Posted in Accountability, class size, Gadflyonthewall, Legislatures, NancyBailey, poverty, research, retention, Walsh

Who is Accountable?

RESEARCH-BASED EDUCATION

In the 1990s my school system demanded that our teaching be research-based. This was pre-NCLB, so the purpose had nothing to do with “the test.” Rather the goal was to make sure all teachers were using “best practices” for their teaching. I was reminded of this recently when I read this post by Russ Walsh…

Knowledge, Belief, and the Professional Educator

…as I have talked to teachers over the years about instructional practice, I have heard a lot of faith-based language.

  • “I don’t believe in homework.”
  • “I believe in phonics.”
  • “I don’t believe in teaching to the test.”
  • “I believe in independent reading.”
  • “I believe in using round robin and popcorn reading.”

For about 2,000 years doctors “believed” that blood-letting was an effective treatment for a wide variety of ailments. Today, I would bet if you encountered a doctor who recommended blood-letting for your flu symptoms, you would run, not walk, out the office door screaming. Science, and mounting numbers of dead patients, caught up with blood-letting. So, as professionals, we need to hold ourselves to the same standards. We need to follow the science and stop talking about our beliefs and start talking about the scientific research behind our instructional decision making.

Scientists understand that science isn’t static. It changes as knowledge increases. We know now that the Earth revolves around the Sun…that germs, rather than demons, cause disease… and that we had better find alternatives to our current energy sources before we choke the breath out of life on Earth. Our understanding grows. Our knowledge grows.

The same is true with learning. As teachers, our understanding of child development, pedagogy, and the impact of the outside world on our students must grow and change as our understanding of those concepts changes based on new research. We need to alter our presentation and adapt our instruction to incorporate new information and techniques as they become available.

A teacher who thinks she knows everything there is to know about teaching and learning will not be effective for long, because what she needs to know will likely change throughout her career. Teachers must be the life-long learners we wish our students to become…we must continue to be students…if we want to grow in our knowledge and ability.

There are, however, times when a teacher’s attempts to use “best practices” and a well-researched basis for teaching is thwarted by outside forces. For example, the out-of-school factors associated with child poverty interfere with learning and achievement. Even the most well-trained, up-to-date, and knowledgable teacher will have difficulty reaching students who come to school traumatized, hungry, or sick.

In addition to social factors interfering with teaching and learning, the government can be a hindrance to good, research-based education. Two ways government interference prevents schools from doing what is best for students are 1) inadequate funding, resulting in large class sizes, and 2) the requirement that students either pass a test or repeat a grade.

LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE: CLASS SIZE

We know that class size has an impact on student achievement and learning, especially with young, poor, and minority students. Smaller class sizes work because students are more engaged, they spend more time on task, and instruction can be customized to better meet their needs.

So why don’t we reduce class sizes?

It costs too much.

Legislators don’t want to spend the money to reduce class sizes. State legislatures around the country are generally filled with adults who have never taught and don’t know anything about education or education research. Instead of learning about the research into class size, (or listening to teachers) they simply look at the cost. Smaller class sizes means higher costs…and with the obsessive, anti-tax atmosphere in most states, legislators don’t want to increase funding for public schools just to make classes smaller.

Small Class Size – A Reform We’re Just Too Cheap To Try

Steven Singer makes the case for small class sizes…

The benefits go far beyond the classroom. Numerous studies concluded that reducing class size has long lasting effects on students throughout their lives. It increases earning potential, and citizenship while decreasing the likelihood students will need welfare assistance as adults or enter the criminal justice system. In short, cutting class size puts a stop to the school-to-prison pipeline.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that those students who benefit the most from this reform are the young, the poor and minorities.

See also Class Size Matters.Org

LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE: RETENTION IN GRADE

Studies going back over 100 years are consistent in their conclusion that retention in grade does not result in higher achievement.

This is a subject where legislators, parents, and even many educators, don’t know, or refuse to accept the research. If a child doesn’t learn the material required for a certain grade, then the impulse is to “give him another chance” by retaining him. I’ve heard parents and teachers claim that retention in grade gives a child “the chance to grow another year,” or “catch up.” None of those statements are based on research. Retention does not help students, and often causes harm.

Legislatures in many states, including Indiana, have chosen third grade as the year in which students must either “be average” in reading or repeat the grade. The legislature, in other words, has decided that, if students cannot reach an arbitrary cut-score on an arbitrary reading test in third grade, they will not be allowed to move on to fourth grade. The cause of the failure is often not taken into consideration. Students have trouble learning to read for a variety of reasons, yet legislatures apply the single intervention of retention in grade to reading difficulties no matter what the cause. Unfortunately, this has no basis in educational research.

Students are punished by legislative decree for not learning to read soon enough or well enough.

Recently Michigan joined the “punish third graders” club.

County public schools brace for implementation of third-grade retention law

In an effort to boost reading achievement in the early stages of elementary school education, public schools across the state of Michigan are conducting universal screening and diagnostic testing of kindergarten through third grade students.

The testing is in response to Public Act 306, passed in October 2016 by Michigan lawmakers, called the Third Grade Retention Law. The law was passed to ensure that students exiting third grade are reading at or above grade level requirements. All students in grades K-3 will be assessed three times per year, fall winter and spring. The assessments will identify students who need intensive reading instruction and provide useful information to help teachers tailor instruction to meet individual student needs. The law also states that a child may be retained in third grade if he or she is one of more grade levels behind in reading at the end of the third grade.

FORCE and FLUNK: Destroying a Child’s Love of Reading—and Their Life

Florida is another one of the states which punishes children for not reading well enough. In this article Nancy Bailey takes the state to task.

If they aren’t reading well enough, they will have to remain in third grade–so they will do more reading remediation! They will watch as their classmates leave them behind.

At this point, how much do you think children like to read?

The Florida plague, the undeniably ugly and stupid practice of flunking children if they are not reading well by third grade, is now a reform across the country.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Legislatures force teachers and schools to accept practices which we know through research are detrimental to student learning. We’re forced to accept responsibility for working conditions which interfere with achievement, and then we are held accountable when the practices fail.

Teachers (and schools) should be accountable for understanding the

scientific research behind our instructional decision making.

But policy makers should also be held accountable for the instructional restrictions they place on public schools.

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Posted in Curmudgucation, Early Childhood, Florida, Gadflyonthewall, ICPE-MCSCI, Killion, Politics, poverty, Quotes, RiseAbovetheMark, vouchers, Walsh

Listen to This #8

MEN IN EARLY CHILDHOOD

Calling Nurturing Men to the Teaching Profession

Most of my 35 years as a teacher was spent with students in grades K through 3. The quote below from Nancy Bailey suggests that it was difficult because of the strong-willed women I worked with. I can think of only one or two cases where I was made to feel unwelcome at the primary level from my colleagues.

It was much more difficult to deal with parents who were skeptical that a man could give their child the nurturing education necessary in the primary grades. Even worse, were those (few times) when parents actually requested another teacher because they didn’t want their daughters in my class. I understand the fear that makes a parent do that. The news stories of teachers who betray the trust parents have put in them and abuse children are frequent enough that there are some parents who would be scared to take a chance. I understood the parent request…but it saddened me.

From Nancy Bailey

Men who teach early childhood education have a lot of moxie. It can’t be easy to walk into an elementary school of strong-willed women who know the craft of teaching.

Some of my third grade students during recess on the last day of school, 1976-1977.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Why Churches Should Hate School Vouchers

Normally, I like to keep quotes short…one or two sentences, or a paragraph at the most. With this quote from Peter Greene, however, I felt like I needed to include two paragraphs.

Vouchers entangle Church and State, despite the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court, and as such, are a danger to both the public schools and the church schools accepting vouchers.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State listed ten reasons for rejecting vouchers. At the top of the list…Vouchers Undermine Religious Liberty. They wrote,

…vouchers force Americans to pay taxes to support religion. This runs counter to the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. In America, all religious activities should be supported with voluntary contributions.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and other Founders strongly supported the separation of church and state and opposed taxation to support religion. As Ben Franklin succinctly put it: “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

From Peter Greene (Curmudgucation)

Somebody is going to try to cash in on voucher money or make a point or indulge in performance art, and taxpayers will be horrified to learn that their tax dollars are going to support a school that promotes satanism or pushes sharia law or teaches that all white folks are evil (I am confining myself to outrageous things that will outrage people– the list of outrageous things that people will happily put up with is a longer list).

So in the storm of outrage, taxpayers will demand that government make sure not to send voucher dollars to That School That Teaches Those Awful Things. Politicians will ride that wave, and before you know it, we will have a government agency whose mandate is to decide which churches are “legitimate” and voila– the Government Bureau of Church Regulation.

Op-ed: Myth busting Indiana’s voucher system

From Rocky Killion (See Rise Above the Mark)

Instead of throwing more money at this unproven two-system approach, Indiana legislators should use Indiana’s resources on proven strategies that will improve public education, including early childhood education, reducing class size, investing in professional development for educators, and assisting students who live in poverty. These are the strategies the best education systems in the world have implemented to become the best.

PRIVATIZATION: CHARTERS: FLORIDA

FL: Death To Public Education

Indiana, North Carolina, Arizona, Ohio…all the states in which wealthy privateers are doing damage to public education…don’t reach the heights of damage done to the public schools and public school children of Florida, according to Peter Greene at Curmudgucation. And Florida is, frankly, a terrible place to be a public school student right now. In this post, Greene lists many of the things that Florida has done to support privatization while neglecting or punishing public schools. The third paragraph in the article contains a list of actions so despicable that only the most ardent “reformer” would fail to see the damage done to children.

The most recent legislation diverts millions of dollars from public schools to charter schools.

From Florida State Senator Linda Stewart quoted by Peter Greene (Curmudgucation)

The legislation you signed today gives to the charter school industry a free hand and promises them a bountiful reward. It allows corporations with no track record of success, no obligation to struggling students, and no mandated standards of accountability to flourish, with the sole obligation to their shareholders. Not the public. Not to well-intentioned parents desperate to see their children succeed – but to a group of investors who have made a business decision to add these companies to their portfolios because they are interested in making money.

HYPOCRISY

More Truth in Teacher-Written Education Blogs Than Corporate Media

The entire “reform” movement – the obsession with standardized tests, the growth of charters and vouchers – has grown up and taken over as the status quo of American education with virtually no input from professional educators.

  • Have teachers been left out because teaching is a traditionally female dominated profession so the good-old-boys in state legislatures and board rooms across the country disrespect teachers as easily as they disrespect women in general?
  • Have teachers been ignored because “reformers” assume that going to school is enough “experience” to dictate how education ought to be?
  • Have teachers been silenced because millionaires and billionaires must be smart or they wouldn’t be rich, so we must listen to their “new” ideas for education?
  • Teachers comprise the last and largest labor unions left in the U.S. Are teachers shunned because destroying America’s unions in order to raise up the oligarchy won’t be complete until the NEA and AFT are relegated to the ineffectual level of other unions?

The hypocritical conflicts of interest within the political system are rampant, in which legislators and policy makers with economic and political ties to textbook and testing companies, charter management companies, and parochial schools, make policy for public education. Yet teachers aren’t consulted about public education policy because they might be “biased.”

From Steven Singer (Gadflyonthewall)

For some people, my position as an educator discredits my knowledge of schools. Yet getting paid by huge testing corporations doesn’t discredit journalists!?

POVERTY

School Choice Opponents and the Status Quo

  • The status quo in American education is testing and punishing children, teachers, and schools. 
  • The status quo in American education is diverting public tax dollars from public schools to religious, private, and privately owned schools.
  • The status quo in American education is requiring “accountability” from public schools, while charters and voucher schools need not be transparent.
  • The status quo in American education is closing public schools and replacing them with charters instead of fixing them.
  • The status quo in American education is blaming teachers for student low achievement without society accepting a share of the responsibility for communities struggling with gun violence, drug and alcohol abuse, toxic environments, lack of health care facilities, and other effects of poverty.

From Russ Walsh

Those of us who continue to point out that poverty is the real issue in education are accused of using poverty as an excuse to do nothing. Right up front let me say I am against the status quo and I have spent a lifetime in education trying to improve teacher instruction and educational opportunities for the struggling readers and writers I have worked with. To point out the obvious, that poverty is the number one cause of educational inequity, does not make me a champion for the status quo. It simply means that I will not fall prey to the false promise of super-teachers, standardized test driven accountability, merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers, all of which are futile efforts to put a thumb in the overflowing dyke that is systematic discrimination, segregation, income inequity, and, yes, poverty.

POLITICS

About That Partisan Divide

From Sheila Kennedy

Today’s Republicans and Democrats do not share a belief in the nature of the common good. Democrats believe that government has a responsibility to ensure access to healthcare. Republicans don’t.

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