"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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mixed Up Priorities

...from Think Progress
How the House GOP budget would hurt kids

House Republicans have touted their budget as a prescription for economic growth that will return the United States economy to prosperity. In reality, as ThinkProgress has documented, the GOP budget slashes social spending on programs that protect the most vulnerable while giving more than $3 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest among us — and even after all that, it not only fails to reduce the national debt but actually adds to it.

More than 60 percent of the spending cuts in the GOP budget would come from programs that benefit the poor, including food assistance, Women, Infant, and Children programs, and potentially even tax credits that have huge effects on poverty and hunger. Those cuts would undoubtedly not only hurt adults in struggling families, but harm children as well. According to a new report from the Half In Ten project at the Center for American Progress, millions of children will lose assistance from a number of services, as the following infographic shows:


As Half In Ten’s Melissa Boteach noted yesterday, the GOP budget would also boot nearly 280,000 children from school lunch programs, even while protecting a massive tax break for multimillionaires.

Under the guise of creating economic prosperity, Republicans have pursued a tax-and-cut ideology with reckless abandon over the last two years, taking the axe to vital social safety net programs while also cutting tax rates on the wealthy. The casualties of the Republican agenda, however, are not numbers on a chart — they are poor kids who are struggling to survive.
When are we going to hold legislators accountable for the damage they do to children? The people who are proposing these cuts for poor Americans are the same people who blame public schools, teachers and unions for low achievement. A child poverty rate of over 20% is high enough. It's time to change directions!

~~~

Stop the Testing Insanity!


~~~

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing

John Kuhn, one of my favorite superintendents (Perrin, TX) has tweeted the following:
johnkuhntx: Resolution revolution in TX: 380 boards x 7 trustees (on average) = a majority of 2,660 elected officials saying testing is out of hand. 4/24/12 4:32 AM
The resolution against over testing has made a big impact in Texas...and it's still growing. Now there's a national movement for the same thing. Take a look.
National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing

WHEREAS, our nation's future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation's social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation's school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators' efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the "No Child Left Behind Act," reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.
Click HERE to sign the resolution.
~~~

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Medley #8

Public Education, Vouchers, Teach For America, Parents, Texas Protests, U. S. DOE, Privatization, Testing.

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

Nation's largest urban school voucher program doesn't produce better results than public schools, reviews find
A longitudinal study on students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) found little differences between voucher students and those attending Milwaukee Public Schools overall, according to an academic review released today.

Three recent reports of the MPCP, produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas use largely sound methods, but the data they assemble provide little in the way of an endorsement for the 22-year-old school voucher program – the largest urban voucher program in the nation.

The Sham of Teach for America: Part One and Part Two
TFA is one of many insidious examples of how the language of social justice and equity is hijacked and appropriated, and instead employed to further the goals of the neoliberal education reform agenda. This agenda includes a firm belief that education should primarily serve the interests of private profit and as with all neoliberal education reformers, TFA is actively intensifying racial and class inequality, and the destruction of education as an essential public good along with the continued decimation of unions - two institutions that are primary determinants of a democratic society.

PAA to USDE: Listen to parents, change your policies
“Things are very bad in New York City, where we are closing schools rather than improving them. The city is obsessed with testing and parents are sick of it. This has not been an improvement over No Child Left Behind, but simply more of the same from this administration. Parents are not listened to or respected. We object to the Race to the Top program, competitive funding, and a budget that cuts money from key programs that work such as class size reduction. The law needs to be changed so that parents are really listened to.”

Education reform protests pick up steam
...in Texas, some 345 school districts — out of about 1,030 districts — have adopted a resolution that says that standardized tests are “strangling” public schools and asking the state Board of Education to rethink the testing regime. Those school districts represent more than 1.6 million students.

It was in Texas where the era of high-stakes testing was born. George W. Bush started a test-based accountability program when he was governor and then blew it out into a national education initiative known as No Child Left Behind during his presidency.

Thus it is somewhat ironic that this year Robert Scott, the Republican commissioner of education in Texas, caused a public stir when he told the Texas State Board of Education that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. California Gov. Jerry Brown had said essentially the same thing last year. Scott also agreed to postpone by a year a requirement that the results of each end-of-course exam account for 15 percent of a student’s final grade in that course.

Duncan's ED: We Need to Double Down on Irrational and Unscientific Practices
An email from Monty Neill alerted me to the latest development by today's Corporate Stalinists at ED to judge teacher education programs on the basis value-added test scores of students who are taught by the graduates of these teacher ed programs. Got that? No, it's too late for April Fool's.

How to Privatize Public Education in 12 Easy Steps
1) Manufacture a crisis and instill public fear. Waiting for Superman.

2) Create a rallying cry for the need for ACTION to save citizens from some danger – which involves eliminating those posing a threat. In this case, public educators. Bring in your own “private” troops (Blackwater? No. Teach for America and people trained at new “innovative leadership centers”)

3) Create a system which becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. High stakes testing policies which will doom schools and children to failure. A convenient way to “prove” the grounds for #’s 1 and 2.

4) Use of “savior” language – sound bite messages which co opt terms which average people identify as favorable such as “innovation,” “reform,” and “choice.”

More on the Privatization of America at Privatization Watch

Jack Hassard: The Testing Games put our Youth at Risk
Because of NCLB testing requirements, many school districts have had to divert resources away from teaching and learning and into their testing and assessment budget. There is also an enormous loss of instructional time. So many schools are caught up in teaching to the test, and many schools take weeks to prepare students for The Testing Games. Because we test in only a few areas, the curriculum is narrowed as teachers are forced to prepare their students in limited areas such as mathematics and reading.

Testing is out of control not only in the sense of administering tests. There are consequences to testing that include shipment costs, scoring services, reporting scores, and then implementing educational service to schools whose students didn't do well, and put the school at risk by not meeting AYP goals.

Pineapples, irresponsible authors, weapons of mass distraction

Talking pineapple question on state exam stumps ... everyone! Students, teachers, principals -- no one has any idea what the deal is
"It's hilarious on the face of it that anybody creating a test would use a passage of mine, because I'm an advocate of nonsense," Daniel Pinkwater, the renowned children's author and accidental exam writer, said in an interview. "I believe that things mean things, but they don't have assigned meanings."

Tweets of Interest

"They didn't invent accountability. We were accountable to our communities. Now we are accountable to disingenuous politicians & te$tmakers." - @johnkuhntx

"Puzzle: How did our nation get to be most powerful in world before NCLB and RTTT? Before ubiquity of standardized testing?" - @DianeRavitch


Food for Thought

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Biggest Story in the Last 100 Years: The Death of Public Education

This is a must read. Tim Slekar, an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Penn State, writes for the Huffington Post. He also has his own blog, Teaching and Learning in Hostile Times.

Last week (April 16, 2012) he wrote a piece called Move Along! Nothing to See Here! in which he sounded the alarm!
I am close to the edge! And from here the picture is perfectly clear.

The American public system of education is being systematically, and purposely destroyed. This is not a statement from someone who routinely sees crop circles. I am a teacher and I see it clearly--just like Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling Hammond, Nancy Flanagan, Valerie Strauss, Anthony Cody, Stephen Krashen, Susan Ohanian, Mike Klonsky, Jesse Turner, Mark Naison, Alfie Kohn, Marion Brady, Parents Across America, United Opt Out National, Save Our Schools, Children are More than Test Scores, Fair Test and a host of other individuals and groups.
We all see it. Teachers in classrooms all over the country see it. They know that they're being forced to teach in ways which are counterproductive. They know that they're being forced to over test their students. They know that the insane reliance on testing and so-called accountability is causing more harm than good. Most of them are too busy trying to keep their heads above water to object while their profession is being bullied and beaten into submission.
However, I feel like we are in the middle of a crime scene surrounded by yellow tape and the "liberal media" is standing on the outside with a bull horn announcing, "Move along!" "Nothing to see here!"

This is the biggest story in the last 100 years (the death of public education) and the only media attention it gets is typically dismissive of the voices screaming for help. Or it receives media attention that continues to push the corporate reform narrative. For example, big mouth Chris Christie got his arrogant butt on MSNBC (Morning Joe) last week by "straight talking" about the need for education reform and how he will not back down even if it costs him his office. And what did he say? Of course he is "fighting for the kids of New Jersey." Really? Do the kids of New Jersey have a clue what will happen to them when Christie is done pushing his corporate reform agenda?

Every policy that he supports has been thoroughly dismissed by research. Choice does not work. Charters don't help. Competition creates harsh learning climates. Pay for performance doesn't work. Teach for America does nothing. Using test scores to promote or fire teachers is a deeply flawed statistical procedure. Destroying the working conditions of teachers actually creates environments that hinder learning. In other words, Chris Christie's support for the kids of New Jersey will actually harm them and he is perfectly willing to risk his office on this platform. How is this possible?
It's not just Christie...in states around the nation politicians are pushing hard to kill public education. For some, it's a life long dream. They believe that the private sector is, by definition, better and more efficient, so they believe they need to get rid of "government schools." For others, the public schools are a hot-bed of the liberal, secular humanism which, in their view, is a "religion" which threatens to destroy America. Still others are so anti-union that they are willing to sacrifice our children's future in order to break the back of the teachers unions. Finally there are those who are beholden to their supporters and got where they are by donations from test publishers and corporations invested in charters and private schools.
Is this all the "liberal media" is capable of doing? This guy and a bunch of others (Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emanuel, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Tom Corbett, Michelle Rhee and the rest of the clown car called corporate education reform) are actually advocating for the privatization of the American public school system. A system that is supposed to deliver a free and equitable education to all children regardless of background, socioeconomic status, or zip code. A system dedicated to promoting democracy and citizen participation in the government by educating the masses. Christie and all the other idiots are selling out America's public schools and all the "liberal media" can do is comment on how many people would like to have a beer with him?

Mainstream "liberal media" (Shultz, Maddow, O'Donnell, etc.) why are you letting this happen? The corporate reform agenda does not have a single, semi-solid leg to stand on when it claims to be able to help America's most vulnerable (children). The evidence is right in front of your eyes. How about changing your tune? As people walk past the yellow ribbon around the crime scene that is us, the screaming "status quo" advocates for public schools and the children that attend them. Use your bullhorn and try this...

DO NOT MOVE ALONG! THERE IS SOMETHING TO SEE HERE! These people are trying to save the American system of public education. You might want to listen to what they have to say.
The media is run by the same corporations who are pushing the reform. The money is intertwined...Check out the corporations who run the media and the standardized testing giants...these are huge companies which have a vested interest in publishing and media. Telling the truth about education issues is not in their corporate best interest.

In Winner Take All Politics Jacob Hacker reminds us that those who control the direction of American politics, which includes public education, don't keep their positions of wealth and power by advocating for children, but by controlling public policy in their favor.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More like a lockdown...

This is what we're doing to our children in the name of education.

Jim Horn at Schools Matter said,
Valerie Strauss shared this. Hope you do, too...
Here it is...
Testing day: ‘More like lockdown than an elementary school’

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Larry Lee of Montgomery, Alabama, former executive director of the Covington County Economic Development Commission and the West Central Partnership of Alabama. Lee, who writes often about education, sent the following email to friends and other people whom he thought would be interested. He gave me permission to publish it.

Larry Lee’s email:

Friends,

I have long felt that we need to have a statewide conversation about “What is education?” rather than continue to bounce from one “flavor of the month” ed reform notion to the next. And had you been with me [a week ago on] Monday, I think this point would have been made loud and clear.

I got up at 5 a.m. to drive 115 miles so I could be at Fruithurst Elementary in Cleburne County by 8 a.m. I went because last week and next are when schools across the state are taking THE TEST and I wanted to observe this process first-hand.

Fruithurst is a really good rural school, one we studied extensively in 2009 when we wrote the publication lessons learned from rural schools. more than 70% of these kids qualify for free-reduced lunches. Yet math proficiency rivals that of all Mountain Brook elementary schools where not a single child in the system gets a free-reduced lunch.

Christy Hiett is principal and a very, very good one. (If every school in the state had a Christy Hiett as principal, we would be in great shape.)

I have been to this school many, many times. It is always filled with the normal sounds of a school. Kids asking questions in class, laughing at something the teacher says, whooping and hollering on the playground. Lots of smiles. Christy getting hugs from her students as she walks down the hall.

Not so Monday, the first day 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders were taking part one of the Alabama reading and math test, the test that so much emphasis is based on these days.

Honest, it was more like lockdown than an elementary school. No laughter, no smiles, no hugs, too many straight-faced youngsters, too many with stress so evidently showing (which is why the school nurse was a key part of the staff yesterday as kids were going to see her with upset stomachs and headaches).

There were no backpacks in the rooms. They lined the hallway. Teachers turned in their cell phones to the testing coordinator. Rooms were stripped of anything that could possibly give a student as clue as to what a correct answer might be.

Each teacher had a plastic box full of exams, exam instructions, pencils and scratch paper kept under lock and key in the test coordinator’s room. In fact, this room was behind two locked doors. Only the principal and test coordinator had the keys to this room.

About 8:15, the teachers began picking up their individual boxes and signing forms. Testing began at 8:30. Each teacher had a timer in her room.

Special ed students were tested separately. The counselor tested a visually impaired student. Some 95% of students are required to be tested. There were three of the nearly 300 students absent yesterday. Friday will be make up test day.

(During the testing period, a car horn accidently started going off and was quickly quieted. One of the special ed students was very distracted by this. Christy said the incident would be reported as a “testing irregularity.”)

All staff wore sneakers so there would be no sound as they walked. I had on a pair of loafers with leather soles and wondered if I should take them off as I clicked down the hall. Christy steadily monitored each room, noting her presense on a sign-in sheet taped to each door.

When a group of kindergarteners needed to take a bathroom break, they were sent outside around the building to reach the restroom so they would not go down a hall and cause a distraction for students taking the test.

When the test was completed, teachers took their boxes back to the test coordinator’s room where they were locked up, waiting to be delivered to the central office.

As students lined up in the hallway afterwards to go to the restroom, there was still no smiles and no laughter. It was eerily quiet.

I questioned two teachers afterwards. A 6th grade teacher said, “I suppose it’s a necessary evil, but you really have to wonder how good of a picture do you get of how well a child can read when you test them for only 160 minutes with largely multiple choice questions.”

A 4th grade teacher now in her third year of teaching confessed that she was not quite as stressed as last year, but nervously said, “It’s still a lot of stress because you know how much is riding on the results.”

And what do the kids get from all of this? Not a damn thing. None of their grades will be impacted by how they perform on THE TEST. This is all about trying to reach unrealistic goals set by No Child Left Behind that declares that all children in this country will be above average by 2014. In other words, Lake Wobegon here we come.

As I left to head home my only thought was: “My God, these are children. They are not small adults.” Here are kids growing up under difficult circumstances in many cases. (Christy told me of one family that lived in a camper with no running water on land that was not theirs. She told me of a second-grade boy who is being raised by only his grandfather. She does not know what happened to the mother and daddy or to the grandmother. One day the grandfather wanted to show the boy what a gun could do and why he should not touch them, so he shot and killed the boy’s dog while he watched.)

These scenes will be repeated time and time again in Alabama for the next few days.

Robert Scott, the Republican commissioner of education in Texas, recently said that the notion that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.

Several hundred Texas school boards have now passed a resolution saying that high-stakes standarized tests are “strangling” public schools.

I saw nothing Monday to make me think otherwise.
~~~

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Give Bigotry No Sanction..." -- George Washington

I don't like politics and usually don't write about it other than how it relates to public education issues. I despise what politics has become in America. I hate what politics has done to our country. I hate the liars, the cheaters, the egomaniacs, the hypocrites and the manipulators. I'm disgusted by the David Vitters and the Anthony Weiners. I'm tired of lobbyists for billionaires who buy votes and legislation. I abhor corporations which complain about the high US Corporate tax rate while "loopholing" their way to a tax-free status.

So, I want to make several things clear before I get on with today's topic. What follows is not about the 2012 US election. For the purposes of this discussion it doesn't matter to me what a candidate's position is on health care, Afghanistan, the economy, women's issues, or education. I don't care if we're talking about Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or anyone else. The issue I'm going to address is about politics in general, human failings, the Constitution and intent of the Founders, and the inability of some people to "live and let live."

The two leading candidates for President are, as of this writing, Barak Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R). I don't particularly care for either of them, but for this blog entry it doesn't matter.

1. What the Constitution says.
Article. VI

...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
2. Voices of the Founders.

Washington:
"...the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
Jefferson:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

"...it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

"I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others."
Madison:
"Among the features peculiar to the Political system of the United States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious Sect."

"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men..."
3. Bigotry and Intolerance in Politics.

Anti (and former) Mormon, Tricia Erickson, recently spoke on a radio show. She said,
...we cannot afford a Mormon experiment. We have to have someone at the head of our country with sound judgment. If this man does not have the judgment to be able to discern fact from fiction on the most basic things like the horrifically false religion that he's in. If he doesn't have the wherewithal to understand that he has lived a lie all of his life and continues the lie, then how do we trust the judgment of this man to put him at the head of our country with everything that's going on? I mean, if he cannot even figure out fact from fiction in the way that he's been raised, how can we trust his judgement at the head of our nation?
4. Who's Right and Who's Wrong?

A lie, a fiction, a false religion...all that has been said about every religious belief ever expressed -- and there have been millions of them. Each adherent to a religious belief is convinced that their beliefs are correct and the others are wrong. My guess is that there are those who believe that Tricia Erickson holds beliefs which are heretical, horrifically false, and a lie.

This is the same concern that some had about John Kennedy when he was running for President in 1960. Kennedy's response (which has had some airplay in this year's election mostly because Rick Santorum, who disagreed with it brought it up) is worth reading again.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.
Does it matter what a person's religious beliefs are in one's choice for public office? Of course it does, but Senator Kennedy had an answer for those who worried that he would sell out the country to the Vatican...
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty; nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
Prior to the 2008 presidential election, Mitt Romney presented his views on the role of faith in politics. In his presentation he said,
Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin
Romney didn't let the Mormon Church run Massachusetts during his term as Governor and I don't believe that he would let the Mormon Church run the country if he is elected President. Whatever else one might say about his politics, agree or disagree, he is not about to hand over the reigns of the nation to his church.

The kind of bigotry represented by the comments above should have no place in our society. What's sad is that, after nearly 236 years as a nation, the reason this country was founded is still haunting us. There are still those who would discriminate against others based on a belief. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr, we should judge people based on the content of their character rather than their religious affiliations (or lack thereof).

Such intolerance and bigotry is the same intolerance and bigotry which encouraged Jefferson to respond with the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Madison to write the Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. It is un-American and rejects Constitutional guarantees to the free exercise of religion. It is, along with the anti-Muslim atmosphere in the country today, a danger to our society. History teaches us that it's a small step from intolerance and bigotry to persecution and genocide. Do we really want to go back to 17th Century Europe? Do we really want the Inquisition? The Crusades?

In this case, Lenny Bruce got it right when he said, "I think it's about time we gave up religion and got back to God."
~~~

Below are videos of Kennedy's speech followed by questions and answers.




~~~

Monday, April 9, 2012

2012 Medley #7

An 8th Grader Searches for a High School, Double Standards, News Media Reports on Education, Poverty, VAM, Reform Ideas, Technology, Finland vs. Indiana, ALEC.

An Eighth-Grade Sports Encyclopedia Finds Himself Without a High School

This article left me stunned. Where is this child's neighborhood school? Competition destroys public education. Notice the way this is worded...the high schools select the students. This is "choice" at work.
That so many people know Omri became important a few weeks ago when the 69,000 eighth graders across the city learned what high schools they had been selected to attend next year. Of the 127 eighth graders at East Side, only five were not picked by any school, and Omri was one of them.

“Omri was up in homeroom crying hysterically, so we brought him downstairs,” Mr. Goldspiel said. “I found him sobbing, sitting on the floor outside the main office waiting for me.”

“I was speechless,” Omri recalled. “Everyone else was saying, ‘I got in, I got in,’ and I just felt dumb and stupid. I had anger in me I never really felt before. I didn’t know how to react.”

...started preparing for the next round in the high school lottery.

Is There Really a Point to Advocating Both Standardization and Choice?

A Double Standard: The public schools have to reform or be replaced by charters...but then, why don't the charters have to meet the same requirements?
...what we have here is a massive effort on the one hand, to require traditional public school districts to adopt a common curriculum and ultimately to adopt common assessments for evaluating student success on that curriculum and then force those districts to evaluate, retain and/or dismiss their teachers based on student assessment data, while on the other hand, expanding publicly financed subsidies for more children to attend schools that would not be required to do these things (in many cases, for example, relieving charter schools from teacher evaluation requirements).

Flunking the Test
The American education system has never been better, several important measures show. But you’d never know that from reading overheated media reports about “failing” schools and enthusiastic pieces on unproven “reform” efforts...

"The idea that we have a crisis in American education, that there is pervasive failure, starts with policy makers," says Pedro Noguera, the eminent education researcher and New York University professor. "This is the line we hear in D.C. and in state capitals. There are certainly areas in which we're lacking, but when you report it that way, it doesn't at all acknowledge the complexity of the situation [and] where we're doing quite well. The discussion is quite simplistic. I'm not sure why exactly. My suspicion is that the media has trouble with complexity."

Stephen Krashen Pulls the Rug Out From Under the Standards Movement
Poverty is, in fact, the issue. While American students' scores on international tests are not as bad as critics say they are, they are even better when we control for the effects of poverty: Middle-class students in well-funded schools, in fact, score at or near the top of world. Our average scores are respectable but unspectacular because, as Farhi notes, we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty, the highest of all industrialized countries. Only four percent of children in high-scoring Finland, for example, live in poverty. Our rate of poverty is over 21%.

Now I Understand Why Bill Gates Didn’t Want The Value-Added Data Made Public

Being a Billionaire doesn't qualify you as an expert in the education of children.
Nor do these educational Deformers think that value-added mysticism is nonsense. They think it’s wonderful and that teachers’ ability to retain their jobs and earn bonuses or warnings should largely depend on it.

The problem, for them, is that they don’t want the public to see for themselves that it’s a complete and utter crock. Nor to see the little man behind the curtain.

Krash Course #5: Reform We Need
Each time I publish or post a critique of the education reform insanity coming from the Corporate Reformers, I receive badgering responses asking what I would do instead. So here is a list of Reform We Need...
  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan needs to resign...
  • Federal and state policies must address the lives of children...health coverage...Food security...
  • All aspects of the accountability era, including standards-based testing, must be dismantled...
  • ...[end] all aspects of perpetuating inequity found in schools—testing, tracking, teacher assignments, "no excuses" practices.
  • Teacher and schools must be afforded autonomy...

Testing Our Limits and Failing Our Students

Technology for the sake of technology (as opposed to technology as a tool for learning in and out of the classroom) is stealing time from real education.
Unless we stand together, erroneous computer data and educational officials detached from the realities of teaching will continue to determine our students’ futures.

Lesson from Finland: Everything Indiana is doing is wrong

There's an assumption that policymakers and "reformers" are well meaning and want to improve education. I don't believe that any more. The current debate about public education is not about education at all, but about who will control the pursestrings...the public, or the private sector. The same people who brought us the banking debacle and the economic collapse are working hard to take over public education -- the students, parents and teachers be damned. How much do Arne Duncan, Rahm Emmanuel, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad really know about how children learn?

You want to know why other countries score higher on average than we do? It's because they care about all their children. There's more to educating a child than standards and tests.
Finland’s system, he said, could not work in the U.S. Factors of societal, economic and cultural differences must be considered and will always shape a country’s education system to make it unique....In short, he argued that several of the fundamental beliefs of reformers here — reformers like [Indiana's Tony] Bennett — were just flat wrong.

Who's Really Behind Education Reform?

Julie Underwood, the Dean of the UW-Madison School of Education, discusses ALEC's school privatization agenda.


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Friday, April 6, 2012

It's True -- Research Doesn't Matter

In the corporate quest to privatize public education the truth doesn't matter. Research doesn't matter. Experience doesn't matter.

NEW YORK

Public education is under mayoral control in America's largest cities and the corporate quest for more charters and privatization depends on devaluing public school teachers and demonizing their unions. In New York, teachers have been evaluated using student test scores and then had the results plastered across newspaper headlines without regard for the fact that the method of evaluation yields invalid and unreliable results.

Nearly a year earlier the NY State Regents received a letter from 10 testing experts who, in May, 2011, wrote,
...the research literature includes many cautions about the problems of basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. These include problems of attributing student gains to specific teachers; concerns about overemphasis on “teaching to the test” at the expense of other kinds of learning; and disincentives for teachers to serve high-need students, for example, those who do not yet speak English and those who have special education needs.
Standardized tests are not developed to evaluate teachers. It's invalid to use them for that purpose. The experts continue...
Teachers’ ratings are affected by differences in the students who are assigned to them. Students are not randomly assigned to teachers – and statistical models cannot fully adjust for the fact that some teachers will have a disproportionate number of students who may be exceptionally difficult to teach (students with poor attendance, who are homeless, who have severe problems at home, etc.) and whose scores on traditional tests have unacceptably low validity (e.g. those who have special education needs or who are English language learners). All of these factors can create both misestimates of teachers’ effectiveness and disincentives for teachers to want to teach the neediest students, creating incentives for teachers to seek to teach those students those expected to make the most rapid gains and to avoid schools and classrooms serving struggling students.
Anyone who has ever worked in a public school knows that out of school factors such as access to medical care, access to appropriate reading material, and poverty in general, have a serious effect on student achievement no matter how expert the teacher. Unfortunately, most "reformers" have never worked in public schools.

Improvements in instruction must be accompanied by improvements in the lives of children, more than 21% of whom live in poverty in America. Politicians and corporate "reformers" excuse our society's lack of equity by placing the entire burden of change on public schools.

The NY Regents ignored the letter from assessment experts.

CHICAGO

Fast forward to March of 2012. The same thing is happening in Chicago. The city is planning to evaluate teachers using student test scores. In response, 88 educational researchers from universities and colleges throughout the Chicago area have written a letter to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago School Board.

Like the writers to the NY Regents, the Chicago writers inform the recipients that the evaluation of teachers by student test scores is invalid and has unintended consequences.
The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children. We believe it is our ethical obligation to raise awareness about how the proposed changes not only lack a sound research basis, but in some instances, have already proven to be harmful.
The writers urge caution, suggesting that the city pilot the evaluation program first and minimize how much of the evaluation is actually based on student test scores.

They also suggest that the city use actual experts in testing and testing research to help develop the evaluation procedure.

According to the writers there are three main problems with implementing the procedure...
  • Concern #1: CPS is not ready to implement a teacher-evaluation system that is based on significant use of “student growth.”
  • Concern #2: Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher-evaluation approaches that use Value-Added Models (VAMs).
  • Concern #3: Students will be adversely affected by the implementation of this new teacher-evaluation system.
Do the "reformers" leading this charge against public schools in Chicago care about the schools and students? Or are they going to do what they want despite the input from knowledgeable professionals?

This is one more example of how people knowledgeable in education are ignored when it comes to implementing educational policy. From the classroom teacher, to the educational researcher and higher education professor, people who have actual experience and expertise in the education of children are simply ignored.
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Scrap IREAD

Here's some information about IREAD, the high stakes third grade test in Indiana. Students who fail have to repeat third grade. You can find information at the blog of A Huntington Teacher and Change.org.
Why This Is Important

IREAD-3 is a forty-question test that will determine whether public school students in Indiana may advance to fourth grade. It channels education dollars toward redundant assessment, not instruction, and favors retention over remediation; it is therefore a misuse of public funds.

No major decision about a child's future should be made on the basis of a single test score. Retaining students has been shown to increase the risk that they drop out of school and to have a null or negative effect on their academic achievement in the long run.

Like other high-stakes standardized tests, IREAD-3 will disproportionately punish low-income children and families. Indiana students' reading skills are already assessed continually by their teachers as well as through ISTEP+ and NWEA or Acuity. Money allocated for this test directly reduces funds available for remediation. Our tax dollars should go to local schools for literacy programs and teachers rather than to assessment overhead and testing companies.
Here's a sample letter to send to legislators...
Dear Legislators in the Indiana General Assembly,

We have grave concerns about IREAD-3, a forty-question test that now determines whether Indiana's public school third-graders may advance to fourth grade.

Retention increases the risk that a student will drop out, and the vast majority of studies show that it has a null or negative effect on academic achievement (1). Boys are particularly vulnerable to its effects (2). In addition, standardized tests disproportionately punish low-income and minority children and families (3). Florida's third-grade retention policy has impacted black and Hispanic children at much higher levels than white children despite their lower numbers in the school population (4).

Standardized test results are too inaccurate for promotion or retention decisions. The IREAD-3 plan absurdly assumes that 72 minutes of data gathering is more valid than teachers' year-long data gathering and assessment. The younger the child, the greater the unreliability of the test. Researchers know that young children vary greatly from day to day in performance depending on environmental factors. Poor sleep, nervousness, illness, or family stress could mean the difference between passing and failing. For these and other reasons, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing state that a major decision about a student should not be made on the basis of a single test score (AERA, 2000).

IREAD-3 will impoverish Indiana's schools, in terms of instruction, relationships, and funding.
  • IREAD-3 will likely cause school administrators and teachers to focus third grade reading instruction on test preparation for IREAD-3 and may limit time for more meaningful literacy activities.
  • IREAD-3 disregards what is known about the cognitive development of children: there is a great deal of normal variation in the individual paces and paths of learning. It assumes that children have been taught to read in a particular manner, and will impose that manner of teaching upon our schools.
  • Since children with disabilities may receive an exemption from IREAD-3 (but only after failing the assessment), it may result in more parents seeking a disability designation for their children. Not only does this have psychological ramifications for families, it will further burden the special education system and divert resources from those who have a more serious need for them.
  • Schools must concentrate on helping parents and families understand the high-stakes nature of third grade reading. It seems unlikely that a context of anxiety will lead to children taking greater pleasure in reading and learning.
  • Since “testing and remediation” is one line item in the state education budget, the cost of developing and administering IREAD-3 must be subtracted from the money available for remediation. A reduction of funding for remediation undermines the supposed intent of this law.
Lastly, IREAD-3 is an unnecessary test and a waste of public money. Teachers assess their students' reading skills frequently. In addition, most schools require third graders to take NWEA twice a year or ACUITY four times a year, and ISTEP+ in reading and math.

When you passed House Enrolled Act 1367, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) chose to interpret the act as authorization for IREAD-3. By declaring this test the only factor for determining students' readiness for fourth grade, the IDOE has overstepped its mandate. HEA 1367 specifies that retention may be included as a last resort but that "appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan." We believe that strong literacy experiences in early elementary school are vital to students becoming readers and writers. Our tax dollars should go to local schools for literacy programs and teachers rather than to testing companies and the apparatus of assessment. Our legislature is ultimately responsible for the well-being of Indiana's educational system. We call on you to insist that the IDOE eliminate IREAD-3 before it further damages our children and our schools.

References:

1. Jimerson, S. R. (2001a). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30, 420-437.

2. Pagani, L., Tremblay, R.E., Vitaro, F., Boulerice, B., McDuff, P. Effects of grade retention on academic performance and behavioral development. Developmental Psychopathology. 2001 Spring;13(2):297-315.

3. Heilig, J.V., and Darling-Hammond, L. Accountability Texas-style: the progress and learning of urban minority students in a high-stakes testing context. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. June 2008; 30(2):75-110.

4. Florida Association of School Psychologists. Position statement on Florida's third-grade retention mandate (PP3rdGrdRet.pdf, available at www.fasp.org). Cites data provided by the Florida Department of Education for the 2002-2003 school year.
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Sincerely,

[Your name]
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reading Instruction Children Need and Deserve

The national testing obsession continues to grow unchecked. Corporate "reformers" and their collaborators in state legislatures, governor's mansions, state departments of education as well as their counterparts in the federal government, continue to do everything in their power to privatize public education and de-professionalize the job of educators.

Educators are told what to teach and how to teach by people who have no experience in education. Unqualified politicians and pundits demand more money for charter schools, evaluations based on student test scores and cuts to public education. Then they hold teachers, administrators and schools accountable for their ignorance.

Yet, while the dismantling of public education continues, America's classrooms are filled with educators who are striving to do what's best for children. Millions of teachers are working each day fighting against the forces of corporate "reform" pressuring them to teach in ways which they know are ineffective and, in fact, damaging to their students. Millions of teachers are making ways to find the time to actually teach amid all the demands for testing, testing and more testing.

Professor of education and reading Hall of Fame member Richard Allington (University of Tennessee), along with his colleague, Rachael E. Gabriel (University of Connecticut), have provided support for those teachers in an article in the March, 2012, Educational Leadership. Every Child, Every Day, provides teachers with a list of 6 "must-do" elements of reading instruction which need to occur for each child, every day, complete with an extensive list of references.

It used to be that 'reformers' and state departments of education demanded that teachers use "research based" teaching techniques. Now there's a push for more and more charter schools, test-based evaluations of teachers, allowing untrained and unlicensed graduates to hire on as teachers in schools with the most needy students, and using high stakes tests to determine which students are passed on to the next grade, none of which have a strong, if any, basis in research.

Allington and Gabriel, on the other hand, have explored current research in education and use it to help teachers isolate what really counts in reading instruction...and the six elements they list in their article are not only effective, but they are free.
The six elements of effective reading instruction don't require much time or money—just educators' decision to put them in place.
Here they are. Read the entire article at Every Child, Every Day. The rationale for each element is much expanded in the original article.
1. Every child reads something he or she chooses.

The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read...the two most powerful instructional design factors for improving reading motivation and comprehension were (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read.

We're not saying that students should never read teacher- or district-selected texts. But at some time every day, they should be able to choose what they read.

2. Every child reads accurately.

Good readers read with accuracy almost all the time. The last 60 years of research...demonstrates the importance of having students read texts they can read accurately and understand. In fact, research shows that reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent accuracy doesn't improve reading ability at all...Sadly, struggling readers typically encounter a steady diet of too-challenging texts throughout the school day as they make their way through classes that present grade-level material hour after hour. In essence, traditional instructional practices widen the gap between readers.

3. Every child reads something he or she understands.

Understanding what you've read is the goal of reading. But too often, struggling readers get interventions that focus on basic skills in isolation, rather than on reading connected text for meaning. This common misuse of intervention time often arises from a grave misinterpretation of what we know about reading difficulties.

4. Every child writes about something personally meaningful.

As adults, we rarely if ever write to a prompt, and we almost never write about something we don't know about. Writing is called composition for a good reason: We actually compose (construct something unique) when we write. The opportunity to compose continuous text about something meaningful is not just something nice to have when there's free time after a test or at the end of the school year. Writing provides a different modality within which to practice the skills and strategies of reading for an authentic purpose.

5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.

Research has demonstrated that conversation with peers improves comprehension and engagement with texts in a variety of settings. Such literary conversation does not focus on recalling or retelling what students read. Rather, it asks students to analyze, comment, and compare—in short, to think about what they've read. [Researchers] found better outcomes when kids simply talked with a peer about what they read than when they spent the same amount of class time highlighting important information after reading.

6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.

Listening to an adult model fluent reading increases students' own fluency and comprehension skills, as well as expanding their vocabulary, background knowledge, sense of story, awareness of genre and text structure, and comprehension of the texts read.

Yet few teachers above 1st grade read aloud to their students every day. This high-impact, low-input strategy is another underused component of the kind of instruction that supports readers. We categorize it as low-input because, once again, it does not require special materials or training; it simply requires a decision to use class time more effectively. Rather than conducting whole-class reading of a single text that fits few readers, teachers should choose to spend a few minutes a day reading to their students.
These 6 things, then, are essential to developing efficient, proficient and life-long readers. These are the things which really matter, not tests, not DIBELS, not test prep, and not drill and kill worksheets.
Most of the classroom instruction we have observed lacks these six research-based elements. Yet it's not difficult to find the time and resources to implement them. Here are a few suggestions.

First, eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks. Use the money saved to purchase books for classroom libraries; use the time saved for self-selected reading, self-selected writing, literary conversations, and read-alouds.

Second, ban test-preparation activities and materials from the school day...there are no studies demonstrating that engaging students in test prep ever improved their reading proficiency—or even their test performance...eliminating test preparation provides time and money to spend on the things that really matter in developing readers.

It's time for the elements of effective instruction described here to be offered more consistently to every child, in every school, every day. Remember, adults have the power to make these decisions; kids don't. Let's decide to give them the kind of instruction they need.
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