Posted in Article Medleys, poverty, Public Ed, RightWing

2017 Medley #24: “Government Schools”

The War Against ‘Government Schools’,
The Myth of Failing Schools

THE WAR AGAINST “GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS”

The War Against America’s Public Schools by Gerald Bracey, published 2001. The war continues…

What the ‘Government Schools’ Critics Really Mean

In a New York Times op ed, Katherine Stewart reminds us that the phrase “government schools” carries a negative connotation. She then goes on to connect the phrase to radical market guru Milton Friedman, and before him, Jim Crow.

…in certain conservative circles, the phrase “government schools” has become as ubiquitous as it is contemptuous.

What most people probably hear in this is the unmistakable refrain of American libertarianism, for which all government is big and bad. The point of calling public schools “government schools” is to conjure the specter of pathologically inefficient, power-mad bureaucrats.

To Defend Public Schools, the Hard Left Puts On the Tin Foil Hat

David French, writing in the conservative National Review, responds to Stewart’s article and says that the right calls public schools “government schools” because that’s what they are.

Public schools are government schools…Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.

Technically, French is correct. Public schools, like any public service, is, by definition, a branch of the “government.” That’s why governments at most levels have departments of education. That’s why school boards are (or should be) elected. That’s why teachers can’t engage in religious proselytization while they are working and are “agents” of the government.

But it’s the negative connotation Stewart wrote of that French promotes in his condescending attempt to support the privatization of public education. While disingenuously claiming that public schools are indeed government schools so the name doesn’t mean anything negative, he goes on to use the phrase negatively. He claims that, since public school supporters can’t defend the “failing” public schools, we take to name-calling to support our argument.

Even worse for the government-school loyalist, the fight takes place on unfavorable ground. Public schools are failing large segments of the public. They’ve been failing for decades. So rather than defend public schooling on its meager merits, all too many ideologues fall back on the old insults. “Racist!” they cry. “Theocrat!” they yell.

What could be more democratic than choice, he claims, falling back on the old argument that poor children ought to have the same “choices” that wealthy children have…without noting that…

  • It is often the schools which do the choosing while feeling perfectly comfortable in denying “choice” to students who are difficult or expensive to teach.

Ignoring these facts he begs us not to deny private school excellence over public school failure.

…Spend much time with America’s wealthier families, and it’s not uncommon to see parents with three kids in three different schools. They made choices based on each child’s unique needs. They give their children the best possible chance to succeed. Why deny these choices to poor kids? Should we punish them for their parents’ economic performance? Faced with the difficult task of defending a failing system and limiting parental choice, all too many defenders of government schools fall back on name-calling, conspiracy theories, and their own anti-Christian bigotries. But they can cite Rushdoony all they want. It doesn’t make him relevant. It doesn’t make public schools better. And it certainly doesn’t invalidate the good and decent effort to use greater competition to improve education for everyone — white and black alike.

Three kids in three different schools? What poor family would have the transportation resources for this situation, unless French wants vouchers to cover the cost of taxis, time off work to transport children, or extra cars for kids to transport themselves. Why not? Should we punish those children “for their parents’ economic performance?”

Are public schools failing “large segments of the public?” Public schools struggle to effectively educate the shamefully high number of high-poverty students in America because they don’t have the money or resources to support them in the way they need to be supported. There aren’t enough counselors, nurses, and social workers in high-poverty schools. There aren’t enough librarians, books or materials. There isn’t enough science equipment. There aren’t enough learning specialists. School buildings are in disrepair. And the budget proposed by the current administration in Washington will guarantee that there won’t be enough after school programs. [For a good discussion of the needs of public school students see The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve: Research-based Proposals To Strengthen Elementary And Secondary Education In The Chicago Public Schools by the Chicago Teachers Union.]

Public school advocates are not “faced with the difficult task of defending a failing system.” Instead we’re faced with the difficult task of responding to the misinformation, deflections, and lies coming from privatizers who deny that poverty has anything to do with low school achievement and that it’s the politicians and policy makers who have failed to fully support public education. Policy makers ought to be held responsible by their constituents to provide full public school funding based on the needs of the community. Policy makers ought to be held responsible for relieving the pressures of our society’s economic inequality, rather than blaming the victims who are relegated to understaffed, and under-resourced institutions.

And we’re not faced with the task of defending a failing system. America’s public schools are not failing.

Public schools, when statistics are corrected for demographics, perform better than private schools. The University of Chicago Press reviewers of The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, by Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, write,

Private schools have higher scores not because they are better institutions but because their students largely come from more privileged backgrounds that offer greater educational support. After correcting for demographics, the Lubienskis go on to show that gains in student achievement at public schools are at least as great and often greater than those at private ones. Even more surprising, they show that the very mechanism that market-based reformers champion—autonomy—may be the crucial factor that prevents private schools from performing better. Alternatively, those practices that these reformers castigate, such as teacher certification and professional reforms of curriculum and instruction, turn out to have a significant effect on school improvement.

Instead of accusing public school advocates of “anti-Christian” bigotry because we refuse to approve of mixing public tax dollars with religious school education, French ought to get his facts straight.

The Right Wing in America Has Long Tried to Destroy ‘Government Schools’

Another discussion of the “government schools” phrase. The people who are working to privatize public education hate government, and because public schools are government sponsored public services, they hate public education, too. This isn’t new.

Do they also hate public libraries? public parks? and public water systems? Do they hate the government run military?

…these people are working with a completely different ethical system than the rest of us and a different philosophy, but it’s a coherent one and they are pursuing their goals with very strategic, calculating tools.” That’s also why the right is so focused on the teachers’ unions. It’s not because they are only concerned about the quality of education and think that teachers are blocking that. First of all, this is a cause that hated public education—what they would call government schools; they don’t even want to say public education—before there were teachers’ unions.

THE MYTH OF FAILING PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Challenging the myth that public schools are failing is one of the greatest obstacles facing public school advocates. Some selected responses to that myth…

What the numbers really tell us about America’s public schools

What I have suggested for ameliorating the low performance of low-income children, on all our assessments, are characteristics of schooling and the provision of health and other supports for children now present in wealthier communities. Perhaps, then, we should rely on John Dewey to help low-income students succeed, instead of putting our faith in vouchers, charters, test preparation, teacher accountability and the like. To paraphrase just a little, Dewey said:

“What the best and wisest … parents want for their children, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

The Myth Behind Public School Failure

In the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

…why do we believe that American public schools are doing such a terrible job?

Because far right policymakers have convinced us all that it’s true.

It’s not.

Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

The problem that DeVos and others don’t understand, or just simply ignore, is poverty. American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested…

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty.

The Myth of Public School Failure

But when schools are doing better than ever before, the best way to encourage continued improvement is not a concerted attack on school governance and organization. A more effective approach would be praise for accomplishment, provision of additional resources to programs whose results justify support, and reforms on the margin to correct programs and curricula shown to be ineffective. 

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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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Posted in ALEC, Article Medleys, Charters, Equity, Finland, kindergarten, poverty, Racism, Teacher Licensing, Teaching Career, Testing

Instead of Equity

Inequity, both economic and racial, in the U.S. is so common, so embedded in our society that no one in America should be surprised to hear what John Green has to say about life expectancy in the video below.

In the doobly doo, below his video, Green links to a study – Inequalities in Life Expectancy Among US Counties, 1980 to 2014, wherein we learn…

Much of the variation in life expectancy among [U.S.] counties can be explained by a combination of socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors.

So, life expectancies, like test scores, are correlated to ZIP codes…

SCHOOL IS ABOUT FINDING YOUR HAPPINESS…

In contrast to the inequity in the U.S., Finland is one of the most equitable societies on the planet. This equity is reflected in Finland’s education system. In his 2015 documentary, Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore asked the Finnish Minister of Education, “If you don’t have standardized tests here in Finland, how do you know which schools are the best?” She responded…

The neighborhood school is the best school. It is not different than the school which can be, for example, situated in the town center, because all the schools in Finland, they are equal.

Equity.

In Finland, the richest families send their children to the same schools as the poorest families. That means, as Moore says,

…the rich parents have to make sure that the public schools are great. And by making the rich kids go to school with everyone else, they grow up with those other kids as friends. And when they become wealthy adults, they have to think twice before they screw them over.

Equity.

Equity in the nation yields equity in education. Equity in education yields high achievement and reinforces equity in the nation. If we were actually interested in improving American education we would do what the Finns have done…and, as Moore said elsewhere in the documentary, the Finnish education system is based on ideas from the United States. We just have to do what we already know.

But, whine the contrarians, “Finland is not the U.S. We can’t just import their whole education system. They’re a smaller country…not so diverse!”

True.

In order to do what Finland has done we would have to support and invest in our children, eliminate the inequity in our society, and…

  • end the racism inherent in America. We would have to heal the damage done by Jim Crow and the nation’s slave past. We can’t build an educationally equitable nation until we have a racially equitable nation.
  • stop dismantling our public schools. When a school system, riddled with poverty, inevitably fails, the solution in the United States is to privatize…to close the schools and replace them with charter schools…instead of working to change the environment and support the schools. Charter schools, however, aren’t the cure to low achievement.

See also…

  • quit trying to fund two or three parallel school systems. We need one public school system for all Americans, poor and wealthy, black and white. As long as there are multiple school systems divided and ranked by economic and racial privilege, there will be “haves” and “have nots.” There will be inequity.

…INSTEAD WE BLAME TEACHERS

A school is not a factory; teaching is a process

Instead of increasing educational equity we point fingers and try to find someone to blame. “Reformers” love to blame teachers.

Instead of giving teachers the professional responsibility of teaching, politicians and policy makers make decisions for public schools. They decide what should be taught and how it should be taught. Then, when their ignorant and inappropriate interference doesn’t result in higher test scores, they blame the teachers.

On every occasion possible, they talk about incompetent and ineffective teachers as if they are the norm instead of the rare exception. They create policies that tie teachers’ hands, making it more and more difficult for them to be effective. They cut budgets, eliminate classroom positions, overload classrooms, remove supports, choose ineffective and downright useless instructional tools, set up barriers to providing academic assistance, and then very quickly stand up and point fingers at teachers, blaming them for every failure of American society, and washing their own hands of any blame.

…INSTEAD WE LOWER STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS

In Arizona, teachers can now be hired with absolutely no training in how to teach

We pass legislation damaging the teaching profession. Then, when fewer young people want to become teachers and a teacher shortage is wreaking havoc on public schools, we claim that “we have to get more ‘good people’ into the classroom,” so we remove licensing restrictions and let anyone teach…

New legislation signed into law in Arizona by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will allow teachers to be hired with no formal teaching training, as long as they have five years of experience in fields “relevant” to the subject they are teaching. What’s “relevant” isn’t clear.

The Arizona law is part of a disturbing trend nationwide to allow teachers without certification or even any teacher preparation to be hired and put immediately to work in the classroom in large part to help close persistent teacher shortages. It plays into a misconception that anyone can teach if they know a particular subject and that it is not really necessary to first learn about curriculum, classroom management and instruction.

ALEC: ALTERNATIVE CERTIFICATION ACT

ALEC is a voice for lowering standards for teaching. They say, “certification requirements prevent many individuals from entering the teaching profession.” That’s true, and that’s as it should be.

They say, “comprehensive alternative certification programs improve teacher quality by opening up the profession to well-educated, qualified, and mature individuals.” What is their definition of “improved teacher quality?” What is their definition of “qualified?”

Teachers need to understand and know their subject area, of course, but they also need to understand educational methods, theory, and style (whatever that means) which ALEC so disrespectfully dismisses.

Why should teachers know anything about education methods, learning theory, classroom management, or child development? If you’re ALEC, the answer is “they don’t.”

Teacher quality is crucial to the improvement of instruction and student performance. However, certification requirements that correspond to state-approved education programs in most states prevent many individuals from entering the teaching profession. To obtain an education degree, students must often complete requirements in educational methods, theory, and style rather than in-depth study in a chosen subject area. Comprehensive alternative certification programs improve teacher quality by opening up the profession to well-educated, qualified, and mature individuals. States should enact alternative teacher certification programs to prepare persons with subject area expertise and life experience to become teachers through a demonstration of competency and a comprehensive mentoring program.

Paul Lauter: Why Do Dentists Need to be Licensed?

In response to ALEC…

I think we should propose doing away with dental licenses. After all, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a piece of string and a door knob.

…INSTEAD WE OBSESS OVER TESTING

An advertisement from Facebook.

Is this what we ought to be focusing on…better test-prep? In America the purpose of education has become the tests.

Don’t Use Kindergarten Readiness Assessments for Accountability

I’m afraid we have completely lost any valid use of tests in the U.S. Now there’s a move to use Kindergarten Readiness Assessments (KRAs) in order to grade schools and children.

Tests should only be used for the purpose for which they were developed. Any other use is educational malpractice.

…there are also several tempting ways to misuse the results. The Ounce delves into three potential misuses. First, the results should not be used to keep children from entering kindergarten. Not only were these assessments not designed for this purpose, but researchers have cautioned against this practice as it could be harmful to children’s learning.

Another misuse of KRA results is for school or program accountability. According to the Ounce report, some states have begun using these results to hold early learning providers accountable. One example the report highlights is Florida. While Florida has since made changes, the Florida State Board of Education previously used the results from its Kindergarten Readiness Screener to determine how well a state Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK) provider prepared 4-year-olds for kindergarten…

…Finally, the Ounce report raised issues with using KRA results for pre-K and kindergarten teacher evaluation. Once again, the assessments are not designed for this purpose…[emphasis added]

INSTEAD…

…of making excuses and blaming school systems, schools, teachers, and students, policy makers should take responsibility for low achievement caused by the nation’s shamefully high rate of child poverty.

…of wasting tax dollars on a second (charters) and third (vouchers) set of schools of dubious quality, trying to duplicate our already neglected public schools, we should invest in our children, in our future, and fully fund a single, free, equitable, public school system.

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Posted in Article Medleys, Lead, poverty, Satire

2017 Medley #15

Poverty, Lead, The Onion

Chapter 10: The Family Begins to Starve

“Slowly but surely, everybody in the house began to starve.

“…And every day, Charlie Bucket grew thinner and thinner. His face became frighteningly white and pinched. The skin was drawn so tightly over the cheeks that you could see the shapes of the bones underneath. It seemed doubtful whether he could go on much longer like this without becoming dangerously ill.

“And now, very calmly, with that curious wisdom that seems to come so often to small children in times of hardship, he began to make little changes here and there in some of the things that he did, so as to save his strength. In the mornings, he left the house ten minutes earlier so that he could walk slowly to school, without ever having to run. He sat quietly in the classroom during break, resting himself, while the others rushed outdoors and threw snowballs and wrestled in the snow. Everything he did now, he did slowly and carefully, to prevent exhaustion…”

In fiction, children who are suffering find ways to compensate. In Roald Dahl’s popular novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket slows down and somehow manages to survive on a daily diet of a piece of potato and a slice of bread. In real life, the results of poverty have lifelong implications and there is no Magical Chocolate Maker to shower riches on needy children. In real life, the only magic that will help is the magic of economic equity, infrastructure investment, and hard work.

In his 2009 paper, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, David C. Berliner describes out-of-school-factors affecting school achievement which are often permanent and life-altering.

(1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; (2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics.

Each of these factors has an impact on the ability of children to achieve in school. Education can’t heal the effects of poverty alone.

POVERTY

Education Can’t Fix Poverty. So Why Keep Insisting that It Can?

Instead of blaming teachers, students, families, schools, and school systems for low achievement and “failing” schools, policy makers need to take responsibility for the central cause of low achievement – poverty and its accompanying damage. Until that happens all the policies dealing with charter schools, vouchers, test and punish, and higher standards will be a waste of time and money. They will do nothing to improve the education of our children.

One of the consequences of making education so central to social policy has been that we’ve ended up taking the pressure off of the state for the kinds of policies that would be more effective at addressing poverty and economic inequality. Instead we’re asking education to do things it can’t possibly do. The result has been increasing support for the kinds of market-oriented policies that make inequality worse.

If we really want to address issues of inequality and economic insecurity, there are a lot of other policies that we have to pursue besides or at least in addition to education policies, and that part of the debate has been totally lost. Raising the minimum wage, or providing a guaranteed income, which the last time we talked seriously about that was in the late 1960’s, increasing workers’ bargaining power, making tax policies more progressive—things like that are going to be much more effective at addressing inequality and economic security than education policies.

School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance

School lunches (and breakfasts) can have an impact on children’s school performance. Children who are hungry will have trouble learning no matter who the teacher is, how great the curriculum, or how much money is spent on technology. The sooner we learn that, the better off our children will be.

Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches.

LEAD

Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School and Juvenile Detention Records

Berliner’s out-of-school-factor number four, environmental pollutants, can destroy a child’s potential before he or she even begins school, and lead is a leading environmental problem for families living in poverty.

Eliminating lead in the environment will go a long way to increasing achievement, decreasing violence, and keeping children in school so they can learn. Punishing children because adults have subjected them to a poisonous environment is cruel and abusive. The only cure for lead poisoning is prevention. The only way to prevent lead poisoning is to invest more money in lead eradication.

Using a unique dataset linking preschool blood lead levels (BLLs), birth, school, and detention data for 120,000 children born 1990-2004 in Rhode Island, we estimate the impact of lead on behavior: school suspensions and juvenile detention. We develop two instrumental variables approaches to deal with potential confounding from omitted variables and measurement error in lead. The first leverages the fact that we have multiple noisy measures for each child. The second exploits very local, within neighborhood, variation in lead exposure that derives from road proximity and the de-leading of gasoline. Both methods indicate that OLS considerably understates the negative effects of lead, suggesting that measurement error is more important than bias from omitted variables. A one-unit increase in lead increased the probability of suspension from school by 6.4-9.3 percent and the probability of detention by 27-74 percent, though the latter applies only to boys.

See also Freddie Gray’s life a study on the effects of lead paint on poor blacks

THE ONION – SATIRE

The Onion is a satire site, but this article from 2011 has enough truth to make it a valuable study on the challenges schools face. Money, properly invested, is the answer. The only people who deny that are those who can afford to send their well nourished, healthy, and well cared for children to elite private schools.

Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation’s Schools With Enough Money To Properly Educate Students

“Obviously, we did not intend for this to happen, and we are doing everything in our power to right the situation and discipline whoever is responsible,” said House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), expressing remorse for the error. “I want to apologize to the American people. The last thing we wanted was for schools to upgrade their technology and lower student-to-teacher ratios in hopes of raising a generation of well-educated, ambitious, and skilled young Americans.”

“That’s the type of irresponsible misspending that I’ve been focused on eliminating for my entire political career,” Ryan added.

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Posted in Choice, John Kuhn, poverty, Quotes, Teaching Career, Testing, US House, WhyTeachersQuit

Listen to This (Random Quotes) #6

REMINDER

John Kuhn is a strong voice in the fight for public schools. He understands that public education is not just for parents and children who participate in the public school system…public education exists to enrich and preserve our nation, just like public parks, museums, roads, street lights, and water systems.

This is one of my favorite quotes…

POVERTY

Can Schools Cure Poverty?

In order to heal the plague of poverty in America, schools would have to be equipped with medical facilities, counseling services, social workers, and psychologists, as well as all the necessities of a fully funded school like libraries staffed with trained librarians, specialists for students with special needs, specialists in the arts and physical education, nutritionists providing healthy food offerings, administrators with experience in the classroom and in management, and highly trained professional educators in every classroom.

Schools can’t be expected to solve a problem which politicians and policy makers have either failed or ignored for centuries. Even with all the amenities listed in the above paragraph (and any others I might have forgotten), schools would find it difficult to heal the national illness of poverty. Poverty has roots in racism, class structure, economics, a financially ruinous health care system, and a ubiquitous drug culture. Schools can’t repair this societal affliction alone.

Until we, as a people, develop the skill and desire to provide a decent standard of living to all our citizens, poverty will continue to be a major cause of school failure.

From Diane Ravitch

Poverty should be addressed by reducing poverty. No matter how high the standards, no matter how many tests, no matter how swell the curriculum is, those are not cures for homelessness, joblessness, and lack of access to decent medical care. This realization explains why I changed my mind about the best way to reform schools. It is not by turning schools over to the free market but by seeing them as part of a web of social supports for families and children. [emphasis added]

WHY TEACHERS QUIT

Teacher: I love my job, but the chaos of urban school reform is wearing me out

I recently took part in a discussion with my Indiana State Senator. This man is not a friend to public education and regularly promotes bills which

  • divert funds from public to private and privately run schools
  • support sectarian practices in public schools such as school sponsored prayer or anti-science legislation
  • support abusive or excessive testing practices
  • encourage the de-professionalization of teaching

During the discussion (which was with other educators), the Senator stated that, “The Senate is suffering from education reform fatigue.”

His point, which I agreed with, was that education reform in Indiana needs to pause and reflect on the changes made. I would, of course, take it a step further and eliminate the damage that “reform” has caused in this state.

In any case, he indicated that members of his branch of the government were tired of focusing on ways to hurt public schools. He blamed the excesses on the Republicans in the State House of Representatives.

My response to him was something along the lines of, “Imagine what it must be like for teachers.”

I wish I had said, “If it’s tiring for you in the Senate to dump all these damaging changes on public education, imagine what it must be like to be a teacher at the end of the dumping.”

From Ryan Heisinger in The Answer Sheet

Lasting relationships with teachers and peers aren’t forged over just a few months. An amazing arts program takes years to build. It takes a long time to develop a wide variety of student-led extracurricular opportunities. School pride comes when students feel they are a part of a community in which they’re able to express themselves and show off their talents. But in a marketplace in which schools compete for test scores, narrowed priorities and school closures erode the stable soil teachers and administrators need to put roots down and grow an enduring culture of success and school community and pride.

TEACHING CAREER

Teacher photographed completing lesson plans while in labor

Every teacher knows the drill…it’s sometimes harder to miss a day at school than to go to school when you’re sick. I remember getting up at 4 AM to get to school and make up lesson plans in order to go back home and collapse into the bed waiting for the pain of some illness to pass.

Naturally, I’ve never been pregnant, but I’m not surprised that a teacher would do this…

From Jennifer Pope of Burleson, Texas

“Really, I’m no different than any teacher that I know,” Pope told ABC News. “They would’ve done the same thing. We think about our students like our own children. I’m grateful [people] are celebrating all teachers and working moms. Being a working mom is hard, but it’s also fulfilling. I can’t imagine not being a teacher.”

CHOICE

Testing Opt Out: Parent Wants Conference; School Calls Police *Just in Case*

The “choice” crowd of “reformers” are adamant that parents know best and should have the tax-funded choice to send their children to any school they want – religious, corporate, or otherwise. They claim that it’s only fair that parents have “choice” in everything having to do with their children…

EXCEPT…testing.

No one should get to “choose” to opt out of state mandated testing.

How many ways can you spell hypocrisy?

From Mercedes Schneider

One of the great contradictions within corporate ed reform is the promoting of a “parental choice” that stops short of the parent’s choice to opt his or her children out of federal- and state-mandated standardized testing.

TESTING: INAPPROPRIATE USES

Anger doesn’t describe it

From rlratto at Opine I Will

Anger doesn’t describe my feelings. Our society is being driven over a cliff by an extreme ideology that will destroy our nation. When we look the other way when children are being forced to fulfill an agenda, when we allow school children to go hungry, when we refuse to provide health care, when we demonize a segment of our population, we are heading for a fall.

AHCA

Despicable and Inexcusable

Sheila Kennedy

Every Republican who voted for this abomination must be held accountable

Paul Waldman

The quote below is from Paul Waldman. He’s quoted in the excellent post by Sheila Kennedy. I’ve included both links.

Perhaps this bill will never become law, and its harm may be averted. But that would not mitigate the moral responsibility of those who supported it. Members of Congress vote on a lot of inconsequential bills and bills that have a small impact on limited areas of American life. But this is one of the most critical moments in recent American political history. The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.

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Posted in poverty, reading, retention, Testing

Punishing Third Graders – Again, and Again, and Again

THIRD GRADE PUNISHMENT LAWS

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nick Chiles has an article in the Hechinger Report on Mississippi’s third grade punishment law, which, like a similar law in Indiana, makes third graders repeat the grade if they fail a standardized reading test in third grade.

The article focuses on schools in extreme high-poverty counties, in a state where nearly a third of children younger than 18 live in poverty.

What makes Mississippi’s third grade punishment law particularly pernicious is the fact that it doesn’t end once a child is retained. Repeated retentions are allowed (the article notes that four other states, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, and Oklahoma, have the same allowances for multiple retentions – aka child abuse).

Is repeating third grade — again and again — good for kids?

…those youngsters who were held back last year can be held back a second time if they can’t pass the test this go-round. That shouldn’t happen if there is any value to Bryant’s idea that holding students back for a year and giving them extra help will improve their literacy…

The “Bryant” in this article is Mississippi Governor, Phil Bryant, a self-proclaimed third grade repeater who claims that he “benefited greatly” by repeating third grade.

It’s possible that Governor Bryant survived undamaged his third grade retention, and even thrived as an elementary school student, but his personal experience doesn’t negate years of research into grade retention. Neither should his experience at one elementary school in Sunflower County Mississippi be used to justify retaining thousands of Mississippi children who struggle to learn to read.

Bryant thinks that “holding students back for a year and giving them extra help” is all that’s needed to improve achievement. First of all, this former deputy sheriff, turned insurance investigator, turned politician, has no background in education and has apparently done no research into the dangers of grade retention.

Second, he’s wrong.

…said Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (also known as FairTest), the advocacy group that has long fought against the widespread use of standardized tests. “In Florida, they found higher test scores in the beginning for the kids who were held back, but the gains dissipated over a few years.”

It’s not just in Florida. Research has shown that retained students often show short term improvement, but the long term effects of retention are generally negative, including continued low achievement and higher than average drop-out rate (which increases to more than 90% for children retained more than once).

TEACH READING, NOT TEST-TAKING…

Neill says the fact that fewer kids were held back last year may be a result of improved reading skills, but could also be “because teachers are prepping them better for the test.”

Standardized tests measure household income, so it’s no wonder that schools with high rates of child poverty have plenty of low scorers. One of the schools discussed in the article by Chiles, had a 100% free and reduced lunch population.

This doesn’t mean that schools shouldn’t try to do all they can to help high-poverty students learn. It does mean, however, that, until the economic playing field has been leveled, the academic playing field will remain uneven. It means that it’s unreasonable to expect schools to carry the entire burden of responsibility for the effects of poverty. It means that it’s unreasonable to punish students for failure to pass a single, arbitrary, achievement test.

Students ought not to be labeled “failures” based on a questionable assessment, and then punished by an outmoded and damaging “intervention” because they are taking longer than a bureaucratically assigned time to learn to read. Higher test scores do not necessarily indicate more or better learning. Standardized achievement test scores are not the only measures of a child’s success. There’s more to education than test scores.

High-poverty students often come into school with fewer academic skills than their wealthier peers.

Robinson said too many of her young students are missing valuable phonemic skills — being able to identify the sound each letter makes — when they first come to Finch in kindergarten. She said the school staff is now concentrating on building a stronger reading foundation before students reach third grade.

Schools ought to concentrate on building a strong foundation for reading in pre-school and kindergarten. Frequent, appropriate assessment is also necessary to monitor a child’s progress and guide instruction. But not all children learn at the same rate. Not all children will learn to read in first grade. Not all children will read at “grade-level”. There is no pedagogical reason for placing high stakes on reading instruction.

There is no pedagogical reason for placing high stakes on reading instruction.

There is no pedagogical reason for placing high stakes on reading instruction.

…OR COMPUTER SKILLS

What worries Magee is the difficulty too many of her current third graders have taking a test on the computer. Few students have computers at home, so they aren’t used to manipulating the mouse.

Are we testing reading skills, test-taking skills, or computer skills?

Instead of lining corporate (Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing, and NCS Pearson) pockets with millions of tax dollars spent on unnecessary, high stakes, and often inappropriate testing, we should spend our money on appropriate assessments, early intervention, and developmentally appropriate instruction. High stakes testing should be eliminated. Forever.

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Posted in Charters, Choice, poverty, Public Ed, Segregation

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools – Part 2

Last month I posted The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools. I tried to show that America’s average international test scores are low (in the middle of the pack) because of our embarrassingly high rates of child poverty.

Other factors, however, compound the problem of more than 20% of American children living in poverty.

SEGREGATION

A major problem in America’s schools, for example, is economic and racial segregation.

Christine Organ writes that we’ve put low-income kids in separate schools that are definitely not equal.

Public Schools Aren’t Failing Us. We’re Failing Our Schools (And Our Kids).

…we’ve created a system that relegates low-income students to the farthest corners of public education. We’ve created a system that, by design, segregates schools by socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity.

Schools in low-income areas don’t have the same resources as schools in wealthier areas. The common complaint about “throwing money at schools won’t solve the problems” is usually made by someone whose local schools have enough money to provide an adequate education for their children. Personnel, materials, upkeep and maintenance cost money. When an impoverished neighborhood needs to come up with money to support its local school it’s going to have more trouble than a wealthier neighborhood.

She continues…

Instead of taking money away from or closing those schools that serve lower-income students, we need to give them more money. We need stop funding schools with property taxes. We need to provide quality summer school programs, parent education classes, and after-school programs. We need to work on making sure that low-income students aren’t also food insecure or coming to school hungry. We need to stop holding PTA fundraisers where parents can “bid” on time with teachers and other activities that give some kids a leg up. We need to pay teachers more and evaluate them on their performance, not on their students’ test scores.

Of course, this will take additional funding, and if our kids go to a school that benefits from this messed up have/have-not system, they might be asked to give up something. But as they say, equality feels like oppression when you’re used to benefiting from your privilege, so get used to feeling a little bit uncomfortable. We all want what’s best for our children, but that can’t come at the expense of other innocent children when it comes to education.

Those of us who have enough must accept that those who don’t have enough need more, and it’s up to us to share. We should have learned that in kindergarten, after all. Besides, the children of the nation belong to all of us. They are our future. If we improve the lot of “the least among us” we all benefit from an educated workforce and lower incarceration rates. Even if we increased the amount of money going to schools with low-income students by 25% it would still cost less per child than prison…and higher graduation rates means lower prison rates. We would save money in the long run.

Those with more than enough, the 1% of the population who received the largest portion of the post-2008-recovery wealth, need to share as well.

The point is, we’re either one nation or we’re not. We’re either “in this together” or we’re not.

CHOICE

“Choice” is the mantra of the school reformers. They insist that parents should have the choice of where they send their children. The truth, however, is that, when it comes to private and privately run schools, it is the school which chooses its students. Private schools which accept vouchers and charter schools using public funds can either not accept students, “counsel out” those who “are not a good fit” or just expel them outright. In this way, they minimize the number of low achieving students who are allowed entrance. Those children who are rejected often the most expensive to educate. They must then return to the public schools. Public schools accept everyone.

Why selection bias is the most powerful force in education

Selection bias hides everywhere in education. Sometimes, in fact, it is deliberately hidden in education. A few years ago, Reuters undertook an exhaustive investigation of the ways that charter schools deliberately exclude the hardest-to-educate students, despite the fact that most are ostensibly required to accept all kinds of students, as public schools are bound to. For all the talk of charters as some sort of revolution in effective public schooling, what we find is that charter administrators work feverishly to tip the scales, finding all kinds of crafty ways to ensure that they don’t have to educate the hardest students to educate. And even when we look past all of the dirty tricks they use – like, say, requiring parents to attend meetings held at specific times when most working parents can’t – there are all sorts of ways in which students are assigned to charter schools non-randomly and in ways that advantage those schools. Excluding students with cognitive and developmental disabilities is a notorious example. (Despite what many people presume, a majority of students with special needs take state-mandated standardized tests and are included in data like graduation rates, in most locales.) Simply the fact that parents typically have to opt in to charter school lotteries for their students to attend functions as a screening mechanism.

UNIVERSAL PUBLIC EDUCATION

Some countries restrict which students go to school and which students take standardized tests. Not in the U.S. We educate everyone, and everyone, even the most academically challenged students, take “the test.” Steven Singer explains…

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

We have developed a special education system to help children at the edges that many other countries just can’t touch. In some countries these students are simply excluded. In others they are institutionalized. In some countries it’s up to parents to find ways to pay for special services. The United States is one of the only countries where these children are not only included and offered full and free access, but the schools go above and beyond to teach these children well beyond their 12th academic year.

In every public school in the United States these students are included. In math, reading, science and social studies, they are there benefiting from instruction with the rest of the class. And this, in turn, benefits even our non-special education students who gain lessons in empathy and experience the full range of human abilities.

Of course, most of our special education students are also included in our test scores. Yes, other countries that ignore these children and exclude them from testing get higher scores. But so what? Do you mean to tell me this makes them better? No, it makes them worse.

When politicians pander to “reformers” and “reform” minded donors by calling our schools “failures,” they do an injustice to America’s public schools.

Kelly Day, who blogs at Filling My Map, writes,

It is no accident that academic achievement mirrors the country’s economic structures. We will never fix our broken education system in the U.S. until we fix our broken economic system. Students will continue to fail academically as long as they live in fear, hunger and poverty- no matter what educational reforms or policies we enact.

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