Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

(c) Can Stock Photo / mheld


POLLUTION

I never wanted to be one of those grumpy old men who say things like, “The country is going to Hell in a handbasket,” but it’s getting harder and harder to control myself. We in the US have a serious pollution problem. It’s not just air and water pollution, though those are certainly worth our attention.

Sadly an insidious form of pollution is spreading throughout the US. It’s pollution in the form of increased science denial and conspiracy addiction.

Last week I read a Science news article about a private school in Florida (receiving voucher money, no doubt) that refused to allow any of their teachers to get the COVID-19 vaccine for fear that it is somehow dangerous to the students.

It is our policy, to the extent possible, not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection until further information is known. … It is in the best interests of the children to protect them from the unknown implications of being in close proximity for the entire day with a teacher who has very recently taken the COVID-19 injection.

Follow-up articles confirmed that those who ran the school were not just against the COVID vaccine, but vaccines in general, as well as conspiracies around 5G communications networks. One teacher, who has since quit teaching at the school, said that the atmosphere was “like a cult.”

Closer to home, some local parents are up in arms because their kids are being forced to wear masks at school. “Kids don’t die from COVID!” is the claim from parents. Apparently, these parents don’t know anyone older than school age who their children might infect. So, the school system brought in medical professionals who explained that masks were effective. The board President, who is against mask-wearing and offering no scientific rebuttal, simply said that

…he was not “in full agreement” with the statements from health professionals.

On Thursday (April 29), the Board President’s wife suggested that parents take action against a teacher who spoke

…positively about the COVID-19 vaccination.

She also suggested that parents participate in a student “sick-out” in the fall so the school system would lose “$5 million.”

Why are she and her husband fighting against established science? Why not listen to actual medical professionals (who, by the way, talked to the school board)? Perhaps because they don’t “believe” the science. They’ve likely been convinced by right-wing media that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, or that the danger of the disease is exaggerated. My guess is that they refuse to believe the CDC’s claim that nearly 570,000 American citizens have died from COVID. They believe their preferred media outlets over actual medical experts. When their child brings home the coronavirus and infects an elderly or at-risk relative will they ask the media outlets for help…or will they go to an actual medical doctor?

In cableland, white supremacist sympathizer Tucker Carleson has called on viewers to confront people and tell them that “your mask-wearing makes me uncomfortable. Take the mask off.” He went on to claim that masks didn’t prevent wearers from getting COVID. When the CDC responded that mask-wearing was more for the benefit of other people than for the mask wearer, Carleson ignored the response and replied that masks don’t prevent wearers from getting COVID.

These are the same people who, I expect,

  • go to doctors and hospitals when they are sick
  • take prescription medications to improve their health
  • use computer technology for safety (in their cars, for example), entertainment, and convenience
  • use municipally cleaned water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
  • live in homes heated and cooled by electricity
  • eat meals made with high-yield grain or high-yield grain-fed animals
  • use (or pay someone to use) fertilizers and plant foods to keep their lawns and gardens growing
  • watch television, or listen to the radio, whose signals are beamed from satellites
  • use other products, materials, and services improved by science in their daily lives

A SPUTNIK MOMENT

Unfortunately, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. About half of all Americans reject the concept of evolution (because “it’s just a theory“). More than a third of Americans are dismissive, doubtful, or apathetic about climate change. About one-fourth of all Americans are afraid to get the COVID vaccine putting the nation’s herd immunity at risk. Beyond that, there’s 1) the moon landing was a hoax, 2) the government has covered up aliens on Earth, 3) drug companies are hiding cures for diseases, 4) all vaccines are dangerous, 5) the Earth is flat, and numerous other conspiracies.

As a former science teaching elementary school teacher I feel discouraged. The nation’s children, including those who attend Miami’s antivax private school, are watching. A large number of them are being taught to ignore expertise and deny basic science. It’s as if the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the last three hundred years of scientific learning never happened. The country is being polluted with ignorance.

Have we been so obsessed with teaching only reading and math over the last two decades that we’ve given science and other content areas short shrift in public school curricula? Is the current lack of scientific literacy in our citizens due to the cult of personality around the previous President (who is also a science denier and conspiracy theorist)?

Science literacy has to be taught, but, as we’ve seen, teachers willing to teach kids to be science-thinkers are often up against science-denying school board members. In order to combat this trend in usually Republican areas of the country, there are several science-teacher groups that provide help and support for classroom science teachers, like the Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Center for Science Education, and the National Science Teaching Association. It’s up to teachers to choose to use the groups’ resources, however.

We need a “Sputnik moment.” In 1957, the Soviets beat us into space. The successful launch of their Sputnik satellite pushed complacent Americans into action…actions which included a massive investment in space science and science education. We need something that will spur the same sort of action now. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic might have done it if it hadn’t been politicized, but it looks as if we’ll need something else.

Maybe the Chinese will land on Mars…

Grumpy old man

 

🔬⚗️📡

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Musical Interlude: It’s Got That Swing

Edited from original post of April 29, 2016.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DUKE!

Duke Ellington and his orchestra, with Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1961…

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born to two musicians on April 29, 1899.

He began his musical career — starting piano lessons — at the age of 7. At 15 he wrote his first song (1914)…and spent the next 60 years writing and playing music.

During my “big band phase” Ellington was one of my favorites.

Check out the bios below…

NOW, THE GOOD PART

Here are some good ones…Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

One of my favorites…including the violin! It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) – 1943

This one’s for Marty (So when’s the next album coming out?). Satin Doll – 1953

Finally, the theme song…from the film Reveille with Beverly (1943). The soloist is Betty Roché.

🎼🎤🎹

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More Money, More Privatization

INDIANA’s NEW BUDGET BILL — MORE PRIVATIZATION

The Indiana General Assembly has passed the 2021 budget bill, and once more, the Republican super-majority has done its best to line the pockets of religious schools with a large increase for unaccountable school vouchers.

This year, they have added money to the privatization piggy bank in the form of Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), a plan fraught with fraud possibilities (and actualities) that have already been tried in various states across the country. ESAs allow parents to purchase unaccountable “educational services” from essentially anyone who says, “Here, buy my educational service” with no accountability for how the money is spent. Meanwhile, public schools must account for every penny of the public dollars they spend.

In order to pacify the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) with the increase in vouchers, the legislature included a substantial pay increase for teachers. In their report, ISTA mentions the increase in vouchers without editorial comment but focuses on the pay issue. They also share the “positive” news that the ESAs, which are only for students with special needs, are funded separately from the rest of the education pot.

I’ll make a prediction right now that within five years the ESAs will be available to anyone, and will drain money from the state’s education budget just like any other voucher. This is just a “foot-in-the-door” plan like the original voucher plan was in 2011. For those who don’t remember, to qualify for a voucher in 2011 a student had to have spent at least a year in a public school (no longer required), be low-income (about $45,000, as opposed to the new $145,000 for a family of four), and attend a “failing school.”

[NOTE: “Failing school” equals a state-neglected school filled with low-income, mostly students of color, who score low on standardized tests.]

ISTA is happy over the teacher pay increases which are well-deserved. Indiana has had the slowest growth of teacher salaries in the country since 2002. The actual funding increase, however, merely brings the state budget for education up to the same level it was in 2012!

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes…

A budget glass half empty

While Holcomb and Republican legislative leaders are praising the budget as “transformational” and suggesting it solves Indiana’s K-12 funding woes, the truth isn’t that rosy. A preliminary analysis by Ball State economist Michael Hicks finds the budget gets Indiana’s inflation-adjusted school spending more than halfway back to where it was a decade ago, but not nearly all the way.

And the vouchers…

My main beef with the budget is that it radically expands Indiana’s already radical private school voucher program and creates a new, voucher-like K-12 education savings account program.

The positive revenue report means the voucher expansion will start this July rather than being phased in over two years. Families that make up to 300% of the limit for reduced-price school meals – about $145,000 for a family of four – will qualify for tuition vouchers worth about $5,500 per child or more.

Nearly all voucher schools are religious schools, and they are largely unregulated. They can turn away students on grounds of religion, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity. They can, and do, use tax dollars to teach religious dogma. They can teach that humans shared the earth with dinosaurs, enslaved people were happy, and the New Deal was a “half-way house to Communism.”

WHAT’S THE POINT?

The point is that…

  • It doesn’t matter that the earlier promise to “save poor kids from ‘failing schools'” has morphed into providing entitlements to families that can already afford private schools.
  • It doesn’t matter that private schools don’t provide a better education than public schools and voucher kids don’t get a better education (see here, here, and here).

The goal of privatization isn’t better schools for kids and communities, it’s privatization. Period.

Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for the pro-voucher Goldwater Institute, talked to Diane Ravitch and Jennifer Berkshire. He, like Ravitch, used to believe in school choice until he saw that equitable schools and improved education weren’t what the choice proponents were really after. Here he explains the goal of the Republican majorities in the various states (at around 23:40 in the video)…

Diane Ravitch in Conversation with Jennifer Berkshire and Charles Siler

The purpose isn’t to improve education by expanding school choice and giving people more opportunities, it’s to dismantle public schools.

What they’re trying to do is to implement a model of competition…telling the public schools that they need to race against charter schools and race against these private schools…then what you do is you weigh down the public schools with all these regulations and other burdens.

…then you complain about the administrative costs of all the things that you’ve burdened the public schools [with]…and talk about how inefficient they are…it’s intended to cripple the public schools so that they can’t compete.

…the most important thing to remember is that they are trying to destroy public schools and that is done by crippling them and making them ineffective as much as possible.

Privatization will continue to chip away at our public schools, year after year like it has since 2011. The privatization lobbyists have the money.

All we have are the voters.

🚌🚌🚌

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No Pause in Indiana’s Push for Privatization

Should we give a cheer that the Indiana Senate eased up on the offensive expansion of vouchers that the Indiana House passed in its 2021 Budget bill?

THE HOUSE VERSION

The House version gave nearly 40% of all new education money to the less than 5% of the state’s students in the form of increased voucher spending, including money for unaccountable ESAs (educational savings accounts).

It also provided an increase in voucher availability to a family of four making nearly $150,000 a year. This House plan was not the “save poor children” voucher plan that Mitch Daniels proposed ten years ago. It very definitely expanded voucher money for wealthier students.

It’s probably good that Indiana Republicans are no longer trying to pretend that their voucher program is so that “poor kids can escape from terrible schools.” Instead they’re all but admitting that public schools don’t interest them. Privatization is the goal no matter what that pesky state constitution says. At least now they’re being honest about it.


THE SENATE VERSION

The Senate still included an increase in vouchers so they’re not backing off entirely. Families of four with six figure incomes would be able to get a 90% voucher allowing their kids can enroll in mostly segregated private schools that teach creation science and that slavery was a good investment. This assumes of course, that the school will have their child since private schools can reject students for nearly any reason.

The Senate version, while not as extreme as the House, still contains a significant increase in voucher support, including a foot-in-the-door new ESA plan that lets parents use tax dollars to buy “educational” services without public oversight or accountability. Hmmm…I wonder if they might try to increase money for that in years to come?


HOUSE WILL BE “AGGRESSIVE”

The bill now goes to a conference committee where House members will try to put back what the Senate took out. Speaker of the House Todd Huston, whose campaign contributions include $35,000 from Betsy DeVos’s Hoosiers for Quality Education (see also here), said that the house will “be negotiating very aggressively” to get back what was taken out so they can satisfy their lust for privatization.

One might even think that the plan all along was for the House to propose an extreme expansion of vouchers, then have the Senate back off a bit to pacify public school advocates (and more than 170 school boards around the state), and settle on a more “modest” increase in voucher money and an ESA plan.

It’s still an increase in Indiana’s ever increasing move towards total privatization.

For Further Reading

New Indiana budget proposal scales back private school voucher expansion

After a chorus of opposition from public school districts and advocates, Indiana Senate Republicans significantly scaled back an expansion of the state’s private school voucher program under their budget proposal Thursday.

The Senate plan would not extend private school vouchers to as many middle-class families as suggested in the House budget proposal and other legislation discussed this session. It also would dramatically curtail a proposal for education savings accounts, which would give stipends to parents of children with special needs who do not attend public schools.

Senate budget would dial back voucher expansion

…the Senate budget would partially roll back the ambitious expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program that was included in the House budget.

Like the House budget, it would create a new K-12 education savings account program, but it would limit participation and costs. Also important: It would remove a House-approved cap on the complexity index, the funding formula feature that favors districts and schools with more disadvantaged students.

💰🚌💰

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2021 Medley #5 – Vouchers, Testing, and Reading

Vouchers, Testing, and Reading

VOUCHERS

Scholars show how to challenge voucher discrimination

How many ways can we say it? School choice is not about parents choosing the school for their child. It’s about schools choosing which students to allow through their doors. Private schools get to choose their clients.

The law may state that private and religious schools must not discriminate in order to receive state funds, but the actual real-world actions of schools accepting vouchers shows that private schools can, and often do reject certain students based on various characteristics such as religion or sexual preference (or the sexual preference of their parents). Under other circumstances, this discrimination wouldn’t be a problem. Religious schools should be allowed to require their teachers and students to follow certain theological teachings. However, it becomes a problem when public funds are used to further such discrimination.

The simple fact is that private schools, and religious schools in particular should not be allowed to use public funds because they are not required to accept all students. Public tax dollars should go to public schools which accept all students — gay and straight, faithful and faithless, white or black. Using tax dollars to support religious schools that discriminate is contrary to the intent of the founders. Jefferson wrote,

…to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness…

Using tax dollars to support private and religious schools which discriminate based on religious beliefs is forcing taxpayers to pay for something they might not believe in. It’s “sinful and tyrannical”.

Green, the lead author, said supporters promote vouchers to expand opportunities for students and families. But, as the programs expand, state officials often enable them to deny those benefits to entire groups of students.

“Vouchers were sold as program that all could benefit from, but the anti-LGBT provisions give the lie to that statement,” Green said.

Voucher programs come in a variety of forms, but all provide ways for states to provide full or partial tuition funding to private schools for qualifying students. Indiana’s program, established in 2011, serves over 36,000 students in more than 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious schools, at a cost of $172.8 million. Lawmakers want to expand the program and extend it to upper-income families.

Vouchers Are About Abandoning Public Education, Not Freeing Parents

Public education is a public good, like roads, water systems, and libraries. It benefits everyone.

Vouchers are not about freeing or empowering parents. They are about empowering private interests to chomp away at the giant mountain of education money in this country. They are about dismantling any sort of oversight and accountability; it’s striking how many of these voucher bills/laws very specifically forbid the state to interfere with the vendors in any way, shape or form.

Think of voucher programs this way.

The state announces, “We are dismantling the public education system. You are on your own. You will have to shop for your child’s education, piece by piece, in a marketplace bound by very little oversight and very few guardrails. In this new education ecosystem, you will have to pay your own way. To take some of the sting out of this, we’ll give you a small pocketful of money to help defray expenses. Good luck.”

…Voucherization is also about privatizing the responsibility for educating children, about telling parents that education is their problem, not the community’s.

TESTING

Lawmakers Backing Standardized Tests Should Practice What They Preach

Forcing students to waste time taking standardized tests this year (and, actually, any year) is absurd. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money — even more than during normal (aka non-pandemic) times.

Educators are scrambling to teach safely and most lawmakers stand aside unsure how to help.

We can’t figure out which students to assist, they say, without first giving them all a batch of standardized tests.

It’s absurd, like paramedics arriving at a car crash, finding one person in a pool of blood and another completely unscathed – but before they know which person needs first aid, they have to take everyone’s blood pressure.

I mean come on! We’re living through a global pandemic.

Nearly every single class has been majorly disrupted by it.

So just about every single student needs help – BUT SOMEHOW WE NEED DATA TO NARROW THAT DOWN!?

Our duly-elected decision-makers seem to be saying they can only make decisions based on a bunch of numbers.

Does Education Secretary Cardona Recognize the Two Huge Problems with High-Stakes Testing?

Following the pattern of previous Democratic and Republican administrations, the Biden administration’s Secretary of Education has determined that the most important thing the Federal Government has to do for public schools throughout the country is force them to take wasteful standardized tests. Arne Duncan would be proud.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insists that federally mandated standardized testing will go on as usual in this COVID-19 dominated year. While his decision feels particularly impractical, intrusive, complicated and disruptive in the midst of COVID-19, the decision is of much deeper concern for two reasons.

One would like to think that Dr. Cardona is familiar with the huge debate that has consumed education experts and also many parents who have been opting out for years now. But when Dr. Cardona explained why testing must go on as usual, he didn’t even bother to offer a rationale that addresses any of the reasons experts have insisted he should cancel the tests once again this year. Instead he said we need the tests so that the Department of Education can ensure that federal investment goes to the school districts that need it most. That is such a lovely thought, and if tests were designed and used to gauge needed investment in the poorest communities, it would be wonderful.

READING

The Reading Helper

Halfway through my career I moved out of my general education classroom and became, what Russ Walsh calls, a Reading Helper.

In this post, Walsh reminds us that the most important aspect of being a teacher is the relationship between teacher and student, not standardized tests…not state standards…not grades.

I have a teaching certificate that says I am a qualified Teacher of Reading, and Reading Specialist and Supervisor, but from the time I got a certain Valentine’s Day card from a student in 1993 I have thought of myself as a Reading Helper. That card was from a second grade vulnerable reader named Danielle who had been my student since that September. The cover of the hand made card was full of many colored hearts and flowers and said, of course, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Inside was a message that I will never forget and which has defined my work ever since: “Thank you for hleping me read. Love, Danielle” Yes, exactly, “hleping.” Danielle still had some spelling reversals crop up from time to time. But the message could not have been clearer. I was being thanked for helping and it meant the world to me.

Why Do So Many Children Have Dyslexia? What is it Exactly?

The word “dyslexia” literally means “difficulty with written words”. In my experience — more than forty years as a paraprofessional, teacher, and retiree volunteer — there are as many different types of dyslexia as there are struggling readers — every child is different! Parents define it based on their own child’s (or children’s) struggles. Teachers define it by what they’ve seen in their own isolated classrooms. I’ve watched arguements between parents and teachers exposing the conflict as “that’s dyslexia,” “No, this is dyslexia”. The arguments about reading programs are even worse. There is no one perfect program that works for every single student. There is no panacea.

Nancy Bailey is absolutely correct in this post, that we need to stop worrying so much about the label and find out what works for each individual child. If a parent wants to call their child’s struggles dyslexia, so be it, but we still need to figure out what works for the child.

This post is followed by an interesting discussion in the comments. Many of the comments prove the points that Bailey makes in her article.

It’s important to continue to raise questions about reading problems and to seek school programs that help children learn to read.

But we should also be asking why so many children present such problems when they show up to school.

No matter what causes reading problems in children or what the label, schools, and teachers must continue to provide students with the individual help they need. There is no one perfect reading program for all children. Schools need to provide rich reading environments and extra phonics for students who need it.

🚌🚌🚌

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Beverly Cleary, Age 104

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF MY READING INSTRUCTION

I taught third grade in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the “teach to the test” trend hadn’t infiltrated America’s public school classrooms. We gave a standardized test, but it didn’t determine who went to fourth grade, didn’t enter into my evaluation, and didn’t have anything to do with how much money the school got. In fact, “teaching to the test” was considered bad pedagogy and limiting to the scope of the everyday classroom experience. We were, therefore, pressured NOT to “teach to the test.”

At that time in my teaching career, I considered my daily read aloud the most important part of my reading instruction.

If we had a fire drill, assembly, tornado drill, or any other interruption to the day, the only thing that I made sure I finished for that day was the daily read-aloud. I would do as much of the rest of the curriculum as I could, of course, but read aloud was sacrosanct. It was the one part of the day that I made a conscious effort never to miss. What are the benefits of reading aloud that make it so important? In his classic, Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease lists these five reasons for reading aloud…

  1. it builds vocabulary
  2. it conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  3. it creates background knowledge
  4. it provides a reading role model
  5. it plants the desire to read

I was convinced then, and I still believe, that children who are read to, feel good about reading. Children who feel good about reading are motivated to read to themselves. Children who are motivated to read grow into readers. Trelease explains it this way

  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.

I would keep track of the books I read to my students and at the end of the year, I would rank the stories based on the students’ favorites. One year I even had the students illustrate a scene from their favorite book in a line drawing. I gathered them all, made copies for everyone, and presented the students with a coloring book of their peers’ drawings from their favorite books of the year.

Without fail, every year three authors would be at the top. They were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and of course, Beverly Cleary.

RAMONA THE HERO

My third-grade students always loved Kindergarten Ramona in Ramona the Pest. They were close enough in age to their own Kindergarten experiences that they remembered their own Ramona-like fears and mistakes. Ramona Quimby took those fears and mistakes and understood. I always imagined my third-graders thinking, “Here is another little person who understands what it is like to be a child.”

After Ramona the Pest, I would often skip right to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since that was Ramona’s “third-grade” book. Ramona was universal. She faced similar problems, made similar mistakes, felt similar feelings, and, for those students in my class who had older siblings, felt the same way about her older sister.

Ramona was sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never a parody. The characteristics that made Ramona so appealing to my students were the same characteristics that made her seem real. Even though the stories were made up, they were never outside the possibility of what could happen to them. Every child could relate to feelings of embarrassment when they made a mistake. Every child understands the anger at being patronized. Ramona expressed those feelings and made them acceptable.

Once in a while, one of the little girls in my class would be labeled Ramona by the other students. It was never cruel or teasing. Ramona was their hero. It’s just that sometimes, one of the students had that same combination of energy, frankness, and off-kilter humor that would remind us all of our friend, Ramona. More often, I would watch the students in their daily lives and think — of the boys as well as the girls, “There’s Ramona.”

Cleary was such a popular author that I occasionally included books about Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins in my yearly read-alouds, but Ramona was, without question, the hero to year after year of my third-graders.

BEVERLY CLEARY, APRIL 12, 1916 – MARCH 25, 2021

I wonder if any of my former third-graders, when learning about Beverly Cleary’s passing, thought about Ramona.

My hope is that they did…because they read aloud to their children…who read aloud to their children.

📖📖📖

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In Which I Think of Ways to Respond to My Legislators

Indiana is ready to add more public money to the state voucher program for private — mostly religious — schools.

House Bills 1001 and 1005 would give nearly a third of the state’s increase in education funding to the 5% (10% if you count charters) of the students who go to private schools. I had written to my local state rep, Dave Heine, but received no reply. He voted to approve the increase along with all of his Republican friends in the state House of Representatives. The bills are now before the state Senate, so I wrote my state senator, Dennis Kruse (IN-S14), and asked him to vote against increasing the vouchers.

I received responses from Senator Kruse this week. I’ll send a reply to his emails, though I doubt it will change anything. Here is what he wrote (different paragraphs are from his response on House Bill 1001 or House Bill 1005) followed by some of what I might say.

Kruse: Thank you for reaching out about House Bill 1005. I value the opinions of my constituents and I value your individual opinion.

Me: Do all politicians start their letters this way? I’ve talked to this man in person and I know full well that, while he might “value” the opinion of some of his constituents, he doesn’t really value mine. Every election cycle, Senator Kruse gets donations from a group called Hoosiers for Quality Education a group funded by former Secretary of Education, and billionaire privatizer, Betsy DeVos. The goal, it seems, is to privatize Indiana’s education system.

Kruse: I am committed funding education for Hoosier students. The Indiana 2019-2020 state budget increased $750,000,000 more to K-12 Education than the previous fiscal cycle. That is the largest single increase in state education funding in our 200-year history as a state. This legislative session has just begun. I am excited for the opportunity to review Indiana’s current practices and potential amendments.

Me: He says, look at how much money we’re spending on education in this state. Am I supposed to be impressed by this? We have given around a billion dollars of public funds to private/religious schools since the voucher plan was put into place in 2011. How was that money spent? No one knows. Who kept track of that money? Maybe the money was spent on new steeples, football fields, or church expansions. There’s no way to know because that money is unaccountable.

Kruse: While I believe that Indiana public schools should receive an increase in funding, I also believe that parents have the right to choose where their child should be educated. House Bill 1005 creates a grant for students with disabilities or for students with parents who have disabilities. Accordingly, this bill allows parents of children with disabilities to make a choice about where their child attends school. Some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities. Therefore, I want to ensure that parents can receive a meaningful education for their child by supporting House Bill 1005.

Me: Do parents choose to send their children to a private school? Some do because some private schools will accept some of the students. But all private schools restrict some students. Students of a different religion, gay students, transgender students, students who struggle with learning, students with behavioral issues, are all targeted for rejection by some private schools. Whose choice is it to attend a private school? A parent can apply to send their child to a private school, but it’s up to the school to accept them.

Should taxpayers fund schools that discriminate against certain students?

What about students with disabilities? Some private schools don’t accept any students with disabilities. Others only accept certain disabilities (such as students needing speech therapy). Private schools often reject students by telling the parent that “we aren’t equipped to deal with their particular needs.” Finally, public schools are required by law to provide services to children with disabilities. Private schools are under no such obligation. Do these bills require schools to take students with disabilities? Do these bills preserve the rights of students with disabilities?

Kruse notes that “some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities.” So instead of dealing with this problem directly by increasing funds to ensure that all public schools are properly supported, we’re going to just forget about that and send the money to private schools instead? Why are we sending tax money to private and religious schools if we aren’t even able to fully fund our constitutionally mandated public schools?

Kruse: The decision about what school to send your children to is a challenging one for every parent. Choosing not to attend a public school, for most parents, is an opportunity to select the best fit for curriculum for their children.

Me: I’m glad he mentioned the curriculum. Why should taxpayers provide funds for schools that teach religion instead of science or history? Should taxpayers fund students’ field trips to the Creation Museum? What about schools whose curriculum materials “whitewash slavery” saying things like, “The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well”?

Should tax dollars go to schools that teach religion? The Indiana Constitution (Article 1, Section 6) says “NO.”

No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.

In 2013, despite the Constitutional restriction, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state voucher program. They were wrong.

Kruse: While I support school vouchers, I also strongly support public education. Indiana’s total state budget designates 61% of funding toward education. 50% of the budget is directly utilized in k12 education, for an annual budget of $9 Billion of the total annual state budget of $18 Billion…

Me: Again, the money he’s talking about includes money for private schools and charter schools which he votes to increase every year. Indiana Republicans always, always say that “more than 50% of the budget goes to education.” That’s true, but hidden in that more than 50% is the money, taken off the top, for private schools. That money should be going to public schools, because the state constitution mandates a system of public schools. It says nothing about supporting a system of private, religious, or privately run schools. Indiana, indeed, no state in the country, can afford to fund three separate school systems (public, charter, and voucher).

Kruse: Accordingly, this legislative session we are currently working to draft the budget proposing an increase to school funding by $438 million. This proposal would result in an approximate $800 raise for teachers over the next two years. I will support this increase and any opportunity to raise public school teacher salaries.

Me: I’m all for increasing Indiana’s teachers’ salaries. Indiana teachers’ salaries have dropped by around 15% (when adjusted for inflation) since 2000. The amount that Senator Kruse notes, though, isn’t enough. With another $800 a year, the average salary for Indiana teachers would still be less than all the surrounding states. Now, if he means to increase the salary by $800 a month (for the 10 month school year), that would put the teachers just slightly below where the Governor’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, said we needed to be. Finally, and once again, that $438 million increase to school funding includes voucher increases!

Kruse: I am committed to finding ways to support the education of Hoosier students at both private schools and public schools. I believe that school vouchers do not contradict public education. Instead, I believe that parents should have the ability to send their children to the school of their choice.

Me: I know he is committed to finding ways to support private schools. I can’t think of one voucher bill that he’s voted against since 2011.

The truth is that school vouchers DO harm public schools. Public dollars should go to public schools.

Period.

💲🚌💰

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Filed under IN Gen.Assembly, Privatization, vouchers

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football

After a decade of bashing public schools and public school teachers, Indiana “reformers” ought to be pleased with the results. The state’s teacher shortage is likely to continue because of low salaries, constant disrespect of professionals and their organizations, and the punishment of public schools unable to solve the social and economic problems of the state.

Just 1 in 6 Indiana college students who study education become teachers, report finds

Indiana schools have struggled to fill vacancies in recent years as a strong economy created jobs in other industries. Teacher pay in Indiana lags behind that of neighboring states and behind salaries of other professional careers — a problem that has attracted attention from politicians and advocates on both sides of the aisle.

Promised a raise by Governor Holcomb (see here, here, and here), teachers are still waiting while the Governor continues to mark time. The lack of salary increases is contributing to the problem.

A little over a year ago Holcomb approved pay raises for state employees of 2%-6%. He excluded teachers, of course, instead deferring to the Teacher Compensation Commission whose recommendations for an increase to an average of $60,000 he then proceeded to ignore.

Yes, the pandemic has caused economic problems for the state, but the Governor is still promising, yes, promising to raise teachers salaries. Eventually, he said, Indiana “will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay.” So teachers will get their hopes up and continue to wait. Think: Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football…

Meanwhile, the supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) is doing what they have done annually since 2011…diverting public tax money from the state’s constitutionally mandated public schools to increase the church and state merger in the form of private and parochial school vouchers.

Responding to the continued disrespect of teachers, and the consistent move towards privatization, Avon Community Schools Superintendent, Scott Wyndham tweeted,

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Could more money help attract young people to a career in education? Perhaps, but it won’t happen if the supermajority in the legislature has anything to say about it. If passed by the IGA, one-third of this year’s increase for education will go to the 5% of students who don’t attend public schools. Until we stop moving public money to religious institutions, we’re not going to be able to attract new teachers (or fully fund public schools).

Governor Holcomb has joined with the Republicans in the state legislature to shrink the pool of Indiana’s qualified teachers. Without an incentive to seek a career in education where will our future teachers come from?

🚌💰🚌

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Filed under Holcomb, IN Gen.Assembly, Privatization, TeacherShortage

Don’t Punish the Students!

TESTING, TESTING, TESTING

Anyone who has been paying attention to education news knows that the Biden administration has, at least at the time of this writing (Mar 2, 2021), refused to cancel the required federal testing for this school year despite the pandemic and despite Candidate Biden’s promises to the contrary. In her blog, Diane Ravitch reminded us…

The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.

[Note: Cardona was confirmed on March 1, 2021]

If you’re interested, surf the internet to find other stories about how Biden has broken this particular promise…but that’s not the purpose of today’s blog post. I’m more concerned about how the results of the tests will be used.

THE PURPOSE OF THE TESTS

What’s the purpose of the state standardized tests?

Since the state tests were instituted, they have been used by privatizers to illustrate how public schools in the United States are “failing.” The truth is, however, that the tests mostly measure family income, and the concept of “failing” American schools is a myth.

During No Child Left Behind, state standardized tests were given to rank schools to determine which were worthy of praise and which were worthy of punishment. “Failing schools” — i.e. those schools with high levels of poverty which regularly scored lower on standardized tests — were punished with closure, state takeover, and replacement of staff.

During Race to the Top, the test was used to do the same as during No Child Left Behind but added “failing teachers” to the punishment list. Tests were (and in some places, still are) invalidly used to evaluate teachers. Those teachers who taught in “failing schools” were deemed to be “failing teachers” and would be subject to job loss or other punishment. In addition, Arne Duncan’s Education Department virtually abandoned so-called “failing schools” and emphasized opening charter schools.

The Every Child Succeeds Act, which we’re currently living under, has eased some of the punishments (it eliminated the requirement to evaluate teachers using state tests, for example), but the tests are still required every year in grades three through eight.

The educational reasons for testing include (but are not limited to) things like the diagnosis of students’ learning and analysis of curriculum, but there are a pile of other issues with standardized tests, however, that make their value questionable.

THIRD GRADE PUNISHMENT

One of the more damaging uses of standardized tests has been to determine whether third graders’ reading achievement is sufficient for them to be promoted to fourth grade. Currently about two-dozen states and the District of Columbia have laws that either require or allow for the retention of third-graders who fail a standardized reading test.

Third graders should be retained, the argument goes, because reading is different in fourth grade. In the primary grades, one learns to read. Beginning in fourth grade one “reads to learn.” While this might be true, depending on a school’s curriculum, there’s no evidence that retaining kids in third grade helps.

In a recent blog post, Peter Greene, at Curmudgucation, discussed another argument for third-grade retention. That is, that third graders who read well have a better chance of graduating from high school. Therefore, if we have third-graders who don’t read well, we need to retain them in third grade until they do…

…”Double Jeopardy” ties third grade reading proficiency (more or less as defined by NAEP) to high school graduation as well as tying both to poverty.

Without getting into too detail, the report finds that students who are not reading proficiently in third grade are more likely not to graduate, students who are poor for at least a year are less likely to graduate, and students who are both are even less likely to end up with a diploma. Black and Hispanic students who lagged in third grade reading skills were also less likely to graduate.

As Greene points out, they’re confusing correlation with causation.

Hernandez has identified correlations, not causations. Research might well show that third grade shoe size is a good predictor of adult height, but it does not follow that making third graders wear bigger shoes, or making them stay in third grade until their feet are big enough, will lead individual students to grow taller, nor raise the average height of adults.

Retention in grade based on the state standardized test, or for any reason, is a remediation method that doesn’t do what it purports to do. The “additional time to learn” argument has been disproven by the fact that after two or three years any academic advantage to retention disappears. Most students who are “behind” when they are in third grade are “behind” when they get to high school.

Retention in grade has been studied for more than a century and it has yet to be proven to be an effective method of helping students improve. At worst, retention increases the chance that a student will drop out of high school. At best, retention doesn’t do permanent damage to a student’s mental and emotional health.

Studies with the strongest research methods compare students who were retained with similar students who were not retained. They ask whether repeating a grade makes a difference in achievement as well as personal and social adjustment over the short run and the long run. Although individual studies can be cited to support any conclusion, overall the preponderance of evidence argues that students who repeat a grade are no better off, and are sometimes worse off, than if they had been promoted with their classmates.

TESTING DURING A PANDEMIC

You’ve probably noticed that the world is in the midst of a global pandemic. As such, schools have been closed, opened, closed again, half-open…in short, trying to find workarounds in a sometimes futile attempt to educate their students.

Some students have been on a hybrid schedule…in school part-time and at home part-time. Some students have been at home, working from a computer, for an entire year. Other students have been “lost”; their school systems have been unable to locate them. Parents often have difficulties juggling the online education of more than one child with their home and work responsibilities. Everyone wants students back in school. Students. Teachers. Parents. Everyone.

Given the problems associated with school over the past year, what do you think this year’s Spring standardized tests will show?

It’s absolutely likely that more students than usual will score below state cut scores on their achievement tests this year. It’s further likely that those students who are the most vulnerable will score the lowest. How will those test scores be used?

  • Will more students be subjected to retention because they “fell behind” during the pandemic?
  • Will state Departments of Education fail to adjust cut scores (because those cut scores are usually arbitrary choices) so that fewer kids “fail” the tests?
  • Will states continue grade retention practices despite the challenges to curriculum expectations during the pandemic?

“Yes” answers to any of the above questions are what worry me about giving this year’s mandated tests, because pro-privatization states (aka Republican-dominated) will no-doubt use the results of the tests to bad-mouth public education and public school teachers. They’ll blame the teachers unions (indeed, they already are), the Democrats, or local school boards for the low test scores. They’ll use the low scores to pass even more anti-public education bills that divert public dollars into the accounts of religious schools and charter operators. They will renew their accusations of “failing schools” and demand more “accountability” while ignoring real factors leading to low student achievement.

Instead, let’s…

Cancel federally mandated standardized tests for this year (and next year, and the next…). They don’t help and they’re a waste of time and money.

Provide resources to schools and teachers so they can meet the needs of their students. Let teachers…the education professionals…make educational decisions, not legislators.

And here in Indiana, divert public money for education back to public schools for a change.

📊📝📓

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Filed under Pandemic, retention, Testing

2021 Medley #4 – Indiana Still Hates Public Ed

School “reform” in Indiana
In April of 2019, I wrote,

This year, just like in the past, the state of Indiana, ruled by one party with a supermajority in the legislature, has worked to disrespect public schools and public school teachers. The only way to fight this, aside from the daily grind of contacting legislators about every single damaging piece of legislation, is to elect people who don’t hate public schools and public school teachers.

One would think we’d be able to get the teachers, themselves, on board with this

Sadly, nothing has changed and my fellow Hoosiers, including many of my former public school colleagues, continue to send the same anti-public education folks to Indy. In this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly the Republican supermajority, like Republican legislators across the country (see here, and here, for example) are doing everything they can to damage the public schools of the state.

They are attempting to divert more money for the state’s already expansive voucher program…despite the studies that have shown that vouchers don’t improve education. They will likely succeed. The state, of course, hasn’t looked into the success or failure of the voucher program because it is no longer about “saving poor children from ‘failing schools’, the reason the program was begun in 2011. Now, it’s just about “choice.” This means that private schools get to choose which students they want, and once the new bill passes the Indiana Senate (which it likely will), those students will be more likely than not, white, and not-poor.

The objections from public education supporters have been loud and strong, but the supermajority doesn’t care or need to listen.

Do the voters in Indiana (again, including many public school teachers) even know what the General Assembly is doing to our system of public education? Is Indiana so fiercely partisan that its citizens are willing to give up its public schools because their “tribe” wants it to? Ninety percent of the state’s children attend public schools (94% if you include so-called “public charter schools”). Why do we keep electing the same anti-public school state legislators?

2021 INDIANA GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON EDUCATION

Indiana voucher plan could take 1/3 of school funding boost

The Speaker of the Indiana House said that the state should “fund students, not school systems.” Unfortunately, he is ignorant of the Indiana Consitution which requires the legislature to fund a “uniform system of Common Schools.”

From the Associated Press

More than one-third of the proposed state funding hike for Indiana schools could go toward the state’s private school voucher program under a Republican-backed plan that could boost the program’s cost by nearly 50% over the next two years.

The estimated $144 million cost for the voucher expansion and a new program allowing parents to directly spend state money on their child’s education expenses is included in legislative budget projections — but is more than double what House Republicans discussed in releasing their state budget plan last week.

How Indiana has cut funding for students in poverty, hurting urban schools

Over the past few years, the state has cut into any extra funding for high poverty school systems because…economic segregation, racism, greed, political expediency…choose one or more.

From Chalkbeat, Indiana

Even though the state boasts an increased education budget each year, Indianapolis Public Schools receives $15 less per student today in basic state funding than it did seven years ago.

That’s because IPS’ gains in funding for each student have been eaten up by a sharper decline in state support for students in poverty, district officials say.

In recent years, Indiana lawmakers have prioritized across-the-board increases for schools over support for disadvantaged students, favoring budget strategies that buoy more affluent districts while higher-poverty schools say they’re left without enough resources to serve disadvantaged students.

Commentary: Money, mouths and education reform

My local Senator told me (and a small group of public education advocates) a few years ago that the Senate was tired of all the “reform.” He indicated that we needed to evaluate what we’ve done before we do more. That hasn’t happened and he has gone along with the continuous increases for “reform.”

From By John Krull in TheStatehouseFile.com

The self-proclaimed education reformers make it sound as if their efforts will have nothing less than a transformative effect on schools and students, improving scores and performance at an astounding rate.

The evidence suggests, though, that they just do not believe that.

If they did, they would be compiling evidence that students in voucher and charter schools were doing much, much better than their counterparts in traditional public schools. They would be testing the students receiving state funds to study in settings other than traditional public schools and the educators teaching them to build their case that choice works.

That the education reform movement works.

But they don’t do that.

At almost every stop, they take measures to make sure their plans and programs cannot be tested, cannot be assessed, cannot be held accountable.

And they do this while insisting traditional public educators and schools be held to rigid standards of accountability.

Former state superintendents united in their opposition to voucher expansion bills

For the last hundred and sixty-plus years, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has been elected by Indiana voters. The last two Superintendents (one Democrat and one Republican) have spoken out against education privatization. That was enough for the anti-public education legislature. They decided that they couldn’t take a chance any more on the voters choosing someone who might disagree with them, so they changed the law and the new “Secretary of Education” is, along with all but two members of the State Board of Education, appointed by the (also Republican) governor. The other two state board members of appointed by the leaders of the House and Senate (also Republican).

Neither the Indiana Secretary of Education nor any members of the State Board of Education are elected. Apparently, Indiana’s legislature doesn’t want to give the voters a say in education matters. The state’s voucher program, which currently costs the state more than $170 million each year, was instituted in 2011 by the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly without the benefit of voter approval.

The following letter from three retired State Superintendents speaks loudly, though the supermajority doesn’t really care about what they have to say.

From Suellen Reed Goddard, Glenda Ritz, and Jennifer McCormick in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Education Scholarship Accounts will divert adequate and equitable funding from public school students and open the door to unacceptable practices. Hoosiers all lose when children are not well educated and public tax dollars are not accounted for responsibly.

In Indiana communities, public schools have been and will continue to be the hub for vital services supporting the well-being of the whole child. Passing HB 1005, SB 412 or SB 413 would divert significant money away from public schools, enhance the opportunity for a lack of oversight related to the intended educational purpose of such funds, further exacerbate insufficiencies tied to Indiana’s teacher compensation, and increase the risk to student growth, proficiency and well-being…

Vouchers undermine education for all kids

I disagree with this writer. I don’t think that the supermajority hopes “no one notices” what they’re doing to education. I think they don’t care since they can do whatever they want.

The concept of “common good” is all but gone.

From Robert Stwalley in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

The Republican supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly is attempting to quietly gut public education and hope no one notices…

School choice advocates would have you believe that money should follow the child because this platitude is simple and seems to make sense on the surface. However, this is completely untrue and detrimental to the overall concept of a tuition-free public school system.

Taxes are collected from everyone to support government activities. Public schools are government entities designed to improve society by providing a practical education for the young citizens of tomorrow. Everyone is better off with an educated populace.

If you need more evidence that the Republican majority hates Indiana’s public education, here are some more. There’s still a chance that the State Senate will reject the increase in vouchers and the development of Education Savings Accounts, but I don’t think the odds are very good of that happening. I hope I’m wrong.

Our Opinion: Failing grades for Indiana voucher expansion bills

Viewpoint: Three bills would do harm to public schools, Indiana’s economy

Lawmakers need to choose schools over ‘school choice’

Teachers Singled Out in Indiana Union Membership Bill

An Opposition Letter from Public School Supporters to Members of the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Holcomb

🚌🚌🚌

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Filed under Article Medleys, IN Gen.Assembly, Privatization, vouchers