"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 30, 2011

More from the SOS Conference and March

(See more under the title: REPORTS FROM THE SAVE OUR SCHOOLS MARCH in the column on the right.)

An update from the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.

SOS Conference Day Two

Follow along and listen to commentary during the SOS March events on Saturday!

Can’t make it to DC? No local events in your area? Have no fear! You can still follow along as Alice Mercer, teacher and Tech-Diva hosts a live Webcast show starting a little before 9 am PDT/10 MDT/11 CDT and noon on the east coast. We’ll start with the events at the Ellipse, and move west with the sun and activities, capping things off at 2 pm PDT/3 MDT/4 CDT/5 EDT.

Where can you find us? Go to http://edtechtalk.com/studio, click on the UStream player on the right, and type your name in on the left (no password is needed) if you’d like to join a text chat. We’ll be following the Twitter stream from events, and having folks on the ground call in and share.

NOTE: This will be an audio only show so we can include folks from the events.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reports from the Save Our Schools March

Here are some reports from the Save Our Schools March. Click the link to read the entire entry. I've also posted them on the menu at the side. More will be added as they appear...

SOS Conference Day One
Kuhn...said that while efforts at improving education in impoverished communities should involve improving parenting, he noted that the government has leverage only to act against teachers and not against parents. He also said that he thinks that when teachers cry out that children have been neglected and are accused of creating "excuses," they are actually making "diagnoses" of problems. "You can't fix poverty through carefully crafted algebra lessons," he said.

Save Our Schools March leaders answer White House invitation
“We sincerely appreciate the interest of the White House in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. We’d be pleased to host any White House or Department of Education personnel on the Ellipse on Saturday so they can hear firsthand what teachers, students, parents and community members from around the country have to say about public education. Thousands of concerned citizens will be sharing their experiences and their thoughts on the future of our schools. July 30th is your opportunity to listen to us. After the March, we will be open to meeting with White House or Department of Education leaders to further discuss our specific proposals.”

Day number 2 at SOS
We are not alone any more. For the first time in many years I sat back, and listened to other people fight the good fight. After two years of walking for change I was able to sit down, and rest these tired feet. The SOS House is full; people are not on their knees, they are not silent; they are working for change. This house is not a house of silence and apathy, it is the house of change, and we are marching.

Teachers Converging on Washington for 4-Day Schools Rally
"This has been framed as somebody's fault—either the parents' fault or the teachers' fault," Ms. Altwerger said. "The fault lies with an education policy that does not work."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Marching To Washington D.C.

Three days till the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. Today I read yet another, "Why I'm Marching" post. This one is from a teacher in NYC (formerly a teacher in D.C.). It focuses on something that I think is the core issue for education in America.
Public Education is worth fighting for.
Those so-called reformers don't seem to believe that...we do.
Why I'm Marching in DC This Weekend

By James Boutin

As I wait in the airport for my flight to Washington, it strikes me that it might be worth taking the time to flesh out some of the reasons I decided to blow nearly $600 on a weekend in DC.

At first I thought I would create a list, but then I realized that no matter how many different points I came up with, they essentially all boiled down to one reason.

Public education is worth fighting for.

Few people seem understand the importance of public education. Most people would agree that education is important, but public education almost has a negative connotation for some. Public education means public employees, government involvement, and bureaucracy. For many, that means inefficiency, waste, abuse, and mediocre standards for students. But it is also a test of our ability to act responsibly toward the needs of our communities.

The degree to which we commit ourselves to ensuring a quality public education for all students is ultimately a test of our commitment to democracy and social equality. On their face, offering choice and competition may seem like a worthwhile means of improving school quality, but all too often the relieve us of the collective responsibility to provide excellent schools for all students. To be sure, handing our commitment to democracy and social equality over to the forces of some educational market would be easier than providing public education, but it is not in our best interest.

I don't believe any society is capable of realizing true democracy without a commitment to quality public education. And that, I suppose is why this debate is so fierce. Not all of us agree on the importance of democracy. And I guess that's why I'm going to DC this weekend. I want to be around the many wonderful people across the country who agree with me.
If you're interested...here are some snippets from a couple more "Why I'm Marching" posts.
Principal: Why I’m marching to ‘save our schools’

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. 
By Carol Corbett Burris 
I fell in love with teaching the first moment I stood before a class. I have worked with those who can’t learn enough and with those who dared me to teach them. I have beamed with joy at graduations, and wept for students lost. I have worked through great frustrations and been humbled by how much I do not know. Through the days, both easy and hard, I try not to forget why it matters so much. As John Dewey reminds us, “schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”
Why I Am Marching on July 30 
by Diane Ravitch 
I want to protest the federal government's punitive ideas about school reform, specifically, No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. Neither of these programs has any validation in research or practice or evidence. The nation's teachers and parents know that NCLB has been a policy disaster. Race to the Top incorporates the same failed ideas. Why doesn't Congress know? 
I want to protest the wave of school closings caused by these cruel federal policies. Public schools are a public trust, not shoe stores. If they are struggling, they should be improved, not killed.
And, if you can't make it to D.C. Parents Across America has some suggestions for what you can do instead...Go to the website for more information.
Can’t go to the SOS March? Here’s what you can do instead!

Strengthen our voices in DC by adding your own. Please call or fax your Senators and Congressmen this week – Thursday would be best!

Tell them that they need to listen to their constituents on ESEA, not to rich education hobbyists who have spent billions marketing a false image of our public schools and promoting ideas that are expensive and don’t improve education. 
Tell them that you oppose HR 2218, the charter school expansion law. 
Share your own experience with high-stakes testing, school closure, charter school encroachment, or other problems that have come about due to NCLB/ESEA.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Please Listen!

The Parents Across America Blog from Saturday had this great song.
Listen to the great song composed by Greg Gower and sung by Linda Gower for the Save our Schools March in DC. Greg and Linda are two of the founding members of Parents Across America -Spokane.
The original can be found at the Educationrumination blog.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cheaters Never Win -- Part 8

I still believe that the teachers and administrators who cheated on the tests in Atlanta were wrong. They behaved unethically. On the other hand I can't place all the blame on them. It's clear that the Atlanta Public Schools administration, perhaps like administrations all over the country, put inappropriate pressure on the teachers and administrators. They were basically told if you don't get the scores up, by any means necessary, you'll be fired. They were damned if they did...and damned if they didn't.

Without excusing the unethical behavior, here are three good letters to the editor about the cheating scandal. The last letter has a great ending and is worth repeating,
In any organization in which members are pressed to reach goals that cannot be attained through legitimate means, cheating and other forms of misconduct are likely to occur. That’s the real threat of high-stakes testing.
The goals of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are unattainable.

Letters to the editor about the Atlanta Cheating Scandal.
To the Editor:

Re “Are They Learning?” (editorial, July 17):

Focusing solely on punishing the Atlanta school employees who wrongly changed test answers ignores more fundamental problems.

The Georgia investigators found that a primary cause of cheating was “unreasonable” score targets coupled with “unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals.” They concluded that “meeting ‘targets’ by whatever means necessary became more important than true academic progress.”

Misusing standardized exams as the primary factor to make educational decisions encourages score manipulation. Campbell’s Law predicted this result decades ago. It states, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

That is precisely what happened in Atlanta. The nation’s students, schools and taxpayers deserve assessment systems that promote ethical behavior, better teaching and stronger learning outcomes.

MONTY NEILL
Executive Director, FairTest
Jamaica Plain, Mass., July 18, 2011

To the Editor:

Put people in high-pressured, competitive situations, and hedge-fund managers are going to practice insider trading, athletes are going to use performance-enhancing drugs, and school superintendents, principals and teachers are going to manipulate the test scores of their students. With prestige, income and job retention at stake, who among us would not be tempted to cut corners to succeed?

But one does not have to be a “test hater” to understand that this is exactly the situation in which the No Child Left Behind law, as well as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program, has placed teachers, and why the Atlanta scandal is just the latest example of a series of fraudulent miracle success stories.

Competitive approaches pitting teacher against teacher, schools or systems or states one against another elicit exactly this type of cheating, which is antithetical to authentic educational reform.

There exist models of educational excellence in other nations and in our own based on cooperation and support among educators, where tests and other forms of assessment are used by teachers to develop strategies that enhance children’s learning, not to reward or punish teachers.

Noting the disaster the competitive model has produced, why don’t we substitute a model of education where teachers, principals, colleges and universities work together to provide every child an education that is stimulating and productive, and that leads to a life that seeks out continued learning?

ARTHUR SALZ
Chautauqua, N.Y., July 17, 2011

The writer is professor emeritus of education at Queens College.

To the Editor:

Your response to the Atlanta school-cheating scandal — “It’s the cheats who need to go, not the tests” — reflects a fundamental misreading of what happened.

Rather than focusing on the people who violated professional standards, we should recognize this as an example of organizational misconduct.

In any organization in which members are pressed to reach goals that cannot be attained through legitimate means, cheating and other forms of misconduct are likely to occur. That’s the real threat of high-stakes testing.

AARON M. PALLAS
New York, July 17, 2011

The writer is a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Race to the Top -- Preschool Edition

What's the solution to a testing system gone wild...standardized tests being almost universally misused to rank students and schools, evaluate teachers, determine bonuses and guide curriculum? Well, if you're Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education, you look to the simple solution of adding more standardized tests.

That's right...more tests. Here's a piece from Monty Neill of FairTest about Race to the Top's new testing plan for Preschool. This comes through Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post.
Will a torrent of tests now rain down on little kids?

Under the latest Race to the Top program – the Early Childhood Challenge (ELC) – that scenario has become much more likely. This could mean pre-school children losing play time and experiential learning in order to start practicing for standardized tests. That is already happening in kindergarten as testing pressure flows down from grade 3. Young children do not need a developmentally inappropriate focus on narrowly conceived “academic” skills. Drilling little ones with phonics cards won’t make them better readers when they are 10 or 20 years old.

But now RTTT proposes that winning states commit to testing all pre-schoolers to see if they are “ready” for kindergarten, as part of a “Comprehensive Assessment System.”

States are to compete for ELC funding for pre-school programs that serve children from low-income families (meaning, as usual, most states will lose and their children see no benefit). The Education Department solicited comments on its proposed “requirements, priorities, selection criteria and definitions” for ELC. (Mine are about half-way down page 2 of 349 comments.)

The proposed requirements seem often reasonable, but the results will likely do more harm than good. Consider “Priority 1: Using Early Learning and Development Standards and Kindergarten Entry Assessments to Promote School Readiness.” In theory, standards induce program improvements, while assessments identify how to better help children learn and develop.

State standards must be “developmentally, linguistically, and culturally appropriate.” They are to cover the “Essential Domains of School Readiness” – which, unfortunately, leave out some essentials. The “Domains” do include “physical well-being and motor development, and social and emotional development.”

However, the early childhood standards must align with the state K-12 academic standards in reading and math, and efforts to ensure programs have lasting effects must focus on reading and math results under No Child Left Behind.

The danger is that states will emphasize the academic components to “prepare” students for the high-stakes standardized tests in grade 3 (or earlier in some states). Pushing down inappropriate instructional practices even to kindergarten is already rampant. Meanwhile, other subject areas get short shrift: while science is mentioned in the “Essential Domains,” social studies and the arts are not. Thus, the Education Department needs to expand the required domains so they are more appropriate for young children’s all-around growth.

A winning state also must construct a “Comprehensive Assessment System,” to include a “common, statewide kindergarten entry assessment.” Most current “readiness” tests are notoriously narrow, often based on IQ tests.

Using standardized tests on young children can hurt them in many ways. Test results frequently convince children they are failures at a young age. Having been emotionally and socially hurt, they are less likely to engage in school or believe they can succeed. And educators may believe the tests and conclude children are less able to learn than they really are.

On a positive note, however, states could use assessments such as the Work Sampling System. The WSS is a means of organizing a wide range of evidence of student learning and development. It is not a one-shot test or “assessment.” If children are in a program that gathers and organizes evidence, using WSS or something comparable, there is no need for a one-shot readiness test.

Despite this possibility, the Department has, again, opened the door to a test-driven approach. States could administer an array of isolated, disconnected tests purporting to “measure” the various domains. That might be cheaper, at least at the start, even if inappropriate and dangerous to the children.

The federal government should ensure assessment quality and appropriateness, requiring changes if the state fails to implement comprehensive, developmentally appropriate assessments based on classroom-based evidence gathered over time. Further, as there is no good reason to have one state-wide “readiness” test if the assessments are all based on the state’s standards, the department should drop this requirement.

While the department says the assessments are not high stakes, some states could use the results, even if based on weak tests, to coerce changes or close programs. Or they could start the downward spiral of “interim” and “formative” tests aimed at increasing scores on the test that counts, which will really turn pre-school into test prep. The Department should bar states from using RTTT-funded child assessment information for high-stakes accountability purposes for children, program staff, or programs.

If past experience is a guide, the department will at most make minor changes to its regulations. Advocates for quality early childhood education must pressure their states to make this program help children instead of deform early childhood programs as testing has deformed elementary and secondary schools.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kimberly's Story

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might have discovered a small link on the right side to the 365project.org. 365project.org is a web site where you can post a picture a day for a year. The description on the home page reads:
The 365 project is a photography project where you document a year of your life by taking a daily photo. We want to help you build a picture of the little day to day things that make your life so special and unique. Everyone can take part and join in! All you need is a camera.
The 365 Project has members from all over the world...professional photographers, amateurs, parents, kids...people who discuss frames, lenses, f-stops...and people who just point and shoot. It's a nice community...supportive and interesting.

A few weeks ago I discovered a 365 member, Beverly, who was telling the story of her daughter's automobile accident...and inspiring recovery which still continues.

The Aftermath on 365 Project

1st May 2011. The Aftermath
Late Saturday afternoon, my beautiful daughter, grandson and son-in-law were in a head-on collision. A woman just swerved right over the yellow line. My daughter has a broken ankle and had surgery this a.m. There will be an additional surgery on it in two weeks or so when the swelling has gone down...
Things were difficult for the next few days. Beverly's daughter, Kim, was not doing well.
4th May 2011. Black as My Mood
My daughter was taken into emergency surgery this morning for what was found to be a perforated small intestine, the result of the impact of the crash Saturday night. This explains why she hasn't eaten and has had such pain in her stomach area. They repaired that and all looked good for about two hours when she had a stroke or seizure -- they don't know what. She is now back in ICU and is considered stable for now... 
UPDATE MAY 12. Third surgery in two weeks, this time for a tracheotomy in her throat rather than through her mouth. Still unresponsive. Three parts of her brain have been affected by the strokes. She breathes on her own, her heart beats on it's own. This is strictly a baby steps/time-will-tell situation. Thank you all for your prayers. Please keep them coming. We are living in a never-ending nightmare.
365 Project is set up to post one picture a day, but with trips to visit Kim, Beverly posted intermittently for the next few weeks. As a parent it's easy to find empathy here. We've all had those fears that something awful might happen to one of our children.

With the comment to her next photo, Beverly showed the overwhelming nature of this sort of event...we are consumed with the problem and it's as if nothing else in the world matters. And it's true. As a parent nothing else does matter when your child is hurt.
16th May 2011 View From the ICU Waiting Room
My world is very small these days. Greenville Memorial Hospital and home.

Kimberly has been moved to a regular room on the neurological floor, taking what looks to me to be the same equipment and monitors she had in ICU -- feeding tube, trach, heart monitor, etc. She is still unresponsive. They will be doing surgery this week to do the final repair to her ankle as they need to get her prepared for therapy, which will start whether or not she is responsive.

I can manage to get small amounts of food down on occasion -- just enough to keep on keeping on. I can actually get some sleep at night and don't have to listen to my heart pounding away in my chest. It appears the human body will finally adjust and it takes about three weeks.

Thanks to all of you who have prayed for us. Please continue to do so. Your thoughts and wishes are greatly appreciated.
Difficult for the parent as well...no question about it. Finally, things start to improve.

The following entries may seem to go fast, but I'm sure that the hours and days passed very slowly when it was happening.
29th May 2011 A Little Sunshine
There was a slight improvement since yesterday. Kimberly opens her eyes...
In an email to me Beverly wrote an additional detail which increased her fear at this time and made the whole situation even more terrifying and stressful.
...there was a time just a week or so before we sent her to Charlotte for rehab that her neurologist felt that she should be given only two more weeks to respond before she should be taken off her feeding tube.
The entries which followed this for the next few days must have been difficult to write, but Beverly remained positive.
6th June 2011 A Little More Sunshine
Her second neurosurgeon is worried about her eyesight and the entire left side of her body as that still doesn't appear to be making any kind of progress with either. But my motto has always been "It ain't over til it's over," so we'll wait and see about that.
On June 9th Kim was moved to the rehabilitation center. This, in itself was good news...the neurologist who had "given only two more weeks" was wise to wait. Things were getting better.
11th June 2011 Daisy Bouquet
Kim has now been at Carolina Rehab for 36 hours. They have removed the oxygen which she has never really needed but they kept it there "just in case." They are going to leave the trach for the same reason and will be capping it soon.
16th June 2011 Carolinas Rehab
Can you see me smiling from where you are?

We visited Kim for the first time since she was taken to North Carolina for rehab. The difference in her is astounding! Amazing what six days of dedicated work will make....I haven't felt this positive in two months! Thanks again all of you for your prayers. The effect is miraculous.
19th June 2011 A Father's Day Visit
We drove up to Charlotte again today to see Kim. There were slight improvements again since we were last there on Thursday. They are no longer propping her head with pillows in her chair, but rather she is using the regular head rest at a slight angle. This is probably much cooler for her. She rotates her neck by herself now and is using her right arm more freely than just a few days ago.
I think this is about the time I read her first posting...then I went back and read the rest and have followed the story since then.
23rd June 2011 Kim's Bed
I just heard from my son-in-law, Matt, that he has completed his visit with Kimberly today. He said there have been remarkable changes since his visit 5 days ago. Can't wait until he's off the road so I can "grill" him on all that he saw today...
27th June 2011 Good News Monday
My son-in-law Matt just called to tell me how Kim's test went this morning. She passed with flying colors, better than they expected. So today she will be started on some real food.
30th June 2011 THE BEST DAY EVER!!!
We took the trip...to see Kimberly. . .She has vision...She can speak limited words!! We were about at the half-way point up the highway this morning when her nurse called to not only tell us that Kim spoke, but put her on the phone and we heard "hello"...She is now eating pureed foods...She could not get enough of looking at and holding hands with her son...I'm probably forgetting a lot of things, but...We are just so happy for now it's hard to get our thoughts straight. 
5th July 2011 Tuesday With Kim
...so much to report...it was delightful out on their patio garden where we sat with her for an hour...We made her really laugh with a story from Hayden's visit to our home yesterday...We then took her to her second speech session of the day. They are strengthening her "wind" by having her blow bubbles...Then it was lunch time. I fed her today -- green beans, yams, mystery meat (which she liked much better than the turkey the other day), and pineapple, all pureed of course. She probably would have licked the plate if she could have gotten it to her face...Rest well, Kim. There's still lots of hard work ahead.
11th July 2011 A Little More Progress
Today I learned that Kim is now eating solid food -- soft, but REAL food. These tiny baby steps are adding up. Keep up the good work Kim!
That's good progress...things are getting better and the entire family can focus on getting Kimberly well and home again. There are surely going to be many more days of hard work as she recovers, but it's clear that hard work is not a problem. Hard work gives hope...hope inspires hard work. The two go hand in hand. Beverly wrote to me,
[I] hope that it would go as a warning to people to fight for their loved ones
Maybe the doctor who said that he would give her two weeks was not being as negative as it seemed. He knew, perhaps from experience, that a certain time must pass before an accurate diagnosis can be made. Perhaps he just didn't know at that point. Beverly's point, however, is clear. Don't give up.
We proved him wrong. Where there's life, there's hope.
Her point was also not lost on her daughter. It's apparent that Kimberly was raised not to give up. If you read through the comments from her mother (link below) you'll learn that this young woman is determined to return to her family. She will recover...with the help of her medical team, her family and her own courage and determination.

This photo was posted on July 15. Beverly gets to end this blog entry with a comment on her photo.

A Glorious Friday! on 365 Project

15th July 2011 A Glorious Friday!
My child never fails to amaze me. This young woman, who was virtually given up on by some doctors less than two months ago, is nearing the date when she will be coming home to her family and friends...Her left leg is becoming increasingly stronger, but of course that broken ankle is holding her back. Her left arm is getting stronger also....Her diet now is real food which she eats with great enjoyment...Yes, it was a wonderful day indeed. This is her clasping her son's hand.
(To read the full story go to Beverly's 365 page...here's a link to her May 1st photo, where the story begins. Just keep clicking NEXT for the next picture.)

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Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 Medley #6: Teaching Profession, Cheaters, Vouchers

A Declaration of Professional Conscience

Teachers, it is time to reclaim your profession. Endorse Kenneth S. Goodman’s A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers!
We will make the welfare of our students our most basic criterion for professional judgment. We have no greater accountability than that we owe our pupils. We will work with parents and policymakers to formulate programs that are in the best interests of our pupils. We will work with the kids to personalize these programs. We will respect all learners.
Get your own copy to read first.

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Cheaters Never Win Part 4, 5, 6 and 7

Real shame of APS cheating: “We have let testing corporations make mockery of education.”

This is today's most important article. Who determines the directions of America's Public Schools -- testing companies, or professionals in the classroom?
Georgia kindergarteners know about the CRCT and students take practice tests all year long. Children vomit. Parents cry. Teachers vomit and cry. Some youth and educators have even taken their own lives as a result.

The stakes are unbearable, and the tests are not a good measure of the best teaching and learning. But states keep sending millions and billions to the testing industry, giving the industry carte blanche in determining the academic and psychological fate of our children and schools.
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It's Not Cheating. It's Sabotage.
Why are so many education officials like Secretary Duncan "shocked?"...It has nothing to do with being surprised that it was happening. Cheating and gaming the system were guaranteed outcomes of this pernicious system -- Campbell's Law.
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Teachers Implicated In Atlanta Cheating Scandal Told To Resign Or Get Fired
But because teachers have rights to due process, the educator wipe-out could be lengthy and take several months, AJC reports. Some teachers have already hired lawyers.
This is called due process...in the United States we're still innocent until proven guilty.

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Atlanta schools created culture of cheating, fear
This is why teachers need due process rights.
In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, they said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.

One principal forced a teacher to crawl under a desk during a faculty meeting because her test scores were low. Another principal told teachers that "Walmart is hiring" and "the door swings both ways," the report said.
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ALEC Exposed: Starving Public Schools
ALEC's real motivation for dismantling the public education system is ideological--creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone--and profit-driven.

As Benjamin Barber has argued, "public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity." What happens to our democracy when we return to an educational system whose access is defined by corporate interests and divided by class, language, ability, race and religion? In a push to free-market education, who pays in the end?
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cheaters Never Win -- Part 3

The standardized test cheating scandal in Atlanta continues to get attention. Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addresses it from a different point of view. Most comments about the cheating scandal focus on tightening up test security, but Schaeffer focuses on the root cause of the cheating -- the misuse of standardized tests.

In two articles, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and USA Today, Schaeffer calls attention to the insanity that is the testing craze in the US. In USA Today he denounces cheating, as he should...
Cheating on standardized exams is unethical, whether done by teachers, students or administrators. Enhancing test security might temporarily reduce the number of reported cases. But it will not address the root cause of the misbehavior.
...then goes on to blame the cheating, not only on the people directly involved, the teachers and administrators, but also the "pervasive misues of standardized tests in public schools."
The cheating spike is the predictable fallout from the pervasive misuse of standardized tests in public schools. When test results are all that matter in evaluating students, teachers and schools, educators feel pressured to boost scores by hook or by crook. Just as in other professions, some will cross the ethical line.

Cheating is not the only negative consequence from test misuse. Many schools have turned classrooms into drill-and-kill test-prep centers, reduced the difficulty of exams and narrowed curriculum. Some even encouraged students to drop out in order to boost scores. Basing teacher evaluations on students' test scores, as some propose, is guaranteed to ratchet up the pressure and further distort schooling.
This supports the conclusions of the report of the Georgia Office of Special Investigators who wrote:
"What has become clear through our investigation is that ultimately, the data and meeting 'targets' by whatever means necessary, became more important than true academic progress" (p. 356).
It's clear that the obsessive focus on test scores, not just in Atlanta, but around the country, as the end-all of the education process has damaged the quality of education.
That’s the biggest problem of all. The high-stakes testing explosion has led to dumbed-down teaching and learning, which, like cheating, is epidemic in Atlanta and across the nation.

Georgia and other states, as well as the federal administration and Congress, should treat the Atlanta scandal as a national warning call. Assessment and accountability policies much be overhauled to promote genuine educational quality, not just easily manipulated test scores.
Teaching to the test is not education. We need a rational approach to assessment...one that combines real classroom experience with good teaching practices. Schools have become test-prep factories focusing on higher scores to the exclusion of everything else. That needs to change. We need to get back to evaluating students on things like problem solving and critical thinking, and we need to teach those skills.

This has been going on for too long...decades. The so-called "reformers" keep calling for more and more standardized tests. Race to the Top, the Obama administrations education plan, calls for increasing the amount of testing to include ALL subjects. Now states are adopting teacher evaluations which are based on standardized tests. This is the current status quo in education -- it's time to end this experiment in test driven education.
There's a better alternative. Instead of putting even more weight on multiple-choice exams — a practice the testing profession's own standards label as improper — schools need an assessment system that encourages learning, not cheating. The core measures should be the academic work students do in the classroom, not how well they fill in bubbles on a one-shot test. Evidence of learning should include essays they write, projects they complete, problems they solve and, yes, regular classroom tests, midterms and finals.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It Really is About Destroying Public Education

Do Americans really support public education? Most do...but there are some who would just like to see the universal, free public education "go away."

The attack on public schools and public school teachers has been relentless over the last few years and it's becoming less and less paranoid sounding to claim that there is an orchestrated plan to destroy public education.

Now, a group which supports the privatization of America's schools has openly admitted that they are working for the eventual destruction of public education in America and its replacement with private schools supported by public funds.

Teri Adams, the head of the Independence Hall Tea Party which operates in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, has said,
Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only, eventually returning responsibility for payment to parents and private charities.
Adams' group has worked hard to pass voucher bills in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and campaigned for anti-public school candidates.

Think Progress has more...
“It’s refreshing to see a vouchers promoter who is honest about her real intent — to destroy public education,” responded Julia Rubin, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, a New Jersey organization that is opposing the voucher push in the state. “Fortunately, most New Jersey residents understand how devastating vouchers would be for our excellent public schools.”
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Friday, July 8, 2011

Cheaters Never Win - Update

The cheating scandal in Atlanta is getting a lot of press. Valerie Strauss at The Answer Sheet, her blog at the Washington Post, has released some details from the 400+ page report of the Georgia Office of Special Investigators.

As I said yesterday, I don't -- and hopefully no one does -- condone this sort of unprofessional behavior. However, the pressure on teachers and administrators to resort to this kind of behavior is undeniable. The Atlanta cheating scandal is a tale, not just of educators behaving unprofessionally, but one of threats and intimidation. See below -- especially the last paragraph.
Shocking details of Atlanta cheating scandal

It’s one thing to say there was widespread cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta public schools, as the newly released results of a state investigation showed. It’s another thing to actually read the volunimous report. The details are shocking...
 --
District Leadership knew Principal [Christopher] Waller was cheating.... Dr. Hall also should have known Waller was cheating at Parks because once he became principal, the school immediately made dramatic gains on the CRCT and other tests. For example, between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years, eighth-graders meeting or exceeding standards in reading increased by 31 percentage points, from 50 percent to 81 percent.... In math, the percentage of eighth-graders who met or exceeded the standards increased from 24 percent to 86 percent.” 
...Dr. Alfred Kiel [the testing coordinator] “would not allow cheating so Principal Waller orchestrated Kiel’s absence from the school building so the cheating could take place. On one occasion in 2009, Principal Waller took Kiel out for a ‘retirement lunch.’ In another year, Principal Waller scheduled an impromptu after-school dance so that the teachers could stay late in the afternoon and cheat without raising suspicion. Kiel once noticed that things in his office had been disturbed while he was out and became angry. After that occasion, teacher Damany Lewis took pictures of Kiel’s office before he altered the tests so that everything would be put back in exactly the same place so as not to raise Kiel’s suspicions. No one implicated Kiel except Principal Waller.” 
...“Varner saw teachers cheat on the APS district-wide benchmark tests. She proctored during this test and saw teachers point to certain questions and then identify the correct answer. After completing, the tests were scanned and scored at the school. [Teacher] Enolar Callands would watch the tests as they were scored. If the scores were not high enough, the teachers would review the tests with the students. Then, the students with low scores were sent to Callands’ or [teacher] Bess Mae Paschal’s classroom to retake the test. 
...“Three teachers confessed to cheating. Two teachers pointed to answers, re-read questions, or used other cues to ensure their students chose correct answers. One teacher confessed to erasing and changing answers in the principal’s conference room where teachers were gathered by grade levels to erase stray marks.”
...Teacher Ashley “Daniel said that there were several reasons teachers would cheat. Principal Paden linked test scores to evaluations, and told Daniel that she needed better scores to get a better evaluation. Scores were posted at faculty meetings and teachers were singled out in front of their colleagues. Principal Paden threatened teachers in a meeting, and told them if she was going to be on a PDP [a professional development plan developed and implemented to correct perceived deficiencies in performance of teachers and administrators] then they should be on one also. Principal Paden made threatening statements, like ‘The door swings both ways,’ and ‘Walmart is hiring.’ ”
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cheaters Never Win...

Big news from Atlanta. Teachers, principals, and likely even central office administrators have cheated -- or ignored cheating -- on the state achievement tests.

Schools matter posted this report about the scandal…
The full Georgia Office of Special Investigators' report was just posted online -- no time to read its 400+ pages, let alone digest them, but a quick scan finds these superb quotations (it is informative to substitute the words "Bush and Obama administrations" and "Arne Duncan" in appropriate places to see the national implications of this story).
WHY CHEATING OCCURRED

Three primary conditions led to widespread cheating on the 2009 CRCT"

- The targets set by the district were often unreasonable, especially given their cumulative effect over the years. Additionally, the administration put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets;

- A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread throughout the district; and,

- Dr Hall and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics."

http://www.ajc.com/news/volume-3volume-3-conclusions-why-1000781.html p. 350

and

"What has become clear through our investigation is that ultimately, the data and meeting 'targets' by whatever means necessary, became more important than true academic progress" (p. 356).
Diane Ravitch commented to CBS News that the law, NCLB, gives teachers and principals "an incentive to cheat."

The pressure to cheat in order to reach unreasonable expectations (such as every child proficient by 2014) is not just Atlanta's problem. In an article in the Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits said,
Atlanta is not alone in allegedly gaming its numbers. Schaeffer said cheating headlines have popped up in the last month alone from Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Florida.
The Christian Science Monitor called this America's biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal.
It's also a tacit indictment, critics say, of politicians putting all bets for improving education onto high-stakes tests that punish and reward students, teachers, and principals for test scores.

"When test scores are all that matter, some educators feel pressured to get the scores they need by hook or by crook," says Mr. Schaeffer. "The higher the stakes, the greater the incentive to manipulate, to cheat."
And what about the big bad teachers union? Well, it turns out that, if Atlanta Public Schools administration had listened to the union, the scandal might have been nipped in the bud. Think Progress reports:
Interestingly, one aspect of the scandal that has not been covered by the major media is the role of the local teacher unions. While Atlanta’s teacher unions are largely powerless when it comes to actual bargaining and strike powers — unlike many of their northern counterparts, they currently have no collective bargaining rights enshrined into law — one local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was the very first body to internally report cheating to the district superintendent, Dr. Beverly Hall
What happened to the teachers union report?
AFT President Randi Weingarten provided the following statement to ThinkProgress: “The governor’s investigation found that Atlanta Federation of Teachers was the first to expose cheating in December 2005, but the union’s complaint was ignored and sadly, subsequent whistle-blowers in the district were punished and silenced."
Standardized tests, as they are commonly used, are damaging for public education and public school teachers. In state after state, the US DOE plan of judging teachers in part by test scores, is becoming a reality.

Don't get me wrong...I don't approve of cheating. No one likes a cheater. What the principals, teachers, and central office administrators (who covered up the cheating) did was wrong. It was wrong professionally, morally and politically.

Still the current educational climate in America, which has been building for the last 10+ years, is just begging teachers, administrators and entire school systems to cheat. The Texas miracle (more info here) upon which NCLB is based was nothing more than a cheating scandal.

It's a no win situation.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

P. L. Thomas Responds to Ravitch and Brooks

P. L. Thomas, writing on Schools Matter, shares his thoughts and responses to Diane Ravitch's response to David Brook's tirade against her.

I reproduce it here for a couple of reasons...first Thomas does a great job of showing why Brooks is wrong and second, the links provided are a great bibliography for those who are fighting corporate so-called reform.
Brooks/Ravitch Continued

The New York Times has published Diane Ravitch's measured and accurate response to Brooks' attack on her and the voice of educators and scholars who are refuting the hollow new-reformer movement in education spawned under the Obama administration (Duncan, Gates, Rhee, Gates). Brooks' strawman tactics resonate with the public and echo the ideological claims of the new reformers, but the evidence-based and nuance responses to these tactics tend to be marginalized and misrepresented in the media and among the self-proclaimed reformers themselves.

The NYT has requested letters in response to Ravitch's response:

Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond to this letter, as part of our new Sunday Dialogue feature. We plan to publish a sampling of responses in the Sunday Review, and Diane Ravitch will be given an opportunity to reply. E-mail: letters@nytimes.com

And here is what I sent, though I suspect it may not see print:

What do David Brooks' claims about education reform and criticism of Diane Ravitch have in common? They are incomplete and inaccurate.

Ravitch's credibility rests on her historical context for education in the U.S. while Brooks insists on ignoring the evidence and perpetuating "no excuses" ideology that makes powerful rhetoric but not solid policy. The education reform debate must rest on some basic facts:

• Measurable student outcomes (tests) reflect dominantly the out-of-school factors in students' lives beyond the control of the schools (See David Berliner's work that identifies the six factors we must address).

• When U.S. student outcomes are compared internationally and poverty is considered in that comparison, the U.S. ranks higher than most countries we tend to claim are superior to the U.S. in education (See Mel Riddile's analysis of PISA).

• The accountability era over the past 30 years has not created the reform promised; in fact, the accountability era focusing on standards and testing has done far more harm than good (See the new study edited by Michael Hout and Stuart W. Elliott).

• Teacher quality's influence on measurable student outcomes is small (See "What Research Says About the Effect of Teachers" by the Education Writers Association).

• Claims of "miracle" schools have been discredited, are not scalable, or implement practices that are not desirable in a free society—including the Harlem "miracle," the Texas "miracle," and the Chicago "miracle," all of which have impacted flawed political rhetoric and policy (See "miracleschools"Wiki).

We need political leadership dedicated to addressing the inordinate weight of poverty on children in the U.S. while we also reform our public schools to insure that they do not perpetuate the inequities found in our society, including setting aside failed bureaucratic approaches to schools and classist "no excuses" ideologies creating highly stratified charter schools across the U.S.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

2011 Medley #5: Happiness Plan, Open Letter to Duncan, Hope

The Happiness Plan

We know that reading aloud helps improve reading achievement. We know that access to books and a large selection of books from which to choose improves reading achievement. These are proven activities which will help students become more proficient.

Today I read an "end of the year reflection" on Borderland, Doug Noon's blog about teaching and education. Give it a look...and read the entire entry from which this quote was taken.
...I am done caring about reformist nonsense. At a staff meeting earlier this year we were discussing our AimsWeb Data Boards put up around the room to show how many students in each grade level are below proficient, at risk, or proficient based on how well they handled an oral one-minute timed reading. To me, this was a disgusting display of a brain-dead method to evaluate reading. We were asked to say what we planned to do to improve our students’ scores. Since the data showed lots of kids scoring “below proficient” in first and second grade and very few in that category by the time they got to sixth, I observed that the trend was positive, and that at least as far as word-calling skills go, we seem to be doing all right. Teachers at each grade level announced what they planned to do, like focus on comprehension, vocabulary, decoding – the usual. When it was my turn, I said I’d be going with the happiness plan. What’s that? It’s getting the kids to enjoy reading so that they do it on their own. How does it work? Easy. Give them choices and time to read every day, and then celebrate their accomplishments. I got a round of applause. Kind of sad, really, when I think about what that might mean.
The "happiness plan" is based on research...and will likely work as well, or better, than any drill and kill, test prep or scripted reading program.

An open letter to Ed Secretary Arne Duncan

A principal has written a letter to Arne Duncan. Think it will help?
I am certain that you know that there are many educators across this nation who quietly and generously go above and beyond each day for their students. Some work in very difficult circumstances in schools that are overwhelmed by poverty and truly do not have the resources to serve their students well. Others, like me, are lucky enough to work in well-resourced districts with more limited numbers of students who have great need. I know that you would not want to deliberately harm the work that we do.

However, the punitive evaluation policies that New York State has adopted (and that many other states have adopted) due to the Race to the Top competition are doing just that. It is a dangerous gamble that might score political points but it will hinder what you and I and so many others want—better schools for our kids. We already know from research that reforms based on high stakes testing do not improve long-term learning.
Reasons for Hope

Diane Ravitch continues to fight for public education and rational educational practices. In her recent blog entry she gives us hope, followed by an historian's perspective...
Of one thing I feel sure—history will not be kind to those who gleefully attacked teachers, sought to fire them based on inaccurate measures, and worked zealously to reduce their status and compensation. It will not admire the effort to insert business values into the work of educating children and shaping their minds, dreams, and character. It will not forgive those who forgot the civic, democratic purposes of our schools nor those who chipped away at the public square. Nor will it speak well of those who put the quest for gain over the needs of children. Nor will it lionize those who worshipped data and believed passionately in carrots and sticks. Those who will live forever in the minds of future generations are the ones who stood up against the powerful on behalf of children, who demanded that every child receive the best possible education, the education that the most fortunate parents would want for their own children.

Now is a time to speak and act. Now is a time to think about how we will one day be judged. Not by test scores, not by data, but by the consequences of our actions.
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Monday, July 4, 2011

NEA 'Appalled' with Duncan

The 9000 plus delegates at the NEA Representative Assembly in Chicago have passed a New Business Item directing the NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, to tell President Obama how much we hate what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is doing to the public schools of America. That's it...just tell him. The President hasn't listened to teachers during the first four years of his administration. What makes the delegates to the RA so sure he'll listen now?

New Business Item 22, calling for the removal of Secretary Duncan, was defeated.

The delegates cheered loudly when Vice President Biden spoke. Biden talked about working with teachers...and he said that teachers "are not the problem."

The fact is, however, that President Obama, and by his cooperation, Vice President Biden, are not friends of education. They are not working for the good of the students of America. They're working to establish the corporate based privatization of public education through Secretary Duncan.

It's true that the Democrats are against the actions of Republican governors and legislators to reduce the strength of teachers unions, but that's only one part of the problem. The other part is the defunding of public schools for more charters and vouchers, the continued insane dependence on standardized test scores to rank schools, and the use of the same tests to evaluate teachers. That's coming straight from US Department of Education.

The same 13 items listed below in New Business Item C can be said of President Obama. NEA should not endorse him.

...and I'm very disappointed that the call for Duncan's removal was defeated.
NEW BUSINESS ITEM C

ADOPTED AS AMENDED

The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to communicate aggressively, forcefully, and immediately to President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan’s practice of:
  1. Weighing in on local hiring decisions of school and school district personnel.
  2. Supporting local decisions to fire all school staff indiscriminately, such as his comments regarding the planned firings in Central Falls, RI.
  3. Supporting inappropriate use of high-stakes standardized test scores for both student achievement and teacher evaluation, all while acknowledging that the currently available tests are not good.
  4. Failing to recognize the shortcomings of offering to support struggling schools or states, but only in exchange for unsustainable state ‘reform’ policy.
  5. Focusing too heavily on competitive grants that by design leave most students behind—particularly those in poor neighborhoods, rural areas, and struggling schools—instead of foundational formula funding designed to help all the students who need the most support.
  6. Not adequately addressing the unrealistic Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements that brand thriving or improving schools as failures.
  7. Forcing local school districts to choose from a pre-determined menu of school improvement models that are unproven and have been shown to be ineffective and bear little resemblance to the actual needs of the school that is struggling.
  8. Focusing so heavily on charter schools that viable and proven innovative school models (such as magnet schools) have been overlooked, and simultaneously failing to highlight with the same enthusiasm the innovation in our non-charter public schools.
  9. Failing to recognize both the danger inherent in overreliance on a single measurement and the need for multiple indicators when addressing and analyzing student achievement and educators’ evaluations.
  10. Failing to recognize the need for systemic change that helps ALL students and relies on shared responsibility by all stakeholders, rather than competitive grant programs that spur bad, inappropriate, and short-sighted state policy.
  11. Failing to recognize the complexities of school districts that do not have the resources to compete for funding, particularly in rural America, and failing to provide targeted and effective support for those schools and school districts.
  12. Failing to respect and honor the professionalism of educators across this country, including but not limited to holding public education roundtables and meetings without inviting state and local representatives of the teachers, education support professionals, and faculty and staff; promoting programs that lower the standards for entry into the profession; focusing so singularly on teachers in the schools that the other critical staff members and higher education faculty and staff have been overlooked in the plans for improving student learning throughout their educational careers.
  13. Perpetuating the myth that there are proven, top-down prescribed ‘silver bullet’ solutions and models that actually will address the real problems that face public education today, rather than recognizing that what schools need is a visionary Secretary of Education that sets broad goals and tasks states, local schools districts, schools, educators, and communities with meeting those goals.
Further, the NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA Executive Committee to develop and implement an aggressive action plan in collaboration with state and local leaders that will address the issues above.

Starting November 2011, the NEA President will provide regular updates to the delegates on the progress of this plan throughout the year.

COST IMPLICATIONS

Activities to fulfill the requirements of this NBI can be undertaken within the proposed Modified 2011-2012 Strategic Plan and Budget at no additional cost.
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Label the Lawmakers

John Kuhn, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District (Texas) wrote this. I posted a link to this before...but it's time to share the whole thing.
Stop labeling teachers, label the lawmakers
By John Kuhn
Apr 14, 2011, 08:39

Dear Editor,

The age of accountability should be renamed the age of blame, when teachers wear the scarlet letter for the failings of a nation. We send teachers into pockets of poverty that our leaders can’t or won’t eradicate, and when those teachers fail to work miracles among devastated children, we stamp ‘unacceptable’ on their foreheads.

I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read “exemplary” in the suburbs and “unacceptable” in the slums?

Let us label lawmakers like we label teachers, and we can eliminate 100 percent of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and preventable illness by 2014! It is easy for elected officials to tell teachers to “Race to the top” when no one has a stopwatch on them! Lace up your sneakers, Senators! Come race with us!

Teachers are surrounded by armchair quarterbacks who won’t lift a finger to help, only to point. Congressmen, come down out of those bleachers and strive with us against the pernicious ravages of poverty. We need more from you than blame. America’s education problem is actually a poverty problem.

If labels fix schools, let us use labels to fix our congresses! Let lawmakers show the courage of a teacher! Hold hands with us and let us march together into the teeth of this blame machine you have built. Let us hold this congressman up against that congressman and compare them just as we compare our schools. Congressmen, do not fear this accountability you have given us. Like us, you will learn to love it.

Or maybe lawmakers do such a wonderful job that we don’t need to hold them accountable?

Did you know that over the next five years, Texas lawmakers will send half a billion dollars to London, to line the pockets of Pearson’s stakeholders. That’s 15,000 teacher salaries, sacrificed at the altar of standardized testing. $500,000,000 for a test! I’m sure it’s a nice test, but it’s just a test. I’ve never seen a test change a kid’s life or dry a kid’s tear. Tests don’t show up at family funerals or junior high basketball games. They don’t chip in to buy a poor girl a prom dress. Only teachers do those things.

If times are desperate enough to slash local schools’ operating funds, then surely they are desperate enough to slash Pearson’s profits. Lawmakers, get your priorities straight. Put a moratorium on testing until we can afford it. Teachers are our treasure – let’s not lose the house just so we can keep our subscription to Pearson’s Test-of-the-Month Club. We have heard Texas senators often talk about the teacher-to-non-teacher ratio in our schools. Lawmakers, they are ALL non-teachers at Pearson. Don’t spend half a billion dollars that we don’t have on some test that is made in England.

Parents are so fed up with standardized testing that hundreds are now refusing to let their children test. They do not want their children run through this terrible punch press. They do not want standardized children. They want exceptional children!

Let me tell you Texas’s other dirty secret – some schools get three times the funding of other schools. Some schools get $12,000 per student, while others get $4,000. Did you know that every single child in Austin is worth $1,000 more than every single child in Fort Worth? Do you agree with that valuation? Congress does. They spend billions to fund this imbalance.

Now the architects of this inequity point at the salaries and staff sizes at the schools they have enriched to justify cuts at schools that have never been given enough. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, of Plano, says, essentially, yes, but we’re cutting the poor schools by less. Senator, you don’t take bread away from people in a soup line! Not even one crumb. And you should not take funds away from schools that you have already underfunded for years. It may be politically right to bring home the bacon, but ain’t right right.

Legislators, take the energy you spend shifting blame and apply it toward fixing the funding mechanisms. We elected you to solve the state’s problems, not merely to blame them on local government. After all, you have mandated local decision-making for years. Your FIRST rating system tells school boards that their district’s administrative cost ratio can be no higher than 0.2 percent. And over 95 percent of school districts in Texas are in compliance with the standard you have set. At my school, our administrative cost ratio is 0.06 percent – so could you please stop blaming me?

If 95 percent of schools are compliant with the administrative cost ratio indicator in the state’s financial rating system for schools, then why are state officials saying we have too much administration? We have the amount of administration they told us to have! Either they gave us bad guidance and we all followed it, or they gave us good guidance and just need someone other than themselves to blame for these cuts.

Is this the best we can do in Texas? I wish they would worry about students half as much as they worry about getting re-elected.

These same senators have a catchy new slogan: “Protect the Classroom.” I ask you, senators: who are we protecting the classroom from? You, that’s who. You are swinging the ax; don’t blame us for bleeding wrong.

They know that their cuts are so drastic that school boards will have no choice but to let teachers go, and I can prove it: while they give press conferences telling superintendents not to fire teachers, at the same time they pass laws making it easier for ... you guessed it ...administrators to fire teachers. Which is it, senators?

If we don’t truly need to cut teachers, then don’t pass the laws that reduce their employment protections. And if we truly do need to cut teachers, then go ahead and pass those laws but quit saying teacher cuts are the superintendents’ fault. Here’s the deal: I can accept cuts, but I cannot do anything but forcefully reject deceit.

Politicians, save your buck-passing for another day. We need leadership. Get to work, congressmen. Do your jobs, and find the revenue to fund my child’s education.

Sincerely,

John Kuhn, father of three, Perrin
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Just Say NO to a Presidential Endorsement

The NEA Representative Assembly begins on July 2 in Chicago. At issue is an early endorsement of a presidential candidate.

This presidential election season, however, offers nothing for the Public Schools of America.

A Republican administration (with Democratic help) gave us No Child Left Behind, which punishes schools and school systems for the social failings of the Federal and State governments.

A Democratic administration has given us Race to the Top. Republicans who will use nearly anything to bash the current president are generally quiet about this since it is a plan which takes the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind and expands them.

An article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that NEA might defer their endorsement of President Obama as a way of expressing displeasure. The Obama administration has crushed public education around the country by encouraging practices, through Race to the Top, which have no basis in research...charter schools and teacher evaluations based on test scores, for example.

To be sure, Republicans have joined in the bloodbath. Republican Governors of state after state (Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Idaho...) and their Republican legislatures have stripped teachers of collective bargaining rights, pensions, and other protections. They have pressed a coordinated attack on teachers by holding up "public sector" workers as the bad guys in today's economy, as if teachers, fire fighters and police officers are the ones responsible for the current economic conditions of the country. Redefining the country's economic problems as "overpaid teachers and budget busting pensions" rather than deregulated banking and out of control financial corporations was easy given the amount of money Wall Street has sunk into political campaigns.

NEA, however, will most certainly eventually endorse President Obama...who, along with his Secretary of Education, cheered when an entire staff at a high poverty high school in Rhode Island was fired.

I've been a strong supporter of my local teachers association, the Indiana State Teachers Association and the NEA for the last 35 years, but I won't support them in this political endorsement. There are no candidates currently running who support public education. The Billionaire's Club -- the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers -- and their mouthpieces -- the Rhees and the Kleins -- who are leading the charge to privatize Public Education have no vocal opponent in either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

At this point in time it's a choice of voting for the death of public education by hanging or the death of public education by lethal injection. There's no difference...no matter who the NEA endorses. Neither party has earned the endorsement of public school teachers. Both Democrats and Republicans are working as hard as they can to deprofessionalize teachers, privatize public education and give their billionaire contributors access to public education coffers...

I urge the NEA not to endorse anyone...unless someone comes along who supports public education. As an individual, I will vote for the candidate who, on other issues, most closely fits my beliefs about where the United States should go as a nation, but as an educator I can't, and won't, support any of them.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 3

The first school I taught in was Coesse Elementary in Coesse, Indiana.

I worked as a half time kindergarten teacher for one semester in the Spring of 1976. This one semester is why I say I taught for 35 years. It was half time for half a year. The State of Indiana doesn't acknowledge it, since I wasn't on a regular teachers contract, but I had my own class, had the responsibility of the students' kindergarten (second semester) year, so in my mind, it was my first year teaching.


How did it happen that I had a second semester of kindergarten? Where were the students the first semester? The teacher who shared the classroom with me (morning kindergarten half time) and the other, full time kindergarten teacher, had large classes the first semester. The school board would not agree to an additional section of kindergarten but the school could afford a teacher's aide. I was hired in that capacity, but instead of helping in other classrooms several students were moved from each class to make up an additional class...and I became the teacher.

Coesse, at that time, was a K-8 Elementary/Jr. High School. I worked closely with the first grade teacher next door. In addition to the kindergarteners I had for half a day, I also had 4 first graders who came over to my class for the afternoon.

The principal, Ed Kitt, was also a two-class-a-day Jr. HS Social Studies teacher...the first and last principal I worked with who was a teaching principal.

It's been quite a few years...and it's hard to remember only one semester, but here are a few things I remember from Coesse.

1. The students were well behaved, so I didn't have many discipline problems. Some of the students had a great deal of difficulty learning and this was my first experience at having the responsibility of analyzing students' learning styles, abilities and problems. With the help of the first grade teacher next door, who spent lots of time with me after school on most days, I was able to provide what I hope was a good experience for the students. The principal also came in regularly to offer help and, I suppose, check up on what I was doing.

2. I made it a point to read aloud to the students twice during each day. Every day we would start with a book. This was, even at this early stage in my career, one of my favorite activities of the day. I hadn't read Jim Trelease's book yet (the first edition, of which I have an autographed copy, was published in 1979), but I had a good background in read aloud from my teacher education classes.

3. I had my students illustrate scenes from some of the books we read and entered them...as a slide show...in a regional school "Media Fair." This was the first time I had students illustrate scenes from books. When I moved to Monroeville Elementary School the following year I continued the practice with novels I read to my third graders. More on that in Part 4.

4. Coesse Elementary was part of a larger county system, and the job there helped me find a permanent teaching job...which I didn't keep. I was hired the following year to work at a school nearby and teach second grade. At the last minute, the personnel director of a school system much closer to my home (and at which I did my student teaching) called and offered me a position teaching third grade at Monroeville Elementary (Part 4). I was glad to give up the job that was offered in Coesse's system. On my way to the school I was going to be assigned to I had to drive through an area peppered with billboards put up by the John Birch Society...which made me very nervous.

5. I remember a few of the staff meetings. I didn't know most of the teachers, but they were all very friendly, welcoming and encouraging. At the last staff meeting I was given a good-bye gift. A nice gesture for someone who had been there such a short time.

6. We practiced counting to 100. When students could count and identify numbers to 100 I would send home a certificate announcing that they were in the "100 Club." One of my students, a bouncy, distractible, low achieving little girl, happened to tell me that her father told her that she wouldn't be allowed to ride her horse until she got into the "100 Club." I sent home a certificate with her that very night.

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