2021 Medley #9 – Culture War, Teacher Shortage, and NCTQ Fails

The CRT Wars,
Teacher shortage? Blame the legislature,
NCTQ Fails again


Critical Race Theory has faded somewhat from the national news as local school boards work to pacify (and protect themselves from) folks who think it’s the end of the world as we know it. On the other hand, it’s still alive in state legislatures either through bills passed, bills introduced, bills planned, or lawsuits filed. The fact that CRT isn’t taught in probably 99% of U.S. K-12 public schools doesn’t matter…any more than the fact that masks and vaccines are effective tools against COVID-19 matters (odd how many of those who fight against CRT are the same folks who fight against masks and vaccines). It’s all political now and one’s “tribe” determines what position one takes.

In order to defeat what they claim is Critical Race Theory, the right wing has edited and expanded its definition. Anti-CRT theorists claim that it encompasses Social Emotional Learning, Marxist indoctrination, and anti-racist brainwashing. They believe that it encourages segregation, racism, and is anti-Christian and anti-American. In other words, anything that the religious right wing has been against for decades. They don’t want to accept the truth of American history (See the US Constitution, Article 1, Section 2, and the Declaration of Independence. See also the failure of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, red-lining. The list is endless).

If CRT means teaching the truth about both the positive and the negative parts of American history, then I’m all for it. Americans should be mature enough to acknowledge our failings and work to correct them. “If nonwhite students are old enough to experience racism, white kids are old enough to learn about racism.” — Frances McGovernor

Why choice won’t solve the CRT panic

School choice won’t solve our social issues, no matter what the privatizers say.

Some choices are not healthy.

We have seen the use of school choice to avoid conflict before. After Brown v. Board of Education, lots of folks decided they had a problem sending their white children to school with Black students, and they “solved” that conflict by creating schools that let them choose segregation. When it comes to the current CRT panic, there may well be some schools that have gone a step too far with their anti-racist work (though–plot twist–those schools keep turning out to be not public ones). But an awful lot of the panic is fueled by folks opportunistically whipping up some good old-fashioned white outrage over encroaching Blackness, and we’ve been here before.

Some choices are not good for the country. We do not benefit from having a bunch of white kids taught that slavery wasn’t so bad and the Civil War was just about state’s rights. We do not benefit from having students taught that science isn’t real. We do not benefit from having students taught that Trump is really still President and 1/6 was just some unruly tourists. And we so very much don’t benefit as a society from schools that segregate both students and content based on race. Not all possible choices should be available.

The culture war over critical race theory looks like the one waged 50 years ago over sex education

We have all been here before.

…cynical political operators have weaponized…anxiety. Turning to the Nixon playbook, they’ve brought the culture war to the schools, knowing that the wedge will drive deep when it comes to children.

Families often know only the broad contours of what is being taught in classrooms, and that makes them vulnerable to claims that young people are being exploited, manipulated, or indoctrinated. So it should come as no surprise that public education is a ripe target for politically manufactured controversy.

The irony, of course, is that our schools may be the best place for learning how to live together across our differences. Given the withering of public life in America, they may even be our only such place. If we turn on each other in the schools, where else can we hope to make ourselves a nation?

Opinion: Students need to learn about the haters and the helpers of our history

Students need to learn the full story — the haters and the helpers — and years from now, looking back on this moment too, they should know that a group of hesitant scolds tried to keep America’s schools from addressing the forces of racial bias and white supremacy that have shaped almost every aspect of American life.

Their effort to sweep away an uncomfortable history is like trying to step out from under the sky. Go ahead and try. In the end, you can’t escape.

Nikole Hannah-Jones just proved the correctness of critical race theory

Here’s an example of how Critical Race Theory is right about the racism embedded in our society.

2017 MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner, Nikole Hannah-Jones was insulted and disrespected by the University of North Carolina. They offered her what would normally be a tenured position, but neglected to include the tenure. They backed down after she exposed their actions. They relented and finally offered her tenure. You might ask why on Earth would she want to work at a University where she wasn’t treated like white professors offered similar positions?

She wouldn’t…and doesn’t. She declined the “Ok-we’ll-let-you-have-tenure” offer meant to appease her, prevent a lawsuit, and end the bad press. She has since accepted a position at Howard University.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, and the epic failure of the University of North Carolina to recruit the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to its faculty, just proved the correctness of critical race theory. The controversial legal doctrine has been vilified by conservatives but, as this episode illustrates, it also challenges those liberals who worship at the altar of “diversity.”

According to some leading critical race theorists, integration — the traditional progressive route to racial justice — does not actually work for minorities. In this view, white supremacy is so embedded in most American institutions that people of color will never be accepted as equals — even when they are formally granted entry.

UNC demonstrated that point after its journalism school offered Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, a prestigious professorship. The MacArthur “genius” learned that her initial appointment would be without tenure. She said she knew of no “legitimate reason” why “someone who has worked in the field as long as I have, who has the credentials, the awards, or the status that I have, should be treated different than every other white professor who came before me…”


Survey Says: Lawmakers the top reason Michigan teachers are leaving the profession

Read this; Academic freedom for teachers is as important as money. This is why there is a national shortage of people who want to go into education. Who will teach our grandchildren…and their children. “Public Education is a promise we make to the children of our society, and to their children, and to their children.” — John Kuhn

“The survey results are telling us that [teachers] even perceive that there’s a lack of support from parents and the public,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public-School Academies, on a Zoom call discussing the results. “Empowering teachers in the classroom ranked roughly the same as educator compensation. Think about that for a second.”

“Teacher retirements are up 44% since August of 2020,” added Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association. “Too many educators are leaving, and not enough people are following in their footsteps…ultimately we end up with a generation of learners that is unprepared.”


NCTQ: “The data was effectively useless”

The National Council on Teacher Quality reports on schools of education by looking at their course syllabi rather than doing the hard research needed. Read more about them and their pro-privatization agenda HERE.

You can count on two things with the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) releases one of their “reports.”

First, media will fall all over themselves to report NCTQ’s “findings” and “conclusions” without any critical review of whether the “findings” or “conclusions” are credible (or peer-reviewed, which they aren’t).

Second, NCTQ’s “methods,” “findings,” and “conclusions” are incomplete, pre-determined (NCTQ has a predictable “conclusion” that teacher education/certification is “bad”), and increasingly cloaked in an insincere context of diversity and equity (now teacher education/certification are not just “bad” but especially “bad” for minority candidates).


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America – Exceptionalism or Ignorance?


We’re used to ultra right-wing, anti-intellectuals screeching against schools teaching real science.

School boards, individual parents, and state legislators argue against teaching accepted science such as evolution, safety during the pandemic, and climate change. Indiana, as one of the reddest of the red states, is no slouch in that regard. For example, the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund have published a report, Making the Grade: How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change. Indiana rated a D which may be a surprise because it’s too high. Why isn’t it an F?

One reviewer commented…

“Interestingly, there is a good deal of focus on science and engineering solution-oriented perspectives, and this is why I scored the ’there’s hope’ section higher. This … focus could be very effective if it was used to address and ideate climate adaptation and mitigation solutions.”

Notice the “if.” So, despite the poor showing for Indiana, “there’s hope,” though I doubt I’ll live to see a positive outcome.


The current insanity over Critical Race Theory has added history and social studies to the mix.

Many of the same science-denying activists and legislators who are trying their best to “protect” American school children from climate change, public health efforts, and evolution, are now trying to “protect” students from actual history which doesn’t always present the “American Experience” in a good light.

Instead of teaching children that the freedoms so eloquently described in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should be taken as goals, not reality…that such freedoms were not available to women, native people, and hundreds of thousands of Africans and their descendants enslaved throughout the entire country, they want us to focus on “American Exceptionalism” — that the USA is somehow God-ordained to lead the world morally as well as militarily. Somehow, if we hide the ugly side of our history it will be ignored and forgotten.

Apparently, they don’t want the next generation of Americans to learn…

  • that the founding fathers included slave holders
  • that Reconstruction ended when white supremacists in the former Confederacy decided that formerly enslaved people shouldn’t have the right to vote despite the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments
  • that racism existed in the Union states as well as the South
  • that redlining was a thing
  • that Black veterans weren’t allowed to reap the benefits of the GI Bill
  • that the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s was fueled because of the racism of white supremacists
  • that we still need the 1965 Voting Rights Bill

Instead, their goal is to instill our children with “alternate facts.”

But if we hide the true facts the goal of of the Declaration and the Constitution will never be achieved.


Derek Black reported today that Texas is leading the charge to hide our history…

Texas Senate Passes Bill to Remove Required Lessons on Civil Rights Movements from Public School Curriculums

It’s amazing how out of all the things to spend endless legislative time and energy on, hamstringing teachers from talking about the messy parts of American history solely because it makes white people uncomfortable is what gets the most attention and the fastest action from Republican lawmakers.

Well, both that and also speedily passing restrictive voting legislature because it’s the only way Republicans can stay in power.

In fact, this bill on teaching curriculum is currently stalled in the Texas House of Representatives because House Democrats are in Washington D.C. advocating on behalf of equitable voting rights. This is all in opposition to a voting bill that would place more restrictions on the state’s already restrictive voting process.

There is a concerted effort on behalf of many Americans to hide the truth from our children…the truth about science, and the truth about our history. How “exceptional” can America be when we’re sending our children to school and encouraging them to remain ignorant?


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Filed under Anti-Intellectualism, CRT, History, Racism, Science

2021 Medley #8 – Learn from the past…or repeat it.

“If Black children are old enough to experience racism, then other children are old enough to learn about critical race theory.”


The latest attack on America’s schools is the false claim that we’re all teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) in some nefarious plan to indoctrinate children. You’ve probably seen or read dozens of articles over the past month or two about how school boards are being overwhelmed by patrons talking, debating, and shouting about the teaching of CRT in schools. You’ve probably noticed that states around the country have passed laws against teaching CRT in K-12 schools (with more being planned). If your interest was piqued, you might have even read one or two articles to discover what all the fuss was about…to explore what Critical Race Theory actually is.

And you might have seen or read about CRT in K-12 education through articles by Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene, Paul Thomas, Steven Singer, or others in the pro-public education blogosphere and learned that CRT is actually not being taught in America’s public schools…and there is no nefarious plan to indoctrinate children.

It doesn’t matter. Those who object to CRT (including their cable news allies) have redefined it to encompass anything that has to do with race, a Marxist incursion into K-12 education, a communist plot, or any number of other anti-American plots to indoctrinate our children. Even if CRT isn’t being taught in America’s K-12 classrooms, it is being rebranded as a danger to America.

The protests against the non-existent CRT threat come at the tail-end (hopefully — but beware, the delta variant) of the coronavirus pandemic…which, in turn, arrived at the end of the previous political administration. Are people more susceptible to conspiracy theories after four years of the Cult of Trump? Are parents so frustrated by the forced educational adjustments of the pandemic that they are exploding in rage at…anything? Are right-wing politicians searching for something to enrage “the base” to replace the declining interest and anger against caravans, Dr. Seuss, socialism, and other political manipulations?

For whatever reason, it’s apparently time to attack education — again.

Since most people share news articles without actually reading them, it’s possible that you haven’t read anything about Critical Race Theory but the headlines. If that’s the case (or even if it’s not and you just want more) then here are some interesting pieces about CRT…from sources you might not have seen before.


Shouldn’t we know what it is before we start protesting against it or supporting it?

Why Everyone Is Wrong About Critical Race Theory In Schools: A Very Special Clapback Mailbag

The Root is an online magazine of African-American culture launched by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Donald E. Graham. This article was written by Michael Harriot.

The problem with this controversy is that there is no controversy. In fact, there are more states who are trying to ban Critical Race Theory than there are schools that teach Critical Race Theory. To understand why the conversation over CRT is stupid, we decided to dismiss the most prevalent assumption about this hot topic.

…Critical Race Theory teaches that ‘America is a racist country’…

It doesn’t.

This assumption is driven by a misrepresentation of one of the foundational principles of CRT–that racism is “ordinary.” This doesn’t mean that every single white person is racist or that every institution in America is racist. However, this means that racism is so common in American society that it is “not remarkable.”

More from The Root
Why White People Hate Critical Race Theory, Explained

Critical Race Theory, Defined: Everyone talks about it, but let’s break down what it means

One complaint about CRT is that it “teachers” about “white privilege.”

If you’re like most Americans, you automatically assume that white people are those in power and non-white people are those being controlled. You have this narrative because you’ve been taught through media, experiences, and history that white people deserve to be in control of the United States and non-white people are forced to serve it. That is white supremacy.

Because we are all taught that white people are more deserving than people of color, that belief determines how our entire society operates. Who gets to live in safer housing with cleaner water and healthier food options? Who gets the loan to start their business or buy a house? After birth, which moms’ fears are listened to instead of ignored? Who goes to jail longer for the same offense and sometimes no offense at all? During a global pandemic, who is more likely to work safely from home versus risk their lives to service others?

All of these situations operate on the principle that white people deserve a better quality of life simply because they are white. It does not matter what disadvantages they may have. When it comes to who is deserving and who is not based on race, white people always come out on top. That’s where white privilege comes from.


Here are comments about the protests against CRT, laws against CRT, generalized fear of “anti-American” indoctrination, and denial that racism exists.

Late addition: Paul Thomas posted this on Independence Day: Republicans Adopt China’s Approach to Indoctrinating Students

While many conservatives and Republicans have tried to frame China as some sort of threat to the American way of life — notably related to the spread of Covid — the truth is that the Republican Party is practicing China’s indoctrination strategies across the country.

If you don’t want critical race theory to exist, stop being racist

Critical race theory didn’t make Black people critical of white supremacy, racism did. Our ability to create theories and write books — on critical theory or any subject — is a reflection of our rising power in this country. Critical race theorists reflect the analytic reasoning of the enslaved, those subjected to housing and employment discrimination, and basically any person who can see how inequitably privileges and burdens are distributed in the country.

Health policy researcher Ahmed Ali recently tweeted, “If Black children are old enough to experience racism, then other children are old enough to learn about critical race theory.” As long as there is racism, there will be Black people finding ways to understand and dismantle it.

So if you don’t want critical race theory to exist, stop being racist.

Partisan war over teaching history and racism stokes tensions in U.S. schools

Loudoun has been roiled for months by accusations that it has embraced critical race theory, a school of thought that maintains that racism is ingrained in U.S. law and institutions and that legacies of slavery and segregation have created an uneven playing field for Black Americans.

The school system says it is simply training teachers, the majority of whom are white, to be “culturally responsive” to serve the county’s increasingly diverse student population.

The tensions in Loudoun echo a larger battle playing out across the country. As Americans tackle racial and social injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year, several Republican-led states including Florida, Georgia and Texas have enacted new rules to limit teaching about the role of racism in the United States.

Here’s the truth behind the right-wing attacks on critical race theory

“…none of this is really about CRT,” James Ford told me in a phone call. Ford is a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year who currently represents the Southwest Education Region on the North Carolina State Board of Education and serves as the executive director of the Center for Racial Equity in Education.

“First, in these calls to stop the teaching of CRT,” he said, “there is no clarification of what CRT really is. There’s no argumentative critique of the actual concept.” Indeed, many of the bills don’t even mention the term.

The real target, Ford explained, is “divisiveness.” For the people who criticize teachers and promote these bills, Ford believes, there can be “no nuance at all” in discussing “matters of religion and customs and the values of rugged individualism and free-market ideology.” There can be no challenges of assumptions and no revising of long-standing mythologies about America and American society.

According to Ford, these people see education as a process about “making kids assimilate,” and “simply talking about a subject like pollution takes on a heightened sense of alarm about society being undermined.”


Applaud Juneteenth progress but not pushback on critical race theory: People who are deliberately robbed of their shared history are doomed to be manipulated by those in power, again and again.

Author Heather McGhee writes here about the relationship between CRT (or what people believe CRT to be) and our history of racism. She is the author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Check out her Ted Talk, here.

After generations of historical illiteracy, our country is beginning to own up to our collective inheritance on race.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday commemorating emancipation. But as we celebrate, a campaign is underway to keep our children ignorant of the more complex racial history that still shapes the country. From the halls of Congress to school boards, some on the right are trying to stifle honest education about racism and the ways it costs us all.

In recent weeks, former Vice President Mike Pence has said that systemic racism is a “left-wing myth.” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has tried to stop a Biden appointee in part because she is a fan of prize-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi, who writes about anti-racism. Conservative donors and political operatives are supporting this agenda as a way to stoke outrage among their base, hoping it will keep them activated for the 2022 midterm elections. It’s a political game, but with very real consequences for our children; millions of whom live in the four states that have rushed to pass bans on teachings about systemic racism in schools.


This is not the first time that right-wing politicians have used “culture wars” to mobilize their voters. Get the people riled up about an imagined “threat” to our “way of life” and win elections. We’ve been down this road before…many times.

This Critical Race Theory Panic Is a Chip Off the Old Block

This summer’s spate of state-level bills aimed at censoring the content of history teaching in public school classrooms—bills that have made much of the supposed double threat of “critical race theory” and the New York Times’ 1619 Project—might seem somewhat random. But in fact, conservative attacks like these on humanities curricula that discuss race and racism in the United States follow a long-established pattern.

First, right-wing fears are always more about a vague idea of the content of such curricula than about classroom realities. (In Indiana, suburban parents have been “angered” by the supposed presence of critical race theory, or CRT—typically a graduate-level elective offered to law students—in their schools, despite the fact that their schools do not teach it.) Second, because activists on the right view the schools as the grease that makes slopes slippery, they tend to use school curricula to talk about a host of related social issues. (Anti-CRT activists lump together everything they don’t like, from Marxism to Black Lives Matter to progressive education, and call it CRT.) And third, these battles have always been waged over the stories that get told about the American past, present, and future. In that sense, the angry right wing is correct: The stakes couldn’t be higher.

The ACLU on fighting critical race theory bans: ‘It’s about our country reckoning with racism’

A concerted campaign against efforts to address persistent racial inequality has consolidated under the watchword of “critical race theory” (CRT). Once a relatively obscure academic framework for examining the ways in which racism was embedded in US laws and institutions, CRT has been recast by rightwing activists as an omnipresent and omnipotent ideology, one that is anti-American, anti-capitalist and anti-white.

The campaign has been astonishingly effective. Legislation seeking to limit the teaching of CRT or related concepts has been introduced in 22 states in 2021, according to an analysis by the African American Policy Forum, a thinktank led by one of the founders of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas have all passed anti-CRT laws, and Florida, Georgia and Utah have passed resolutions. Legislators in Alabama and Kentucky have already pre-filed anti-critical race theory bills for the 2022 legislative sessions.

Heated political battles over education have flared up repeatedly throughout US history, according to Adam Laats, a professor of history and education at Binghamton University who said he was nevertheless “surprised by how many local and state laws are getting involved”.

Latts compared the anti-CRT movement to a “similar spate of confused outrage and legislative action” against the theory of evolution in the 1920s…


You’re a teacher in a state that has banned CRT…or banned any talk about racism. What should you do?

Teach history.

An Open Letter to American History Teachers: Stop Teaching “Critical Race Theory.”

…let the politicians have their way. Take “critical race theory” out of your lesson plans and just keep teaching American history.

This will require you to show students that racism has always been an ordinary and common part of everyday life in America. Teach them about the Middle Passage, the tobacco fields of colonial Virginia, the rice fields of colonial South Carolina, and the links between the happiness of Pennsylvania grain growers and the oppressive slave regimes on the West Indian sugar islands.

Introduce your students to the voices of enslaved writers and activists like Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriett Tubman, and Harriet Jacobs. These men and women have stories to tell that will reveal the daily racism they encountered in the antebellum South. As a history teacher, you know the value and the power of a primary source.

And don’t forget to examine the legacy of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Familiarize your students with redlining in American cities. Read the speeches of the civil rights movement. I know you are already doing this. But always remember: It will be hard for your kids to study these things in your American history class and not come away with the idea that discrimination is built into our institutions and legal codes.

Finally, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah posted this two-minute piece about CRT on their YouTube channel.



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Father’s Day 2021: A Reminder to Read Aloud to Your Children

An annual Father’s Day post…with updates and additions.


I read aloud to my students from the very first day I taught at an elementary school beginning in January 1976. I had caught the read-aloud bug from the late Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors. I had it reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children. [I’ve referenced Jim Trelease quite a few times on this blog.]

I read aloud to all my classes because reading aloud is simply one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us [emphasis added]

In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:

  • 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.

Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains…it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains…and, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:

  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model

Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their students become better readers.

My collection of Read-Aloud Handbook editions,
several of which have been signed by the author, Jim Trelease.


In the latest edition of his book (2013), Trelease devotes an entire chapter to fathers and reading aloud. He focuses on fathers reading aloud to sons because fewer fathers than mothers read aloud to their children, and sons are the ones, according to statistics, whose academic achievement could use the read-aloud boost. Obviously, this does not mean that fathers should not read aloud to their daughters. The point is to get fathers to read aloud to their children.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: CHAPTER 9: Dad—What’s the score?

In case you’ve been off the planet for the past several decades, let me bring you up-to-date on our boys and their school woes.

  • In a 2008 study of reading tests in forty-five states, the girls exceeded the boys at every grade level.
  • Unlike four decades ago, it is now common for girls to dominate a high school’s highest academic positions (valedictorian), class leadership positions, advanced placement spaces, and school activities. While the girls are assuming responsibilities, the boys are playing sports or video games.
  • For the first time in history, women exceed their male counterparts in most collegiate achievements, from enrollment and graduation to earning advanced degrees, and the gap is widening annually. About the only significant area in which males dominate in college is “dropout,” where they lead by a 3:2 ratio.

(And an excellent pamphlet with important information specifically for dads….Fathers, Sons and Reading)

Boys, Trelease says, need their fathers to read to them. The relationship between fathers and sons has changed over the years, and not necessarily in a good way. Over the last few decades, America’s “male” culture has been dominated by politics, sports, and television, and boys watch their role models carefully. Among those men in important cultural and political positions in America are abusers, racists, and misogynists. It’s more important than ever that fathers exert positive role-model influence over their sons.

The landscape of the American male’s attention span was being dramatically altered and boys were soaking up the changes.

“Is there a connection,” Trelease asks, between the “decline in boys’ interest and achievement in school and the behavior of the male culture?”

Can a father play catch in the backyard after dinner and still read to the child that same evening? Can they go to a game one day and to the library the next? You betcha.

The question is…do they? Do fathers take part in their children’s, and specifically their sons’, intellectual development? Reading aloud to your child is an easy, fun way for fathers to have a positive academic influence on their children.

Dad—what have you done for your son’s head lately?

Make a Father’s Day resolution. Read to all your kids every day.

Need more convincing? Check out the following online resources…


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Filed under Jim Trelease, Parents, read-alouds, reading

Alabama Joins the Third-Grade Punishment Club


Twenty-Eight states have some sort of third-grade retention law according to the outdated (4/16/19) Third-Grade Reading Legislation page on the National Conference of State Legislatures website. The laws state that third-graders must pass a reading test showing that they can read at “grade level” before they will be allowed to move to fourth grade. Most have exceptions for students who are identified as learning disabled, English language learners, or have some other “rational reason” for not being failed by the adults in their school or school system.

Alabama is listed as “pending” on the website but will go into effect in the 2021-22 school year. To warn parents that this is going to happen AL.com posted an article (on Monday, June 7) that explains what the new law will mean.

There’s a lot of discussion in the article about how teachers are now going to be giving struggling students extra support in K, 1, 2, and 3 (question: Isn’t this something that should already be happening?) to make sure they can pass the test in Grade 3. This has to be done, because, apparently in Alabama, fourth-grade teachers aren’t qualified to teach reading.

What parents need to know about Alabama’s third grade reading retention law

Teachers in fourth grade and beyond expect children to be able to read subject-level content and aren’t necessarily trained themselves in interventions.

“When they encounter struggling readers,” she said, “they don’t necessarily know how to teach students to read.”

This is followed by ways that “your child” can get around the law by retaking the test if they failed, being learning disabled in reading, an English language learner in the first two years of their language acquisition, or having already been retained at least twice in their primary grades (K-3).

Oh, and the early intervention will help the child so they don’t even know they were struggling.

But when a child’s struggle to read is identified early, as is required now by law, and the child gets the support they need early, the child never knows they ever struggled.

(This last point might actually be helpful for students if they could make it happen…that is until they come up against the third-grade test and have to search around for something to use to get out of taking it.)

And how is it that someone who has already been retained twice in the first four years of their formal schooling hasn’t been referred to special services? Perhaps it’s because the U.S. Congress has never paid what they promised for Special Education.

Surely the new law which requires “individualized reading plans” for struggling students in kindergarten, first, and second grade won’t have children who will need to be retained. Here’s the rub…teachers are now required to use the “state-approved” test on students instead of their own assessments. Alabama is joining the nationwide chorus denying that teachers have expertise in teaching. Accordingly, a teacher’s professional opinion about how a child is doing in their class isn’t as good as the result of the state-approved test.

And there’s this…Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee wants to one-up the states by retaining kids in second grade before they are retained in third grade because “third grade is too late.”

But I digress…


Common sense tells non-educators (and many educators as well) that, if a child is falling behind we need to give them a chance to “catch up.” Logically, letting a student repeat a year in school should be beneficial.

Unfortunately, education, the human brain, and young children don’t work that way. In studies going back decades, retention in grade has been found to have either no impact or a negative impact on a child’s achievement. Even studies that supposedly show a benefit to retention generally, upon closer inspection, show that without herculean efforts by the student and their teachers the child will still be behind.

The common sense is wrong.

As an example, here’s information from a 2014 study done by the researchers at Notre Dame.

New research suggests repeating elementary school grades — even kindergarten — is harmful

Common sense tells us that early retention is better than late retention. Are younger kids so much more resilient that they don’t really notice if they’re not promoted along with their peers? Most in-grade retentions in the U.S. are done in first or second grade. What did the researcher, Notre Dame’s Megan Andrews, find?

She looked at more than 37,000 children across the United States from two older multi-year surveys (NLSY 1979 and NELS 1988) and found that about 10 percent had been held back at school, most of them during the 1980s. The surveys included details of the family characteristics of the children. That allowed Andrew to create 6,500 matched pairs of students, where the retained and non-retained students had similar backgrounds. Their mothers had attained the same level of education and their families had the same household income. The students had scored the same on a pre-school cognitive test. (In layman’s terms, they started school with similar IQs). The matched students also had similar behavioral problems, as reported on the surveys. Home environment, gender and race were factored in, too. In other words, Andrew matched the held-back students with students who were equally “at risk” for being held back, but weren’t.

Then Andrew looked at whether these matched students eventually graduated from high school. And that’s where she found that the held-back children were 60 percent less likely to have graduated from high school than their matched “partners” who stayed on grade level. Andrew went one further to see if she could reproduce the results in a different way. Using the 1979 data survey, which included sibling information, she compared children who were held back with their siblings who weren’t held back. Again, she found the same result. Even in the same family, held-back kids were 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than their brothers and sisters. Astonishing!

Andrew acknowledges that held-back students often show a short-term boost in their grades and test scores, but she believes this boost “disappears” after just a few years. A sociologist by training, Andrew hypothesizes that being held back is so psychologically scarring that many students fail to regain their confidence in the long-term. In her paper Andrews argues that being held back is a one of the biggest negative events of a child’s life. “In surveys, students rank being retained in grade second only to a parent’s death in seriousness in some cases,” Andrews wrote.

The fact that this research generally backs up what others have found makes it all the more important that we end the practice once and for all. (see here, here, and here for three more examples. See my bibliography on grade retention, here.)


The question then remains, what do we do when students learn too slowly or can’t keep up with their peers.

One thing we can do is use the process described in the AL.com article. Introduce intensive intervention as early as possible for students having trouble. A helpful difference would be to 1) continue the process throughout the grades where it’s needed and 2) don’t punish students for not learning. When a student needs more than intervention supplies, increase it. When special services are necessary — and I would suggest that any school that retains children more than once doesn’t know how to identify children for special services — provide it. We have to stop punishing children with the inappropriate and inadequate intervention of retention because we’re not willing to spend the money to help them.

Oh, and every fourth-grade teacher that I ever worked with (during four decades in K-6 schools) knew how to teach reading or knew where to go for help. So did the fifth and sixth-grade teachers. If Alabama’s upper elementary teachers don’t know how to teach reading then there’s something wrong with the teacher training institutions in Alabama. My guess is that the people who claim that only primary teachers know how to teach reading don’t know what they’re talking about.

And who will be the children who are punished? Research into retention suggests that they will be mostly boys and mostly black. What is it about being a black male in America…but again, I digress.

We could, and probably should adopt some of the techniques used in high achieving nations for our own schools. Finland, for example, used research from the United States to improve its school system. We don’t.

Finnish educator Pasi Sahberg, along with Timothy Walker, an American who moved to Finland to teach, have written a new book titled, In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools. In it they discuss ways to help children who are struggling…they use special education.

Intensified support consists of remedial support by the teacher, coteaching with the special education teacher, and individual or small-group learning with a part-time special education teacher. Special support includes a wide range of special education services, from full-time general education to placement in a special institution. All students in this category are assigned an Individual Learning Plan that takes into account the characteristics of each learner and personalizes learning according to ability.


The Alabama attempt at this, using Individualized Reading Plans without additional support. The classroom teacher is supposed to take care of the whole thing. This is typical of the U.S. — We require more from teachers without providing more support. Our children aren’t a high enough priority for us to spend the money needed to assure their success.

We’re failing our children because we’re too cheap. Then we blame the student for learning at their own rate and punish them with retention. We are shortchanging our own future.


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Filed under reading, retention, Testing