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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Posted in David Berliner, DeVos, MLK, OECD, PISA, poverty, Public Ed, Stephen Krashen, Testing

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, who recently bought the office of U.S. Secretary of Education, spouts the same myth that’s been going around for decades…that American public schools are “failing.”

The Answer Sheet, in DeVos: Outcomes at U.S. schools are so bad, they probably can’t get much worse, reported

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Wednesday that U.S. public schools nationwide are in such bad shape that she isn’t “sure how they could get a lot worse.”

And, like other myth-spouters in the “education reform” movement, she invoked international tests, adding,

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today. I mean, the fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world…

She’s wrong.

The U.S. is regularly in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test administered by the OECD. In 2015 U.S. students were 31st, 20th, and 19th in Math, Reading, and Science respectively. This score, and previous, similar scores, have been used by politicians and policy makers to claim that America’s public schools are failing.

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. To be fair, Secretary DeVos might not know this. She never attended a public school and never sent her children to public schools. In her experience, children who weren’t achieving academically might have been weeded out of her private schools. She probably never realized that they were then sent to public schools, where all students are accepted.

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.

PISA

Putting PISA Results to the Test

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, the U.S. has the second-highest child poverty rate (23.1%) among industrialized nations from the European Union and OECD; only Romania’s is higher (25.5%).

…the majority of children attending U.S. public schools – 51% – are growing up in low-income households, the highest percentage since the federal government began tracking the figure.

Poverty matters when it comes to achievement. Students who live in poverty in the United States come to school with issues that don’t affect wealthier students. Stress, for example...

Children growing up in poverty often experience chronic stress…chronic stress can affect the developing learning centers of the brain, with impact on attention, concentration, working memory and self-regulation.

In other words, the simple fact of growing up in poverty affects a child’s ability to learn. In addition, there are factors outside of school which contribute to low achievement.

David C. Berliner examined the impact of out-of-school factors on achievement. In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, Berliner wrote,

OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

These factors include conditions having an impact on developing fetuses, such as the medical care given to the mother, the mother’s general health, and any toxins ingested by the mother either through drug or alcohol abuse, or through environmental toxins in the environment. After the child is born things like low birth weight, inadequate medical care, food insecurity, environmental pollutants like lead poisoning, family stress, and other characteristics of high-poverty neighborhoods all have an impact on a child’s ability to learn.

To place all the blame for low achievement on public schools serving large numbers of students living in poverty is unfair to the schools, teachers, and students.

TEST SCORES REFLECT ECONOMIC STATUS

Mrs. DeVos probably doesn’t know that low test scores correlate exactly with high poverty (see here and here). Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

We can show these results using graphs from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’.

The first graph shows where schools with various percentages of students in poverty would fall if only those schools were compared to other countries in the OECD.

This graph compares schools with various percentages of students in poverty to countries in OECD with similar poverty levels. The first side, for example, shows how students from schools with a poverty rate of less than ten percent compare to nations with a poverty rate of less than ten percent.

These two charts from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ clearly show the impact that poverty has on American students’ test scores. In every case, students who attend schools with a given percentage of children in poverty 1) score higher than students who attend schools with lower percentages of children in poverty and 2) score higher than countries with similar rates of poverty.

At the very least we can say that the child poverty rate, over which schools have no control, has an impact on student learning. In his blog post, Why Invest in Libraries, Stephen Krashen, USC Professor Emeritus, wrote,

Poverty means, among other things, inadequate diet, lack of health care, and lack of access to books. Each of these has a powerful impact on achievement (Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 1997). The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little or nothing to read (emphasis added).

FINDING SOLUTIONS

Can schools do nothing to overcome the impact of poverty on student lives? Not alone. However, with the help of legislators, taxpayers, and parents, support for students struggling to succeed can help.

Here are some suggestions – most of which cost money – to help raise student achievement. These ideas come from various sources, including The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids, Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence, and The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.

Legislators should help by fully funding public education in order to

  • Develop age-appropriate Pre-K programs
  • Reduce class sizes
  • Provide a well rounded, age-appropriate curriculum
  • Include the arts, recess, and physical education in the curriculum
  • Eliminate unnecessary testing (this one saves money)
  • Recruit experienced and diverse staff including classroom teachers and specialists
  • Include non-teaching staff when needed, such as nurses, counselors, and social workers
  • Maintain high quality facilities
  • Introduce parental support programs

THE CHALLENGE TO POLICY MAKERS

When she looks at the U.S. international test scores, Secretary DeVos, and other policy makers see “failing schools.” This is wrong. The low average scores, and the even lower scores aggregated for low income students, indicate that economic inequity is overwhelming the infrastructure of our public school systems. Instead of blaming public schools, politicians and policy makers must take responsibility for ending the shameful rate of child poverty and inequity in America.

In his Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, on August 16, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

…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.

Special thanks to Meg Bloom, Phyllis Bush, and Donna Roof, all members of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, for their help in preparing the presentation from which this blog post was adapted.

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Posted in Article Medleys, Early Childhood, poverty, Privatization, Recess, vouchers, Wisconsin

2017 Medley #10

Vouchers, Public Education,
Early Childhood Education, Recess, Poverty

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Adding Insult to Injury

Tensions rise as vouchers pick up traction across Wisconsin

Here’s an outrageous twist on how a state pays for vouchers. The levy for the voucher schools in Wisconsin is included in the property tax bill where it is labeled for public schools! The local public school district is charged with raising funds for students using vouchers to go to private schools!

Starting last year, state law called for districts to raise taxes to pay for local students using vouchers — whether they were already enrolled in a private school or not. The cost shows up on a homeowner’s property tax bill as part of the public school levy. There’s no separate line item telling taxpayers the cost of the voucher program in their district.

“We’ve been put in the unenviable position of middleman,” said Colleen Timm, the superintendent of the Mishicot School District.

School Vouchers: Welfare for the Rich, the Racist, and the Religious Right

Everyone who has a stake in public education – and that’s really all of us – ought to save this post by Russ Walsh. Print it, along with the articles and videos to which it links, and bind it carefully. Refer to it often.

Walsh takes the topic of vouchers and explains where it came from, and what it’s purpose is.

And that purpose has little to do with educating children.

…vouchers are very good for the rich. If the rich can sell vouchers as the cure for educational inequality, they may be able to get people to ignore the real reason for public education struggles – income inequity. If the rich really want to improve schools, they need to put their money on the line. If the rich are really interested in helping poor school children they need to invest – through higher taxes (or maybe just by paying their fair share of taxes), not unreliable philanthropy, in improved health care, child care, parental education, pre-school education, public school infrastructure and on and on. This will be expensive, but we can do it if the wealthy would show the same dedication to the “civil rights issue of our time” with their wallets as they show to harebrained schemes like vouchers.

So vouchers are good for the rich, but they are also good for the racist. Voucher schemes were born in the racist south in the 1950s right after the Brown v. Board of Education struck down school segregation. After that ruling, many states passed voucher schemes to allow white parents to send their children to private schools and take taxpayers money with them. Many children, black and white are still feeling the negative impact of this racist response to desegregation. Today, vouchers have similar effects on schools. Vouchers may not provide enough money for low-income and minority students to attend private schools, but they may well provide enough money to subsidize attendance for their slightly more affluent white neighbors.

Another Study: Vouchers are not improving education

Yet another review of the studies showing that vouchers are for diverting tax money to religious schools, not helping children.

The report suggests that giving every parent and student a great “choice” of educational offerings is better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training to improved student health and nutrition programs. All of these yield much higher returns than the minor, if any, gains that have been estimated for voucher students. (Emphasis added)

SUCCEEDING SCHOOLS

Public Schools: Who Is Failing Whom?

Call it lies, misunderstanding, or whatever you like, the idea that America’s public schools are failing is false.

In truth, it is politicians and policy makers who have failed. They have always found public education to be a convenient scapegoat at which to toss the blame for whatever failures of public policy they don’t choose to accept responsibility for.

Say it often enough and people will believe it is true, even if it is not. It’s time to change that narrative.

If the same words are repeated over and over again, they begin to be taken as true. “Failing public schools” are such words. I see them written and hear them spoken by legislators, journalists, and commentators who probably have not been in a public school in the decades since they attended one or never because they were educated in private schools.

…It is not the schools that are failing our children. It is the adults with political power who are failing our schools.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Littles– More Than a Score (A Film You Should See)

This post by Peter Greene contains a video which I have embedded as well, below. Kindergarten has lost its developmental appropriateness. The Common Core (and in Indiana, the new standards based on the Common Core, but not called the Common Core) has brought us to this place where we have chosen standardization over development, and our children will be the worse for it.

Marie Amoruso has been a teacher, an author and adjunct professor at Teachers College Columbia University, and Manhattanville College. She runs a consulting agency, and she has created a short film about this very subject. Yes, “More Than a Test Score” is not exactly a groundbreaking title, and yes, her delivery is at times a little over-fraught and yes, she kind of muddies Common Core in with other issues. But when she turns her camera on the classrooms of young children, she cuts right to the heart of what is so deeply wrong with the test-centered school movement. In seventeen minutes, with the help of several interview subjects, she addresses what children need and what they aren’t getting, and she takes us right into the classrooms to see the effects.

Teachers know what to do– the issue, as she lays it out, is getting the freedom to let them do it. In the absence of that, students learn to hate school.

PRIVATIZATION: RECESS

Privatizing Recess: Micromanaging Children’s Play for Profit

Along with the developmentally inappropriate Common Core and other standards-based intrusions on public schools, there is the continuing overuse and misuse of testing. The Big Standardized Test (to share Peter Greene’s description, the BS Test) has been the driving force behind corporate education “reform” over the last couple of decades. This has led to teaching to the test and spending inordinate amounts of instructional time focused on test prep. Physical Education and recess have been among the casualties of this debate. There’s no time any more for children to just play and recess has been disappearing from schools around the nation. Physical Education isn’t covered on the test, so it has been scaled back to minimal levels.

Enter an entrepreneur who wants to make some money teaching kids how to play. Schools, whose students are starved for physical activity, have jumped on this newest bandwagon…the privatization of Physical Education classes substituting as recess.

Recess is such a simple concept. It’s freedom for children. It’s adults saying “ We trust you to create your own fun. Make-up stuff, run and jump, play tag, swing or slide, climb, play kick ball, or soft ball, or jump rope. Or, sit by yourself and feel the sun on your back. Look at an anthill. Chase a butterfly!

Recess, done right, energizes children! There are no rules other than not hurting anyone. And teachers are always observing how children socialize on the playground and will step in if children display inappropriate behavior.

Why are so many adults not willing to let children be children for a short time each day at school?

POVERTY

State funding lags for high-poverty schools

The United States is one of three industrialized nations who spend more money to educate the children of the wealthy than to educate the children of the poor.

We know that the effects of poverty have an impact on a child’s achievement. Other nations understand that more is needed to provide support for children who come from high-poverty backgrounds. Indiana used to be an exception to that rule (see this article from 2015), but has since changed it’s plan and is moving to invest more in wealthy districts than in poor ones – a step backwards.

The state budget bill approved last month by the Indiana House continues a trend that we’ve seen for several legislative sessions: School districts that primarily serve affluent families are getting decent funding increases while high-poverty school districts are losing out.

Poverty and Its Effects on School Achievement Are Forgotten in the President’s Budget

Test and punishment doesn’t change the fact that children from poor families don’t achieve as well as children from wealthy families. The President’s new budget proudly expands school privatization, but ignores 90% of American children who attend public schools, half of whom are low income or worse.

In the list of programs for the Department of Education, there are three different expansions of school school choice and privatization—Title I Portability, some kind of pilot of federal vouchers, and expansion by 50 percent of the Charter Schools Program that underwrites grants to states for the launch of new charter schools. The K-12 education budget cuts after-school programs, two programs that help students prepare for and apply to college, and teacher preparation. There is nothing in Trump’s new education budget to expand the opportunity to learn for America’s poorest children in urban and rural public schools.

For fifteen years the United States has had a test-based accountability system in place supposedly to close achievement gaps, raise school achievement, and drive school staff to work harder. There is widespread agreement that No Child Left Behind (now to be replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act) has failed to close achievement gaps and significantly raise overall achievement for the students who are farthest behind.

Poverty is indeed the problem in education

Stephen Krashen posted this on his blog along with the corresponding studies. Unfortunately, if you click the link above, the studies are all that are left on the blog. Somehow the following, which I retrieved (and can still retrieve) through my Feedly account, has disappeared.

Krashen is right…the problem with American education – like the problem with a lot of social issues in America – is poverty and inequity.

To the editor:

Missing from David Denby’s “Stop Humiliating Teachers” is a mention of the overwhelming research supporting his claim: Poverty is indeed the problem in education. Martin Luther King suggested this in 1967: “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” and research has confirmed that Dr. King was right again and again.

Studies published in scientific journals show that when researchers control for the effects of poverty, American students score near the top of the world on international tests. Our overall scores are unimpressive because of our unacceptably high rate of child poverty, now around 21 percent. In some urban districts, the poverty level is 80%. In contrast, child poverty in high-scoring Finland is around 5%. The problem is poverty, not teacher quality, not unions, not schools of education, not a lack of testing and not low standards.

As Denby notes, poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care and lack of access to books. Studies confirm that each of these has a strong negative influence on school performance, and that when we remedy the situation, school performance improves.

As Susan Ohanian puts it, our motto should be “No child left unfed, no child without adquate health care, and no child without easy access to a good library.” The best teaching in the world will be ineffective if students are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read. Until we eliminate poverty, let’s at least protect children from its effects. This would cost a fraction of what we cheerfully spend on expensive “innovations” that have no strong scientific evidence backing them, such as frequent high-stakes testing, and the current trend to replace teachers with computer modules for basic instruction (competency-based education).

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