Category Archives: Walsh

2020 Medley #10: Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools

Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools

GOV. CUOMO CALLS ON BILLIONAIRES

Screen New Deal: Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia

When it’s time to fix society’s problems — with established ideas or innovations — politicians call on billionaires even if they have no training or experience in the area needing help: economics, education, government, whatever.

Andrew Cuomo has handled the coronavirus pandemic in his state of New York with what many people believe to be high-quality governance. He’s helped his state through the toughest parts of the pandemic with poise and confidence. Now it’s time to plan for the future…so what does he do? He calls on billionaires.

One of the billionaires is Bill Gates. Cuomo has asked Gates to help develop a “smarter education system.” This directive assumes that Gates and his foundation have the ability to create such a system. Unfortunately, Gates’s ideas for school reform haven’t worked in the past, and there’s no indication that they will work on the other side of the pandemic. Gates has no experience in public education. He didn’t attend public schools. He has no teaching qualifications and never worked in a public school. His only experience in education is throwing money into his inexperienced and often poorly thought out educational programs. [For some information on the failures of Bill Gates’s education “innovations” see here, here, here, here, and here. See also Anthony Cody’s book, The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation]

Naomi Klein writes…

Just one day earlier, Cuomo had announced a similar partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop “a smarter education system.” Calling Gates a “visionary,” Cuomo said the pandemic has created “a moment in history when we can actually incorporate and advance [Gates’s] ideas … all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?” he asked, apparently rhetorically.

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

The School Year Really Ended in March

This New York Times “Economic View” calls for investing millions of federal dollars to help those kids who have been left behind by the pandemic to catch up. The idea of helping students learn…and helping students catch up is a good one. The idea of increasing federal funding to help the students is also good. Beyond that, there’s not too much innovation in this other than in paying underqualified and unemployed college graduates to tutor students who fell behind during the pandemic. Teach for America, anyone?

The federal government can tap unused energy and talent by funding a big domestic volunteer effort for our schools, in the style of AmeriCorps. There will be far too many unemployed college students — and graduates — in the coming years, because recessions always hit young workers the hardest.

Young people could be paid a stipend to tutor, troubleshoot technology for online classes, assist teachers (virtually or in person) and disinfect classrooms. High school students who typically work during the summer and after school could be paid to attend classes themselves.

IDEAS FROM ACTUAL STAKEHOLDERS

Instead of billionaires might Governor Cuomo (and the rest of the nation) do better to ask people who actually have a stake in the public schools? Shouldn’t we rely on people who attend, work in, or send their children to the public schools? Why do we insist that so-called “business leaders” make decisions about public education with little or no input from teachers?

Ask Moms How to Reimagine Public Schools!

Nancy Bailey asked moms how they thought schools should be “reimagined.” I don’t know the economic status of the moms who were asked…Cuomo might discount their responses because some might not be billionaires, but these are the people whose kids go to public schools.

Bailey listed 23 ideas. Federal funding would be better directed towards these instead of more screen time and more “test and punish.”

For Mother’s Day, I asked Moms what they wanted from their public schools. I collected their comments and added a few of my own. Feel free to add to the list.

1. The Arts. All schools must provide arts education. Music, painting, dance, acting, students thrive with exposure to a rich arts program.

2. Assessment. Drop the high-stakes standardized testing! Mothers know these tests were never about their children. Moms started the Opt-Out Movement! Have less assessment and more teacher-chosen tests to determine student progress.

3. Cafeterias…

4. Career-Technical Education. Students benefit from classes in Career-Technical Education (CTE).

5. Communication. School officials and teachers must stay in touch. Politeness and positivity in forms and business information go a long way with parents.

6. Community. Schools are the hub of the community. Moms want the community to get behind their public schools.

7. Curriculum. Students deserve a rich variety of classes. Elementary students need social studies and science. Civics must be addressed in high school. Many mothers want to see the return of classes like Home Economics and business education. Their students need to understand personal management and life skills.

8. Diversity. Laura Bowman, who’s on the Board of Directors of Parents Across America, reminded us of the need to recruit more teachers of color. Classes should reflect cultural differences. We will never become a better nation if we don’t bring children together.

10. Individuality…11. Joy!…12. Libraries…13. Play…14. Physical Education…15. Safety…16. School Boards…17. School Buildings…18. Socialization…19. Special Education…20. Teachers…21. Technology…22. Reading…23. Recess…

One More Question…..

When John Merrow graduated from Harvard with an Ed.D he applied for a job as a school superintendent. They asked him…

“Dr. Merrow…If we hire you to be our School Superintendent, what’s the biggest change you would want to make in our schools?”

His answer was to keep all third graders in place until they could all read. A shocking answer…and one I don’t think he meant literally. On the other hand, he has several more ideas to add including some Nancy Bailey’s collection of moms suggested.

1) Suspension of all high stakes machine-scored bubble tests for at least two years. Use the savings for teaching materials and teacher salaries.

2) Frequent measurement of academic progress, led by teachers, guided by an “assess to improve” philosophy. That is, lots of low-stakes assessments.

3) End-of-year testing of a randomized sample of students, which would produce a reliable analysis of how the entire student body is doing. Sampling is done in every other aspect of society (including when your doctor withdraws a sample of your blood!). It’s far less expensive and highly reliable.

4) A rich and varied curriculum that includes at least five short breaks for recess every day in all elementary schools. Play is essential!

5) A strong commitment to project-based learning, preferably involving students from other schools (perhaps in other states and countries).

6) A school environment that celebrates accomplishments of all sorts–and not just athletics!

7) A school environment that promotes inquiry, one in which it is safe to say “I don’t know” and praiseworthy to be curious. It’s not enough for schools to be physically safe for students. They must also be emotionally and intellectually safe.

8) A public rejection of the philosophy of ‘sorting’ because our economy and our democracy need everyone to be educated to their fullest capacity. 

TESTING, TESTING, TOO MUCH TESTING

Why Johnny Can’t Read? It’s Complicated, Ms. Hanford.

As long as we’re reimagining education, let’s take a look at reading…my particular interest.

When I reimagine reading instruction in public education I imagine a system without wasteful and damaging standardized tests. I imagine a school where students have choices in their reading. I imagine a school where students are not punished if they learn to read more slowly than their peers.

It’s past time to end standardized testing. The tests don’t provide much help to teachers and are part of a massive system of misuse. A standardized test shouldn’t be used to punish a child who takes more time to learn, evaluate a teacher, or grade a school system. Using tests in that way invalidates them. On the other hand, standardized tests do a good job of identifying a child’s race and economic status.

Reading is a big issue in the U.S. The “reading wars” have been bouncing back and forth from “whole language” to “intense phonics” for decades. Many states have third-grade reading laws designed to retain children in third grade until they can pass a reading test showing that they can read “at grade level.” As usual, the reading test is one that is standardized. As usual, the test divides children based on their racial and economic status.

Instead of testing we should help children learn to read by taking them from where they are, to where they can be, using all the techniques available…not just phonics.

There are numerous reasons that some children have trouble reading. It’s not just phonics; it’s not just poor instruction; it’s not just poverty. Here is just the first of a series of posts on why some children have trouble learning to read by Russ Walsh — make sure you check out the later entries as well. Not all children have the same needs. Can we reimagine a public education where all children get what they need?

My old history professor, George Turner, used to warn me away from simple explanations in history. He said that historical events were best understood through the concept of the multiplicity of inter-causation: Lots of things conspire to make something happen or not happen. We might remember that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo led to the First World War, but that is an oversimplification. Various alliances, increasing militarization, imperialism, and nationalism were all contributing factors. We may remember the Watergate break-in precipitated Nixon’s downfall, but Nixon’s arrogance, pettiness, racism, mendacity, and paranoia all played a role.

So, it is with reading difficulty. The answer to why some children do not learn to read is complex. And, therefore, the solutions must match that complexity. Until we recognize this fact, we will continue to search for simple solutions that will inevitably fail.

Reimagine Public Education: A place where all children get what they need.
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2019 Medley #4

Disrespecting Teachers,
Benefits of a Book-oriented Home,
Math is for Boys and Girls,
Poverty Affects Achievement,
Bill of Rights for School Children.

THE DISRESPECT OF TEACHERS

Our Public Schools Aren’t Failing; We’re Failing Our Public Schools

As professionals, teachers are disrespected.

Ed reformers blame teachers for “failing schools” but that’s because the truth is closer to home. Here we read about Michigan’s “failing schools” caused by legislative neglect or, more likely, legislative abuse.

The state’s public schools were once admired across the nation. They were well-funded and supported, and provided an excellent education for children. These schools became “the center of community life” in many places in the state, and still do in many communities.

But our state’s “new landlord”, aided and abetted by the “multi-level marketing robber barons” of West Michigan, stopped funding our schools, allowing too many of them, especially in our largest cities, to fall into neglect and disrepair. Michigan’s last governor took $1 billion from the state’s education fund, while declaring himself the “education governor”, and we wonder why Detroit’s schools don’t have the resources needed to maintain their facilities, or pay their teachers a competitive salary. Our current Secretary of Education suggested the best solution to the problems with Detroit’s schools would be to simply shut down the entire district, and let families find other places to send their children–and this is the person in charge of the nation’s public schools.

Teachers not appointed to governor’s teacher compensation commission

As professionals, teachers are disrespected.

The State Board of Accounts includes CPAs…the Native American Indiana Affairs Commission includes members of local Native Americans…

But a commission directly affecting teachers in Indiana has no teacher as a voting member.

Gov. Eric Holcomb followed through Tuesday on his pledge to charge a state commission with finding ways to make Indiana teacher pay more competitive with neighboring states.

However, none of the seven voting members of the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission is a teacher.

At What Point Do We Stop Blaming Teachers?

As professionals, teachers are disrespected.

State legislatures and policy makers choose how and what teachers must teach. When their choices don’t improve achievement, however, the teachers are the ones who are blamed…

As a teacher who has been told to teach a program as it’s written, how the hell is it my fault if the assignments students get are not challenging enough? I’m not the one who designed the assignments.

If you’re requiring me to read from some stupid script written by publishers who’ve never met my students, then how can you fairly evaluate my instruction? It’s not my instruction.

Should we be surprised that students aren’t engaged during a lesson that’s delivered by a teacher who had no hand in creating it and who sees it as the contrived lump that it is? I’m not a terrible actor, but hand me a lemon and I’m going to have trouble convincing even the most eager-to-learn student that I’m giving them lemonade.

THE BENEFIT OF HOME LIBRARIES

Home Libraries Confer Long-Term Benefits

Reading aloud to children is the single most important activity that parents and caregivers can do to help children become readers and achieve success in school. The study linked here reinforces the benefits of living in a book-oriented environment and explains that it has life-long benefits. Unfortunately, not all parents are able to afford the books for a home library or even provide transportation to public libraries.

Fortunately, there are a few sources of free books for children.

We’ve known for a while that home libraries are strongly linked to children’s academic achievement. What’s less certain is whether the benefits they bestow have a long-term impact.

A new large-scale study, featuring data from 31 countries, reports they do indeed. It finds the advantages of growing up in a book-filled home can be measured well into adulthood.

MATH IS FOR GIRLS, TOO

No intrinsic gender differences in children’s earliest numerical abilities

It turns out that men don’t have any more “natural” inclination for math then do women.

Across all stages of numerical development, analyses consistently revealed that boys and girls do not differ in early quantitative and mathematical ability. These findings indicate that boys and girls are equally equipped to reason about mathematics during early childhood.

LOOKING BACK

Here are two posts from the past which are still relevant to today’s educational environment.

Poverty Limits Student Achievement

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

David C. Berliner’s 2009 report explains the ways that poverty impacts student achievement. We must address poverty at the same time as we address school achievement or we’re doomed to fail. Legislators who blame teachers or students for “failing schools” must take responsibility for their own failure to create an equitable society. They must provide high-poverty schools with the resources needed to counteract the out-of-school factors impacting student achievement.

Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools, therefore, face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.

The Schools All Children Deserve

A Bill of Rights for School Children

Russ Walsh’s 2016 book, A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century, contains this gem, a Bill of Rights for School Children, first published on his blog.

Fulfilling the items on this list would go a long way to providing equitable educational opportunities for all children.

As we look to future, it may be useful to consider some principles about public education that, for me at least, seem immutable. A Bill of Rights for the school child if you will.

1. Every child has a right to a free, high quality, public education.

2. Every child has a right to attend a well-staffed, well-resourced, clean and safe local neighborhood school.

3. Every child has the right to be taught by well-informed, fully certified, fully engaged teachers who care about the child as a learner and as a person.

4. Every child has the right to a school that provides a rich and varied curriculum that includes the visual and performing arts, integrated technology, and physical education.

5. Every child has a right to a school that provides a rich and varied extra-curricular program including athletics, clubs, and service learning opportunities.

6. Every child has a right to instruction that is well-planned, engaging, and collaborative.

7. Every child has a right to instruction that is developmentally appropriate.

8. Every elementary school child has a right to daily recess.

9. Every child has the right to go to a school with adequate support personnel including librarians, nurses, guidance counselors, and learning support specialists.

10. Every child has a right to an element of choice in the educational program, including the right to choose to take advanced level courses.

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2018 Medley #20

Segregation, Testing Toddlers, VAM, Duncan Still Unqualified, Why Teachers Quit, Giving Kids Books, Charters

SCHOOL SEGREGATION

Why Is This Happening? Investigating school segregation in 2018 with Nikole Hannah-Jones: podcast and transcript

The U.S. gave up on integrattion. Public school systems are more segregated than when Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down sixty-four years ago. This is all complicated by our underfunding of public education, especially for black and brown students.

So where is the concept of the public good — where is the concept of “promote the general welfare”?

Nikole Hannah-Jones is one of the few voices calling for Americans to teach their children…all their children…together.

…who the hell pays your social security one day?

Right, when we’re a country that is very quickly going to be a minority white country and you’re gonna continue to under-educate half of the population of your country, then what jobs are they gonna get that are gonna help pay for the infrastructure of this country, that are gonna help pay your social security.

 

TESTING

Toddlers and Preschool Testing? Don’t Steal the Joy of Reading!

From the makers of DIBELS comes a new test…this one for toddlers. The next step in educational malpractice.

A child three years old is still a toddler. What demands, if any, should be placed on a child this young when it comes to learning to read? Will it harm their chances of enjoying reading in the future? This is what we should ask when it comes to the new PELI testing.

The same creators of DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills), the controversial assessment started with the controversial program Reading First, following the recommendations of the controversial National Reading Panel, now have reading assessment for children as young as three years old.

DIBELS uses nonsense syllables which might not mean anything to a child. There are other problems with the assessment according to reading expert Ken Goodman who edited Examining DIBELS: What it is What it Does.

 

Top 10 Reasons You Can’t Fairly Evaluate Teachers on Student Test Scores

Using student test scores to evaluate teachers isn’t appropriate, yet we still do it. There’s no rational reason for continuing a practice that even the American Statistical Association says is statistically unreliable and invalid. This ignorant use of numbers is just another example of America’s anti-science and anti-intellectualism.

Steven Singer lists 10 reasons why VAM is junk science…

2) You can’t assess teachers on tests that were made to assess students.

This violates fundamental principles of both statistics and assessment. If you make a test to assess A, you can’t use it to assess B. That’s why many researchers have labeled the process “junk science” – most notably the American Statistical Association in 2014. Put simply, the standardized tests on which VAM estimates are based have always been, and continue to be, developed to assess student achievement and not growth in student achievement nor growth in teacher effectiveness. The tests on which VAM estimates are based were never designed to estimate teachers’ effects. Doing otherwise is like assuming all healthy people go to the best doctors and all sick people go to the bad ones. If I fail a dental screening because I have cavities, that doesn’t mean my dentist is bad at his job. It means I need to brush more and lay off the sugary snacks.

 

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan says U.S. education system “not top 10 in anything”

I agreed with some of what Duncan had to say in his interview on Face the Nation. Unfortunately, when he had the chance to change things he made them worse.

In 2015 I wrote,

Look what we got…Arne Duncan — who never set foot in a public school as either a student or a teacher — and Race to the Top which doubled down on No Child Left Behind’s labeling of low test takers as losers. Arne Duncan, who cheered when an entire school full of teachers in Rhode Island were fired because the school was “low achieving” (aka filled with high poverty students). Arne Duncan, who manipulated federal dollars meant for low income students so that it became a contest to see which states could raise the caps on Charters fast enough and evaluate teachers based on test scores.

It’s the ultimate of ironies that this man wrote a book called “How Schools Work.”

“We say we value education, but we never vote on education. We never hold politicians accountable — local, state or national level — for getting better results,” Duncan, the education secretary under President Obama, said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday. He added that the “toughest lie” for him personally is that “we say we value kids, and we’ve raised a generation of young people, teens, who have been raised on mass shootings and gun violence, and that simply doesn’t happen in other nations.”

“I don’t look at what people say. I look at their actions, their policies. I look at their budgets. Our values don’t reflect that we care about education or we care about teachers or that we truly care about keeping our children safe and free of fear,” Duncan said.

 

WHY TEACHERS QUIT

Brittani Pollock: “I Left Teaching. I Had To.”

Here is yet another story about a teacher who left teaching. In this case it’s because of lack of funding in poorly funded Oklahoma. Americans are so intent on paying no taxes that we’re sabatoging our future.

I’m donating my blog today to a former student, now friend, Brittani. She was my student and an officer in my club, Teen Volunteers, at Norman North. I always knew she wanted to be a teacher, you could see her deep love of children when she volunteered. I watched her get her teaching degree and watched as she began what we both thought would be a long career in the classroom. I planned to watch her become a National Board Certified Teacher. Things did not work out the way we hoped. And my heart is broken for every student who will never know Miss Pollock’s love.

 

GIVE KIDS BOOKS

Dolly Parton’s literacy program donates its 100 millionth book to Library of Congress

Before LeBron James, there was Dolly Parton. She started the Imagination Library in 1995. From the Imagination Library web site

…a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income.

After launching in 1995, the program grew quickly. First books were only distributed to children living in Sevier County, Tennessee where Dolly grew up. It became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort was underway. By 2003, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library had mailed one million books. It would prove to be the first of many millions of books sent to children around the world.

Earlier this year the Imagination Library sent out its 100 millionth book.

Alongside Carla Hayden, who heads the Library of Congress, the iconic country singer dedicated the 100 millionth book from her Imagination Library to the research library. Through the nonprofit, she has been donating millions of books to children for more than 20 years.

 

…as of August 1, 2018

The 4th Annual National Give-A-Kid-A-Book Day

Speaking of giving kids books, last July 6 was the fourth annual Give-A-Kid-A-Book day. Did you remember? Russ Walsh reminds us every year.

It’s not too late…give-a-kid-a-book today.

Literacy research has shown that the single best way to combat summer reading loss is to get books in kids hands. One way to do this is to give children books.

Participation is easy. All you need to do to is find a child and give that child a book. The child could be your own, a neighbor’s child, a student, a grandchild, one of your own kid’s friends, children in a homeless shelter. Just give the child a book and say, “I thought you might enjoy this.” Some participants like to include a lollipop or other small sweet treat to send the message, “Reading is Sweet!”, but the most important thing is to give a kid book.

 

CHARTERS

In the Public Interest’s weekly privatization report

In the Public Interest posts a weekly privatization report. The reports cover more than just the privatization of public schools. Here is just one of eleven different reports about charter schools from this week’s report.

You might also be interested in taking a look at Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.

29) Pennsylvania Just a few weeks before the start of the new school year, Wonderland Charter School in Ferguson Township is closing its doors, sending students and parents scrambling after they received email notification. “During the charter review, several people associated with Wonderland, including board members, teachers and parents, informed the board of directors of their concerns with the charter: ‘long-standing, calculated, inappropriate, and unlawful practices with respect to students with special needs,’ according to a letter to the board from Superintendent Bob O’Donnell.”

 

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Carved in Stone

What we learn in childhood is carved in stone.
What we learn as adults is carved in ice.

Jim Trelease used the above quote from poet David Kherdian to begin chapter 2 of his Read-Aloud Handbook. The first line is as good a reason as any for parents to read aloud to their children – from birth.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening as much as it ought to…

READ-ALOUD SURVEY

In a recent survey on Read-Aloud the percentage of parents who read to their children from birth had increased to 30%, up from 15% in 2015. That number is still way too low. In addition, it was noted that even though there was an increase in the number of parents reading to their children from birth, only 14% of parents spent at least 15 minutes reading with their children. This also is an increase (from 8%) but, again, still pathetically low. Sadly, the increase is not across the board when it comes to reading aloud to children.

• 2018 data shows a slight decrease, from 46% to 42%, in the frequency with which children ages 0-8 are being read aloud to every day. This decrease is driven mostly by parents of children ages 6-8. (Page 23)

• Only 30% (of total parents) say their child is currently read aloud to every day, for at least 15 minutes. This too is down slightly from 2016 (34%). (Page 24)

The survey catalogued reasons for the decline which included such things as,

  • doing other things which are just as good as reading aloud
  • the inability of the child to sit still long enough to read aloud
  • parents don’t have time
  • the child doesn’t like to be read to
  • the child is read to at school, so they don’t need to be read to at home

I accept all those reasons (and the others given in the survey) as completely legitimate, unless the family (parents and children) spend at least 15 – 30 minutes a day watching TV.

THE IMPORTANCE OF READ ALOUD

What’s the big deal? What good is reading aloud, anyway. Back to Jim Trelease [emphasis added]…

The [1983 Commission on Reading, funded by the U.S. Department of Education] spent two years poring through thousands of research projects conducted in the previous quarter century, and in 1985 issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

“It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom.

In their wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than work sheets, homework, book reports, and flash cards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better tool than anything else in the home or classroom—and it’s so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma to do it.

In other words, 1) reading is one of the most important tools for children and 2) reading aloud is positively correlated with learning to read. Meanwhile, as the previously mentioned survey reveals, less than half of the parents of 0-8 year olds in the U.S. read aloud to their children.

Trelease explains why reading aloud helps children learn to read…

…in reading aloud, we also:

  • build vocabulary
  • condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • create background knowledge
  • provide a reading role model
  • plant the desire to read

[For an in-depth study of why these points are important to reading see two series of blog posts by Russ Walsh. The first, an eleven part series on When Readers Struggle, which begins with Background Knowledge. The second, a four part series (so far) on Building Vocabulary which starts with an Overview.]

If language development, gaining background knowledge, instilling a desire to read, building literacy skills, and personal bonding aren’t enough to convince you that reading aloud is important…try these two…

FIGHT POVERTY

Reading aloud to your children can help offset some effects of poverty [emphasis added].

Families Armed With Books Repel The Effects Of Poverty

The important fact is that parents who insert themselves most firmly into early literacy activities—participating in reading, conversation, and writing—and bring those activities into the home regularly provide the best academic foundation for their children. Parent involvement makes a greater difference than money. And children love to listen to books, especially when parents read, and the act of reading together promotes lifelong literacy because people enjoy it. It continues to be fun at any age, long after a child learns to read fluently. We all love a well-spun story.

[See also Reading aloud to children: the evidence]

The more a child is exposed to reading, the better they become at reading. As an elementary school reading specialist, I tried to help the parents of my students understand that reading was one of the most important skills learned in elementary school and quantity was important. Kids should read a LOT.  As Jim Trelease wrote…

The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.

Even as adults we recognize that reading is an important skill, which brings us to…

A LIFE-LONG LOVE OF READING

Adults who read continue to learn throughout their lives, are better informed, and live longer. Reading aloud to children helps them become life-long readers as this book review attests to. [Full disclosure: the “dad” in the review below, refers to me!]

There is No Life I Know to Compare with Pure Imagination

As an adult I have realized that it is not just the books I read as a child, but those that were read aloud to me when I was little, that mean the most to me. They are the ones I have the strongest memories of and the ones that can evoke the strongest emotions. I never read My Side of the Mountain or Hatchet, but my 3rd grade teacher read them aloud to us, and I’ll never forget them. The Narnia books, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Ramona books, all the Roald Dahl books–my parents read them all to me, plus countless others, and these are the books that I remember most fondly. There is nothing better than sharing a story with someone. It was not unusual in my house to be reading a book and find certain passages were bracketed or had notes in the margin–my dad read aloud to all his classes, and would use these notes to guide his reading. When I read these books now as an adult, it’s not my own voice in my head that is narrating, but that of my parents. This adds an extra element of pleasure to rereading childhood favorites.

WHAT TO DO

Help your children live longer lives! Read to them from birth. Continue until they are at least 8 years old – longer if you can.

If you know someone with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors, let them know the value of reading to their children from birth.

Get books at the public library. Ask librarians for suggestions, or check out The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. You can find it at the library, get your own copy, or use an abridged version online.

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Who is Accountable?

RESEARCH-BASED EDUCATION

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

Knowledge, Belief, and the Professional Educator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE: CLASS SIZE

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

So why don’t we reduce class sizes?

It costs too much.

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

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

Steven Singer makes the case for small class sizes…

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

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

See also Class Size Matters.Org

LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE: RETENTION IN GRADE

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

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

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

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

Recently Michigan joined the “punish third graders” club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY

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

Teachers (and schools) should be accountable for understanding the

scientific research behind our instructional decision making.

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

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2017 Medley #26

Lead Poisoning for Profit, Bigotry in America, Reading Aloud, 
Government by Those Who Hate Government

POISONING CHILDREN FOR PROFIT

Flint Is Slowly Getting Better, Say Scientists Who Exposed Water Crisis

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

There are still millions of children in the U.S. who are exposed to lead every day. Flint, Michigan is the best known example of lead poisoning on a massive scale. After 3 years the water situation is starting to get better for Flint…but lead poisoning is non-reversible. How many lives have been damaged permanently?

The situation in Flint is still difficult. Today, residents still use lead filters and bottled water for safety, and they still pay bills for water that they can’t use and for health problems that were the result of the crisis. But the $87 million settlement reached between residents and the city of Flint mandating pipe replacement has already begun to bring new water infrastructure into some parts of the city. All of Flint’s 18,000 damaged pipes are set to be replaced by 2020, and that replacement has already started.

“2020 sounds like a long time, but there’s only two other cities in America that have entirely replaced their lead pipes: Lansing, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin. “They both did it over a decade,” Hanna-Attisha says. “So mandating it over three years is actually unprecedented.”

Boxed Water for Flint (click the image for link).

Betsy DeVos and Denying Flint’s Children Special Education

Now that the lead poisoned children of Flint need it the most, the state is balking at providing extra funds for special education services. Meanwhile, DeVos sells boxed water

How can a state that poisoned its children with leaded water, now put roadblocks in their way to get the special education services they need to improve their lives?

BIGOTRY IN AMERICA

‘We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation’

Why didn’t the current occupant of the Oval Office come out against bigotry as strong as Joe Biden?

Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate.

We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support.

This is a moment for this nation to declare what the president can’t with any clarity, consistency, or conviction: There is no place for these hate groups in America. Hatred of blacks, Jews, immigrants—all who are seen as “the other”—won’t be accepted or tolerated or given safe harbor anywhere in this nation.

READ ALOUD

Read-Aloud to Your Kids! Great Advice to Parents from Author Russ Walsh on Reading to Your Children Throughout the School Year

Read aloud to your children from birth.

The beginning of a school year is a good time to take an inventory of at-home practices that parents can institute to support their children’s learning. One of the most important things that all parents should do is read aloud to their children regularly. Some teachers ask parents to make read aloud a regular part of the homework routine, but whether required by the teacher or not, the research has made it clear that read aloud is a critical home-based activity.

Chapter One: Why read aloud?

Jim Trelease agrees with Russ Walsh.

We start by looking at the recommendation of the 1983 Commission on Reading, funded by the U. S. Department of Education, which was alarmed by school scores. Since nearly everything in the curriculum rested upon reading, the consensus was that reading was at the heart of either the problem or the solution.

The commission spent two years poring through thousands of research projects conducted in the previous quarter century, and in 1985 issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

  • “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
  • “[reading aloud] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

GOVERNMENT BY THOSE WHO HATE THE GOVERNMENT

There is a reason we have a government. There is a reason we pay taxes to support government services.

…you can’t support the things the government does – like caring for the elderly, establishing justice, providing public education, fighting terrorism, and protecting the environment – and still maintain that the taxes that support those things are bad.

The first responders who invariably become the heroes of any natural or human-caused disaster, are paid by taxes. Relief efforts to provide shelter, food, and medical care to displaced citizens are paid for by taxes. Support for rebuilding destroyed cities is paid for by taxes.

Schools, roads, bridges, dams and reservoirs, water systems, and waste disposal facilities, and their upkeep, are paid for by taxes.

Military defense is paid for by taxes.

For the last four decades, Republicans have tried to defund the government claiming that taxes are evil. As tax revenues decrease, government services decrease. As government services decrease, individuals have to take up the slack. Those who can afford to pay for services get them. Those who don’t are out of luck.

As a portion of the nation’s GDP, taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the developed world.

Trump Praises Agencies He Wants to Cut

As has become typical of the current kakistocracy, Donald Trump toured areas near the worst-hit region of Texas by Hurricane Harvey and praised the very agencies his proposed budget has tried to cut funds for, including FEMA, HUD and the National Weather Service.

DEFINITION

Kakistocracy

In case you need the definition of “kakistocracy” from the previous article.

A kakistocracy (English pronunciation: /kækɪsˈtɑkɹəsi/) is a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined as early as the 17th century. It was also used by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829, but gained significant usage in the 21st century.

Etymology
The word comes from the Greek words kakistos (κάκιστος; worst) and kratos (κράτος; rule), with a literal meaning of government by the worst people.[4] Despite its Greek roots, the word was first used in English, but has been adapted into other languages. Its Greek equivalent is kakistokratia (κακιστοκρατία), Spanish kakistocracia, French kakistocracie, and Russian kakistokratiya (какистократия).

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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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The Schools All Children Deserve

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: “REFORM” ADVOCATE

There’s a battle going on in Chicago for the future of the Chicago Public Schools. It mirrors the national education story in at least one way…it’s a battle between vocal parents and teachers against a “reform” movement led by the rich and powerful at the expense of public education.

The Chicago Tribune, owned by the same company that owns other “reformist”-leaning media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, has been a strident voice against the teachers and for the mayor and his hand picked “school board” (which includes a member with ties to Teach for America, a charter school co-founder, a CEO of one of Chicago’s largest banks, a supporter of parochial schools, as well as a couple of former CPS principals).

Wednesday, for example, the Tribune came out against the CTU because they didn’t approve of the way in which the union was conducting their open strike vote – a second strike vote this year because the anti-union forces are working to negate the secret-ballot strike vote taken earlier this year. Of course, the Tribune, which compares what they claim is an undemocratic CTU to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un, operates in a city which refuses to hold elections for school board members – Irony alert!

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Earlier in the week the Tribune published their “Schoolchildren’s Bill of Rights,” a list that Chicago teacher and blogger Mike Klonsky said,

…has little to do with schoolchildren or their rights–except, that is, for their right to have their schools closed or privatized and their teachers debased.

Klonsky’s article described the editorial…

The Tribune’s so-called ‘Schoolchildren’s Bill of Rights’

The Trib’s Bill of Rights includes not a single right for students, but instead includes things like:

  • Merit Pay for teachers, a oft-tried initiative which, according to researchers, produced no gains in measurable learning outcomes.
  • Using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Already the law in IL.
  • Widespread school “choice,” the Trib’s code word for school vouchers and privately-run charters. Trib editors write: “The public education industry should view ethnic, parochial or other private schools not as threats but as alternatives that enrich and diversify a community’s educational offerings.”
  • An end to collective bargaining, including the right to strike.
  • Parent Trigger Laws which enable a small and temporary group of parents to take over a school and hand it over to a private, for-profit company to operate. As you might expect, there’s nothing about parents’ right to opt-out of the plague of standardized testing.
  • Mass closing of black and Latino neighborhood schools and leaving boarded-up buildings to further blight communities or sell them off to condo developers. Again, too late. They’re already doing it.

With high sounding vocabulary in the genre of “think of the children!” the Tribune succinctly gathers every “reform” practice and rolls it into one “reformy” editorial. We’re supposed to have “high quality teachers” which really means teachers who teach to “the test” because “the test” is everything. We’re supposed to support “choice” for parents, which really means “choice” for private schools to reject your non-standardized child. And, if that’s not good enough, they want “Even more choice than that” which really means, privatize, privatize, privatize.

EDUCATORS: STUDENT ADVOCATES

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Here’s a “Student Bill of Rights” which would actually help students and improve education in Chicago…and the rest of the country.

It was published during the last CTU strike (2013) and is called The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. It includes actual “proven educational reforms,” not just “reformist” talking points.

  • smaller class sizes
  • education aimed at the whole child which includes recess, libraries, PE, the arts, and world languages in every school
  • wraparound services such as nurses, counselors, and social workers where needed
  • equitable funding and services
  • age-appropriate education including pre-K services and full day kindergartens
  • teachers treated as professionals with comparable salaries, adequate planning time, and professional autonomy
  • fully supported programs for students with special needs
  • well maintained and safe school buildings
  • partnerships with parents
  • full funding

Note that it assumes that others have a responsibility for public education in addition to teachers – parents, policy makers, legislators, administration.

Every student in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) deserves to have the same quality education as the children of the wealthy. This can happen, but only if decision-makers commit to providing research-based education that is fully-funded and staffed in an equitable fashion throughout the city. [emphasis added]

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A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century, by Russ Walsh

Finally, here’s a Bill of Rights for children from Russ Walsh’s book, A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century (also available on his blog, here).

1. Every child has a right to a free, high quality, public education
2. Every child has a right to attend a well-staffed, well-resourced, clean and safe neighborhood school.
3. Every child has the right to be taught by well-informed, fully certified, fully engaged teachers who care about the child as a learner and as a person.
4. Every child has the right to a school that provides a rich and varied curriculum that includes the visual and performing arts, integrated technology, and physical education.
5. Every child has a right to a school that provides a rich and varied extra-curricular program including athletics, clubs, and service learning opportunities.
6. Every child has a right to instruction that is well planned, engaging, and collaborative.
7. Every child has a right to instruction that is developmentally appropriate.
8. Every elementary school child has a right to daily recess.
9. Every child has the right to go to a school with adequate support personnel including librarians, nurses, guidance counselors, and learning support specialists.
10. Every child has a right to an element of choice in the educational program, including the right to choose to take advanced level courses.

Note that Walsh’s Bill of Rights, as well as the CTU’s, focus on the rights of children – on what children need. There’s nothing about busting unions, closing schools, or transferring tax money from public schools, which operate under public oversight, to private corporations or parochial schools. Why? It’s simple.

Members of the CTU and Russ Walsh are educators. The editors of the Chicago Tribune are not. Educators know about education.

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Random Quotes – April 2016

I’m on vacation this week. Most of my comments are short so I’ll let the quotes speak for themselves. I finish my week off with attendance at the 3rd Annual Network for Public Education Conference in Raleigh, NC. See you there.

TESTING

Say No to Standardized Tests

From Russ Walsh

…The only thing that standardized tests measure with any certainty is the relative income levels of the children who attend that school…

How To Promote the Test

Peter Greene has written an instant classic.

From Peter Greene

“Sure, we could have built a new school and filled it with just the kids who do well on the SCHNARCC. But that would have meant abandoning the rest of them, the ones who showed the most need in those test results. Why start from scratch for just a few students when we can invest in what we already have and serve all students?”

Governor Pat Jones chimed into the conversation. “That was when my office got involved. If the tests are showing pockets of poverty in the state that keep our students stuck behind their wealthier peers, then clearly we need to address the issues of poverty in the state while at the same time addressing the specific resource needs of districts like Upper Baldweasel, as well as long hard conversations about system inequities and, frankly, some of the racist impulses behind those inequities…

PARCC testing begins again but still no opt-out policy

Threats to punish students who don’t take the test…

From Student Dontae Chatman quoted in the Chicago Sun Times

My school is threatening to take away our field day to students who refuse PARCC, I think we all should get treated the same way, if we take it or if we don’t take it.

Testing time at schools: Is there a better way?

We all know about the wasted time and energy of the standardized tests and all the test-prep that goes along with it. This quote, however, struck me because of the last phrase…”scores on fourth-grade exams are among the factors New York City middle schools consider for admission.”

Kids and parents are expected to apply to middle schools and high schools like students applying for college. What happened to the concept of every neighborhood having an excellent public school? I went to a K-8 elementary school a half mile from my house. My 9-12 high school was a short bus ride away (on the CTA – Bus 96).

From Kelly Wallace of CNN

Those tests are especially on the mind of my fourth-grader. Testing begins on her 10th birthday (poor girl!) plus she knows, even though we’ve never discussed it, that scores on fourth-grade exams are among the factors New York City middle schools consider for admission.

PRIVATIZATION

Ohio: 50 School Districts Have Billed the State for Costs of Charters

Here is a list of Ohio school districts which have sent a bill to the state for funds diverted from public schools to charters!

From Diane Ravitch

CONGRATULATIONS to Bill Phillis and the 50 public school districts that have adopted resolutions to bill the state for charter school deductions!

Public money for schools is lining private pockets

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union. Here he identifies the main problem with the privatization movement…it takes resources away from fully accountable public schools and gives them to private organizations.

from Ari Klein

Somehow, in the twisted thinking of our state legislature, tax money collected for our school district is diverted to several private enterprises over which our district has no control, and financially supports students the district does not serve.

The beatings will continue until morale improves…

Education “reform” has failed to help students learn. “reform” is simply a way of privatizing the public education system for personal profit. Follow the money.

From Todd Gazda, Superintendent, Ludlow Public Schools (MA)

After 20 years of these standardize accountability driven based policies our nation’s scores on the international PISA test are essentially flat and achievement gaps remain. At what point do we stop blaming teachers and the system rather than focusing the blame squarely where it belongs: on these education “reform” policies that have failed our schools.

TEACHERS

Teachers of the year in their home states

What do teachers of the year see happening in their own states? Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, a social studies teacher from Washington, sees a profession in distress.

From Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington

…said he has seen an “exodus” of mid-career teachers who are fed up. “There’s a lot of demoralized educators right now,” he told Morning Education. “A demoralized educator just isn’t as effective. … And I don’t see any efforts to change that coming out of policy.” Teacher pay and working conditions are problems, he said, but a bigger problem is that teachers don’t feel valued or empowered.

Chicago Teacher: Why We Will Strike

On April 1, 2016, the Chicago Teachers Union staged a one-day walkout to highlight the lack of funding and resources for public schools, while charters proliferate, in the city school system. As usual, it’s about more than just money.

by Michelle Gunderson

A teachers’ contract is not just about money. It’s an agreement between government and a community about how children will be treated.

LIBRARIANS ARE IMPORTANT

I Love Libraries: FAQ’s and Definitions

The public schools I’ve worked in have never had school librarians…[emphasis added]

A school library without a librarian is like a classroom without a teacher. An effective school library program involves more than making books available to students and letting learners borrow those books. An effective school library program supports students’ learning and their exploration of the world. School librarians can:

  • match students with appropriate resources,
  • co-teach lessons that require research and technology skills, and
  • help students develop inquiry and information-literacy skills they will need throughout their lives.

In addition, school librarians provide professional development to other educators in their schools. Certified school librarians make the whole school more effective. They teach students how to learn and help teachers drive student success.

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Filed under Charters, Curmudgucation, library, Privatization, Quotes, reform, TeacherShortage, Testing, Walsh

2016 Medley #9

Book Review, Vouchers, Reading Recovery, Reading Instruction, Read-Aloud, Gates, Finland

NOT JUST FOR PARENTS

Russ Walsh’s new book, A Parent’s Guide to Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child, is now available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Walsh is a literacy expert, Coordinator of College Reading at Rider University, and blogger at Russ on Reading.

A Parent’s Guide to Education in the 21st Century isn’t just for parents. It’s for anyone who wants to understand the “reform” agenda and what it has done to American public education. Call it “reform” 101. Walsh clearly outlines the ways that the “reform” movement has damaged the nation’s public education system and harmed the education of children.

It’s not misnamed, however. He includes chapters for parents (of benefit to teachers as well) on identifying a good school, good instruction, and helping children succeed.

The book begins with his Bill of Rights for School Children…which ought to be posted in every public school in the nation…and includes informative chapters on standardized tests, the privatization of public education, and the Common Core. A must read…

For example, from Chapter 3: Readiness For School

It is not your child’s job to be ready for school; it is the school’s job to be ready for your child, and to meet your child’s needs through rich curriculum, highly trained teachers and a system of learning supports.

…and from Chapter 11: School Choice: Charter Schools and Vouchers

In our society we have come to recognize that choice is a good thing as long as it does not interfere with others’ choices. What if an inner-city parent’s choice is to send a child to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally staffed, neighborhood public school? By draining away the limited funds available for public education, charter schools and voucher schemes infringe on that parent’s choice. It would be wise to spend our public tax monies on providing good local public schools. In public education, as with smoking and seatbelts and the military, the government must choose to limit our choice in order to provide for, as the Constitution says, “the common good.” Public education is a common good that privatization in the form of charters and vouchers will destroy.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Less-than-full disclosure

The distribution of public tax money ought to be under the watchful eye of the public. Elected school boards, no matter what their limitations, are held accountable to the public through elections. Every penny in every public school in Indiana is accounted for. Why, then, is money awarded to private schools through vouchers or to SGOs to award “scholarships” to private schools, with no public oversight whatsoever?

What happened to the $116 million that Indiana spent on privatization in 2014-2015 (and even more for the current year)? Was it used for instruction? If so, how did the students perform? Was the money used for building additions, church steeples, or CEO salaries?

For taxpayers, however, there’s a gaping hole in accountability. Reports are available for public schools, including charters; not for voucher schools. The state awarded almost $116 million to private and parochial schools in 2014-15, but the General Assembly does not require posting and publication of voucher school performance reports.

After 10-year fight, Md. lawmakers vote to fund private-school scholarships

The Democrats in Maryland have abandoned public education in favor of vouchers. Which of the two main political parties do public educators turn to now?

After years of resisting, and over the objections of the state teachers union, Maryland lawmakers have agreed to state-funded private-school scholarships.

The decision to create a $5 million grant program was part of the negotiations on the state’s $42 billion operating budget, which received final approval in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on Tuesday.

TEACHING READING

Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

I was trained in Reading Recovery in 1999 and taught in the program for seven years. I used the techniques and knowledge I gained even after the program was canceled. I still use the skills I learned as a Reading Recovery teacher in my volunteer work with first graders.

Reading Recovery is a one-on-one tutoring program for at-risk first graders. It works, but because it’s a program for individual students, it’s expensive. A Reading Recovery teacher can only work with a few students during the school year. Most school systems in my part of the state have stopped using it because of funding shortages.

Yet, how important is teaching reading to a first grader? How much is it worth? Is it worth the cost of a $2 billion mobile cannon which was never used? Is it worth the tax we ought to be, but aren’t, collecting from GE, CBS, or Mattel? Is it worth the money spent to (over)compensate Wall St. Execs who caused the Great Recession?

Would it be worth it if we could pay the salaries (at @ $90,000 salary and benefits) of more than 2,000 Reading Recovery teachers for the next 10 years with the money we spent on the cannon that was never used? My guess is that the city of Flint, Michigan might need some extra help for the next few years.

Instead we’re spending billions of dollars on standardized tests, vouchers, and charters…as well as cannons, tax write offs, and exorbitant salaries.

Priorities, America. Priorities.

“…in schools throughout the United States and in other countries, there is a well-defined group of struggling readers that can readily be taught to read. The evidence establishes, beyond any doubt, that nothing about these children means they are doomed to fail in reading.”

…“In a country as wealthy as the United States,” he says, “why should every struggling reader not have access to Reading Recovery or a tutoring program with equal evidence of effectiveness? The reading success of first graders is far too important to leave to chance, yet in this as in many other areas of education reform, vulnerable children are left to chance every day. Why can’t educators use what they know to solve the problems they can solve, while working at the same time to expand their knowledge?”

10 Reading Instruction Non-Negotiables

Here’s a second shout-out to Russ Walsh. Along with his Bill of Rights for School Children, this list of non-negotiables for a good reading program ought to be required reading for parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Here he lists components of a true reading program instead of the prepackaged test prep and constant assessment that is strangling the joy of reading in our schools. His list includes things like shared reading, self-selected reading, rereading, and word work, complete with research to back everything up.

Here’s what he says about my favorite part of the teaching day, Reading Aloud…

One of the more disturbing aspects of current trends in literacy education is the reports I keep getting from classroom teachers who tell me that reading aloud is being discouraged because it is not “rigorous” enough or because more time needs to be devoted to test prep. So, let me state this as clearly as I possibly can, read aloud is a central part of effective literacy instruction and should be happening daily in every classroom. This is not open for debate. Don’t take my word for it, here is a list of 13 scientifically based reasons for reading aloud to children. Among these well researched benefits are exposing students to a greater variety of literature, encouraging students to view reading as a part of their daily life, building background knowledge, providing a model of fluent reading, encouraging student talk about text, increasing vocabulary and helping students view reading as a pleasurable activity. Here is another resource on the importance of reading aloud.

When choosing a read aloud, I would encourage teachers to choose the very best that literature and informational text has to offer, whether that be picture books, novels, histories or scientific texts. When reading aloud, we can aim high because kids listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension by about two years and because we can easily scaffold their understanding by “thinking aloud” about the text as we read. Read aloud also provides a great opportunity for teachers to model important comprehension strategies. Just do it.

Need more resources for reading aloud?

BILLIONAIRES ARE NOT EDUCATION EXPERTS

Hillsborough schools to dismantle Gates-funded system that cost millions to develop

When are we going to stop taking education advice from Bill Gates? When are we going to quit letting him experiment with America’s students?

Just because Bill Gates is rich doesn’t mean he knows anything about the education of children.

[Superintendent] Eakins said he envisions a new program featuring less judgmental “non-evaluative feedback” from colleagues and more “job-embedded professional development,” which is training undertaken in the classroom during the teacher work day rather than in special sessions requiring time away from school. He said in his letter that these elements were supported by “the latest research.”

PROTECT CHILDREN

Why Finnish school students lead the world on Life Matters

Here’s an Australian radio interview with Fulbright Scholar William Doyle about Finnish education. He talks about the strong teaching profession, and the focus on how to help children learn, rather than how to be #1 in educational assessment.

A Finnish teacher quoted by William Doyle

Our job is to protect children from politicians.

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