: Billionaires Work for Privatization

This morning I posted an entry about the privatization of Public Education called, The Teaching Profession Under Assault.

A few hours later Think Progress gave us a REPORT: Meet The Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools And Kill Public Education.
The wealthy families and powerful corporate-backed foundations presented here are just a sampling of some of the forces currently taking aim at public education. By demonizing traditional public schools and the teachers that staff them, this corporate education movement is undermining a very basic aspect of our democracy: a public commons that provides true opportunity for all, no matter what their background or socioeconomic status.
Read the whole thing here.
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The Teaching Profession Under Assault

It's the end of another school year. This is the time when teachers are cleaning things up, winding down, focusing on what was accomplished and what was left undone. Good teachers will analyze the successes and failures of the year and begin to think about ways to improve their skills for next year. Summers, while providing time for rest and recuperation, also provide time for study, planning and reflection. A good teacher is also a lifelong learner, and summers provide a time for personal learning and professional growth.

The picture of teachers painted by the Michael Bloombergs, the Scott Walkers, and the Michelle Rhees of the world is very different, however. In their public pronouncements, the "corporate reformers" and politicians in their pockets praise teachers for their sacrifice yet in the next sentence blame them for all the ills of the world. Teachers are to blame for our economic woes. A group of professionals and their professional organizations (aka unions) have sucked our economic system dry through high pensions and collective bargaining for one purpose only -- to line their own pockets. While CEOs pull in millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses...while the largest corporations whine about the high US Corporate Tax Rate, yet some, like GE, pay no taxes at all...while the American taxpayer subsidizes oil companies who are pulling in record profits...the American Teacher is held up as the epitome of greed and avarice.

Last April Chris Hedges at Common Dreams wrote a piece titled "Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System.
A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.
Hedges interviews a teacher who understands the system.
“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job.
It's important to ask the question, "Who is going to want to teach our children in the current educational atmosphere?"
Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions?
Why is this happening? Why is the US systematically dismantling its public education system? Privately run charter schools and voucher schemes are draining more and more money from the public treasury, while public schools serving the nation's poor are getting less and less. Public schools are being closed rather than improved...and the blame is being laid at the foot of America's teaching professionals.
“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we [have] been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”
Are bad teachers the problem? Do we gut the teaching profession, privatize public education and staff our newly opened private schools with the untrained and the inexperienced? That's what we're being told we need to do...and where is the public money for education going? Who is really getting rich off of the changing face of education? Is it the public school teacher averaging around $50,000 a year?

Are the best and the brightest going to pick education as a career choice? Will they become teachers and spend their lives reading scripts and teaching children how to fill in bubbles on a test sheet?

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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Truth about Teachers



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No Excuses

No excuses.

It doesn't matter what situation you live in, there are no excuses...not poverty...not homelessness, nothing.

Read about poverty in Poverty and Potential, in which David Berliner gives a scholarly review of how six out of school factors which are common among students who live in poverty, affect the students' health and their ability to learn. According to "corporate reformers," though, poverty is no excuse.

And what about homelessness? Children who are uprooted from their homes and moved to less than ideal surroundings as their parents try to cope with the recession...moving from school to school while parents try to find work. If they're lucky they'll get to a place like the school in this article, where they are not alone and are helped to cope with the stresses of being homeless. But that doesn't matter...their test scores are still the main focus. No excuses.

Now...we read this...

Study links lead exposure, low student test scores
Children who ingested even small amounts of lead performed poorly later on school tests compared to students who were never exposed to the substance, according to a new study of Connecticut students.

The Duke University study also found that black children were much more likely to have experienced lead poisoning from paint residue, dust or other sources by age 7 than the state's white children. Educators worry that factor might be among many contributing to Connecticut's status as the state with the largest achievement gap between the races.
Will this be brushed aside, too? Will we hear the "reformers" shouting "No Excuses?" instead of working to do something about the high levels of poverty in the US?
Several other government and university research studies nationwide over the years have found links between lead poisoning and delays in academic and cognitive growth, although the Duke study is Connecticut's first research linking individual students to their test results.
Does Scott Walker (R-WI) think that removing teachers rights to collective bargaining will help? Does Mitch Daniels (R-IN) believe that paying teachers based on the test scores of their students will help? Will Arne Duncan (D-DOE) still cheer when states close schools...will these students somehow magically improve their ability to learn if they are in a different school?

One wonders where the teachers are going to come from to work with children who live in poverty if their livelihood is based on test scores.

It's time to put the focus where it needs to be...on the failure of our leaders to solve society's poverty problem.

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And another thing...Teachers as Criminals?

Criminalizing Teachers.

The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 1

Earlier this May I went to Chicago. While I was there I took a side trip to visit my old neighborhood...I took some pictures.

Here's a picture of the first elementary school I worked in...this one as a student. I attended Philip Rogers School (1953-1962) from Kindergarten through Eighth grade (the first few years, K through 2, I think, were in portables since there were too many of us for the "main building").


What do I remember about this school? I remember...
  • ...Dr. Benjamin Elkin, the principal, who moonlighted as a children's author. He would read his new books to us. Years later while teaching, I found two of his books. I hadn't remembered them from when I was in school, but I eagerly shared them with my students. They were The 6 Foolish Fishermen and Lucky and the Giant. His 1957 book, Gillespie and the Guards was a Caldecott Honor Book.
  • ...going to the office to talk to Dr. Elkin for a variety of misbehaviors...one particular time the visit included my mother. It was not fun.
  • ...accidentally walking into the male teacher's rest room. I had not been in the building long (it was the beginning of the year that we moved from the portables to the main building). One of the teachers was walking out as I was walking in...and reprimanded me. To his credit, he did ask me how long I had been at this school...and didn't cause any permanent damage.
  • ...being in Art class when we heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. I was impressed with our teacher's response. How do you tell a group of 8th graders that the president was dead? He stood in front of the class, trying to control his emotions and told us. He was patient as we responded with silence. I don't remember the rest of that day...maybe we went home.
  • ...listening to our music teacher spout political rhetoric. I also remember thinking he was a bit off-kilter. 
  • ...being academically lost most of the time...first because I needed glasses...and second (which I didn't realize for another 35 years) because ADD kept me from focusing. Back then it was called "Minimal Brain Dysfunction." I don't remember being treated for it in any way, other than being told 1) try harder and 2) you can do so much better. Years later, when I was learning about ADHD as a teacher I talked to my mother about my problems in school. She told me about the diagnosis of Minimal Brain Dysfunction and everything fell into place.
  • ...dragging a tenor sax the four blocks to school every day and wondering why I chose such a heavy instrument to learn in band. Then I remember switching to clarinet.
  • ...Mrs. Gilbert reading aloud to us every day. When people ask me the most important thing I remember about my elementary school...this is it. I especially remember the day she finished Charlotte's Web. 
I don't remember...
  • ...taking standardized tests.
If you ask most people what they remember about their elementary school years I would guess that they would answer with stories about teachers, friends, activities. Those are the important things.
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hypocrisy in the Wisconsin Governors Office

Corporate reformers would have you believe that test scores separate the good from the bad -- the good schools from the bad, the good teachers from the bad, even the good countries from the bad. They maintain that test scores mean everything and that in order to improve the test scores all we need to do is get rid of bad teachers and the even badder teachers unions. Politicians, too, have chosen to follow this plan.

It's especially interesting then, that Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), while demanding that public schools score higher and higher on tests has led the state to slash funding for public schools. In addition, he now wants to expand vouchers. But if test scores are so important, why would he expand vouchers? Right Wing Watch writes,
...Numerous studies have shown that vouchers failed to make any difference in student performance. Just like in Washington, DC and Cleveland, private school vouchers in Milwaukee failed to produce the gains their supporters promised...with students in the Milwaukee voucher program actually performing worse than comparable public school students.

...now Republican Gov. Scott Walker wants to expand the ineffective voucher program while cutting funds to public schools. And so much for the emphasis on testing -- voucher students will now be exempted from the tests that revealed the program’s failure.

...That’s right, even though voucher students are “lagging behind their peers in public schools,” voucher programs are being rewarded with expansion while public schools are punished with cuts. With little care for accountability and testing, this move by Walker and the Wisconsin GOP demonstrates how the push for private school vouchers is really about the Right’s ideological war against public education.
We know it's not about the money. When the teachers in Wisconsin offered to give in to the Legislature's and Governor's fiscal demands to save collective bargaining, the legislature took all the fiscal measures out of the bill and cut collective bargaining anyway.

Now we see that it's not even about test scores. It didn't matter that the voucher students did no better than public school students. They aren't even going to have to take the tests in the future...

This is just another step toward the total privatization of public education. It's as simple as that.

More from Ruth Conniff in the Progressive:
What's the real goal of Walker's stripped-down education "reforms"?

"The real agenda is to dismantle public education through privatization schemes..."
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Supermarkets and Billionaires

WAITING FOR SUPERMARKETS

Donald Boudreaux wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal last week titled If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools.

[You must subscribe to the WSJ to read the whole article. Susan Ohanian has it on her web page at the end of THIS PAGE.]

In it he ridicules those who think public education and children are fundamentally different than widgets and products sold at grocery stores. He, like many others, blames teachers and their unions for all the problems facing public education.
Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.
The "gravy train" is, apparently, that fund of cash which pays teachers an average of $50,000 a year.

In contrast, Guy Brandenburg, in his blog post, Compare and Contrast: American Public Schools and Supermarkets, thinks that full disclosure is in order.

He starts by informing us of the difference between rich and poor when it comes to purchasing opportunities in the very grocery stores which Boudreaux holds up as a model for public education.
I lived in those low-income, segregated regions of some of our great American cities and countryside, and I would walk or drive to the local supermarket, guess what: I found that they sucked. There were rats, roaches, and mice; the tiles on the floor were coming up; the shopping carts wouldn’t work; the refrigeration often was broken; you risked getting robbed walking home with your bags in your arms; the food was old, of poor quality, and almost guaranteed to give you high blood pressure and to make you obese. Plus, numerous studies showed that the prices for this crappy merchandise was often higher than at fancy supermarkets in more well-to-do neighborhoods. Any laws to prevent this sort of nasty racial and economic discrimination are and were toothless and/or gutted by business interests.
He goes on to remind us that teachers and their unions are not necessarily the ones who have caused the economic situation in which we now find ourselves…
But wait a second. I thought the reason we are in a crisis right now, and that so many folks are out of a job, is because the billionaires who run the big banks and Wall Street …

(a) Shipped all the good manufacturing jobs to low-paid, seriously exploited workers overseas and are doing the same thing with a lot of high-tech jobs as well;

(b) Played such incredibly irresponsible gambling games, for their own benefit, that they have brought the entire world near the brink of bankruptcy, not once, but repeatedly;

(c) Changed the tax and regulatory and legal climate over the past 20 years so that the super rich have gotten an ever larger part of the national (and world) pie, while the rest of us get less and less and have to pay more and more for everything;

(d) Are doing their very best to organize an all-out attack on workers’ rights, pensions of all types, medical plans of any sort, and all of the rest of the ‘social safety net’, by blaming us, the working class, the middle class, and the poor, for our own problems!

(e) Have ushered in an era of nearly endless war and foreign interventions and invasions, violating just about all of our own Constitutional protections and international laws, and justifying each and every one of those violations.
FOLLOW THE MONEY

Brandenburg's most important information, however, comes at the end of his post. It turns out that Mr. Boudreaux…
is professor of economics at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center.
Then he lets us know that the Mercatus Center
was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations. According to financial records, the Koch family has contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. (SourceWatch)
Brandenburg ends his report with…
The Koch Brothers are funding many of the attacks on public employees across the country (Lipton, Eric “BillionaireBrothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute” New York Times, Feb. 21, 2011).

Boudreaux is certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds him.
Charles Koch is expanding his role in universities as well. Besides George Mason, he has donated millions to Florida State University. One of the conditions of the donation is the right to approve candidates who fill the positions in the University's new programs...
called the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise (SPEFE) and Excellence in Economics Education (EEE).
Presumably, the positions will be filled with such experts in the field of public education as Donald Boudreaux.

The Kochs are the same people who helped elect governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan...the governors who are working hard to break the teachers unions and defund public schools. The Kochs are the same people who are funding the push for privatization of America's education...through vouchers and charters...just some more billionaires who want a cut of the "gravy train" going to educate our children.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Time to MARCH!

Teacher Sabrina posted this at the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action web site.
When the teachers, parents, and students who know and care the most about public education are treated as “special interests” in our own domain; and people who’ve spent virtually no time studying or practicing education, or even being inside of public schools are viewed as “experts” (who then try to ignore or minimize those of us who dare to publicly disagree with them), it’s time to MARCH!
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Distractions...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

More responses...

Two days ago I posted this about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Open Letter to America's Teachers.

Then I found another good post and and added it in the comments section. Since that time I've found more...so here goes. First, the one I added to the comments on May 3 -- from markgarrison:
I do not believe that your rhetoric, however clever, can erase from consciousness the fact that Race to the Top is anti-democratic — imposed through bribery using taxpayer money. It is an open agenda for privatization and the elimination of any last vestiges of democratic governance of and purpose for schooling. Wall Street and various monopolies are attempting total control through for-profit charters, anti-worker legislation, publishing and testing companies, private foundations, and of course, a national curriculum and privately managed testing regime aimed at workers compliance.
Anthony Cody who writes the Living in Dialogue blog for Education Week had these questions (among others) in a post titled An Open Letter from an American Teacher to Secretary Duncan.
  • What does it mean to say it is unacceptable for a single student to drop out, or for students with disabilities to fail, when the funds that support these students have been slashed to bits?
  • How is it that your Department of Education continues to fund programs that place poorly trained interns in urban classrooms, and supported legislation that circumvented a court decision that ruled such interns are not "highly qualified"?
  • If you agree with us that it is unfair when "teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems" why did you support the firing of the entire staff of teachers at Central Falls High in Rhode Island last year?
Justin Hamilton, Arne Duncan's press secretary, said, referring to Sabrina Stevens Shupe's response, "It’s disappointing to hear that someone feels that way, but we don’t think that’s how the broader teaching community feels about it."

That got a response from The Reflective Educator who wrote in a piece titled, Dear Justin Hamilton, Have You Met Any Teachers?
  • Most teachers, believe it or not, have learned that experience in the classroom matters, and that turning the profession into a glorified temp job will do little more than provide "life support for a system of injustice and exploitation..."
  • Most teachers, believe it or not, would prefer more support over more money.
  • Most teachers, believe it or not, would like some means of...control over charter schools as a means of protecting teachers and students from predatory, for-profit snake oil salesmen.
  • And most teachers, believe it or not, probably have a more informed perspective on how to go about meaningful change in the classroom since most teachers, unlike Secretary Duncan, have taught students.
I wonder if anyone's listening?
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Are We Really Doing Enough to Hurt Public Education?

Have you thanked a soldier today? Here in the US we have no trouble supporting our troops. Bumper stickers...politicians...pundits of all stripes regularly go on and on about our military.
WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
But in education it's different. When things go wrong it's the teachers' fault.
And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.
In The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari discuss how we treat our public schools and public school teachers.
At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and D├ęcor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?
They suggest that we follow the lead of the countries in the world with the highest test results. Countries like Finland, Singapore...South Korea...
Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.
Read the whole article. We claim to want "research based reform" and "scientifically proven methods" but we are doing exactly the opposite of what's been shown to work.

If you want a plan for getting rid of public schools which serve ALL students and replacing them with private, religious and charter schools who can pick and choose their students...if you want to go back to the segregated schools of the 50s...if you want schools for the poor and separate schools for the rich...if you just give lip service to educating all children and are really interested in fueling wealthy "reformers" financial empires, then we're doing just fine.

What's our plan for education? Read what Schools Matter said about this, Our plan for teachers:
  • discourage teachers from getting more training in their fields,
  • discourage new teachers from professional preparation,
  • evaluate teachers based on test scores that reflect the gaps they cannot close,
  • provide pay bonuses based on test scores, thus discouraging teachers from working with the children who need the most help,
  • turn teaching into test score production management,
  • drain existing teacher resources, cut benefits, and drive down teacher pay by encouraging more corporate welfare charter schools,
  • ignore poverty and pretend that teachers can fix poor children with total compliance and brainwashing,
  • portray teachers as selfish mossbacks who resist change,
  • continue to encourage the resegregation of American schools.
EXTRA:
For Teacher Appreciation Week I'd like to share this article by a teacher in NYC. Are we doing everything we can to make teaching difficult and unpleasant? Are we doing everything we can to convince our best and brightest that they should do something other than teach the next generation? Maybe we should do more...

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Way Past Time to Get Mad

It is way past time to get mad. Each week, it is hard to know which of the latest outrages against American public education is the worst.
That's what Diane Ravitch said when she posted her Outrage of the Week on her Education Week Blog, Bridging Differences.

I agree. It's hard to know what to focus our anger on any more. I have a list of articles ranging from legislative punishment of public schools and public school teachers, to people like Bill Gates getting air-time for their so-called reforms simply because they're rich.

Then I saw this.

Homeless, but Finding Sanctuary at School by Michael Winerip.

I challenge you to read it without feeling angry at the politicians and "reformers" who legislate against public schools and complain about teachers getting too much money for the jobs they do...but are silent when public school money goes to tax breaks for the wealthy.
They love Fern Creek [Elementary School],” said their father, who lost his job hanging drywall after the economy collapsed. “I can’t say nothing bad about Fern Creek.”

The children’s mother, Felica Blue, who lost her job working the 11 p.m.-to-4 a.m. shift cleaning the arena after the Orlando Magic’s basketball games, said: “They love Fern Creek. Brianna’s always talking about kids from her class.”
I've included postings about homeless children at school before, HERE and HERE. It's way past time to get mad.

Then...I challenge you to read any of the following without feeling angry at politicians in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, D.C. and elsewhere, who claim that teacher greed is the problem...

The Rich Get Richer: CEO Bonuses Skyrocket; Worker Pay Flat
CEO bonuses at 50 major corporations jumped a median of 30.5%, the bigest gain in at least three years, according to a study of the first batch of corporate pay disclosures by consulting firm Hay Group for The Wall Street Journal.
Executive Bonuses Bounce Back
One of the big bonuses landed in the wallet of Robert A. Iger, leader of Walt Disney Co. He earned $13.5 million for the year ended Oct. 2. That represents a 45.4% increase.
2011 Executive Compensation on Wall Street: Taking Stock
Recent data also shows that CEO pay has increased 27 percent and the top 25 hedge fund managers have raked in a total of $22.07 billion. ProPublica has reported that “even while the economy took a beating and unemployment soared, average pay in the banking industry continued rising at the same rate as it had before the financial crisis...” [Emphasis mine]
Diane Ravitch is right. It's WAY past time to get mad!
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What Qualifies for Merit Pay?

During the last legislative session the Indiana legislature has increased the pressure on teachers. Public education and public school teachers in Indiana will have to deal with the loss of some collective bargaining rights, merit pay based on student test (ISTEP) scores, more charter schools, a private school voucher system, and the requirement that teachers be trained in certain medical procedures, among other things...

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette on May 4, 2011.
"In light of the legislation requiring public school teachers to be certified in CPR, the use of defibrillators, the Heimlich maneuver, etc., this is what I would like to know: If a student has a heart attack in my classroom and I revive the student, but the student doesn't pass ISTEP, can I still qualify for merit pay?"

-- George Peterson, Fort Wayne
My follow-up question is: When will we expect to see legislation requiring that doctors receive training in educational topics?
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This is Teacher Appreciation?

It's Teacher Appreciation Week (in fact, today, May 3, 2011, is National Teacher Day) and the Hypocrite of the Week for this week is none other than the US Secretary of Education himself, Arne Duncan. He has written an Open Letter to American Teachers and has tipped his hand in the first sentence.
I have worked in education for much of my life.
Yes, he worked in education. He went right from his private school education in Chicago to Harvard to play basketball and study Sociology. He has been a school administrator, heading the Chicago Public Schools by appointment from Mayor Daley. He has worked in education...but he has never taught in, was never an administrator in, in fact, has never even attended a public school. This is the man who is responsible for the nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States.

This is the man who we're supposed to trust. Sabrina, in her Letter to Arne Duncan, reminds us that Duncan has
Praised the mass firing of all teachers in certain ‘failing’ schools...

Promoted questionable school reform policies embraced by powerful non-educators over the express opposition of many teachers (and public school parents, for that matter)...

Undermined the teaching profession by:
  • frequently elevating the views of non-educators over those of educated, experienced professionals
  • supporting programs and policies that continually lower entry standards into the profession
  • increasing the instability of the profession (and our schools) by promoting policies that tie teachers’ evaluations and continued employment to flawed value-added measures based on flawed tests
...and...
elevated and increased high-stakes tests that are hastily scored by temporary employees and/or machines over classroom-embedded assessments designed and evaluated by teachers...
I've said it before (and I did once again above) but it's nice to see someone else repeat it, too...again, Sabrina...
More fundamentally, your very presence in the role of Education Secretary reflects a level of disrespect for our profession not found in others. Our Surgeon General is a career physician, who earned a full MD before going into family practice. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a career naval officer, who studied at the Naval Academy before participating in combat operations aboard a destroyer. Yet despite “working in education” for a while, you never studied education, and you’ve never taught in a public school classroom. Working in non-profits, playing basketball, and being a political appointee are not substitutes for classroom experience.
She adds...
I can say firsthand that my beliefs about educational failure changed dramatically when I went from “working in education” to actually running a classroom of my own. Classroom teachers have to contend with far greater “accountability” while having far less flexibility or control over how, when, what, and with what we teach. Meeting the academic, cognitive, and social needs of 20 (or 30 or 40…) students simultaneously is very different from working with small groups or tutoring one-on-one. Until you have navigated that, it is very difficult to fully appreciate just what teachers are up against.

Schools are places where all of society’s issues—all the ‘isms, all the politics, all the everything—play out. Ideally, the person in charge of our whole school system would, at a minimum, have seen all aspects of it firsthand (as a student, as a scholar, as a teacher, as a parent, as a school leader, etc.) before ever being entrusted with overseeing it. We need leaders who can combine in-depth knowledge of education policy and history with practical experience at all levels of the public education system, and a proper respect for the perspectives of those doing the work every day.

And if we can’t have all that, then at the very least we need someone who is humble enough to admit what they don’t or can’t know, and defer to the those who do and can—instead of seeking the counsel of those who know even less.
I started my teaching career when Duncan was in Elementary School. I was still teaching when he was playing basketball in Australia. I'd like to see Sabrina's last question answered as well...
So what do you plan to do to prove you respect, value, and support teachers? And when can teachers expect your apology letter, for the disrespectful and destructive policy choices you’ve already made?
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