Posted in Public Ed, Testing

Talking Education: Educate Yourself

Brian Langley is an award winning secondary-level science teacher in the Detroit area. He began teaching, as most of us did, with the intention of making a difference in people’s lives.

The day I officially changed my college track from dentistry to education, I ventured into Barnes and Noble and perused the shelves devoted to my new major. I switched to education for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of young people, though I admit a small part of me wanted to play a role in “saving education” as well. I stared at the rows of books realizing I had little idea what needed to be saved let alone how to save it.

Scratch any teacher and you will likely find someone who wants to change the world…one child at a time. We want to make a difference. We want to make an impact on how people live, how they think, and how they view learning. Most importantly, we want to change our students’ lives for the better so they can grow up to be happy, productive citizens.

For the next decade and then some I focused squarely on improving my classroom. Like so many teachers, I cared about the world of education swirling around me but the demands of the classroom occupied my time.

It’s likely that most public school teachers in today’s America are aware of the battle over education being fought in the legislatures, media and corporate offices. It’s a battle between those who want to preserve America’s public schools as a public good and those who want to fundamentally transform it through corporate control, privatization and the imposition of the “business model.” Other conflicts have sprung up as side issues of the debate — unions, testing and standards, teaching methods, teacher training, poverty, public sector workers/pensions, and the whole drive to privatize the public sector.

Educators, those who are actually practicing the trade, have been mostly left out of the conversation. The art of teaching…the science of teaching…has been analyzed, discussed and dissected by billionaires, pundits, politicians and media moguls, and rarely are actual teachers involved. Think about who gets the most media time in the education discussion…a Harvard dropout, the businessman mayor of the nation’s largest city, a secretary of education with no education training or experience…millionaires (or billionaires) all. Why is that?

Part of it, of course, is money and power. Money gives credibility to those with none. Most businesspeople would only hire credentialed attorneys, CPAs, financial managers, or physicians to take care of their personal business and personal health needs. Nationally, however, power is important…and money buys power.

For most teachers, though, the wider debate over public education is a distraction from their daily mission which is to provide the children under their care the best possible classroom experience they can construct. Teachers are frankly too busy and too worn our from their daily quest for the perfect classroom or perfect lesson to be bothered by the seemingly irrelevant debate going on around them. Their focus is , and should be, on helping their students succeed.

Lately, however, teachers have been feeling the effects of the outside world creeping into their profession — and by lately, I mean, the last 20 years. The status quo is no longer the professional public school teacher designing curriculum, teaching lessons and helping children grow as much as they can. Over the last 20 years the status quo in education has been, and continues to be, a standards-based test-and-punish curriculum, where the quest for success has been replaced with the quest for survival and real learning is sacrificed for test prep and triangulating assessments. The average classroom teacher has found herself overwhelmed by the amount of testing and paperwork needed to justify and prove her worth as a professional, and demoralized by the time it takes just to keep up.

Our teachers are drowning in a sea of standards and testing, scripted curricula and increasing class sizes, accusations and blame. Is it any wonder that many of them have neither the time nor the energy to fight back against the billions of dollars worth of insults and abuse hurled against them as a profession?

Imagine the frustration you would feel sitting at a Saturday evening social gathering listening to your friends and/relatives talk about the poor quality of teachers these days, those union thugs running schools for the benefit of adults not children, and the greedy teachers getting thousands upon thousands of dollars in salary, benefits and pensions. Imagine having spent the last week (weekends included) — 50-60 hours — struggling with behavior issues, academic issues, and the immense quantity of paperwork in the form of papers to grade, reports to fill out and parent contacts to be made. Imagine how angry you would feel after spending several hundred dollars of your own salary to stock your classroom with items that the school system couldn’t supply because of budget cuts. Imagine all that…and then imagine how you would feel if you didn’t know how to respond because you had spent most of your waking hours working rather than watching politicians and college-drop-out billionaires spout off about how easy teachers have it…how much money they’re making…and how they’re doing things all wrong.

Brian Langley describes his response…

Consequently, even after a decade in the teaching profession I still found myself inadequately prepared to intelligently talk about the state of education with similarly uninformed family and friends. After one of those uncomfortable talks I began a personal quest to decode the confusion of public education for myself. It has been a revealing three-year effort keeping up with blogs, deconstructing documentaries, highlighting books, examining reports, and bouncing ideas off colleagues. I have found public education more complicated than I had expected; certainly more nuanced than what is presented in most magazine articles and TV specials.

What did he discover?

What follows are five lessons I think I know now and think you should know before engaging in your next conversation on American education.

The lessons he provides are simple on the surface, but, like lesson #5, need to be looked at more deeply to really understand them. He offers both the surface treatment as well as deep understanding, complete with references to back up his assertions.

When Talking Education: Five lessons to inform conversations

Lesson #1: Americans think the nation’s public schools are troubled, just not the public schools their kids attend.
Lesson #2: The U.S. has never led the world on international exams.
Lesson #3: We are not a country of average students.
Lesson #4: Teachers are the most important school-related factor, though out-of-school factors matter more.
Lesson #5: Nothing in education is simple.

Some quotes and comments…

Lesson #1: Americans think the nation’s public schools are troubled, just not the public schools their kids attend.

Did you know that only 19% of Americans give our nation’s public schools a grade of A or B? Did you know that when grading schools that their children go to, 77% of Americans give their local schools a grade of A or B? How can we account for that discrepancy?

We know that the perception of the nation’s public schools as a whole undoubtedly involves information gathered from outside sources: news reports, documentaries, political discourse, etc. The parental perception of local schools, on the other hand, relies heavily on personal experience. This data therefore delivers an encouraging correlation: The stronger one’s relationship with the public school, the more favorable one’s opinion. This data challenges the current national message portraying the education cup as not just half-full but practically empty. When it comes to their local schools, most Americans simply aren’t buying the message. They apparently experience something considerably more positive, though their optimistic perspective remains largely absent from the national dialogue.

Lesson #2: The U.S. has never led the world on international exams.

How important are international exams? We’ve always trailed other nations on those tests, yet we’ve had great success as a nation. Is it only because our leaders are products of private schools like the aristocracy of the 18th century?

[Note: 8 of the 17 American presidents of the last 100 years (Wilson through Obama) attended public high schools. 7 attended private schools and 2, Harding and Hoover, never attended high school. Harding skipped high school and started college at age 15, and Hoover earned his way into college through night school.]

…the U.S. has managed to secure its international role as an economic, political, and innovation leader without leading on international exams. Nearly 50 years have passed since our mediocre showing on the FIMS exam; during that time we have continued to produce test scores trailing other nations, all along warning that these test scores pose a threat to our national future. Yet 50 years of American prosperity have failed to support such a correlation.

Lesson #3: We are not a country of average students.

…the U.S. actually produces more high achievers than any other OECD country in math and reading. The numbers aren’t even close. In math, the U.S. produces nearly as many high achievers as the next two countries combined (Japan and South Korea). In reading, the U.S. produces more high achievers than the next three countries combined (Japan, South Korea, and France)…

In the big picture, we are a big nation (with over 316 million citizens, the U.S. is the OECD’s most populous country – roughly 2.5 times greater than second place Japan) with a globally substantial number of high achievers and a regrettable number of low achievers. Of course, there are plenty of students in between as well but it is from the extremes that we derive our achievement gap; a gap decidedly correlated to socio-economic status. This socio-economic impact is not unique to urban or rural schools but is true throughout the country. Anywhere that there is a child with a lower socio-economic status, that child has a high chance of being a low- achiever.

Lesson #4: Teachers are the most important school-related factor, though out-of-school factors matter more.

Out of school factors account for 60% of a child’s achievement. It’s time to hold the rest of the child’s environment accountable, too. Teachers don’t mind being accountable for what they do, but (1) non-genetic prenatal influences, (2) inadequate medical care, (3) food insecurity, (4) environmental pollutants, (5) family relations and family stress and (6) neighborhood characteristics exert their influence as well. (see http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/PB-Berliner-NON-SCHOOL.pdf) Policy makers and politicians who allow America’s child poverty rate to be among the highest in the developed world need to be held accountable.

…the consensus from research indicates that out-of-school factors play a far greater role in student achievement than do school-related factors, with teacher quality recognized as easily the most significant of the less-impactful school-related factors. Herein resides a number of lessons. First, we should be willing to admit what should already be obvious – learning does not merely take place in the vacuum of classrooms but rather accumulates through the continuous interactions of daily life. The classroom may be a concentrated effort towards educating, but a life’s education continues beyond the classroom walls so much so that the out-of-school environment proves most responsible for achievement in-school. Unfortunately, some of the current reform dialogue ignores out-of- school factors or even labels such factors as mere excuses. Research, on the other hand, seems to support acknowledging out-of-school factors and working on out-of-school strategies that could lead to more in-school success.

Lesson #5: Nothing in education is simple.

…not in the United States at least. US teachers spend more time teaching and less time collaborating and planning. States with strong teachers unions have the highest test scores. Value added results vary widely from year to year. Research shows that teacher merit pay schemes do more damage than good.

…misconceptions…abound among educators and policy makers as well.

In his Conclusion, Langley expressed satisfaction about his ability to converse about public education intelligently.

Today I feel more competent discussing the state of American education, though part of this competency includes accepting that every time I learn something new, a door opens revealing an unexpected roomful of data and arguments to humbly study. I am encouraged that parents generally approve of the service provided by public schools, that other countries see qualities in our students they would like to foster in their own, and that many of our students possess these qualities while also producing high scores on international exams. While accepting these positive messages, I recognize the tremendous challenge in meeting the needs of our struggling students, especially those with lower socio-economic backgrounds. I realize this is a complicated matter involving in-school and out-of-school factors, and without a single solution. Alas, nothing in education is simple. The five lessons presented in this paper offer a foundation for shifting the national narrative on education towards one of perspective and poise. The education of our children warrants as much.

~~~

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

~~~
Stop the Testing Insanity!
~~~
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Posted in Chicago, CTU, Emanuel

Rahm’s Chicago

I went to Rogers School in Chicago from kindergarten through eighth grade — a public school. In the fall of 1962 I started attending Sullivan High School in Chicago — a public school. I graduated in June, 1966.

What’s happening in my home town today saddens me. Neither of the schools I attended in the 50s and 60s is going to be closed, but the rest of the story throughout the city is not so positive. The Mayor and his wealthy friends seem set on doing away with the city’s public school system.

Emanuel has orchestrated the closing of 50 schools and the removal of 3500 public school employees. I’d say that the closings and layoffs are part of a small person’s retribution for embarrassing him with a strike late last year, but the sad truth is the closings and layoffs were probably planned a long time ago. The money saved by the cuts to staff and buildings is being redirected to privatizers. In addition, while the city’s school system is being starved by the mayor, plans for a multi-million arena for DePaul University continue, paid for in part by the city.

Emanuel hasn’t talked openly about the plan, but an alderman on the city’s board told CBS that the plan, which includes hotels attached to the city’s convention center at McCormick Place, was about fostering economic growth. “Sometimes you have to make an investment in city resources to be able to generate tax dollars,” Ald. Pat Dowell said.

How about investing in the city’s students and future citizens…instead of a college basketball team that wants to “recapture its glory days”? The basketball team is from a large private, Catholic, university. I wonder why “The Church” can’t afford to support the basketball programs of its large universities. Could it be that the city’s support of private and corporate charters is now spilling over to post-secondary education?

Here’s a sampling of what’s coming out of Chicago…

See the list of schools closing, a map showing where they are located, and information about the population of students at each school.

Take a look at the map…look at how many schools are being affected from the areas with “Below 10% of households living in poverty.” You’ll see that there are just 2, Chappell Elementary and McPherson Elementary. How are they being affected? They aren’t closing…they are “receiving schools” which means that they are schools which will receive children being shuffled from closing schools.

The cutbacks are being foisted on the schools, neighborhoods and families most in need of stability.

CPS continues its attack on teachers, students and public schools by laying off 2,085 more educators

After you read this, go right to the next article below. Read about the opening of charter* schools to replace the closed public schools. Read about increasing Teach For Awhile America contractors to the tune of $1.5 million to replace experienced career educators.

The mayor is being dishonest. He should have just said,

  1. “We want to close our current public schools, and then reopen them as charters. The education won’t be any better, since charters and regular public schools are pretty much equal, but this way the money goes to our friends.”
  2. “We want to fire experienced teachers who get paid more so we can hire new, inexperienced, poorly trained teachers for a pittance.”

His children, by the way, will still get to go to their school at the University of Chicago…small class sizes, the arts, physical education, science labs, libraries, highly qualified degreed teachers…

“As the CTU continues to lobby the Board of Education to restore these jobs, remarkably CPS refuses to agree to a hiring freeze. It makes no sense to hire new people as the district lays off veteran teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians, many of whom have excellent and superior ratings.

Chicago School Closings And The Joyce Foundation: The Obama Connection

The President is backing his friend, Mayor Emanuel. The big money is here…

Most recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel oversaw the closing of 50 public schools, many of which will be replaced by charter schools. A bulk of the 550 laid-off teachers will be replaced by Teach for America contractors, many of whom teach in charter schools.

What You Need to Know About CPS Budget Cuts

CPS finished the most recent school year with a surplus of $344 million. And then closed 50 schools and laid off thousands of teachers because they couldn’t afford them.”

Rahm’s Plan: Another 2,000 Teacher Layoffs

“The Raise Your Hand Coalition (RYH) is disgusted to learn that Chicago Public schools has laid off another 2000 teachers and staff, bringing the total number of layoffs for the year to 3500. This news lies in stark contrast to the ongoing CPS rhetoric to minimize any impact of budget cuts on the classroom. Now CPS is claiming that there will be “winners and losers.” Even if a few schools have been spared from these widespread and severe cuts, we believe that there are only losers in this scenario.

Gang expert Hagedorn warns federal judge to stop Chicago school closings

Children will die because Rahm Emanuel doesn’t know how to run a city or a school system.

John told Judge John Lee that it’s not a question of whether there will be shooting in neighborhoods kids must walk through. He says shootings are happening now. He adds school closings already are prompting gang Facebook postings warning students to stay away.

CPS fired my friend Xian Barrett and 2112 others.

Here’s just one example of how a school system fires 3500 teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff.

Why the principal called his emergency contact instead of his primary number, he isn’t sure. But when Barrett returned the message his mother relayed from his principal, he was read the script thanking him for his service — but pink-slipping him.

“The fact that there’s a script and it has in it, ‘Thank you for the service to the kids’ but no details — the fact that it’s always done this impersonally. It’s not just about firing. It’s how CPS treats their students. They’re interchangeable, and the relationships in their lives are interchangeable,” Barrett, 35, told the Sun-Times Friday. It went better, though, than the first time the district laid him off in 2010, when the principal — who also called his mother — went right into the script.

“The principal laid off my mom,” said Barrett, recipient of a prestigious and national U.S. Department of Education Teaching Fellowship, and a tenured teacher of law and of Chicago history at Gage Park on the Southwest Side. His law class typically spent Monday mornings with a triage of cases kids brought to him that friends or relatives were involved in.

Why your tax money keeps going down the TIF portal hole

As you’ve probably heard me mention before, if it weren’t for the TIF program, more than half that money would go to the public schools—which, the mayor claims, are so broke he had to close 50 of them a few weeks ago.

The mayor sent out a press release Friday morning congratulating himself for creating the portal and claiming it “will help the city focus programs on job creation and economic development.”

Right on, Mr. Mayor—jobs are good!

Alas, within hours of the good news, word broke that the mayor was firing about 2,100 CPS employees—including more than 1,000 teachers—in the latest, largest round of budget cuts. That’s on top of the 600 teachers he fired last month as part of the school closings.

So much for job creation. You know, Mr. Mayor, you make it hard for anyone to be a cheerleader.

In the meantime, the mayor’s moving full steam ahead on his plans to spend $55 million in property tax funds for a basketball arena for DePaul and a new hotel.

Sweet Home Chicago? Not if you have children in the public schools.

IMAGES OF THE FIRST 20 SCHOOLS ON THE CLOSE LIST

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.

~~~

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

~~~
Stop the Testing Insanity!
~~~
~~~
Posted in NAEP, National Rdg Panel, Personal History, read-alouds, SSR

I Learned to Read on the #82 Bus

LEARNING TO READ

After I got married (beginning 3 days after, as a matter of fact) I rode the #82 bus every day from Bryn Mawr and Kimball to the Ravenswood “El” (now the Brown Line) station at Lawrence Avenue. From there it was a 40 minute ride downtown to the Loop and my job at Carl Fischer Music at 312 South Wabash Avenue in Chicago. The full trip was about an hour…and it was during the 2 years I worked at Carl Fischer and made that trip daily that I finally “learned to read.”

I could read before that. I had an Arts and Sciences degree from Indiana University (IU) and had been reading books, novels, short stories, and non-fiction for most of my life. I don’t remember when I learned to read in elementary school, but I was never a very good student. There were other things getting in the way of my learning, and reading was a chore. I could do it, but I always had trouble focusing on what I had to read. I had trouble remembering what I read…characters, plot…it all went in as I read, but dissipated almost immediately. So I didn’t really “learn to read” until I started riding public transportation, the CTA, to downtown Chicago every day.

One of my co-workers was a voracious reader and he got me in the habit of writing down the name of a book and its author in a little date book whenever I finished reading it. The first few months I only read a couple of books, but after a while, with two hours a day devoted to reading I made quick progress.

I read more, faster, and with greater comprehension and clarity than I ever had before. I also started reading books which had been more difficult for me…books by people like Dickens, Hesse, Proust, and Thomas Mann. I remember the latter especially. I had tried reading Buddenbrooks when I was in college, but found it to be too long and drawn out…too boring. In other words, too hard. But after a few months reading for two hours on the CTA I picked up a copy of Mann’s Magic Mountain and thoroughly enjoyed it. I followed that with Joseph and His Brothers. Years later I was amazed when I picked up my copy of Joseph and found that the first paragraph in the introduction ran for several pages, and the language was once again, too hard for me to handle.

But during those two years I read and enjoyed so many great novels…like The Lord of the Rings and Pickwick Papers. Some of the books (like the Tolkien) I had read before, but not deeply. I hadn’t retained what I had read…I missed a lot. I hadn’t really enjoyed them. By the end of the two years I had read dozens of classics and popular novels and had understood them and actually had fun reading.

What was different? I hadn’t gotten smarter in the two years since I graduated college. What I had done, though, was to practice reading every day for two hours a day.

SUSTAINED SILENT READING

That lesson stuck with me and when I started my post graduate work in pursuit of my teaching certificate I pounced on Sustained Silent Reading.

Earlier this month I wrote about how important it was to read aloud to children…at home and at school. In Reading Aloud: Still the Most Important Part of Reading Instruction I mentioned how Dr. Madden introduced me to reading aloud and it became the basis of my reading program from my first day in the classroom. He also introduced me to Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), and with the reinforcement I got from my own experience on the CTA in Chicago, as well as Jim Trelease, I used both reading aloud and sustained silent reading every day.

Trelease wrote,

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; the more you know, the smarter you grow.

Sustained Silent Reading is, according to Jim Trelease, “read aloud’s silent partner.”

Among the many purposes of reading aloud, a primary one is to motivate the child to read independently for pleasure. In academic terms, such reading is called SSR— sustained silent reading. Take a book, a newspaper, a magazine, and enjoy it! No interruptions for questions, assessments, or reports; just read for pleasure.

The best thing about it is that SSR works, too.

“Wait,” you say, trying to remember the staff inservice you went to 12 years ago, “didn’t the National Reading Panel report that SSR didn’t work?”

No. They didn’t. For a complete treatment of the National Reading Panel’s coverage of SSR read the following…then come back. I’ll wait.

The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge

At first SSR programs were designed to show students that reading could be fun…and didn’t have to be connected to school, a test, or a goal of some sort. Reading was good in and of itself. Writing in Educational Leadership, Steve Gardiner wrote,

The primary goal of silent reading programs has always been to increase students’ enjoyment of reading. Researcher Janise Arthur (1995) investigated the connection between sustained silent reading programs and attitudes toward reading, with special attention to aliterates— those who can read but choose not to. She found several studies that correlated daily reading opportunities with improved attitudes, which in turn produced other benefits.

Studies of children in kindergarten, primary, and middle grades who have demonstrated a voluntary interest in books were not only rated to have better work habits, social and emotional development, language structure, and overall school performance, but also these children scored significantly higher on standardized reading tests. (p. 2)

Sustained silent reading programs do more than improve students’ attitudes toward reading. Studies show that students who enjoy reading also read more books and develop better skills in reading comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary.

Trelease goes a step further. He talks about “summer setback.”

…the at-risk child’s summer includes a home without books, magazines, or newspapers, and without adults who read avidly; no car by which to leave a dangerous neighborhood; no bookstores or convenient library; a daily routine in which the child seldom encounters new people, new experiences, or new vocabulary, thus there is no growth in background knowledge; and little likelihood that educational or informational TV or radio will be seen or heard.

So it’s important to build that habit of reading “for fun” during the school year.

Jimmy Kim’s study of 1,600 sixth-graders in eighteen schools showed that the reading of four to six books during the summer was enough to alleviate summer loss. He further noted that when schools required either a report or essay to be written about a book read during the summer or that parents verify the student had read one summer book, this greatly increased the chances of its being read.

[See: Jimmy Kim, “Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk ( JESPAR) 9, no. 2 (2004): 169– 88. See also Debra Viadero, “Reading Books Is Found to Ward Off ‘Summer Slump,’ ” Education Week, May 5, 2004.]

The results from the latest NAEP progress report (The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress) are also clear. Reading for fun helps.

Results from previous NAEP reading assessments show students who read for fun more frequently had higher average scores. Results from the 2012 long-term trend assessment also reflect this pattern. At all three ages, students who reported reading for fun almost daily or once or twice a week scored higher than did students who reported reading for fun a few times a year or less…

The NAEP data reported a decline in the number of students who read for fun. In NAEP’s Solution to Flat Reading Scores: “Read for Fun” Educator’s Room author, Colette Bennett tries to figure out why — technology, television, whole language vs. phonics debate — whatever the reason, she says,

The sad truth is that there was plenty of research by 1995 to support a focus on independent “reading for fun” in a balanced literacy program…Yet seventeen years later, as detailed in the NAEP report of 2012, the scores for 17-year-old students who read independently for fun dropped to the lowest level of 19%.

Ironically, these authors are assessment experts, data collectors, who have INCLUDED a strategy that is largely anecdotal, a strategy that can only be measured by students volunteering information about how often they read.

A POWERFUL COMBINATION

Now you know. Reading aloud to children helps improve their vocabulary, introduces them to language they wouldn’t normally hear in their daily lives, and increases their interest in books. Sustained silent reading gives them an outlet for that interest…and an increase of reading “for fun” improves students’ reading achievement.

Reading aloud and SSR are much more effective learning tools than test prep or drill and kill…and they’re more fun.

~~~

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

~~~
Stop the Testing Insanity!
~~~
Posted in Anthony Cody, poverty

Anthony Cody: “It’s Poverty Not Bad Teachers”

On June 4, I wrote,

The point is, of course, that the link between achievement and poverty is not in doubt. We know better. The “new data” linking lower achievement with poverty just supports the “old data” linking lower achievement with poverty.


IT’S POVERTY

Now, Anthony Cody, author of EdWeek’s Living in Dialogue Blog adds his voice (click the title to read the entire article. You should!).

Poverty is what’s crippling public education in the US—not bad teachers

…reformers [have] advocate[d] that we:

  • Test students more often…
  • Eliminate barriers to firing the “bad teachers”…
  • Create new evaluation plans that give significant weight to “value added” measures…

…new data shows that in the three large urban school districts where these reforms have been given full rein, the results are actually worse than in comparable districts that have not gone this route.

Some of the key findings…

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

Most importantly:

  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.

Here are some other people saying the same thing…

WHERE’S THE ACCOUNTABILITY

…for the politicians and policy makers who have allowed so many of our children to grow up in poverty?

…for the Bush team who saddled us with NCLB based on the falsely named Texas Miracle?

…for the Obama team who saddled us with Race to the Top based on Arne Duncan’s failed Renaissance 2000?

…for the Bloomberg team in New York City and the Emanuel team in Chicago? Close schools, fire teachers, shuffle children around no matter what it does to them?

…for all the “reformers” who are privatizing education and starving the nation’s public schools?

NOTABLE QUOTES

From Susan Ohanian

“We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” -— Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

“There are two major factors preventing teachers from being even more effective: (1) The high level of child poverty in the U.S., 23.1 percent, second among high-income countries; children who are hungry, have poor health care and little access to books will not do well in school regardless of teacher quality. (2) The unreasonable demands of the Common Core: a tight, inflexible curriculum that crushes creativity, designed by elitists with little idea of what goes on in classrooms, and a massive amount of testing, more than we have ever seen on this planet.” -— Stephen Krashen, Seattle Times, Jan. 11, 2013

“16.4 million children living in poverty in this country. Solution: Blame the schools and take away teacher benefits and bargaining rights.” -— Susan Ohanian, Twitter, Sept. 14, 2011

“The relationship between poverty and all kinds of academic achievement is one of the best-established and most replicated results in all of educational research. People keep “rediscovering it” and politicians keep ignoring it, or tell people to ‘stop whining’ (Rod Paige).” —- Stephen Krashen, e-mail, Aug. 10, 2011

“Let’s blame
(1) teachers
(2) schools of education
(3) the decline of the US
(4) lack of a national education program
(5) parents.
But not
the real culprit:
POVERTY.”
-— Stephen Krashen, March 22, 2011

I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don’t get it…It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty. We don’t teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities…” —- Paul Karrer, Education Week, Feb. 2, 2011

“Thousands of studies have linked poverty to academic achievement. The relationship is every bit as strong as the connection between cigarettes and cancer.” —- David Berliner, Our Impoverished View of Ed. Reform, Aug. 2005

“For many critics, teachers have become the villains in the wealthy elite’s panic over educational accomplishment and foreign competition. But teachers don’t cause financial meltdowns, home foreclosures, climate change, or hurricanes. And they don’t invade countries or outsource jobs. Teachers don’t cause mind-numbing conditions of poverty that limit children’s ability to learn. However, teachers are the ones asked to cope with the poisonous effects of poverty. Why? Because most of society doesn’t give a damn.” —- Richard Gibboney, in Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality by Bracey

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in 1000 Words, books, Legislatures, Perseverance, reading, Teaching Career, theArts, WaltonFamilyFoundation

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – July 2013

Here are some pictures, graphic images and cartoons from around the net — plus my own 2 cents worth of comments. Click on any image to see the full sized version.

Where is Your Money Going?

The Walton Family Foundation is just one of the billionaire’s clubs currently funding the destruction of public education.

This is for the millions of public school teachers who shop at Walmart…just so you know where your money goes…

When Billionaires Become Educational Experts

Current reforms are allowing certain individuals with neither scholarly nor practical expertise in education to exert significant influence over educational policy for communities and children other than their own…

Who’s involved? Who are they connected to?

John Walton: …assisted in the creation of the right-wing advocacy group Alliance for School Choice.

Carrie Walton Penner: Penner, who graduated from a private boarding school and attended two elite universities, sits on the boards of the KIPP Foundation (to which the Walton Family Foundation recently gave $25 million) and the California Charter Schools Association…

Greg Penner: Greg Penner, Carrie Walton Penner’s husband, is on the National Board of Directors for Teach for America, and is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a “non-profit venture capital fund” investing charter in schools.

Alice Walton

Walton is a registered voter in Texas. She registered in the state in June 2008…

…Alice Walton was the top individual contributor to winning state legislative candidates in the 2010 elections that put [Wisconsin] Republicans in control of the state government. Under the first budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-majority legislature, funding for public schools was cut by $800 million over two years, while funding for programs that funnel public money to private schools increased by $17 million over two years.

Marchers denounce Walton Family Foundation for undermining Chicago’s public school system

The Walton family, the richest family in America and heirs to the Walmart fortune, have given millions of dollars to initiatives which strip money from public schools, including nearly half a million dollars in support of Chicago Public Schools’ proposed school closures. Meanwhile, in 2012, the family spent $3.8 million—more money than they spent in any other city—opening new charter schools. The vast majority of the schools closing in Chicago serve low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, leaving many of these areas without neighborhood schools.

Art, Music and PE

The overuse of testing has squeezed the arts and physical education out of many school programs. Here’s a great comment.

Do More With Less

It’s not just budget cuts — it’s time cuts as well. Teachers are required to spend more and more of their time “teaching to the test” which reduces time spent on other things like read aloud, free silent reading time, history, civics and government, science, current events…

Teachers are being told what to teach, how to teach it, when to teach it, then being punished because students aren’t successful…

Where is Accountability for Policy-Makers

Legislators and politicians, who have never set foot (or allowed their children to set foot) in a public school make the rules and then blame schools for not performing miracles. Think about the statistical impossibility of No Child Left Behind’s requirement that, by 2014, 100% of students will be proficient on achievement tests. They make it harder and harder for public schools to operate, and for public school teachers to teach and then punish the schools for not doing more with less.

Where’s the accountability on our politicians and policy makers? Why aren’t they held accountable for the enormous level of child poverty in America?

Get Inside Someone Else’s Brain

…on the value of reading and books…

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” — Marilyn Jager Adams

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” — Walt Disney

Don’t Give Up

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Article Medleys, Common Core, Corp Interest, poverty, Privatization, Stephen Krashen, Teach For America

2013 Medley #15

Poverty, Common Core,
Corporate “Reform, Privatization

POVERTY

Krashen: To the editor

Stephen Krashen has been saying the same thing over and over again. He consistently includes research to back up his comments.

Poverty matters. When you control for poverty our students test scores are among the best in the world. It’s time the “reformers” listened.

But the major reason for our unspectacular school achievement is our level of child poverty, now 23%, the second highest level among 35 “economically advanced” countries (23.5% in California). Poverty has a devastating impact on school performance. When we control for poverty, American students’ test scores are near the top of the world.

Control for poverty: Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. http://www.epi.org/).

“There is no evidence standards and tests have improved student learning: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1).

OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18.

“Strengthening food programs, increasing health care, providing more access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.

Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is The Library Important? Multivariate Studies at the National and International Level Journal of Language and Literacy Education: 8(1).

Child Poverty in New Mexico

Because of the Richardson tax cuts for the rich, which contributed to a significant loss of state revenues, the state Human Services Department was one of those in six states in 2011 that cut income support benefits to try to balance state budgets on the backs of the very poor. When adjusted for inflation, New Mexico “benefits” have declined 31 percent in real dollars since President Clinton signed welfare reform in 1996.

Goodbye Big Brother, hello local control … maybe

Schools with high numbers of students living in poverty don’t need inexperienced teachers, crowded classrooms, leaky roofs, or poor resources…they need more to help fight the effects of poverty. It appears that California is beginning to understand this…

California proposes to address poverty by, well, addressing poverty.

Indeed, the LCFF reform shifts the conversation back to a focus on the extra resources and support that low-income students and English Learners need to succeed. And rather than shutting down low-performing schools first and asking questions later, LCFF proposes to send schools that have high concentrations of low-income students even more resources.

CCSS

Common Core Assessments: More Tests, But Not Much Better

The Common Core is untried. No one knows how it will effect children’s education, yet, nationally we’re dumping all our eggs into the Common Core basket.  Fairtest has a warning…

  • More grades will be tested, with more testing per grade.
  • Lured by federal funds, states agreed to buy “pigs in a poke.”
  • The new exams are a mixed bag, only marginally better than current tests.
  • High-stakes misuses of test scores remain unchanged, extending the damaging effects of NCLB.
  • Companies with poor track records will design, administer and score Common Core exams.
  • Poor districts will have to cut instructional staff and other basic services to divert money to testing.
  • Enormous amounts of time will be wasted.

America’s children, teachers, parents, communities and the nation deserve better. High-quality assessment can improve teaching and learning and provide useful information about schools. Examples of better assessments include well-designed formative assessments (FairTest, 2006), performance assessments that are part of the curriculum (New York Performance Standards Consortium), and portfolios or Learning Records (FairTest, 2007) of actual student work. Schools can be evaluated using multiple sources of evidence that includes limited, low-stakes testing, school quality reviews, and samples of ongoing student work (Neill, 2010).

CORPORATE “REFORM”

Doctor for America to Debut This Fall

It’s easy to spot this as a spoof because everyone understands that being a doctor takes years of training. Why don’t we see that it’s the same with teachers? Why do people who have never worked in schools consider themselves experts at education? Why do we think that young college graduates with only 5 weeks of training can counter the effects of a lifetime of poverty?

“These people in the poorest communities in America have scandalous health care. The statistics show that they are dying at a far greater rate from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and injuries. We think the most talented kids in America, those from the elite schools like I and my friends attended, can solve this problem.”

DFA doctors will be placed in emergency rooms, surgery theaters, oncology clinics and throughout the hospital to provide immediate care. They will receive a summer training before starting their rounds and will take some classes in evenings and on weekends.

Kopp scoffs at the idea that doctors need rigorous and extensive training. “Ninety percent of the things doctors do are routine. Computers spit out the data, you can Google the diagnosis. What’s the big deal?”

Meet the Teach for America Resistance Movement That’s Growing From Within

Some TFA critics are seeing a resistance movement growing.

Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs.

The Anti-Equality Movement

This is an important piece. We are recreating a two-tiered system of education…for the haves and the have-nots.

Our national focus has shifted so completely to educational quality that there is no one minding the store of educational equality.

Let us imagine, for the sake of this commentary, that today’s reform movement is completely successful in carrying out the fullness of its agenda. Let’s imagine that Diane Ravitch and all the concerned teachers who listen to her are whipped into submission and stop resisting the glories of reform, that Michelle Rhee finally proves that her principals didn’t cheat to get higher test scores in Washington, D.C., and that Arne Duncan and Barack Obama stop wavering on their reformer principles by talking about things like universal pre-K, and get back to cheering the mass firings of public school teachers like in the good old days.

Wealthy men who now shed crocodile tears while talking about “the civil rights issue of our time” will clink champagne glasses with the business elites who propped them up and together they will celebrate their coup–a permanent reduction in the dollars taxed against the rich to pay for the secular education of poor and middle class children, and a permanent tuition subsidy for the religious and private education of the children of the meritorious haves.

When Joel Klein and Condi Rice Accused Public Schools of Endangering National Security

Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Education, called America’s teachers (specifically those in the NEA) “terrorists.” Joel Klein and Condi Rice said that public education is endangering National Security. Klein spent his years in New York working to create the very two-tiered education system he describes…but now blames public education.

Klein advocates more testing, merit pay through “value-added” evaluations, more charter schools and vouchers as “innovative” reforms. There is little or no research to support any of them.

Klein blames the current economic quagmire on public education. He writes that we used to “have a successful middle class,” but “that’s changed markedly since 1980.” Klein says “we’re rapidly moving toward two America’s –– a wealthy elite and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.” His answer to the problem? The market, since “markets impose accountability.” A person would have to be moronic to make – or believe – such a claim.

PRIVATIZATION

Chicago Teachers Union’s Battle Against Privatization Opposed By Conservative Philanthropists

The Windy City is is undergoing a tumultuous historical moment, with the uprising of the Chicago Teachers Union occurring alongside the ongoing restructuring and privatization of the Chicago Public Schools system.

Most recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel oversaw the closing of 50 public schools, many of which will be replaced by charter schools. A bulk of the 550 laid-off teachers will be replaced by Teach for America contractors, many of whom teach in charter schools.

“Statewide enrollment in charter schools has surged from 6,152 students in 2000 to 54,054 this school year — with most of them in Chicago — according to the Illinois State Board of Education,” an April Chicago Tribune editorial explained. “The first charter school in Illinois opened in 1996. Now there are 132 campuses operating under 58 charters.”

False Choice: Wisc. Private Schools Are Happy To Take Tax Money But Don’t Want Certain Students

Some private schools want taxpayers money without the responsibility of educating all children. Instead of giving vouchers to schools who say, “I’m sorry, we’re not equipped to deal with your child’s problems,” we need to reserve public money for public schools and provide places where all students can receive a free, appropriate education.

Unfortunately, all of the rhetoric in the world doesn’t do you any good when it comes to vouchers because you don’t really have the choice. The private school does. Many of those schools will simply choose not to admit your child.

Some parents in Wisconsin are learning that the hard way.

WisconsinWatch.org, a project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, recently took a hard look at vouchers in the Badger State, specifically how students with learning disabilities and other challenges are faring in private schools.

The answer is not too well – because the private schools taking part in the voucher program mostly refuse to serve them.

More school vouchers offered

Private schools can reject students with disabilities, saying “we’re not equipped to handle your child’s learning problems.” Tax dollars are being drained from public schools, which are required by law to take every child and provide a free, appropriate education for them. Public schools don’t have the option of saying, in effect, “your child is too expensive to educate, so we don’t want him.” That’s not competition. That’s simply taking tax money from public schools and giving it to private schools.

Peters said Queen of All Saints can handle some special accommodations, such as allowing students extra test time or having to read a test to a student. But she said the school doesn’t have the staff to provide one-on-one learning and “that gap was difficult for us to fill.”

…Wiley predicts most of the increase in the program this year will be from this new provision, as opposed to the larger-scale exodus from public to private schools in the last two years.

“The largest migration is over,” she said. “We’ve had the voucher program for two years and we are starting to see that choice has provided competition and forced everyone to up their game,” she said.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Chicago, Public Ed

The Schools America’s Children Deserve

SOME HOPE IN CALIFORNIA?

While “reformers” throughout the country starve public schools (especially those most in need of extra services) by transferring money to private schools through vouchers or to corporate board rooms through charters*, California has a new law that takes us back to a time when we actually made an attempt to help students who needed help the most.

California to spend more to educate poor, non-English speakers

It would provide school districts with a base amount of $7,537 for each child annually – $537 more than Democratic Governor Jerry Brown had originally proposed.

On its own, that’s considerably less than many states spend per child. But under the new plan, school districts would then get more for each child who lives in poverty or does not speak English well. Still more would go to districts that have high concentrations of these students.

Money doesn’t solve all the problems by itself. It must be spent wisely. One of the things about the “increase” in school funding in a lot of places, or the “huge amount of the state budget directed at public education” in some states is that the money is being spent on testing and test prep materials. The students don’t get the full benefits of increased revenues…but the testing industry does. The new California law, however,

…also gives local school districts more control over how they spend the $55.3 billion that the state expects to allocate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Yes, local control is coming back to California. The Reagan/Republican rallying cry throughout the 80s for local control faded away from the public education discussion, making room for the profit motive.

It’s true that some local school boards might spend their money no more wisely than the state did, but, at least in the case of elected school boards “the people” have the right to change things.

WHERE THE MONEY SHOULD GO

In the fall of 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike. The strike as publicized by the media was about three main things.

  1. The length of the school day.
  2. Teacher evaluations being tied to student test scores (frequently misnamed, “pay for performance”).
  3. Closing schools (many of which get reopened as charter schools) and job losses.

The strike was about more than that, though, which is why nearly 90% of the teachers voted in favor of the strike.

The striking teachers also wanted to call attention to a number of education issues, particularly what they defined as a broad attack on public schooling by corporate privatizers. In particular they demand a decrease in high-stakes testing for students, and an increase in music, art, and gym programs available at public schools. They also called for smaller class sizes and paid preparation time.

The CTU published a 10 part research based proposal to provide Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve (Read a summary or the complete document which includes references to research).

The ten items are a good place to start for any school system and include the following,

  1. Recognize That Class Size Matters. “Reformers” who send their children to private schools with class sizes in the teens understand that class size is important. If it’s important to the wealthy, it’s important to everyone.
  2. Educate The Whole Child. All children should have opportunities for recess, physical education, decent meals, and the arts. All schools need a library staffed by professionals.
  3. Create More Robust Wrap-around Services. Today’s schools need to have counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists on staff or available.
  4. Address Inequities In Our System. Like California, it’s important to recognize that not all students come to school ready to learn and that extra resources are needed. In the past, schools with high numbers of at-risk students were given less instead of more — less experienced teachers, poorer physical facilities, less materials. In Chicago, more than 150 schools had no school library.
  5. Help Students Get Off To A Good Start. All students need access to quality pre-school and early childhood education. Children don’t usually develop academic problems in third grade. Academic and social difficulties begin before students enter school.
  6. Respect And Develop The Professionals. Teachers need to be paid for the work they do and at a rate commensurate with the amount of training they receive. They need time to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. No other profession is micromanaged like teachers. 
  7. Teach All Students. Programs should be provided for students for whom English is a second language and students who have special physical or academic needs.
  8. Provide Quality School Facilities. “No more leaky roofs, asbestos-lined bathrooms, or windows that refuse to shut. Students need to be taught in facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.”
  9. Partner With Parents: Parental involvement is important…and it should be nurtured and encouraged.
  10. Fully Fund Education: These things cost money. Using scarce economic resources for standardized tests and test prep materials is just plain wrong. “There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve.”

What does it take for “reformers” to understand that changing a school’s location, administration, or staff, won’t change the effects of poverty, violence and national neglect?

Melissa Harris-Perry had this to say to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Dear Mr. Emanuel, Chicago needs a mayor fighting for them.

…let’s be honest Rahm. Your reasons for closing those 50 schools doesn’t quite hold water. You’ve said reassigning students from closed schools to higher performing schools is intended to make sure every child can get a quality school with a quality education, but the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago’s Schools research found no demonstrable improvement for students when their schools are closed. In fact, in the short term, the stress and anxiety of being displaced actually causes students to perform even worse academically.

As for the need to close that billion dollar budget deficit…funny how that need is pressing only when it comes to schools in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods and not when you’re using taxpayer dollars to build a $100 million basketball arena for DePaul University.

…the people of Chicago need a mayor who’s a fighter. But one who’s fighting for them. Not against them.

There’s no such thing as a failing public school…only a failing social and governmental environment surrounding it.

NATIONWIDE

Every student, in every public school in America deserves a fully funded, appropriate education in a well-maintained facility with well trained professional educators. We, as a nation, owe it to ourselves to do this for our children and our future. The California law providing more resources where more resources are needed is a good first step. Let’s hope California politicians, school board members, administrators and teachers read The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve instead of spending the extra money on more test prep.

For an interesting discussion about the correlation between how much is spent on public education and its effect on achievement you might be want to read…

Analysis: How Much States Spend on Their Kids Really Does Matter

Analysis shows little to no correlation between education spending and student achievement

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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