the Common Good, ILEARN, Vouchers,
the Teacher Exodus
ET TU CANADA?
Since 2012 Grant Frost has been writing about the GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement) infection of Canada. Sadly, the story is similar to what’s been happening here in the US. Outside factors affect school achievement, yet solutions to societal problems seem to fall to the schools.
In 2011, Texas Superintendent John Kuhn asked,
Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet?
Schools can’t do it alone…and schools can’t solve the problems caused by, in the case of the US, decades of neglect, racism, and economic inequity. State (and Provincial) governments must accept their share of responsibility…not by punishing high need schools with school takeovers and inadequate funding, but with real programs aimed at healing the problems of poverty and systemic racism.
To paraphrase Frost, “The reality of our situation in Indiana is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is.”
What struck me so soundly as I read through the report, beyond my obvious alarm, was the way in which so many of these issues, or more particularly, the finding of solutions for them, has so often been downloaded by governments onto the public school system. In an attempt to lower obesity rates, schools are encouraged to provide more activity time. In an attempt to lower suicide rates, students get lessons on warning signs and prevention measures. Discrimination (risk nine) is countered with “respect for all” campaigns. Bullying (risk ten) is tackled head on in classroom. Food insecurity (breakfast programs). Infant mortality (Parenting courses). Lack of immunization (Immunization programs.) For almost every indicator of risk to our children that was on the list, governments have turned to public schools and the people who staff them to provide solutions.
…Child poverty can not be addressed in our classrooms. That particular risk factor can only be addressed in Province House. The reality of our situation in Nova Scotia is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is.
Retention in grade continues to damage thousands of Indiana children. The latest statistics I was able to find were those for the 2016-2017 school year. At that time about 7% (nearly 76,000) of Indiana’s 1.14 million students between the ages of 6 and 17 had been retained at least once since they entered kindergarten.
Indiana is one of the states with third-grade retention laws so many of those students are retained in third grade. Our students are required to pass a standardized reading test in third grade or repeat the grade.
Research spanning more than 100 years has consistently shown that retention in grade is not helpful and is, in many cases, harmful. Often children will improve their academic achievement during their repeated year grade, but after three to four years most gains have disappeared. Grade retention is an intervention teachers and schools will attempt because they don’t know what else to do and believe that “we have to do something.”
With more and more states requiring retention in third grade for students who cannot pass the state-mandated standardized reading test, there will continue to be a large number of students retained in grade.
At the end of this linked piece, Peter Greene wrote,
…third grade reading retention does not work, plus it’s expensive and damaging to students, so maybe we can just knock it off right now.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.
What the more reliable research appears to show is that third grade is a good year for taking a student’s reading temperature, and their ability to read at the third grade level seems to be a good predictor of future scholastic success. That seems to be a valid correlation but– say it with me now, nice and loud for the folks in the back– correlation does not equal causation.
Nevertheless, many states have instituted a plan by which students are not allowed to exit third grade until they can show sufficient reading skills (or at least sufficient standardized read test taking skills). This is dumb.
This would be the equivalent of, say, noting that students who are more than four and a half feet tall in third grade are mostly over six feet tall when they graduate from high school. Therefor, in our desire to make graduates taller, we will not let anyone progress beyond third grade until they are at least four and a half feet tall.
The most likely reading of the third grade reading correlation is that some factors are contributing to a poor reading level, and those same factors, exacerbated by reading difficulties, will be obstacles to future success. Third grade reading level is a canary in the coalmine, and you don’t fix things by repeatedly sending canaries down there. But canaries are cheap, and fixing coal mines is hard and expensive. Addressing all the problems that hold a small child back– well, that’s complicated and expensive and difficult and it puts a lot of responsibility on the government. It’s simpler to just threaten the kid and the teacher and make it their problem.
WE SERVE ALL CHILDREN
America’s public schools are a “common good.” Jan Resseger eloquently describes how we all benefit from public education. If you need to respond to those who don’t understand how public schools help individuals, communities, and the entire society, here is an excellent source.
…public schools are required by law to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children: “(T)here is one thing that our American public schools do better than any other schools in the country or even in the world: our public schools commit to addressing the needs of every single child. Our public schools are open to ALL children, without prejudice or pause. Our schools attempt to educate EVERYBODY. American students are students who are gifted, students with disabilities, students who need advanced placement, students who have experienced trauma, students who are learning English, students who are hungry, affluent students, students who live in poverty, students who are anxious, and students who are curious.”
TESTING IN INDIANA
How much time is spent by adults and children in your local school on our state tests? What might be a better use of that time?
Indiana students, teachers and local communities have endured years of changing school accountability systems, each focused on exhaustive standardized test-taking negatively affecting student well-being, teacher compensation and school letter grades, causing parent confusion and anxiety in the local community.
From ISTEP to ISTEP+ to ILEARN, children in Indiana have suffered years of changing expectations through standardized testing schemes designed to determine the number of students who fail only after the test is given. No good teacher uses assessments in this manner.
Set the standards, work toward learning the standards, assess the standards through multiple means, determine those meeting or not yet meeting the standards, all without crushing teaching and learning through excessive standardized testing.
To the detriment of today’s school culture, students and teachers have been reduced to test takers and test preparers unable to take advantage of the ebb and flow of inquiry learning, creative and independent thinking, or problem-solving through logic.
Instead, too much precious time and money has been spent over the years on accountability systems focused solely on test results directly correlated with student socioeconomic status.
Sheila Kennedy writes about how Indiana’s tests…from ISTEP to ILEARN have been misused as a tool to damage public education.
The widespread misuse of what should be a diagnostic tool is just one more example of our depressing American tendency to apply bumper sticker solutions to complex issues requiring more nuanced approaches.
Are we concerned about the quality of our public schools? Easy. Let’s just give out vouchers allowing parents to send their children to mostly religious schools that may or may not teach science or civics or accurate history, and are turning out graduates with lower test scores in math and English.
For the 90% of children who still attend our public schools, let’s spend lots of tax dollars on standardized tests that we can then use as a blunt weapon to pigeonhole the kids and penalize their teachers.
Those approaches are so much easier than acting on the basis of in-depth analyses of both strengths and shortcomings, giving our public schools and public school teachers the resources–and the respect– they need, and properly evaluating the results.
A second article by Sheila Kennedy…this one on the history of Indiana’s voucher program.
As governor, Mike Pence did his best to use the voucher program to enrich parochial schools, but it was Mitch Daniels who was the brains behind diverting public funds to religious and private pockets.
Kennedy’s blog post is based on an article in the Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss A telling story of school ‘reform’ in Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana. The Answer Sheet is behind the Washington Posts’ paywall, however, Kennedy includes a link to a pdf file of the article.
…Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)
So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.
Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.
That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.
It’s not a teacher shortage. It’s a teacher exodus from classrooms and from teacher training programs. Fewer young people are going into education…and those teachers who are leaving the field — whether through an early exit or retirement — are not being replaced in sufficient numbers. Who will teach the next generation of American children? Who will prepare tomorrow’s citizens for our nation’s future success?
…test-based accountability has destroyed the profession of teaching and caused a mass demoralization and exodus from public school classrooms. And let’s not forget about the thousands of hours of lost instruction time in the sciences, social studies, arts, music and anything else that doesn’t conform to basic literacy and numeracy skills.
It really is an insanity driven by the hatred of public schools and the greed of powerful individuals to use the false narrative of failing schools and bad teachers to drain schools of public tax dollars. Nothing done over the last 35 years in the name of accountability—Nothing! — has done anything positive for the children stuck at the bottom of the achievement gap. The problem was never failing schools and bad teachers. The problem has always been poverty born out of systemic racism.