"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Got Something to Say? Schools Matter Welcomes Your Submissions

Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving. --John Dewey
I am, alas, like most people in America, writing a book. The energy that I have put into the blog over the past three years as of this coming August, plus any other that I can spare, will now go into this new effort for the next while.

During the interim, I would like to keep SM alive (rather than just posting news stories) as a venue for other modern day (or postmodern day) education crap detectors here and around the world, who, following in the thoughtul tradition of Neil Postman, Charles Weingarten (Teaching as a Subversive Activity) and others, still believe that real education and real teaching is a subversive activity because it inevitably challenges the status quo and those who are intent upon preserving the status quo--or worse still, those intent upon re-instituting some past version of the status quo.

Dewey said that "anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy," and that is why, of course, many of the privileged today (and those who identify with them) put Dewey's Democracy and Education on their most hated book lists.

So if you have a large hatpin that you would like to stick into some big bag of smelly hot air that the Edu-Borg dissemblers and hacks and charlatans have launched or plan to launch, turn that urge to stab into a pointed post (with barbs if possible), along with the appropriate link or links, and send it to me at

ontogenyx@mac.com

Published and unpublished commentary or essays from educators, parents, grandparents, students, and even politicians and other bloggers will be considered, too.

Please send your post as a Word attachment, include your name (no pseudonyms, please), return email, and phone number. I will, at your request, post your entry anonymously if you indicate that is what you prefer.

Save the Republic and the Earth,
Jim Horn
Updated May 1, 2008
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. --Paulo Freire

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Progressives, and Other Liberals Seeking to Avoid Detection

There is some interesting discussion going on at Education Policy Blog, instigated by a post by Ann Flanagan: GET OUT YOUR POM-POMS: PREP ASSEMBLY.

As a subject that is dear to my own spleen, I have had a good deal to say, some of which has not been universally acclaimed by other readers. John, in NC, took umbrage based on some of my remarks related to the capitulation by liberals on NCLB in 2001. I am posting his comments here, with my response, because his remarks bring to the surface a deeper current that is poisoning the progressive stream of ed reform:
john in nc said...
While Jim Horn's historical perspective is useful, it's certainly a mistake to write off all support by progressives of NCLB as political capitulation. Many school reformers outside the beltway (yes, there are reformers outside the beltway) with long track records as advocates for "disadvantaged students" -- some going back to the 1960s and the birth of ESEA -- supported NCLB because they were convinced, after many years of pushing reforms at the school and district level, that the barrier of low expectations would never be diminished without putting pressure on teachers who harbored such attitudes. Their goal was to force schools to achieve more with students in poverty. Thus the subgroup accountability strategy. These progressive reformers were naive, of course, to think we will ever engineer better teaching and schools by simply issuing top-down edicts (the highway of history is strewn with that roadkill) but they were not capitulators.
__________________________

Thank you, John, for making an important point about progressives, those not-so-long-ago liberals who have self-inflicted a new label to disguise the visible liberal traits that are ridiculed regularly, along with their fearlessness, by the Right. And in this era of “change,” who doesn’t want to be seen as a progressive, especially if the tag can be helpful in avoiding the political flak that usually follows from taking positions of conscience against those without any?

You must know, John, that it was not my intent to paint all progressives, or liberal progressives (which is it?) as capitulators. Not everyone knew of the Bush/Rove plan to use testing to get to privatization. In the Congress, this includes those who, because of more pressing priorities, didn’t care to know. The bliss of ignorance.

More numerous, though, were those, inside and outside of Congress, swept away by the liberal, er, progressive school of reform based on wishful thinking and self-imposed blindness, which, in combination, yields a most dangerous form of self-delusion. It is the kind of thinking that allows, otherwise, caring individuals to set aside the bigotry of low expectations in favor of the callous and cynical racism of impossible demands (see NCLB proficiency goals).

It is the kind of thinking that ennobles the hapless hope of those who come to ignore the devastation that NCLB has wrought to focus, instead, on the visible-if-you-look-hard narrowing of the achievement chasm between the poor and the privileged.

It is the kind of thinking that allows, otherwise, sensible humanitarians to focus on the handful of poor schools that are surviving the educational genocide, while entirely ignoring the fact that the teachers and students in those lighthouse schools are starved for real education (see Linda Perlstein’s TESTED . . . (2007)).

It is the kind of thinking that encourages its proponents to turn their backs on those children rejected because they can’t hack the 60-hour school work week or because they won’t bow to the philosophy of the KIPP schools, the philosophy that begins and ends with “WORK HARD, BE NICE,” the mantra that is emblazoned on the identical t-shirts that children wear in these model reform schools for the poor.


And finally, it is the kind of dangerous delusional thinking that allows people to come to believe that schools and teachers, top down or bottom up—whichever way you prefer to organize them—can get done what poverty has disallowed for much longer than the brief span of time that we have had tests to tell us what we already knew—had we bothered to adjust our “progressive” blinders in order to see around us.

If all the education reformers were to shift their focus and their influence and their efforts to ending poverty and discrimination, rather than putting band-aids on school books, then the achievement gap, which mirrors the family income gap, would not constitute the economic divide that we must yell across while pretending it doesn’t exist. To extend your own road kill metaphor, John, some of those reformers never even saw the truck coming—they simply thought that bright light was the dawning of yet another beautiful day (see Wilkins and Haycock at Education Trust).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Carl Chew Story Moves to National Spotlight

If teachers had a union that honored its own Code of Ethics, the inhumane and unethical use of tests and the warping of children's futures would not be something that teachers, students, and parents all had to lose sleep about. From ABC News:
District Suspends Him Without Pay for Insubordination
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
April 25, 2008 —

When it's time each spring for Carl Chew to give his Seattle sixth-graders the federally required standardized tests, he can feel their anxiety.

They complain about stomachaches, they get sick and some of them just start to cry. Even the straight-A students.

For both teachers and young children, the annual Washington Assessment of Student Learning test creates an atmosphere "rife with fear," the science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School told ABCNEWS.com.

"The WASL is presented in a secretive, cold and inhuman fashion," he said. "The teacher is not allowed to read the questions, or help, and the kids have to maintain silence for hours and hours. They are only allowed a bathroom break once in a while."

But after agonizing about the detrimental effects of standardized testing for several years, Chew did something about it last week. He refused to administer the test, which is the key measure of academic progress under the federally mandated No Child Left Behind law.

The WASL is just one of numerous high-stakes tests that now dominate the curricula of elementary schools across the country. A growing number of teacher and parents are rejecting these kind of tests, which have increased in frequency and gravitas after No Child Left Behind.

They rebel at their own peril, however. Chew was suspended for nine days without pay by his principal. But today -- sitting at home while a substitute teacher takes his place -- he is a rock star among parents and teachers who have blamed the testing for stamping out the love of learning in children.

Harmful to Students

"I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students," Chew wrote in an e-mail to national supporters. "I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools and families."

The e-mail was circulated by Mothers Against the WASL, a group of activist parents who oppose the test. Chew received hundreds of letters from as far away as Hawaii and Canada, some of them from students.

"They have all said 'thank you, Mr. Chew, for standing up against WASL,'" he said.

One e-mail came from Beth Hovee of Vancouver, Wash., whose 8-year-old granddaughter Zoe fears reading because of a battery of repetitive speed tests.

"Drill and kill is the motto of the WASL," Hovee said. "She's a smart kid, but the pressure tests and teaching techniques make her hate school."

Zoe took her first WASL this week. "It gets really quiet in the room and the door is closed," she told ABCNEWS.com. "When you get stuck on a question, the teacher can't help. You don't know what to do and you have to figure it out."

Her 10-year-old brother Jonah -- a stellar student -- was traumatized by the WASL last year.

"They have this big rule about not going to the bathroom," his mother, Andrea Logue, said. "In the middle of testing he asks to go and the teacher said she was sorry, but we he couldn't leave. Much to his mortification, he wet his pants."

Incidents like these reassure Chew that his protest is important, but Seattle Public School spokesman David Tucker defended the suspension.

"Our expectation is that all schools will administer any and all state-required tests," he told ABCNEWS.com. "I am a parent as well. I think accountability is something we should definitely stress within the school district. We need to know where the children are academically and ensure that they reach levels they need to reach to move forward."

Teacher Is Hero

The popular Washington teacher is now a hero among national critics of the controversial 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which has faced numerous court challenges and has been actively opposed by state teacher unions and many school districts.

President Bush's sweeping education reform law, which is up for reauthorization, aims to narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged and other students and to make schools more accountable. It requires states to set standards and assessments and mandates annual testing in reading and math for grades 3 through 8.

"Some children handle these tests well and some are sent over the edge," said Walter Gilliam of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. "What we need is good research."

Gilliam said No Child Left Behind places the wrong emphasis on accountability.

"It's one thing if we have tests for the sake of improving instruction for children," he told ABCNEWS.com "But it's quite another thing to give a test for the sake of holding adults accountable. What I would rather see is observing teachers as they teach, rather than shouldering it on children."

The WASL is given each spring to students in grades 3-8 and grade 10, and covers reading, writing, math and science. Starting this year, students had to pass reading and writing on the 10th-grade exam to graduate from high school. Students are graded as "below, meeting or exceeding" standards

"The teachers really play it up," said the father of a fourth-grader in the Lake Washington School District. He didn't want to be identified for fear of reprisals against his daughter.

"About three weeks ago we started getting e-mails from the other parents about bringing in brain food to support the kids through this tough period," he told ABCNEWS.com. "I thought it was pathetic to put 9-year-olds into that kind of test environment."

Test 'Serves No Purpose'

His district in Redmond serves highly competitive parents, many of whom work for Microsoft, which is headquartered there.

"They put pressure on kids to perform well," he said. "But the test serves no purpose. It's nothing more than a benchmark for the state. It's connected to money and teachers, who are clearly ranked. It does nothing for children."

Donald C. Orlich, professor emeritus of education at Washington State University and author of "School Reform: The Great American Brain Robbery," agrees the WASL is a "dreadful" test.

"It's a very poorly constructed test," he said. "There is a very high correlation between how well a student can read and do math. For those who are economically disadvantaged, they don't even have the vocabulary."

Orlich's research echoes one of Chew's complaints: that the WASL unfairly uses "white, upper-middle class language."

"I want to nominate him for teacher of the year," Orlich said. "In my book I call for that kind of behavior. We need nonviolent strikes against WASL."

One such teacher was Robert Allen, a middle school teacher in Arlington County, Wash., who was asked to resign after telling parents they could opt out of the WASL test.

"I was stunned there was no focus on basic skills," he told ABCNEWS.com. "The testing was never about facts or any real learning. It was very airy and fuzzy."

"It's not a standardized test at all," said Allen, 39, who now teaches in Tennessee and has "no problem" with achievement tests.

A Good Tool

But Joe Willhoft, the state's assistant superintendent for assessment and student information, told ABCNEWS.com that the WASL is a good tool for measuring student achievement.

Only half the questions on the test require a written response, and experts make sure they have no "unfair and biasing features," Willhoft said. "For example, we don't use the words 'tennis' or 'golf.'"

Willhoft admits that some districts and teachers may exert undue pressure on children to perform.

"I don't think we are getting an overabundance of pressure from parents," he said. "But I do think teachers may feel the need to overmotivate students, and it's my hunch some comes from principals."

"Frankly, kids do well if they are somewhat motivated, but there is such a thing as being overmotivated," he said. "If students are taught state standards, the best we can do for the students is say, 'Here is the test, go ahead and do the best you can.'"

Meanwhile, he said teachers like Chew must comply with federal and state law. "We are disappointed this teacher made those particular choices," Willhoft said.

Chew, who is 60, said his act of civil disobedience will cost him about $1,000 over his nine-day absence. He knows it will go on his permanent record and he could ultimately be fired.

"It took me a few moments before I decided to do this," he said. "I did protesting around the Vietnam War and marched for civil rights in the '60s. But this was the first time I did something against a seemingly huge machine."

"I feel so strongly about this -- that it's bad for the kids and I have to do it," he said. "But I know from my own experience, I have to accept the consequences."

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Corporate Welfare Voucher Bill Dead in Oklahoma

From the Alva Review-Courier:
04/25/08

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 23rd, 2008) A bipartisan coalition of Legislators, through spirited debate, prevented taxpayer dollars from funding private schools through a private voucher scholarship program by defeating a bill on the House Floor today.

“I opposed a $2.5 million tax credit program that took taxpayers dollars to support private schools,” said Representative Jeannie McDaniel, D- Tulsa. “We cannot strengthen public education by taking money away from our schools. We need to work to address the challenges that face our education system instead of diverting money from public schools to private entities. It is our responsibility to provide the best opportunity for our kids to learn.”

Senate bill 2093 would give a 50% tax credit to individuals who donate to a fund providing private school scholarships. This tax credit would be on top of any charitable tax deductions donors already receive. It essentially creates a voucher system that would take public dollars and transfer them through the use of tax credits to private schools. The end result is still fewer resources left for those students who remain in public schools.

“School vouchers may be a good thing for a select few in Oklahoma City or Tulsa,” said Representative Ray McCarter, D- Marlow. “However, they destroy our rural communities, which revolve around our public schools. By cherry-picking students out of public schools and using taxpayer dollars to fund their education at private charter schools, you would leave students behind. I am glad that we were able to take a stand for public education in Oklahoma today.”

“If I went to a business owner in my district and told him that I was going to take the top ten percent of his employees and some of his capital and then send them to work at one of his competitor’s business and somehow he is supposed to grow his business, he would just laugh,” said Representative Scott Inman, D- Del City. “This is what the proponents of Senate Bill 2093 wanted to do with our public schools today. It doesn’t make sense and it is wrong for the children of Oklahoma.”

District 58 Representative Jeff Hickman was among the 40 representatives voting in favor of the bill which many school superintendents in this district opposed.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just Saying No to Abstinence Only

Since 1996, seventeen states have decided to decline free federal money for sex education programs based on abstinence only. If that doesn't say enough in itself, STDs in teens are up, and so are teen pregnancies.

From the LA Times:
WASHINGTON -- Continued federal funding of abstinence-only sex education in public schools was debated before a House committee Wednesday amid questions about whether the government should sponsor a program that many experts say doesn't work.

Most of the 11 witnesses who appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform advocated instead for comprehensive programs that include information about how teenagers can protect themselves from pregnancy or disease if they choose to engage in sexual activity.

"The concern that many of us have with abstinence-only programs is the idea that one size fits all," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the panel.

Both sides agreed that abstinence should be the core of any sex education program for teens. Concerns were raised, though, over how much information students should receive about issues such as condom use and methods of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.

There was also discussion on the role of communities and school districts in deciding what types of sex education young people are exposed to, instead of abstinence being mandated by the government through funding.

"I see an ideological discussion versus a reality discussion," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "We deal with the realities of our diversified communities."

Proponents of abstinence education argued that society should set high standards for teenage sexual behavior. They would prefer, they said, that programs focus on the emotional, physical and societal repercussions of sex outside of marriage.

But several witnesses emphasized that despite 11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion, teens are still having sex and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Those who support comprehensive plans said teens should get the information they need to protect themselves.

A study released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a rise in the teenage pregnancy rate in 2006, the first such increase in 15 years. Between 1991 and 2005, the rate dropped 34%.

When the government began funding abstinence-only sex education in 1996, 49 of 50 states signed up for such programs. California did not, and it has never sought such funding. Currently, only 33 states receive federal funds for the programs.

"Seventeen states have now said they will not accept funding," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Assn. "For a health department to give up funding is a very important fact." . . . .

Great Cover


and some fine articles, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We're Number One!

While China has just barely passed us in carbon emissions tonnage, we hold solidly to first place in citizens locked away in prisons. From International Herald Tribune:
The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. . . .

Speth's Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

Interview today with Leonard Lopate:



Reviews at Amazon plus a nice YouTube intro

George M. Woodwell :
"What a delight to read Gus Speth''s'' new book, which no one else could write but all will admire, stunned by his remarkable talents. The book opens vast new opportunities for thought and discussion in science and public affairs and will undoubtedly long stand as the classic that it is."—George M. Woodwell, Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center


David W. Orr :
"Honest, insightful, and courageous. Dean Speth draws on his formidable experience and wisdom to ask why we are failing to preserve a habitable Earth. His conclusions are cogent, revolutionary, and essential."—David W. Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College. Author of Design on the Edge and Earth in Mind



Bill McKibben :
“When a figure as eminent and mainstream as Gus Speth issues a warning this strong and profound, the world should take real notice. This is an eloquent, accurate, and no-holds-barred brief for change large enough to matter.”—Bill McKibben, author, Deep Economy and The Bill McKibben Reader



Richard Norgaard :
"An extremely important book both for what it says and for who is saying it. The steady transformation of a solid, pragmatic, progressive negotiator into a ''radical and unrealistic'' oracle concerned with the fundamental nature of modern economies is an important event."—Richard Norgaard, University of California, Berkeley


J. R. McNeill :
"One can scarcely choose a more important or timely subject than this one. Speth writes about it with passion and conviction, and a touch of humor."—J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University


Donald Kennedy :
“A powerful and ambitious attempt to characterize the changed strategies environmental organizations need to adopt to become more effective. This book challenges many things that would seem to have political immunity of a sort—among others, corporate capitalism, the environmental movement itself, and the forces of economic globalization.”—Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief, Science Magazine


Juliet Schor :
"In this magisterial and hopeful book, Speth charts three compelling journeys—his own path from reformer to deep systems analyst, environmentalism''s trajectory from inside player to social movement, and the nation''s emerging great transition from a way of life rooted in economic scarcity to the discovery of nature''s abundance. This is a profound book which deserves our deepest attention.”—Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don''t Need


William Greider : "Gus Speth leads us to the formidable bridge we must cross -- an epic transformation in how we live, consume and produce -- to halt capitalism''s destructive forces and to improve the human condition. A calm and persuasive guide, Speth is infused with the human optimism always needed for great historic shifts."—William Greider, author, The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. : "Speth is a maestro - conducting a mighty chorus of voices from a dozen disciplines all of which are calling for transformative change before it is too late. The result is the most compelling plea we have for changing our lives and our politics. And it is a compelling case indeed."—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.


Devra Davis :
“Gus Speth’s critique of unbridled capitalism is riveting and haunting, and his solutions are poetic and inspiring.”—Devra Davis, author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer and When Smoke Ran Like Water


Honourable Gordon Campbell :
“In The Bridge at the Edge of the World, James Gustave Speth gives us new lenses with which to see what we have done to our environment and, more important, to see what we can do to restore it. He challenges us all to act not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. In particular, he takes on the most powerful guardians of the status quo—our mindsets. The bridge he hopes to construct has its bridgehead firmly based in today, because Speth asks us to think about it and then to use our creativity, imagination, and the power of common purpose to act to restore the environment and create a healthier world.”—Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier, Province of British Columbia


Paul R. Ehrlich :
"Gus Speth is one of the leaders in trying to steer humanity on a course to sustainability, and this is his most important book to date. Read it, and then take some action."—Paul R. Ehrlich, author with Anne Ehrlich of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment


Peter H. Raven :
“If we are to pull away from the edge of catastrophe, in which everything that we value is at risk, the advice presented so clearly and masterfully in this book will help show us the way. It should be carefully studied by everyone interested in the world beyond our immediate future and daily preoccupations.”—Peter H. Raven, President, Missouri Botanical Garden

Supt. Derek Glover Speaks Out on Oklahoma Voucher Bill

From the Muskogee Phoenix:
About Your School: Superintendent calls bill an attack on public schools

By Derald Glover

Everyone knows that education must continually improve and change. Everyone also knows that the United States has become powerful by attempting to educate all kids with an equal education. I am writing this article to make people aware of a bill at our state Legislature that will open the door to taxpayer dollars being siphoned to private schools.

Senate Bill 2093, the so called “New Hope Scholarship Program,” is an all-out attack mode on public education. The measure would give a 50 percent tax credit to individuals who donate to a fund providing private school scholarships. This tax credit would be on top of any charitable tax deductions donors already receive.

The Oklahoma bill creates a voucher system that would take public dollars and transfer them through the use of tax credits to private schools. The end result is still fewer resources left for those students who remain in public schools.

In the past three or four years, the Legislature has given more than $700 million to the wealthy in tax cuts. That, in a time when, education, roads and bridges, prisons and the Department of Human Services are all underfunded. This voucher credit is another tax cut for the wealthy.

As of April 16, schools do not have a budget allocation for next year, even though the law gives April 1st as the deadline for this to occur. What’s even worse is that after two years of record collections for the state, schools have not been funded for the current year in the amount promised last session.

No doubt, public schools have room to improve, but they are certainly not as bad as the those who promote vouchers want to indicate. Our public schools are required to teach all children. That’s the rich, poor, those with special needs, and those with language barriers. Private schools have the luxury of selecting the privileged few. If the Legislature would fund schools properly (just meet the regional average for per pupil expenses) and eliminate the unfunded mandates, improvement will occur.

Passage of SB 2093 will further erode funding for public education. As vouchers expand, less funding will be available for public education. If this continues, we will see more segregation of the rich and the poor. This goes against the very idea of “public education.” Competition is great and I would totally support a voucher plan that required any school that accepts a dollar of taxpayer money to be subject to the same legal requirements as is imposed on a public school. However that will not happen.

Please contact your State Representative and State Senator and ask them to kill SB 2093.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ripples from the Carl Chew Splash

This appeared on a discussion group today from a Washington teacher responding to Carl Chew's decision to refuse administering the WASL:
You know what's great about this...my students here in eastern Washington, as we take the WASL, asked, "why do we have to take this?" My lame response was, "because OSPI, the legislature, and the govt. want you to." But, as they began to ask more specific questions, "what happens if we don't?" "What are the effects on our chances in college?" "What are the effects on the schools?"

I decided to answer more honestly. I told them about federal funding, NCLB, the accountability movement. They looked at me, some laughed, and finally one stated (one of my brightest and hardest working students), "that's retarded (his words). Do you know how many of us don't care? Do they know how many of just fill in the bubbles?"

So began a conversation (taking time away from their WASL testing time) about why there are high stakes tests, what's really at stake and how they, as students, could change things. It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. This happened last week. This week, today, on the first day of returning to the WASL, I brought up Mr. Chew. Some students had heard of it, others had not. I told them about his actions. Most students then began shouting that I should do the same. Then I told them to clear their desks to take the test.

What is interesting is that these students are more aware of the inaccuracy, in-authentic, high-stress, and overall uselessness of the test than I think most administrators and legislators are. They were able to articulate in so many ways, in their own voices, why high stakes testing is obsolete. Giving them the rest of the puzzle, they were able to understand the ridiculousness of this process. They can also recognize that their own education is impacted by it (a couple students stated that it sucked having to do so much prep work for the test, that they didn't get to do any "real" work [their words]).

But, I, as their good teacher, administered the test, and they, as the good obedient students they are, took the test. Who knows, maybe they did a little bit better because they now know what's really at stake. All I know is, I can't wait for that wonderful PowerPoint next year to tell us all how smart our kids are!

What am I talking about? I already know--I teach them everyday. I love my 7th graders!

RA

Every Day Must Be Earth Day

Now that NCLB testing is almost over for the year, many teachers may have a few days to do something meaningful and engaging in their classrooms to save our planet from heat exhaustion and to make our children aware that there is a world outside the test booklet that must be helped if their children are to survive. One can hope--and do.

From Education World:

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, Education World offers classroom activities for use across the grades. Help keep Earth Day alive for another generation with these cross-curriculum activities!

Water, water, everywhere -- geography, critical thinking, and language arts.
(Grades 4 and up.) Have your students check today's conditions across the United States by using the Streamflow Conditions Map. Ask them to find out which states are experiencing especially wet or dry conditions and to recheck the site each week for a month to see how conditions change. Then they should write a brief summary of the conditions each week and a month-end summary.

Trees clear the air -- math.
(Grades 6 and up.) Scientists estimate that a hectare of trees (about 1,000 trees) is able to use about 20,000 kg (4,375 pounds) of carbon dioxide.
Use the Planting Trees activity from the ARM Education Site (Department of Energy): Lesson Plans to help students calculate how many trees it takes to suck up the pollutants their family car produces.

See what you can sea -- geography and history.
(Grades 6 and up.) Assign each student a body of water somewhere in the world. Students can use library and Internet resources to learn as much as possible about the body of water's geography, history, science, and environmental condition. Find a student work sheet for this activity in the Navigating a Sea of Research activity from the Discovery Channel.

Play it again -- drama and science.
(Grades 6 and up.) Have students perform the play The Awful 8 to learn about different air pollutants and their effects. The play is from the Air Quality Lesson Plans page of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The script includes parts for 27 students as well as production tips.

Earth sun catcher -- art, geography.
(Grades 3 and up.) Have each student add five drops of blue food coloring to 1/3 cup of white glue and mix. Help children fill margarine-tub lids with the glue. Let the glue dry completely. Students should carefully peel the blue circles out of the lids and use brown permanent markers to draw landforms on the circles. Stick the sun catchers to a window! This and other great Earth Day activities can be found on the For the Love of Earth page of the Mrs. Bee's Busy Classroom Web site.

Cleaning up our air -- science.
(Grades 6 through 8.) Many manufacturers use electrostatic precipitators to capture particulate matter (small particles of dirt) before it is released into the air. Invite students to perform a simple experiment using a balloon and black pepper to see how electrostatic precipitators work.
This Air Pollution Control Lesson from the Air Quality Lesson Plans Web page provides two hands-on experiments.

Tracking trash -- math and graphing.
(Grades K through 8.) Students can use a chart from the Reducing Cafeteria Waste activity to track the amount of trash people throw away each day in the cafeteria. Help them turn the stats into a bar graph that shows the number of items -- plastic, bottles, milk cartons, and so on -- people throw out each day.

Sun cooking -- science.
(Grades K through 8.) Help students learn about the potential of solar energy as they bake Solar S'Mores in the sun in this activity from the Southeastern Michigan Math-Science Learning Coalition.

Friendly packaging -- science and critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Invite your students to study a variety of product packaging and discuss which packages are most "Earth friendly." Then have them work in small groups to redesign a product whose package they deem "unfriendly." This Environmental Features activity is one of many you'll find at Earth Care: A Unit on the Environment created by Minnetonka (Minnesota) public school teachers.

Be an artist -- art.
(Grades 3 through 8.) Students can practice drawing to the same size or to scale with the animal illustration grid of a kangaroo rat or one of the other animals at Games from Waterford Press.

Flying frogs -- language arts.
(Grades 3 through 8.) Share The Legend of the Meeps Island Flying Frog on the American Museum of Natural History Web site. Then ask students to use the ready-to-color illustrations that accompany the story to create their own retellings of the story. Students can add dialogue and other characters to their versions.

Give Earth a hand -- bulletin board.
(Grades K through 8.) Have each student trace a hand and cut it out. On each finger, the student can write one way in which he or she can help Earth. Display the colorful hands around a map of the world or an art rendering of planet Earth.

Biodiversity -- science.
(Grades K through 6.) Ask students to record their observations of the ecosystem surrounding their school. Organize students into five groups -- the sound group, the plant group, the animal group, the mineral group, and the smell group. Each group will gather evidence (material, drawings, or descriptions) appropriate to the group's theme.

Posters to color -- art.
(Grades K through 3.) The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provides nine environment-themed posters for students to color. Just click on a thumbnail at Coloring Sheets for a large, printable version of the poster.

Endangered species database -- science, technology, and critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Your students can create a database to classify endangered species by species name; scientific name; classification (for example, mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian); location; habitat (for example, forest, ocean, grassland); and causes of endangerment in this Bagheera: In the Wild: Classroom: Activities.

Crossword puzzle -- language.
(Grades 6 and up.) Challenge students with a Biodiversity crossword puzzle from the New York Times Learning Network.

Safe water -- graphing, history.
(Grades 6 and up.) Help students learn about the relationship between the safety of a community's water supply and the life expectancy of people in the community in this Access to Safe Water activity from the World Bank. A graph that tracks the improving life expectancy in three French cities between the years of 1820 and 1900 helps make the case.

Acid rain -- cross-curriculum.
(Grades 3 and up.) Organize students into groups to research information about acid rain. In this Acid Rain research project, each group takes on the role of a specialist -- a chemist, an economist, a historian, an environmentalist, a health practitioner, or a government employee. Each group is assigned a list of questions and provided with support materials.

Unwrapping packaging -- math.
(Grades 6 and up.) Ask students whether the packaging on products is excessive. This Unwrapping Packaging activity from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection invites students to identify the weight of a product container and to calculate what percentage of the product is packaging. Which packaging materials offer the smallest percentage of package weight? What advantages do different kinds of packages offer? What implications are there between package weights and the cost of a product or the cost of shipping that product? Those and many other questions help students identify ways in which people might package products and create less waste.

What do you know? -- science, technology, study skills.
(Grades K through 8.) Have your students help Handy protect the planet at Handy's Kids.

Create a poster -- art, technology.
(Grades 3 and up.) Have your students use the computer to create their own Earth Day posters, PowerPoint presentations, or HyperStudio stacks. Share their projects at your school's Earth Day events.

Is your school energy-efficient? -- conservation, diagramming, surveying, critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Conserving Energy at School is designed to help students recognize how their school conserves or wastes energy and determine what they can do to conserve more energy. Students diagram the school, locate areas where energy is wasted, and decide what to do to solve the problem.

Article by Linda Starr and Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Additional Earth Day Resources Don't miss additional lessons, projects, resources, and more in Education World's Earth Day Archive.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Carl Chew No Longer Just Following Orders

Susan Ohanian has some new links to the Chew story, along with this Bracey commentary from Huffington Post called "Chew on This":

by Gerald Bracey

One seldom hears about The Nuremberg Precedent in education except in history class discussions of the post-World War II trials of Nazis. Some Nazi leaders said they could not have known the consequences of their policies and orders and others said they were just following orders. Their judges said "that's not good enough."

The body count from No Child Left Behind grows daily and one wonders when the perpetrators will be called to account. In a decent nation, the larger society holds the government accountable. In a program like NCLB, the government holds the citizenry accountable.

Now comes Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher in Seattle who has decided to say "enough." That last sentence might at some point be altered to read "former 6th grade science teacher." On April 15, Mr. Chew refused to administer the WASL, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which serves to satisfy the NCLB testing requirements.

Administrators tried to dissuade Mr. Chew from his act of civil disobedience, then escorted him from the school. Three days later, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson sent Mr. Chew a letter that began, "This letter is to inform you that I have determined that there is probably cause to suspend you from April 21, 2008 through May 2, 2008 without pay for your refusal and insubordination to your principal's written direction to administer the WASL at Eckstein Middle School." What happens May 5 is not clear (May 3 is a Saturday).

In writing to explain his action, Mr. Chew expressed his love for teaching, for his students and for his fellow teachers, and expressed sorrow that his act had cause pain for some people, but added "I could no longer stand idly by as something as wrong as WASL is perpetrated on our children year after year."

This indictment was not a general statement or an impetuous one. It was followed by a list of 24 thoughtful reasons why WASL is bad for kids, parents, teachers, and schools and nine reasons why it is "just bad." One can only imagine that the perpetrators of WASL -- and its many look-alikes, like the Nazis at Nuremberg, knew what the consequences of their policies and actions would be. A few examples:

Bad for kids: "There is no middle ground -- children either pass or fail which leaves them confused, guilty, and frustrated". (This is one of the grand absurdities of NCLB--you're either proficient or left behind. Learning doesn't occur in such either/or dichotomies. It occurs in continua, and in all likelihood, multidimensional continua; Chew later observes that many students who were simply told that they had failed were, in fact, very close to the passing score and that many of these children cried on receiving the results).

Bad for teachers: "A majority of teachers loath the WASL, but feel unable to speak out freely against it due to their fears of negative consequences for doing so" (many, many examples show that these fears are real; they are they are reinforced in many cases by principals' contracts which mandate specific increases in test scores each year as a condition of employment).

Bad for parents: "Most parents are misled by official statements about what the purpose of the WASL is" (it is the academic equivalent of saying we're going to war in Iraq to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction).

Bad for schools: Washington State will spend $56 million in 2009 just to have the damn things graded by a private corporation.

I can only hope that people will one day look back on high-stakes testing the way they now look back at slavery -- in disgust and a with sense of horrified wonder: what were they thinking? To mix metaphors, you don't build a house with a wrecking ball.

Release of "Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Role in Education Policy"

Reminder to SAVE THE DATE!
April 23rd, 8:30am - 11am
National Press Club
529 14th St, Washington DC

Mark your calendars to join The Forum for Education and Democracy for the release of Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Role in Education Policy, on the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 23, 2008, with coffee at 8:30 a.m. and program from 8:45 to11 a.m. in the National Press Club Ballroom (529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045). Featured guests will include:
  • The Honorable George Miller, Chairman of the Committee on Education & Labor, U.S. House of Representatives (invited)
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University;
  • John Deasy, superintendent, Prince George's County Public Schools;
  • Milton Goldberg, distinguished senior fellow, Education Commission of the States and former staff director for the commission that produced A Nation at Risk;
  • Deborah Meier, senior scholar, New York University Steinhardt School of Education;
  • Pedro Noguera, professor, New York University Steinhardt School of Education;
  • Wendy D. Puriefoy, president, Public Education Network;
  • Sharon Robinson, president and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education; and
  • George Wood, executive director, The Forum for Education and Democracy, and principal of Federal Hocking High School and Middle School.
Additional event details to come. Space is limited. To attend, please RSVP with Chloe Louvouezo at clouvouezo@communicationworks.com or at (202) 955-9450, ext. 320.

No Let Up in the NCLB Testocracy

What makes special education students special, besides dyslexia, emotional problems, learning disabilities, autism, neurological disorders? These different manifestations of specialness are irrelevant when it comes to NCLB test score demands--which are the same as for everyone else. It is what turns expecatations for all into failure for all.

This story is from California, but it is the same all across America:
Spring testing has arrived for area students, and a lot is riding on how well they perform — particularly for educators in Hayward and San Lorenzo.

The two are "program improvement" districts, meaning their students as a whole have failed to meet federal and state testing requirements that continue to rise. If the trend continues, the districts could face severe sanctions.

"The stakes are getting higher," said Katarin Jurich, director of assessment for San Lorenzo schools. "And the floor underneath us is cracking."

San Lorenzo Unified is one of three East Bay districts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is keeping tabs on under a reform plan he announced earlier this year. The district, along with Oakland and Berkeley schools, has failed to meet all goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for five years in a row.

Statewide, 97 districts are in the same boat.

Last year, San Lorenzo students met all but one of the 42 testing requirements set forth by NCLB. Special-education students as a whole failed to meet federal benchmarks in standardized testing, which kept the district from being in the clear of any sanctions.Meanwhile, if Hayward Unified fails yet again to meet test-score benchmarks, it will move into year three of program improvement, meaning it could face even more penalties from the state.

. . . .

Some parents . . . said pressures to perform well in standardized testing is ruining classrooms.

"Teachers are so worried about the tests that they're not really able to teach the kids," said Robert Stranahan, a parent at Lorenzo Manor Elementary in San Lorenzo. "Kids in their developmental years shouldn't have to worry about tests. Let them grow and get used to going to school first. It's just sad."

Some educators also argue that NCLB's goal of getting all students up to proficient levels by 2013 sets schools and districts up for failure.

"No one student is the same, and they each learn and grow at different levels," Jurich said. "I guess if we fail again we'll go to purgatory. And there'll be plenty of company with us."

Corporate Advance, Accountability Retreat

As public schools are eliminated, the so-called accountability movement will become a relic of the past. See Florida plan for more tax-supported corporate vouchers. My favorite clip from Palm Beach Post editorial:
Corporate voucher schools are supposed to give a standardized test. But the test doesn't have to be based on FCAT-tested curriculum, and the results aren't public. With no accountability, low-income students can vanish into lousy schools without a trace.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Commentary on Dropout Commentary

From Greenvilleonline.com:

April 19, 2008

Don't blame schools for high school dropout rate
By Paul Thomas

"Eighty per cent of our public school pupils drop out of the schools before attaining to the high school, and 97 per cent of all our public school pupils, from the primary grades to the high schools, drop out before graduation from the high school."
  • "Only four out of 10 U.S. children finish high school; only one of five who finish high school goes to college."
  • "Whereas the conventional wisdom had long placed the graduation rate around 85 percent, a growing consensus has emerged that only about seven in 10 students are actually successfully finishing high school. Graduation rates are even lower among certain student populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities and males."

    The first came from the Douglas Commission report (1905); the second from the U.S. commissioner of education (Time magazine, 1947); and the third from "Cities in Crisis" (America's Promise Alliance, 2008).

    The public and political reaction to the recent "Cities" report may be as important as the report itself. Let's look at what the report and the reactions reveal.

  • Mechanistic solutions from politicians. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' reaction to the "Cities" report includes recommending a standard formula to calculate drop-out rates. That we measure and how we measure seem to be the standard panacea for those in power.
  • Political and popular reactions without historical context. The outline above proves one reality about bureaucratic and popular responses to educational issues: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Students dropping out of school is a historical reality of education in the U.S. Also a historical reality is the superficial and simplistic reactions to this and other "crises" in education by politicians and bureaucrats.
  • Inflated rhetoric unsupported by evidence. The "Cities" report is important, but it certainly does not signal a dropout crisis. A significant population of students has always become disenfranchised from our schools, resulting in dropouts.
  • School accountability for social failures. A student dropping out of school is simply one type of student/parent choice. As long as students may legally drop out of school after a designated age, the responsibility for that lies primarily with the family -- not solely with the schools. Yet we persist in blaming schools for reflecting social realities.

    Now, the "Cities" report can be useful if it leads to addressing a few questions:

  • What do dropout statistics suggest about the social dynamics that manifest themselves in our schools? Too often, we as a culture blame schools as the cause for social ills that classrooms coincidentally house. We must begin to distinguish between what schools cause and what schools house.
  • Why do students drop out? And who are those students? No one is offering data related to what causes students to drop out, but we seem to imply that schools alone are failing. If we find the reasons behind students dropping out, we may be able to identify how society and schools can better serve students.
  • What impact is the accountability movement having on high school graduation rates? Many critics of No Child Left Behind and other accountability measures believe that high-stakes testing and accountability standards for graduation are to blame for increasing dropout rates. We need research to determine if this is true.
  • Finally, if we do determine that we as a society should work to keep more if not all students in school until they graduate, we must admit that the reasons for dropout rates are complex; thus, solutions will be complex also. We must also consider the growing impact that transient populations have on our schools, a population that is disproportionately struggling with English proficiency and poverty.

    Reports without historical context and crisis rhetoric have not served us well over the past century; they will not serve us well today. We are not suddenly in the middle of a dropout crisis, but we as a society certainly have a great deal of serious work to do for those students and their parents who believe that leaving our schools holds more promise than attaining a high school diploma.

  • Friday, April 18, 2008

    Scientific Evidence on Schooling Boys and Girls Together

    From Science Daily:
    ScienceDaily (Apr. 14, 2008) — Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at school.

    “Being with more girls is good for everybody,” says Prof. Analia Schlosser, an economist from the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University. “We find that both boys and girls do better when there are more girls in the class.” She investigated girls and boys in mixed classrooms in the elementary, middle, and high-school grades of the Israeli school system.

    In an unpublished paper, Prof. Schlosser concluded that classes with more than 55 percent of girls resulted in better exam results and less violent outbursts overall. “It appears that this effect is due to the positive influence the girls are adding to the classroom environment,” says Prof. Schlosser. She carried out the study while on a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University, and will study the effects of gender in higher education lecture halls next
    This is one of few studies of its kind to use scientific data to address the question of gender effects in school.

    The Report Card
    Boys with more female peers in their classes show higher enrollment rates in both advanced math and science classes, but overall benefits were found in all grades for both sexes.

    Prof. Schlosser found that primary-school classrooms with a female majority showed increased academic success for both boys and girls, along with a notable improvement in subjects like science and math. In the middle schools, girls were found to have better academic achievement in English, languages and math. And in high school, the classrooms which had the best academic achievements overall were consistently those that had a higher proportion of girls enrolled.

    An Educated Guess
    A higher percentage of girls lowers the amount of classroom disruption and fosters a better relationship between pupils and their teacher, a study of the data suggests. Teachers are less tired in classrooms with more girls, and pupils overall seem to be more satisfied when a high female-to-male ratio persists.

    Prof. Schlosser was inspired to the study by a “renewed interest on the effects of classroom gender composition on students’ learning, since a new amendment to America’s Title IX regulations gives communities more flexibility in providing single-sex classes and schools.”
    Prof. Schlosser concludes that American educators should reconsider the effects of the new trend of same-sex segregation on different sectors of society. Gains for girls from classroom gender segregation could be offset by the loss of boys.

    Adapted from materials provided by Tel Aviv University.

    Thursday, April 17, 2008

    Community Values and Saving Public Education


    Good reading below from the Center for Community Change blog. Bolding is that of the author:

    This essay, about community values in education, echoes themes in her new book "Keeping the Promise? The Debate over Charter Schools " which you can purchase here.

    This fall, the Center for Community Change and a wide range of community organizing groups across the country are launching a two-year “Campaign for Community Values.” With it, we want to change how we as a nation respond to increasing poverty, inequality and injustice brought on by decades of policies that divide, rather than unite us.

    The prevailing emphasis on individualistic solutions to collective challenges is nowhere more evident than in our public schools. All of us are dismayed and angry about the state of public education in our poorest communities. But the response of policy-makers and conservative advocates has too often been to offer individual families a way out, rather than to acknowledge that we must solve this problem collectively. The experiences of all children in the nation’s public schools (and on our streets) are intertwined. When we are satisfied because some schools are doing well, or when we offer individual students the “choice” to attend high-performing schools, we pull up the ladder of opportunity and deny success to millions of others. We must demand a collective re-commitment to public education. We must do it together. And we must do it soon.

    Listening to the public debate, one might come to believe that all of our nation’s public schools are failing; that an institution once considered inviolable, has past its useful life expectancy and should be dismantled. Even we, as organizers, sometimes adopt this fatalistic frame,

    Not so fast. In fact, thousands of public schools and school districts in this nation provide children with superior teachers, academic texts and materials, fully equipped science and technology labs and a challenging and diverse curriculum. We know what a high quality public education looks like. We provide it to millions of kids by insuring that the resources of the wealthy are channeled back to their local communities in support for their public schools and their children.

    But we turn our backs on other children and families. In communities where we organize – where jobs and affordable housing are in short supply, where basic health care is scarce and local property tax revenues (which fund our schools) are strained – in these communities we accept shortages. We get used to seeing dilapidated school buildings inexperienced teachers, antiquated textbooks (or no textbooks!), a lack of computers. We get used to the presence of police officers and metal detectors to quell the disaffection of students who endure the disrespect we convey by allowing their schools to crumble. We absorb a deficit model that blames poor children and poor parenting for the problem. And then we offer – through local, state and federal policy – escape hatches for the few, rather than a fair shake for everyone.

    The failure of public schools in some communities is not the fault of the children and families that attend those schools. Nor it is a failure of the institution of public education. It is the result of a willingness to look the other way, and the pursuit of an “American Dream” that values individual effort over public purpose and collective fate.

    This isn’t just rhetoric. Our educational policies over the past several decades have reinforced the message that there’s a limited amount of “success” to go around, and that individual parents and students should grab for it, then pull up the ladder behind them.

    No Child Left Behind

    Despite the lofty title of the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) does precisely what it claims not to do. Much of NCLB is based on principles of individual action and responsibility, rather than collective interests:

    • Instead of providing additional resources and supports to struggling schools, NCLB blames “failure” on the school itself, and applies sanctions – as if somehow, bad intentions are to blame and the threat of punishment will make everyone work harder;
    • NCLB offers individual parents the “choice” to escape low performing schools. When they leave, they take with them, public dollars intended to help all children at that school. “Parent involvement” is repeatedly described not as a collective act that enhances schools, but as an individual consumer responsibility.
    • The law demands that all schools improve the academic performance of all students. But only schools with majorities of low-income students are sanctioned when they fail.

    Rather than ensuring that all our public schools have the best we can offer, No Child Left Behind gives up on failing schools – withdrawing money, imposing sanctions and eventually closing them down. Many see NCLB as an insidious strategy to dismantle public education in our poorest communities, in favor of the eventual transfer of public dollars to private entities to run our schools. Affluent suburban parents would never condone such policies.

    Free-Market Charter Schools and Vouchers

    One of the most prominent expressions of the “go it alone” mentality is found in privatized, free-market solutions to public challenges. Jan Resseger, with the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries refers to a central myth of American culture – the myth of the “American Dream.”

    In the American Dream narrative,
    the setting is often a marketplace,
    where the protagonist is
    a consumer or an entrepreneur.

    Enterprise
    and the freedom to make
    one’s own choices are key elements
    in this story; one succeeds by
    hard work and by making the choices
    that benefit oneself or one’s family.
    The choices of all individuals massed
    together are thought to benefit society
    as a whole.

    In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, free-market cheerleaders called the ravaged city a “green field” for experimenting with privatized public education. The city’s school system, rather than being rebuilt in the model of the best public school systems in the nation, was dismantled and out-sourced to private entrepreneurs looking to make a buck the expense of some of the neediest children the nation has ever embraced.

    This strategy is at work in
    Ohio, the District of Columbia and other places, where public education in our poorest districts is being called beyond repair. But instead of presenting solutions that lift all boats – that restore community values in public education – those who promote privatization are comfortable with structures that serve only some children (and themselves) well. They are content to allow those who fail to “choose” a supposedly better option, languish, not with the miserable resources that our nation has set aside for them, but with less than that; because those who leave out of supposed self interest take public resources with them when they go.

    The right-wing dismantling of low-income, mostly African American public school systems like
    New Orleans and the District of Columbia is based on the promise that individual choice produces collective improvement. It is a lie. As Resseger acknowledges, “there is no evidence that choices based on self interest will protect the vulnerable or provide the safeguards and services needed by the whole population.”[v]

    Community Values in Public Education

    The American public still strongly supports our historic tradition of public education. There is wide and deep support for public schools as a place – perhaps the place – where children and adults engage as one community, learn from each other and rise collectively.

    There are many components to an education system that is truly structured for the common good:

    • school funding must not rely on local property wealth but instead on what children need to succeed. All schools must be funded to meet those needs;
    • public schools must provide universal access to students. Communities support well-funded neighborhood schools, to which all children in a geographic community are entitled enrollment. Students should be allowed to “choose” among specialized curricula or programs within a public school district, but there must always be a good school in their neighborhood that will guarantee access.
    • public schools should be melting pots, where children with different backgrounds can learn from and with each other. Children must be seen as resources, not “consumers” or “problems.”
    • parents and teachers must sit at decision-making tables, and must be part of school governance. Parents are not “consumers” but full partners. Teachers are not factory workers, to be penalized based on their “production rates.” They are and should be supported as, professionals.
    • schools should never be out-sourced to for-profit management corporations. Public dollars for educating our children should not line the pockets of entrepreneurs.

    In our campaign for Community Values, we must demand that public schools be fully supported by our collective resources. It is time to stop asking some communities to get by with less than the full riches our nation can offer. We must demand policies that connect us together, and an end to structures that isolate and separate.

    Leigh Dingerson is the Education team leader of the Center for Community Change.

    DIBELS: The Reading Race to Finish First in Nonsense

    Somehow I missed this article last fall in District Administration on the nuts and bolts of DIBELS, the reading assessment now driving the"pedagogy of the absurd" for the majority of America's reading teachers. Here is just a tiny clip:
    . . . .Laser says her family's main issue with DIBELS was her son's school's "overreliance" on the test and teaching solely designed to support test success, with the child's "well-being be damned."

    Because of her son's results on two DIBELS measures, his teacher suggested he either repeat kindergarten or be held back after first grade, Laser says. Laser thought Ellis would be ahead of his class in math and science because his Portland school had focused on them, but those subjects were not considered. "It was clear to us that DIBELS is double punishment- DIBELS in and of itself and the expectation that kindergartners must enter first grade with a specific and narrow range of reading skills in spite of their other skills and knowledge," Laser declares. . . .

    National Standards, National Tests, National Stupidity

    Having wasted the last thirty years of ed reform with making kids stupid with tests and eager to escape school, undercutting support for public schools, demonizing teachers, and getting tough on oversight and accountability for everyone on the other side of the corporate board room door, the same elite know-nothings who brought you the most recent three decades of school misery are planning the next three.

    From Monty Neill at FairTest, who offfers this summary of some interesting docs that recently came across his desk.
    I received in the mail today a document - Intergovernmental approaches for strengthening K-12 accountability systems - which is a transcript of a meeting of Oct 29, 2007, sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Lynn Olsen of Ed Week wrote a summary, available here.

    Part I
    Intergovernmental Models for Setting Academic Standards, with Checker Finn and Michael Cohen as panelists. The lead presenters in part II are Bob Linn and Tom Toch, but most of that section is actually discussion. In panel one also, most of the time is spent in discussion among the 40 participants.

    I would note that based on names I recognized, the list of names, and the photos sprinkled throughout, there appeared to be one person of color (black). No union person and no person from a K-12 education association (principals, subect area groups) was present, nor community activists or parents. The discussion involved some academics, mostly people from government and even more from the non- and for-profit private sectors; measurement experts were fairly prominent.

    What these folks are doing is working out how to construct a system of national standards and assessments. There was no discussion of whether such a system is desirable - some on feasibility, far more on various ideas of how. Interestingly, at this point there was little push for attaching real stakes. Rather, the basic conception is that of the American Diploma Project: build standards that states will adopt in common (maybe with federal support, but not federal mandate); then construct assessments. Lack of current quality was certainly mentioned – but in part 2 there is the pretense that the MA MCAS test is a good exam, and a defense of the NY Regents tests from an NY official. The claim is this system will provide signals on what education should accomplish. The prototype is an ADP Algebra II test. Hard to see how stakes would not soon follow, though the problem at least in the short term is that if the assessments could actually assess pretty comprehensively and accurately what students needed to do in college, vast numbers of students would not be "proficient."

    People raised lots of issues, from whether or what stakes to quality of tests to opportunity to learn - but, again, no one questioned the underlying premise as to whether to work toward some sort of system, despite a few questions about its effectiveness to date. For example, Susan Traiman of the Business Roundtable asked: " Five years from now, approximately 2013, the United States will then have been at this whole process of standards, graduation requirements, for about 30 years. So what makes you think that the historians won’t look back and say, 'The country has spent 30 years fiddling around with standards and assessments and graduation requirements, and no more kids were college- and work-ready?'"

    But, given who was there and that ADP is working in many states on this project, we can certainly see from this document a direction being taken on standards-based tests that I expect will become increasingly powerful. Note that the direction here is largely end-of-course exams, which more states are talking about doing and some actually implementing.

    Note also that ADP has worked from first-year-of-college expectations back to grade 1 to craft standards, grade by grade. Presumably these will not be national, but they are likely to be increasingly common. Whether tests are common, still state-based, purchased by states from companies, or whatever, this group seemed less clear on - no one model of how to do the assessing emerged. Finn strongly argued for keeping NAEP separate, as did some others.

    Part II
    More dismal in that it sank into the mire of testing details. Of course those are important if the tests are made important, but the pretense was that the chimerical "good test" can be constructed and used – if only enough money were spent on it. As the measurement people took over the conversation for a while, they pulled off the trick of taking what was posed as a problem and surrounding it with enough fog that the problem seemed to disappear – all is well.

    While, again, truly fundamental issues were either not raised or quickly dismissed (as with 'opportunity to learn'), there were arguments, and many clearly believe that NCLB is either having a harmful effect or no real positive effect, that it won’t get the US to high-quality schooling.

    Many in this room did convince themselves that a national test is on the table politically, though others very much disagreed.

    The idea of a complex system of low-stakes assessments feeding into school improvement seems to have pretty much escaped this group.

    Conclusion: While Part I showed this push toward commonality, Part II seemed far more mired in particulars and with far less generality. It was less focused, more all over the place. It is in that sense less relevant to understanding the push toward a common national set of standards and assessments.

    PS – there are assorted other materials in the last 50 pp of this 15-page document.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    Charter School Accountability Discussion in Florida

    A clip from the Orlando Sentinel:
    The Florida Senate wants to make charter schools more accountable. The House response: OK, as long as the schools get more money.

    Earlier this year, the Senate launched reform legislation to address problems uncovered by an Orlando Sentinel investigation of charter schools. The House retooled it and added a potential deal killer -- a requirement that school districts share their construction dollars with charter schools.

    On Tuesday, despite objections of school-district lobbyists, the House bill cleared its last committee and now heads to the full House, possibly next week.

    "If you're going to have to play by the same rules, there's got to be some of the same funding involved," said Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, a charter-school co-founder who sponsored the House version.

    The House plan drew a barrage of objections Tuesday from Democrats.

    Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, said he remembered charter-school advocates pleading for independence when the Legislature originally authorized them in 1996.

    "What we're doing is giving state money to these huge management companies that go around the country starting charter schools," Richardson said. "Sometimes they want to be public schools, and sometimes they don't."

    House Schools and Learning Council Chairman Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, said the House and Senate may yet come together on the measure.

    The proposals come just as an audit of Summit Charter School in Orange County revealed that the school president and the principal purchased cars, charged about $40,000 on school credit cards, got about $15,000 in travel expenses, and received compensation of about $400,000 annually. Additionally, the principal's sister was the school's office manager. . . .

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Zero Accountability and Huge Salaries for Charter School Managers

    As urban children are ground up in the high-stakes testing crucible in order to justify turning over their public schools to private management (as if that is going to solve the poverty problem), the sleazy managers of these charter school stores are getting rich while the children, teachers, and parents get the shaft.

    The good news in the story below is that major media like the Philadelphia Inquirer are starting to shine a light under a few of the rocks where the fat leeches hide. The bad news is that it takes persistent complaints from parents to initiate any oversight of these corporate welfare sewers:
    As chief executive officer of Philadelphia Academy Charter School, Brien N. Gardiner took home a $164,500 salary in 2005-06 - more than most superintendents in the region made.

    That same year, Gardiner collected an additional $60,000 as CEO of Northwood Academy, a second charter school, giving him a total salary of $224,500. The Philadelphia School District gave the schools a combined $14.6 million in taxpayer dollars to educate 1,700 students in kindergarten to 12th grade.

    This fall, as Gardiner's educational empire in the Northeast grew, a small group of parents and district officials became concerned about the way Philadelphia Academy was being managed, including the hiring of administrators' family members.

    They became even more alarmed when they learned that the school's board had quietly named Kevin O'Shea, a former city police officer with a high-school diploma, as CEO in 2006, and that he was drawing a salary of $206,137. Gardiner, a former district principal, is still a consultant for both schools, a school official confirmed. . . .

    Read the rest here.

    Spellings Go Home and Other Good Signs from MIT

    An astute summation from the MIT Faculty Newsletter :
    Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education Hints at National Standardized Testing for Universities
    Jonathan King

    As President Bush approached his final year in office, his Secretary of Education released the administration’s major policy document on higher education, a report from The Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The Commission was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, long time education advisor to President Bush. The Commission’s August 2007 report contains a number of commendable recommendations: expand the fraction of our citizenry that participates in higher education; remove barriers to access, such as lack of academic preparation, financial means, or understanding how to navigate the process; and increase emphasis on science and engineering education. But perhaps of most concern, is the introduction of the notion of extending the central thrust of Bush K-12 education policy – standardized testing – to higher education.

    The report addresses the major barrier to access – affordability – mostly by advising that applications for federal financial aid be streamlined and simplified. The only recommendation for a boost in direct financial aid – which would help more students actually afford to attend a four-year college – is limited to increasing the target of Pell grants over five years to 70% of the average State tuition at public four-year institutions. While this would be a valuable step forward, it is still woefully inadequate, for example, for research universities and private four-year colleges.

    The report gives more emphasis to cutting costs than increasing investment. This business model is not surprising given the composition of the Spellings Commission, which was laden with corporate officers.

    Also participating were four university presidents, including MIT’s former president Chuck Vest and James Duderstadt of the University of Michigan. Only three of the 18 members were active faculty, and none were active scientists.

    Committee Chair Pushes Standardized Tests for Universities
    A new element in the report was the call for increased “accountability” for institutions of higher education. In the Bush/Paige/Spellings Department of Education, this term has generally translated into assessment through standardized testing. The report clearly calls for implementing forms of standardized assessment so as to be able to compare “performance” of diverse higher institutions. A recent New York Times article (February 9, 2008) quotes Charles Miller, the investor who chairs the Commission: “What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats.”

    As faculty with children in public school know, a major change in the K-12 school environment has been brought about by the implementation under the Bush administration of the federal No Child Left Behind (NLCB) Act, the catchy misnomer given to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The damaging effect of the use of a single standardized test as the sole measure of student progress has been documented in a series of recent books and reports. These include Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools, by Sharon L. Nichols and David Berliner (2007); Many Children Left Behind, edited by Deborah Meier and George H. Wood (2004); and When School Reform Goes Wrong, by Nel Noddings (2007).
    Given the Bush administration’s track record of ignoring what students and public schools actually need, it is perhaps not surprising that its policy of substituting mandatory commercial standardized testing for authentic assessment and quality education is now being extended to higher education.

    Though the Spellings/Miller call to bring colleges and universities into an NCLB-style “accountability” system may sound laudable to some, it represents retrograde educational policy. Colleges and universities are responsible for producing individuals with a vast variety of skills and talents. Engineers, architects, electricians, physicians, and lawyers are familiar with licensing and certification tests which control access to their professions. The mission of these tests is to set a floor of competence and ensure that practitioners meet some minimum standard of proficiency.

    But colleges, and particularly research universities, play a different role in our society. We need their activities to expand knowledge, open new horizons, and raise ceilings in all areas of human technical, social, and economic activity.

    Requiring every biochemistry course in the U.S. to prepare students for a single national test in college biochemistry will narrow instruction, snuff out new initiatives, and alienate both students and teachers.

    The appropriate measure for college courses needs to be tuned to the local curriculum, and include lab reports, research papers, classroom exams, and other inquiry-based assessment tools. (For a concise critique of the impact of standardized testing on science education in Massachusetts see www.ParentsCare.org/news/sciencemcas.htm.)

    Standardized tests move the control of curriculum and course content from the faculty to the companies that produce and sell the tests. In higher education, the curriculum and content of courses needs to remain under the control of engaged professional faculty, though of course attentive to social, economic, and scientific developments.

    Teacher, parent, civil rights, and youth advocacy organizations have uniformly rejected standardized high stakes tests as doing far more damage to schools than good. More than 140 national education, civil rights, religious, and labor organizations, representing millions of concerned citizens, have called for a major overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act (www.fairtest.org/joint-organizational-statement-no-child-left-behin). A number of State legislatures have moved to reject Title I funds in order to be able to ignore the NCLB regulations that are mandatory only if the State accepts federal education dollars (www.fairtest.org).

    Texas Origins of Bush Education Policy
    The Bush administration has relied heavily on the Texas school system for the formation of education policy. His first Secretary of Education was Ron Paige, former Superintendent of Schools in Houston. Margaret Spellings was Senior Advisor to Governor Bush for six years in Texas. Charles Miller was Chair of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas system. Texas was one of the first state systems to institute high stakes testing as the criteria for high school graduation (TAAS – Texas Assessment of Academic Skills).

    Both court cases and recent studies indicate the TAAS system contributed to the disastrous school dropout rate in Texas, 38% overall (Linda McNeill, et. al, “Education Policy Analysis Archives,” January 2008). In a large urban school district, 60% of African-American students, 75% of Latino students, and 80% of ESL students failed to graduate within five years. These students were excluded from the test score analysis, resulting in then-Governor Bush claiming great gains in high school education (dubbed the “Texas Miracle”). As test scores became the only criteria for evaluating teachers and schools, they have distorted and corrupted many aspects of the school system, as described in detail in Collateral Damage. Misreporting of student data in Houston was one of the factors that led to the resignation of Secretary of Education Paige.

    In fact, Texas has one of the lowest percentages of college attendance in the country, and half of entering college and university students require remedial classes. Most of the evidence indicates that the emphasis on a single standardized test further undermined an already stretched public school system.

    There is no evidence to date that the Bush education policy of replacing emphasis on teaching and learning with emphasis on testing increases the quality or quantity of high school graduates. Continuing these policies will decrease the level of education and skill of our future workforce.
    Who is Behind the Push for Standardizing Testing as the Only Measure of Learning?
    If parents, teachers, professional educators, and scholars reject high-stakes standardized tests as a valuable educational tool, who supports them? The major support for high-stakes testing comes from a well-organized wing of the corporate sector, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Conference Board. In part, this represents the growth of the testing and test prep business as a profit center. Public education is the largest sector of the U.S. economy that has not been privatized and is a target for a sector of the business community. Production, publication, distribution, and scoring of State tests is now a multi-billion-dollar business. Companies such as Edison Schools, Leona Group, and National Heritage Academies operate for profit schools and actively promote privatization of K-12 education.

    The globalization of the economy is also having an effect. As manufacturing has moved abroad, followed by increasing high-tech work, the corporate need for highly trained workers within the U.S. is declining. As shown by the recent report from Lindsay Lowell and Harold Salzman (see Business Week, October 26, 2007), there is no shortage of highly-skilled workers in the U.S. Faculty sitting on hiring committees, or trying to place their own students, know that there are far more talented and trained individuals than there are positions. This has been a growing source of tension and anxiety among graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

    Although some business spokesmen call for more scientists, examination of the actual positions of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers reveals no push for major increases in investment for the training of scientists and engineers. Their major thrust with respect to skilled labor is to increase the number of annual H1B visas granted to foreign workers. The AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees has noted that large increases in such visas act to lower wages for skilled labor and shrink the market for employment of U.S. citizens.
    In his recent MacVicar lecture at MIT, Nobel laureate physicist Carl Weiman described the results of many years of explicit research on how college students learn – or fail to learn – physics and chemistry. Advances in education research, in cognitive psychology, and in brain science have now opened the way to better instruction in basic physics, chemistry, and math classes. We don’t need national standardized tests to improve teaching and learning in American colleges and universities. We need to implement the advances that have been identified, sharply increase student aid so that millions of high school graduates are not prevented from going on to post-secondary school education, and we need to increase the fraction of the federal budget and of the GDP that is invested in education.