"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 Medley #4, Part 2: More from New York...

NYC teachers' rankings based on test scores published.

(Click here to see Part 1, It's all About New York.)

The attacks on public education and public school teachers will continue until America's millions of teachers stand up and say, "No more." No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have shown what the politicians mean to do to America's public schools. Our union leaders tell us we need a seat at the table. The experiences in Los Angeles and New York have shown that strategy to be a mistake. The "seat at the table" has backfired and teachers, who hoped for cooperation from the administration can now see what that cooperation has gotten them.

The students in America's public schools are counting on us to make sure that there is a qualified, well-trained professional in every classroom, not someone with five weeks of training who is marking time between their Bachelors degree and a business career. Our students are counting on us to return content to the curriculum and end the damage that the insanity of mindless testing has caused. Our students are counting on us to be their voice...to tell the nation that enough is enough and that we need to return real learning to the classroom.

Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten take note...we should be fighting to save public education not relying on untrustworthy politicians to do it for us.

How to Demoralize Teachers

Diane Ravitch reminds us that the VAM assessment data is invalid and unreliable. Why then, is it being publicized? She has the answer for that, too.
Most testing experts believe that value-added assessment has many technical problems that reduce its validity and reliability. The most recent research review appears in the current issue of the Phi Delta Kappan. Unfortunately, advocates of measuring teacher quality by student test scores never let research or evidence or, in New York City's case, unequivocal commitments to privacy, get in their way.

The New York Post exulted with a front-page, full-page banner headline: "REVEALED: TEACHER GRADES." On day one, it printed a picture of and story about "the best teacher," and on day two, a picture of and story about "the worst teacher." The Post interviewed parents who said they wanted their child out of that teacher's class or they wanted her fired. In recent years, the Post has often run stories about teachers who allegedly are criminals, perverts, or just plain lazy, greedy dummies who can't be trusted to teach anything and shouldn't be allowed near children. It seems that the Murdoch journal won't be satisfied until every school has been turned over to private management, with no unions, no seniority, and no job protections whatever for teachers.

Why we won’t publish individual teachers’ value-added scores

One publication, Gothamschools.org, has refused to publish the information.
But before we publish any piece of information, we always have to ask a question. Does the information we have do a fair job of describing the subject we want to write about? If it doesn’t, is there any additional information — context, anecdotes, quantitative data — that we can provide to paint a fuller picture?

In the case of the Teacher Data Reports, “value-added” assessments of teachers’ effectiveness that were produced in 2009 and 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8, the answer to both those questions was no.

New York City Teacher Ratings: Teacher Data Reports Publicly Released Amid Controversy

The president of the NYC teachers union, Michael Mulgrew has written a full page ad to explain why the numbers shouldn't be used to evaluate teachers. He includes the facts that the data uses tests which have since been labeled invalid, the reports are full of errors, and the methodology contains a margin of error so large as to make the results meaningless.

He also reminds everyone the procedure was so experimental that even former Chancellor Joel Klein
...promised when it began that the results would be available only to teachers and their supervisors. Then the Department of Education reneged on its pledge and has released them to the public.
From Huffington Post...
In response, the union, the United Federation of Teachers, has launched a city-wide newspaper advertising campaign. The ad headlines, "This Is No Way To Rate A Teacher!" followed by a lengthy and complicated mathematical formula as well as a letter from UFT President Michael Mulgrew with a list of all the reasons he says the data reports are faulty and unreliable.

Crunching the New York Teacher Evaluations 2/24/2012 12:00:00 PM

The Wall Street Journal, rarely a friend to public school teachers, posted a video interview with it's "Numbers Guy," Carl Bialik, who tries to explain the "reliability" and unintended consequences of the evaluations.

Bialik said,
...you can reallly only control for data that you can measure...There could be all sorts of unintended consequences that you really want to address ahead of time. Things like, maybe it's harder to get people to enter the profession if they know they're going to be judged based on a number. Maybe teachers start teaching even more to the test than maybe they have been already if their career is decided based on it. Maybe you have a big expense from administering all the data needed to actually get these numbers.
Bialik's point about it being harder to get people to enter teaching is important. Why would anyone want to be an education professional when public humiliation based on inadequate and invalid data hangs over their heads? The threat of public evaluations is going to cause a qualified teacher shortage. Would you want your child to choose a career like that? Maybe we need to use valid instruments to evaluate teachers.

U.S. schools chief endorses release of teacher data

Just as a reminder...a year and a half ago, when the Los Angeles Times released the same data for teachers in LA, Arne Duncan praised the newspaper. From August 16, 2010...
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday that parents have a right to know if their children's teachers are effective, endorsing the public release of information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their students' test scores.

"What's there to hide?" Duncan said in an interview one day after The Times published an analysis of teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest school system. "In education, we've been scared to talk about success."
Parents have a right to know if their child's teacher is effective...but let's use valid and reliable instruments to evaluate teachers. No teacher should be against fair and appropriate accountability.

UPDATE: Here's the story of one NY teacher who was the subject of misinformation, harassment and personal humiliation.

The True Story of Pascale Mauclair
As in many other cases, the story of Pascale Mauclair and P.S. 11 begins with a tale of the flawed methodology and invalid measurements of the Teacher Data Reports.

P.S. 11 is located at the epicenter of a number of different immigrant communities in northern Queens, and over a quarter of its students are English Language Learners. Mauclair is an ESL teacher, and over the last five years she has had small, self-contained classes of recently arrived immigrants who do not speak English. Her students arrive at different times of the school year, depending upon that date of their family’s migration; consequently, it is not unusual for her students to take the 6th grade exams when they have only been in her class for a matter of a few months. Two factors which produce particularly contorted TDR results – teaching the highest academic need students and having a small sample of students that take the standardized state exams – define her teaching situation.
~~~

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Medley #4 It's all About New York

NYC teachers' rankings based on test scores published.

The New York Times published teacher rankings based on student test scores.

Teachers in the rest of the nation (except for LA, where it's already happened) get ready. It won't be long till your "rank" based on how well your students do on a standardized test is used to judge you and humiliate you.

It doesn't matter if it's accurate, valid or reliable. That only matters when your teaching methods are in question.


NYC releases teachers’ value-added scores — unfortunately
This takes some kind of special nerve: New York City’s Education Department publicly released the rankings of 18,000 public school teachers based entirely on student standardized-test scores — after pleas from educators not to do it because it would be unfair and disparaging. And then it told the news media not to use the results to disparage teachers.

New York Teachers "Assaulted and Compromised:" Lawyers Line Up
Teachers will be rated as “ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.” Forty percent of their grade will be based on the rise or fall of student test scores; the other sixty percent will be based on other measures, such as classroom observations by principals, independent evaluators, and peers, plus feedback from students and parents.

But one sentence in the agreement shows what matters most: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.” What this means is that a teacher who does not raise test scores will be found ineffective overall, no matter how well he or she does with the remaining sixty percent. In other words, the 40 percent allocated to student performance actually counts for 100 percent. Two years of ineffective ratings and the teacher is fired.

Reporting of Teacher Performance
It had to happen sooner or later. Sixteen months after the Los Angeles Times published rankings of 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District that it compiled from seven years of math and English scores, news organizations under the Freedom of Information Law finally received data on 18,000 teachers in the New York City school system...The New York Times published the names of teachers and their schools, and their ranking based on their students' gains on state standardized tests in math and English over five years until the 2009-10 school year ("City's Ratings of 18,000 Teachers Indicate That Quality Is Widely Diffused," The New York Times, Feb. 25).

The rationale was that parents have the right to know how their children's teachers rank. It's a compelling argument if it can be proved that publication of ratings leads to better instruction. But it doesn't...A teacher's score could be 35 points off on the math exam, or 53 points off on the English exam. These numbers hardly instill confidence. For another, teachers who teach English language learners, special education students and disadvantaged students receive lower scores than when they teach affluent students. This raises the question of fairness. Finally, the practice relies on the alleged benefits of naming and shaming, which even Bill Gates opposes ("Shame Is Not the Solution," The New York Times, Feb. 23).

I can't think of data reports with a similar margin of error in any other field that have received such prominent coverage. In fact, most editors would in all likelihood dismiss out of hand any study with such shaky statistics. The imprecision alone would constitute a red flag. Aaron Pallas put it best: "For teachers, the key concern is fairness. Fairness is primarily a procedural issue: Teachers, and the unions that represent them, seek an evaluation process that is neither arbitrary nor capricious, relying on stable and valid criteria that they believe accurate characterize the quality of their work" ("Reasonable doubt," Eye on Education, Feb. 6).

A simple question teachers should now ask about their profession
The reality is that the release of teacher scores based in student test data will exacerbate all of the bad consequences of using test scores to evaluate teachers. Teachers will be even more likely to teach to the test, to resent uncooperative students, and to see fellow teachers as rivals not colleagues. They will hesitate to take on student teachers, who might depress their score...For evidence regarding the unreliability of VAM scores, see here.

We will see a tremendous push by the most skilled, demanding, and well-resourced parents to get each year’s “highly effective teacher” and for district offices to “stick” the ineffective teacher in a class (or school) where the parents are less likely to complain...

...student grades assigned by a teacher labeled less than effective will be challenged...The evaluation scores given to teachers by principals who themselves are rated less than effective, will be challenged as well. Can a teacher be fairly rated by a principal who was rated ineffective that year? And when the “ineffective principal” is dismissed, who will agree to lead that school, if the ineffective rating was based in large part on student achievement? No administrator will risk that move — achievement cannot be turned around that quickly — and the students in struggling schools will lose again.

...teachers with highly effective evaluations in hand, will head for the Gold Coast of Long Island to land a higher paying teaching job. Superintendents in well resourced districts will vie for the highest share of highly effective teachers in the state. Isn’t that the rule of the marketplace that the reformers embrace? Once again, students in financially struggling schools will be left behind.

NY principal: Teacher scores inaccurate at my school
It is wrong to call a great teacher a failing teacher because a few kids got 3-4 questions wrong one year rather than 2-3 questions wrong the year before. It is particularly problematic given that the 3rd grade test in the past was very different from the 4th grade test. It could be that the children in a particular class were always weaker in writing, but the 3rd grade test for the years the TDRs are being released had very little writing compared to the 4th grade test, so the children may not actually do worse; it may be that they are just tested on different material.

I honestly cannot understand how public ranking of teachers by percentile will have anything but a negative effect on teaching and learning. Particularly in middle school, I can imagine teachers losing control as children and parents take the position, “why should I listen to you, you’re a below average teacher.”
Click here for Part 2: More from New York...
~~~

Friday, February 24, 2012

Duncan's Problems

The US Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan, has a new public relations program to "improve the teaching profession". Anthony Cody at his blog, Living in Dialogue, has brought us a report on the program.
For the past two years, the Department of Education policies have been roundly criticized by teachers. The latest response from Arne Duncan is a big public relations push bearing the title RESPECT -- Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

In his speech launching the project last week, Secretary Duncan laid out what he feels are the problems afflicting the teaching profession.

The Department has solutions to each of these problems - but they often have pursued policies that actually make things worse. Here are the problems, and the solutions the Department of Ed has offered -- many of which are mandatory if states wish to qualify for Race to the Top or escape the ravages of NCLB...
Problems 1 and 2, according to Duncan are focused on teacher training. Too many teachers are unprepared when they get to the classroom. The Ed Secretary's solution is to...
Evaluate schools of education based on the test scores of the teachers they graduate...All schools of education will feel significant pressure to prepare their teachers to focus on test scores.
and...
Continue to support programs such as Teach For America, which places novice teachers in the most challenging classrooms with only five weeks of training.
It's clear that in Duncan's mind "Recognizing Educational Success" means focusing on test scores. "Professional Excellence" means teaching to the test.

The list continues with problems and solutions offered by the US DOE which only make the problems worse.

Problem: Teachers don't have enough time to be successful...and they're under pressure to raise test scores.

The US DOE promotes evaluations based on test scores and closing of "failing" schools or conversion to charters.

Problem: Principals don't know how to attract and keep high quality teachers.

The US DOE requires states to dictate to principals how teachers must be evaluated.

Problem: High performing nations have high requirements for those wanting to become educators. In the US we "allow anyone to teach" and they are often poorly trained.

The US DOE promotes Teach for America, where poorly trained college graduates are often given preferential treatment in hiring over degreed teacher candidates.

Problem: "Here in the U.S., evaluation is too often tied only to test scores, which makes no sense whatsoever."

The US DOE
has required that states mandate the use of test scores in teacher evaluations as a condition of NCLB waivers.
In case after case, the solutions are exacerbated by the hypocrisy and/or incompetence of the US Department of Education.

In anticipation of the response by "reformers" that he is just complaining with no real suggestions for solutions, Cody presents a report he helped write a year and a half ago called, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: New Report Takes on Evaluation
So much of our school reform dialogue has been poisoned by the assumption that unions (and teachers, by extension) are implacable foes of accountability in any form. What we learned through this process is that most of us already hold ourselves to high levels of accountability, and would encourage evaluation systems that provide us with good feedback and opportunities for growth. This report gives vivid details showing how this might look.
Here's one more problem and solution...

Problem: The US DOE is acting against the interests of public schools and public education.

Solution: Appoint a Secretary of Education who actually knows something about public education and convince the President that all children deserve a school where students are offered...
...a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.
...a school which seeks to be a place...
that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students "to let their lives speak."
Instead of squandering our resources on more and more tests which destroy the love of learning, we should strive to make schools as good as the school that the President chooses for his own children.
~~~

Monday, February 20, 2012

Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education

The Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) has announced some events of interest to everyone concerned about Public Education.

Diane Ravitch author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and a strong advocate for public schools will be speaking at the Auer Auditorium on the IPFW campus at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13. Dr. Ravitch will be part of the Omnibus Lecture Series. Tickets, though free, are needed for this event. Call the IPFW box office at 481-6555 for further information.

As a prelude to Dr. Ravitch's appearance, NEIFPE has arranged for the showing of two films at the downtown Cinema Center.

Waiting for Superman will be shown on Sunday, February 26 at 4:15 p.m and on Monday, February 27 at 4:00 p.m.

As a response to "Superman," Cinema Center is showing The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman on Sunday, March 4 at 4:00 p.m. and on Monday, March 5 at 4:00p.m.

Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Educations will lead a discussion of the two films following the two Sunday showings. There will be no charge for these showings, but donations will be accepted to help the producers of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman defray their production and distribution costs.

A flyer with information about NEIFPE will be distributed at the Cinema Center events. You can download a copy HERE.
~~~

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Presidential Candidates' Education Grades: UPDATE

On February 6th I gave three presidential candidates, Obama, Romney and Gingrich, a grade of F for their education platforms.

Since that time, Rick Santorum has won three primaries and currently leads the Republican in the polls for the upcoming Michigan primary, so it's time to look at his platform as well.

It's no surprise. He also gets an F.

The NEA's Candidate Platform Comparison gives us information about Santorum's position on education topics. He, too, would continue the de-professionalization of public school teachers and the privatization of public schools.

Santorum on NCLB:

Santorum voted for No Child Left Behind “...because I thought, well, we need to get
the facts and we need to have some national system to be able to determine whether we are in fact succeeding or failing.”1

Santorum on Worker's Rights:

Santorum said pro-union protestors were “... acting like their drug is being taken away from them.”4

Santorum on Vouchers:

Santorum supports school vouchers, voted for S. Amdt. 1249, a federally-funded school voucher program.3

Friday, February 17, 2012

Duncan has no answers...just talking points.

Jon Stewart interviewed Arne Duncan on last night's (Febraury 16, 2012) Daily Show.

At first he asked probing questions, trying to get Duncan to respond to criticism about teaching to the test and limiting curriculum. He asked about the confining nature of Race to the Top which is causing teachers to "teach to the test."

He asked why the onus should be on teachers to solve the problems of society...and discussed how Race to the Top is demoralizing teachers when, though it's intentions might be wonderful, the result is more "teaching to the test."

Duncan passed the buck to the states. The states came up with the plans...the states developed the standards...the states decided what they would do with their schools.

When Stewart responded that the states were only doing what Race to the Top required, Duncan responded negatively. The states came up with the plans...the states developed the standards...the states decided what they would do with their schools.

Finally, and you'll see this if you watch the three videos below, Stewart gave up. He stopped asking questions which didn't get answers and just let Duncan talk...interrupting with an occasional joke, or nod of the head, or mumbled, "mhm."

An exchange near the end of the interview (near the end of where Stewart tried to ask probing questions at least) epitomizes the entire interview.
Stewart: What you're describing doesn't seem to be matching up with [teachers'] experience.

Duncan: Yesterday we announced $5 billion to try and significantly elevate the profession. What they're feeling is real. I can see it across the country. Teachers have been beaten down...demoralized...we don't pay them enough...we don't reward them enough...we don't support them as they try and go...we can't fire our way to the top...
Is that why Duncan cheered when the entire staff of Central Falls HS in Rhode Island was fired?
Duncan: The system is broken. The entire pipleine is broken. So we want to put a huge amount of resources behind places that will better train teachers...to better support them...they'll compensate them in very different ways...
Compensating teachers in "very different ways" means evaluate them by student test scores -- a process that most testing experts consider invalid.
Duncan: With the baby boomer generation moving towards retirment we're going to need a million new teachers...over the next 4, 5, 6 years. Our ability to attract and to retain great talent now will shape public education for the next thirty.

Stewart: What [teachers] would say "I agree with you, but No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are two of the main causes for that.

Duncan: No Child Left Behind was fundamentally broken in many ways, but what we're doing with Race to the Top [is] to try and support great teachers. That's going to be ultimately very positive for teachers and for students. What we're trying to do to elevate the profession, better support teachers, recognize and reward excellence...again, you shouldn't have to wait till your 55 to make a decent living...you should be able to have a middle class life and be a teacher. We gotta get back to that. That's what this entire initiative is about.
Race to the Top continues the public school destruction started by No Child Left Behind. This is what Duncan claims will be "positive for teachers and students:"

According to FairTest, Race to the Top:
  • ties evaluation and pay for teachers and principals to student test scores.
  • continues the over reliance on testing. More and harder tests don't make for better education.
  • continues to treat test scores as the most important piece of data.
  • continues the law's automatic requirement to take extreme, often ineffective actions based solely on test scores.
Duncan didn't answer the questions. As Valerie Strauss commented in the Answer Sheet this morning,
Duncan...quoted President Obama as saying recently that “we have to stop teaching to the test,” betraying not a hint of irony that it is the administration’s policies that are continuing this dynamic in public schools.

Stewart tried again and again to get Duncan to have a real conversation, but Duncan seemed to never directly respond to a question, always coming back to one of his talking points.

He even said that “teachers have been beaten down,” again without betraying any recognition that many teachers blame his policies for this state of affairs.
It's time to get an educator in the office of the United States Secretary of Education. Duncan has shown time and again that he is not qualified to lead the public schools of America.




Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Surviving Demoralization

There's a crisis in education...and it's not that schools are failing. The crisis is the damage caused to public education and public school teachers by federal and state education policies resulting in a shortage of qualified teachers and teacher candidates.

Why are young adults hesitant to enter Education? Why do teachers quit?

Around half of all teachers quit within their first 5 years. The reasons they give are varied (see also HERE).
  • difficulties with the administration and/or lack of support
  • unreasonable workloads
  • poor working conditions
  • too much responsibility for student achievement (tests) and/or too much testing
  • Lack of satisfaction with teaching
  • Low salary
  • student discipline
The most common reason by percentage for teachers leaving the profession is lack of job satisfaction. How did it happen that in a career where job satisfaction has always been high has it suddenly changed...and the very satisfaction which teachers gave as the reason they continued to work for low pay and long hours is now the reason teachers are leaving?

I used to think it was burn-out...a common enough occurrence under normal circumstances. Teaching is high stress. Students come from varied backgrounds and discipline can be difficult for a lot of teachers. Excessive paperwork, high workloads and demands on a teacher's time have always been part of the job. However, there has been a fundamental change in what it means to be a teacher over the last two decades. It's not just burn-out. It's wide-spread low morale.

Teachers are tired of being bullied by administration, corporate reformers and the media. Teachers' professionalism is patronized, ignored or denied. Legitimate reasons for low achievement are denied and called excuses. Teachers unions are being blamed for the low achievement in high poverty schools (not to mention the current economic crisis). The external pressures on teachers, which used to be minimal are now overwhelming.

In How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers by John Rosales, we read how external pressures from the so-called "reform" movement are demoralizing teachers.
...demoralization at the hands of rigid education “reforms” is often misdiagnosed as burnout, a condition that has more to do with how an individual responds to everyday stress. Demoralization...occurs when much of the value of teaching has been stripped away by rigid, ill-conceived education reforms, creating a high level of frustration and helplessness among teachers. “Burnout” is not the issue...the work of teaching has changed and it is therefore up to school communities and policymakers to help restore the “moral rewards” of teaching.
It's not burn-out. Burn-out is personal. Demoralization is systemic.
Teachers should first resist the label of “burnout” if what they are really experiencing is demoralization. Demoralization indicates a problem with the profession and practitioners collectively can call attention to the ways in which the work is changing. Demoralization is not a personal problem, so it cannot be avoided individually. Naming and resisting policies that impede doing good work need to be addressed collectively.

There is no shame in demoralization – it is the work that has changed, not the failure of an individual to tough it out.
Demoralization is the reason for the lack of job satisfaction. Teachers are told how to teach in a micromanaged system not experienced in any other profession...a system being promoted by people who have little or no expertise in the field of education...a system increasingly funded and controlled by billionaires and "edupreneurs" looking for a way to profit by sucking the money out of the public schools.

So teachers are left unable to do their jobs because they are being restricted, watched, and followed at every turn. It's no surprise that morale is low...and teachers, sometimes the best teachers, are leaving.

Articles dealing with how to survive the current de-professionalization of the teaching profession and destruction of the public schools abound, such as Fighting the Stress of Teaching to the Test.
Legislation like NCLB has raised the stakes for testing, potentially tying student performance to teacher salaries and job stability, and dictating what teachers teach.

This lack of control over their professional lives, their classrooms, and the test scores of their students has teachers unnerved. McCloy, a principal staff scientist for the Human Resources Research Organization in Louisville, Kentucky, notes that because feeling a lack of control is a major stress factor, it is predictable that teachers would be experiencing high stress levels.
What should teachers do who are fighting demoralization?
The NEA Health Information Network (HIN) website recommends a number of steps to take to fight stress—be physically active, eat healthy food, avoid overusing alcohol or other drugs, and practice relaxation exercise.

The American Psychological Association offers tips on stress reduction for new teachers (PDF, 1.4 MB, 3 pgs.), while the U.S. Health and Human Services website offers a “Quick Guide to Healthy Living.”

Most educators know the basics of a healthy diet—eat lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. But during times of stress it’s all too easy to turn to fast food or comfort food that is high calorie and high fat, says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
I have some additional ideas...
  • end the privatization of the public schools
  • stop the de-professionalization of teachers
  • let teachers do their jobs

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Testing, Texts and Tenure

In this era of tweets, texts, emails and blogs it's easy to forget that there is another means of expression still available to us as citizens -- Letters to the Editor. Here are some letters to various newspapers around the country dealing with some current educational issues.

Stephen Krashen on Tests

Stephen Krashen is a prolific letter writer frequently sending his thoughts to various newspapers throughout the country. The federal and state departments of education insist that teachers and schools use research-based programs and interventions with students. Krashen cites real research, by real researchers to make his points. Unfortunately his work isn't always published (From SusanOhanion.org).
Submitted to Baltimore Sun but not published
02/09/2012

To the editor

We should all worry about overwhelming students, schools with tests (2/7/12).

As the Sun points out, the new testing will be extremely time-consuming. There is no scientific evidence, however, that increasing the amount of testing done will increase student achievement.

As the Sun points out, the new tests need to be given online, and schools don't have the technology needed to administer the tests. Not to worry, the test publishers and computer companies will be happy to sell it to them, as well as sell them costly new equipment as the old equipment rapidly becomes obsolete.

As the Sun points out, the tests will be used to evaluate teachers. Study after study, however, has shown that this kind of evaluation does not produce reliable results. It also encourages pumping up test scores without real learning.

We all understand the need to assess students and evaluate teachers, but the brave new online tests are not the way to do it.

— Stephen Krashen
Books Before Bytes

Technology has always lured educators. Like the general public, administrators and teachers alike are enamored with the latest bells and whistles. Technology is also a way of acquiring grant money for schools. Tech companies, too, enjoy the tax write off that comes with "helping schools into the 21st century." So it's significant that a tech company entrepreneur is the one who suggests that new technology can wait. Libraries and student health come first (From SusanOhanion.org).
Submitted to Los Angeles Times but not published
02/05/2012

To the editor

Kudos to Michael Hiltzik for his column (Hyping tech will not help students, February 5) criticizing federal officials for overselling the benefits of technology to K-12 schools. As co-producer of the most popular educational podcast in the world (ESLPod.com's English as a Second Language Podcast), I'm no enemy of new technology.

But our students need nutrition, health care, quality teachers and librarians, and (especially here in California) something to read in their near-empty school libraries, the worst in the nation. iPads, iPods, and Kindles are great, but first things first: books before bytes.

The writer is Co-producer of English as a Second Language Podcast, former Associate Professor of Education, California State University, Fullerton, and author of "The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions" (1998)

— Jeff McQuillan, Ph.D.
Poverty matters, and the United States, as Stephen Krashen has so often pointed out (HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example), has the highest poverty rate among industrialized nations. Filling a school with iPads and Kindles might work for some things. Students can read books on them (whether that's good or not is debatable and not the subject of this posting), but they can't replace years of neglect, avoidable illness, lack of resources and malnutrition brought on by the high rate of poverty in America.

Letters: Teacher tenure helps promote good education

USA Today published three letters having to do with teacher tenure. The first hints at the de-professionalizing of public school teachers. Taking away teachers' job protections is a major step in turning the profession into a job. Teachers didn't cause the economic meltdown. Teachers unions don't automatically mean lower test scores (Schools in states with union teachers, for example, out perform schools in non-union states), but the privatizers can't stand unions protecting the rights of their members. Corporations buy politicians who then can't wait to bust unions. Fewer college students are going into Education. Teachers are retiring in large numbers. Nearly half of all beginning teachers still leave the profession in less than 5 years. Who is going to staff our schools?
The security that tenure brings adds to the effectiveness of a teacher's practice. Always worrying about pleasing whoever is in charge at the moment and stressing over one's future would certainly detract from the attention that a teacher gives to her or his studies, teaching and students ("States weaken tenure rights for teachers").

Doing away with tenure for public school teachers, combined with low pay and increased surveillance of performance, would add to the exodus of the best teachers from the profession. And those teachers who persevere would need to stick to the status quo or risk being fired for political reasons. This likely is behind much of the call for scrapping tenure.
Political control is increasing all around us, and the schools are a primary and convenient site for this. Without tenure, harassment could turn to termination of employment, and consequently lead to the hiring of robotic yes-people. This would encourage an increase in the mindless reduced-to-the-test, so-called education that's being forced upon teachers already.

Paula Meyer; San Diego
In the next letter, Stephen Krashen once again cites research to back up his claims. Evaluation of teachers using student test scores is not valid.
Need for better evaluation system

The article "States weaken tenure rights for teachers" emphasizes the importance of evaluating teacher effectiveness. A major problem is that these evaluations are often based on students' gains on standardized tests, called "value-added" measures.

A number of studies have shown that value-added measures are very unstable: Teachers' ratings based on previous years are weak predictors of test scores at the end of a year with new students. A teacher who succeeds in boosting scores with one group will not necessarily succeed with others. Different tests can result in different scores for the same teacher.

Value-added evaluations also ignore the huge impact of factors beyond the teachers' control. Finally, there are ways of pumping up test scores without student learning, including teaching test-taking strategies and making sure weak students don't take the test.

Nobody objects to teachers being evaluated on their effectiveness. Using gains on standardized tests is a bad way to do it.

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus; University of Southern California; Los Angeles
In contrast, the third letter denounces tenure as an expensive luxury.
A factor in rising cost of education

A major factor in the rising cost of higher education is teacher tenure. Tenure basically means that after several years as a full professor, an individual who meets certain standards is guaranteed that job for life.

Those teachers are granted "academic freedom," so they can teach when and how they see fit. It's very difficult to fire them. A lot of them spend much of their time writing books or memoirs, not teaching our young students.

This is similar to the problem with teachers retiring at age 55 with generous pensions and health care benefits for life. It is unsustainable.

Dickie Benzie; Charlotte, N.C.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Medley #3

Obama and Race to the Top, De-professionalization of Teachers, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Teachers are Tired of Being Bullied, Teachers' Salaries

Does President Obama Know What Race to the Top Is?
In his State of the Union address...[President Obama] said that he wanted teachers to "stop teaching to the test." He also said that teachers should teach with "creativity and passion." And he said that schools should reward the best teachers and replace those who weren't doing a good job. To "reward the best" and "fire the worst," states and districts are relying on test scores. The Race to the Top says they must.

Deconstruct this. Teachers would love to "stop teaching to the test," but Race to the Top makes test scores the measure of every teacher. If teachers take the President's advice (and they would love to!), their students might not get higher test scores every year, and teachers might be fired, and their schools might be closed.

In what other profession...
In what other profession are the licensed professionals considered the LEAST knowledgeable about the job? You seldom if ever hear “that guy couldn’t possibly know a thing about law enforcement – he’s a police officer”, or “she can’t be trusted talking about fire safety – she’s a firefighter.”

...what other profession is legally held to PERFECTION by 2014? Are police required to eliminate all crime? Are firefighters required to eliminate all fires? Are doctors required to cure all patients? Are lawyers required to win all cases? Are coaches required to win all games? Of course they aren’t.

For no other profession do so many outsiders refuse to accept the realities of an imperfect world. Crime happens. Fire happens. Illness happens. As for lawyers and coaches, where there’s a winner there must also be a loser. People accept all these realities, until they apply to public education.

21st Century Teachers: Easy to Hire, Easy to Fire
Just as the assembly line rendered all workers interchangeable, and thus, easy to hire, and easy to fire, the current education reforms focusing on teacher accountability, value-added methods (VAM) of evaluating teachers, and the growing fascination with Teach for America (TFA) are seeking the same fact for teachers: A de-professionalized workforce of teaching as a service industry, easy to hire, and easy to fire.

On the road again: State schools chief popular headliner across the country

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett takes his show on the road...
As the Indiana Department of Education implements an ambitious and far-reaching agenda, its leader is spending much of his time on the road extolling voucher programs, charter schools and collective bargaining limits to special-interest groups in other states. News coverage suggests the first-term Republican is the go-to state official for school reform tactics pushed by right-leaning organizations.

Teachers Tired of Being Bullied to Death
Imagine you've had one of the worst weeks of your life. You haven't slept in months, you have money troubles building, your relationships are failing, you feel unheard and unappreciated at home and at work, you worry daily about your future and whether or not you will have a job next year or even next week, and the idea of getting up to go to work the next day is practically unbearable. You need a moment to catch your breath, a moment to clear the clutter of worry, failure and fear from your clouded mind. But you don't get it. There is too much to get done. And all the while, you think, if I don't get it done, I am failing these kids. I have no choice but to keep pushing.

Now add onto that a vindictive, power-hungry boss who would fire you as soon as look at you, and colleagues at work who are themselves so tired, afraid and overwhelmed that they are one bad day from breakdown...

Now imagine turning on your TV...to see yet another story loudly proclaiming that the problem with America's schools is, well, you. "More teachers must be fired!" they scream. "Teachers are the ones failing the kids, we need to hold them accountable!" "Teachers are lazy and need to work longer, harder, for less pay!" "Teacher pensions are destroying our economy!" (Whoa, did I miss the part where newspapers yelled at the people who caused the financial crisis that is slashing education budgets around the country? Are the mortgage brokers, big banks and financial industries getting demeaned every five seconds? How about the corporations not paying their fair share of taxes which help schools? And don't forget the politicians and their horrible education policies. Surely no one reading the news is believing this baloney, are they?) And every time you hear the insults or name-calling you think to yourself, "Well what the heck are any of you doing to help these kids..." The unfairness of it all burns.

Alabama Republican Senator: Low teacher pay mandated by God

This same legislator voted himself a 67% pay raise because "by paying legislators more, they're less susceptible to taking bribes."
A Republican State Senator from Alabama claimed this week that keeping teacher salaries low is actually an order from the Christian deity figure, imparted in ancient texts written by Jewish tribesmen thousands of years ago.

Alabama ranks 31st in the nation in average teacher salaries, although the state did see an 11 percent increase in teacher pay from 2007-2009. The state’s Republicans have adopted so-called “right to work” laws that forbid public employees from collectively bargaining for better wages and benefits.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Presidential Candidates' Education Grades: F, F and F

With Mitt Romney coming out of Florida with a commanding lead in the primaries it seems likely that he will be the Republican candidate for President. Newt Gingrich is still alive...but barely. Nevertheless, it's a high probability that one of these three men (including President Obama) will occupy the White House for the next four years.

Unfortunately for schools, children and teachers, all three candidates earn an "F" in their education plan and platform.

The Democratic Candidate

Alan Singer, a social studies educator in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Hofstra University in Long Island, editor of Social Science Docket (a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for Social Studies), author and former public school teacher, gives President Obama an "F". I concur.

Obama's Educational Report Card Grade Is F
..Obama could have studied harder; he could have been more creative; he could have played better with teachers, parents, children, and public schools; and he could have offered onto other people's children the kind of education he demanded for his own. He could have resisted turning the keys to the Treasury over to well-connected edu-companies. Based on his first three years in office, the Obama Educational Report Card Grade is a very disappointing "F" for failure.
Singer continues with details...
On March 28, 2011, the president told a town hall meeting at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington DC that when schools are "just teaching the test... you're not learning about the world, you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting." At least according to this statement, Obama values an education that promotes historical, cultural, scientific, and mathematical literacy, an education that examines the world, rather than one that just prepares students to perform on high-stakes standardized multiple choice tests.
I commented on that back in March of last year.
If President Obama is serious about other criteria being used then we'll see fewer tests, not more...we'll see more time dedicated to instruction and learning rather than test-prep and testing. We'll see teachers using professional judgment and developmentally sound activities. We'll see teacher evaluations based on teaching, learning, professional development and the ability to reach students...
But it never happened.

Another voice against the President's Education policies is Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of Education at Stanford who was one of President Obama's campaign and transition advisors. Singer writes,
In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times that she co-authored, Hammond protested against No Child Left Behind mandates still being enforced by the Obama Administration...Educators end up caught in a morass of prescriptions and prohibitions, bled of the initiative and energy that characterize effective schools." Hammond believes that "voluntary, competitive federal grants that support innovation" such as Race to the Top promised might have promoted school reform, however "it ended up demanding that winning states hire consultants to comply with a 19-point federal agenda, rather than truly innovate."
The fact is that President Obama is not a friend to education, educators, students and public schools. Singer:
[Obama caved] to private companies misusing educational programs to maximize profits. Essentially these companies are recruiting unqualified students and using their eligibility for federal student loans to steal tax payer money. The Obama administration vowed to stop the for-profit edu-companies from luring students with false promises about the quality of their programs and the potential for future employment. The Education Department threatened to cut off student aid funds that feed the 30 billion dollar industry. However, after a massive lobbying effort, the teeth were pulled from the new regulations.

According to The New York Times, the for-profit edu-companies "spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case..."

Another recent New York Times article documented the way the for-profit edu-companies, including the massive Pearson publishing concern, go unregulated by federal education officials. These companies operate online charter schools that offer substandard education to desperate families at public expense. One online program, Agora, made $72 million this school year for its parent company K12, the biggest player in the online-school business.
NEA also gets an F, by the way. In their comparison of candidates they use the President's words, not his actions, as proof that he deserves our support. In the Candidate Platform Comparison (click here for references) Obama says this about NCLB:
“I want to take us in a new and better direction...This agenda starts with education... We cannot be satisfied until every child in America--and I mean every child--has the same chances for a good education that we want for our own children.”1
The Obama administration, under the educational "leadership" of Arne Duncan has worked hard to make sure that the public schools fail.

On Worker's rights:
President Obama believes “collective bargaining is a ‘fundamental American value.’” He has said that “...making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions...”4
Where was the President in Wisconsin last year? Where was he in Ohio, and Michigan, and Indiana? Where was he this year in Indiana when our legislature made us the 23rd Right to Work state in the nation? These are empty words.

There are good reasons for progressives to vote for the President, however. The Supreme Court comes to mind. "Citizens United" is reason enough to keep the High Court from getting a stronger conservative majority and President Obama is much more likely to appoint progressive candidates than either Republican candidate. However, on Education the President gets a failing grade.

The Republican Candidates

The NEA's Candidate Platform Comparison gives us information about Gingrich and Romney as well. Both would continue the de-professionalization of public school teachers and the privatization of public schools.

Gingrich on NCLB:
Gingrich would “...insist that federal funds only go to school systems which require teacher competency and accountability.”1
Romney on NCLB:
“We had a No Child Left Behind...in our state a number of years ago... And it's had a big impact here. It's improved schools.”1
Gingrich on Worker's Rights:
Gingrich publicly sided with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker against teachers and public employees.4
Romney on Worker's Rights:
Romney publicly sided with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker against teachers and public employees.4
Gingrich on Vouchers:
Gingrich strongly supports school vouchers, suggests calling them Pell Grants for kids.3
Romney on Vouchers:
Romney has previously stated support for means-tested school voucher programs.3
~~~
So...maybe this will help...

Click here to sign the Dump Duncan Petition

...teachers throughout the nation have become discouraged and demoralized, undermining your own stated goals of improving teacher quality, upgrading the nation’s educational performance, and encouraging creative pedagogy rather than “teaching to the test.”

We therefore submit the following measures to put your administration’s education policy back on the right track and to bring teachers in as full partners in this effort:
  1. The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.
  2. The incorporation of parents, teachers, and school administrators in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.
  3. An immediate end to the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores as a basis for evaluating teachers, preferring charter schools to existing public schools, and requiring closure of low performing schools.
  4. Create a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of America’s schools.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Share the Responsibility. No More Excuses!

John Kuhn (not the Packer's fullback) is the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Perrin Texas. I wrote about/quoted his work four times during 2011, in March, July, August and December. He is a vocal and inspiring proponent of improving public schools for all children.

This week he wrote two guest blog posts for Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue blog.

Guest post #2, America, Stop Making Excuses for Inequality, demands that we, as a nation, take a shared responsibility towards improving our schools. (Click here to read part #1) I suggest that you read both of them. I'm only going to quote bits and pieces, but both entries together make a powerful and convincing statement...so in order to really understand what he is saying you should read them.

Kuhn writes about the "Poverty Makes a Difference" versus the "No Excuses" sides of the current national educational debate. He unabashedly takes the former side and this post provides his reasons.
The battle line over causality, like all battle lines, is defined by two sides. One side shouts, "It's poverty, stupid," and the other shouts, "Quit making excuses and get results." Who to side with?

...I side with the poverty faction...

...To use a baseball analogy, rich and middle-class kids from stable families are fastballs over the plate. We tend to hit them out of the park with regularity. Poor kids, on the other hand, are knuckleballs and rising curveballs. The poorer they are, the nastier the junk. Poverty, in my first-hand experience, makes a HUGE difference in the classroom...
The fact that he used a baseball analogy made it doubly meaningful for me since, in my opinion, baseball is the perfect analogy for life (perhaps a blog on that someday??).

But it's not just his opinion either. He doesn't spend time listing sources, but the correlation between poverty and lower achievement is well documented. States with the highest levels of poverty have the lowest levels of achievement (whether their teachers are in unions or not); American students from schools with low poverty are among the highest achievers in the world; SAT scores are directly correlated to family income, and so on...

The data, if the so-called "reformers" would be honest about it, shows that poverty is a serious and powerful ally of low achievement. But ending poverty in the United States doesn't add any money to the edupreneurs portfolios. Charters and Private school vouchers, do. But I digress...
The only problem many are willing to acknowledge is bad batting. They wear jerseys with our logo on them, jerseys that say "Students First" and have pictures of apples and the whole bit. Everyone--everyone--says positive outcomes for children are "the most important thing in the world." But none of this changes the fact that someone is still out there throwing junk over the plate, still trying to make teachers fail in accomplishing "the most important thing in the world," and no one is lifting a finger to stop him. I'm left with the disheartening belief that the reformers' commitment to success for all students crumbles when they are asked to do anything more strenuous than condemn others. Ask them to work for some meaningful improvement in the life conditions of students and they, ahem, balk.
This is absolutely true. Have you read the news lately? Have you noticed how services for the poor are being cut by state after state because they "don't have enough money," although there does seem to be enough money for tax incentives for the wealthy. More and more tax breaks for corporations and the millionaires, but less and less for those who are struggling and for public schools. There is more money for corporations starting charter schools, and to fund vouchers for private schools, yet the pubic schools, which educate the vast majority of our children have to do with less.
Accountability is only for the teachers in our modern republic. There is no visible or sustained pressure to address school funding, no pressure to address the inequity of resources or the unequal opportunity to learn that, while many are content to pretend it doesn't exist, nonetheless devastates kids in Everman far more than it devastates kids in Highland Park. We batters are supposed to live with these nasty pitches; we are supposed to accept poverty as "part of the deal." There will be no hue and cry in opposition to inequality.
On a recent episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart said, "Poor people have sh*tty lobbyists." And, alas, that's where the problem lies. In our "modern republic" the lobbyists determine legislation and legislators.
The "quit making excuses" refrain rubs me the wrong way because my "excuse" is the straightforward statement that kids run more slowly in flip-flops than they do in Nikes, no matter how hard I coach them, and that it's pure, cowardly nonsense to say this nation can't give every kid in flip flops a better pair of shoes. When did it become fashionable to throw in the towel on equality in the USA? When did we all agree that Thomas Jefferson missed the mark when he said "All men are created equal"? When did we decide that egalitarianism was no longer a worthy aim for our democracy?

The quick dismissiveness of so many regarding the "excuses" of soul-searing inequality and bone-grinding poverty leads me to believe that they aren't really interested in finding solutions for our children unless the solutions are as convenient as firing 5% of our public school teachers or maybe opening some lucrative charter chains.
Superintendent Kuhn is more generous that I am. I don't believe that the "reformers" are looking for convenience. I believe what's happening is a series of actions the intent of which is to destroy America's public education system and replace it with a private one. And I believe that the Milton Friedmanesque "destroy and replace" process is purposeful. It's disaster capitalism in action. First, announce that there is a crisis in public education. Then, demonize the public schools, public school teachers and teachers unions by claiming that they are failures. Then, remove all supports -- punish failure instead of helping to relieve it -- until the demonization becomes reality. Finally replace the so-called failing schools with private company run charter schools or vouchers for private schools. That's exactly what No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top does.

It doesn't matter that students in low poverty public schools are achieving well. It doesn't matter that charter schools don't do any better than regular public schools. It doesn't matter that all the little things being done to de-professionalize teachers and denounce teachers unions are based on faulty logic and research (Value added evaluations, union busting state legislatures, for example). The facts don't matter. What matters is that the public schools be transferred to private, market based, control.
I'll ask a question I've asked before: if accountability is good for our schools, then isn't it also good for our society...is school the only place in all of America where we are willing to demand improvement and levy stiff consequences for its failure to materialize?

Under NCLB, teachers and schools have been on trial continuously for 10 years. But poverty and inequity haven't had a single day in court. Reams of data have been collected and then paraded before teachers with the question, "What are you going to do about this?" But who of the prominent school reformers has taken the time to parade the readily available data pertaining to school funding inequities and say, "You know, it isn't enough to hold teachers accountable. Our public policy needs a close look too. Policymakers should be held to account"?

...What teachers say is, "Please, tend to poverty. We're dying here." And the reform movement's callous reply is "Shut up and teach harder." If we say, "Hey, while you're holding us accountable, could you also demand action on the poverty/inequity issue?" we can expect to be summarily ignored. Poverty will not be addressed, thank you very much. The curveballs will not cease. Learn to hit them or go home.
Teachers are going home in greater and greater numbers. There will soon be a real crisis in finding qualified teachers to teach anywhere. There are fewer students willing to commit their professional careers to public education. There are more and more teachers who are leaving early. There are still 50% of all teachers who leave the profession within their first 5 years...
But you and I well know that teachers will never hit the curveballs like we hit good pitches. And each one of those kids who isn't a home run is a real person, with a real future, good or bad. And we don't get those pitches back. So you can pile the guilt on me and my colleagues if you want...We are your scapegoat; we make you feel better about being privileged in a nation where many are not. "If it weren't for bad teachers," you say, so that you may avoid saying, "If it weren't for people like me."

Why is there not a parallel system of accountability for public policy that affects learning? After all, no one honestly believes that test scores are solely affected by teaching; yet no one proposes that we use these same test scores to identify other weaknesses in our democracy...

So what I argue for is the fairly obvious concept of shared causality. The poor scores of poor children are not caused merely by bad teachers, but by a variety of factors, all of which can be remedied (but not all of which can be remedied by teachers).
If teachers are to be held accountable for students' achievement (and no one is arguing that teachers should not be accountable for that which is in their power to change), then so should police and fire departments, hospitals and clinics, social workers and social services providers, and most of all, legislators and governmental executives.

We need to move beyond scapegoating and blame casting. We need to share the responsibility for raising the next generation.

~~~

You might also be interested in this...

James Boutin is writing a series of articles about teaching in a high poverty school in New York.
As I walk down the stairs to my classroom, a war wages in my mind that disrupts my emotions. I’m reminded we don’t have enough rooms so that I can have a quiet last ten minutes of my planning period, so I instead choose to join the Spanish class. On one side of my head fights the six-year-old expectations for what I’d been led to believe was my immense capacity to educate students and change lives coupled with an innate lifelong idealism. On the other, the fresh lessons of the past six years learned battling student apathy, poverty, and the staggeringly negative effects of adult incompetence and ego.

As Spanish class ends and I begin digging through my backpack for the work I’d planned for my ELLs (primarily recently-arrived Dominicans), one of my students asks me if I want to collect the homework from last night. “Oh my gosh, yes! Thank you for reminding me. Please, everyone give me the homework from last night.”

Most students look at each other and snicker. One with a big smile on his face: “Come on, mister. You know we don’t do homework.”