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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Occupy the Schoolhouse!

Time magazine has named the Protester as 2011’s Person of the Year. However, as I read  the Time article reviewing the year in protests and revolutions,  I found  one critical protest  missing from the narrative: the Save Our Schools movement.  Aside from some limited coverage around the national march in July, the national media has largely ignored this important protest against the latest education “reform” movement .  The Occupy movement, on the other hand, with its diffuse anger and unnamed frustration,  gets plenty of play. But the SOS movement?  Not so much.  As I read the Time article, I began to wonder why.
Of course, there is the obvious: the Occupy movement made an obstacle of itself in city after city, disrupting the normal operation of the establishment. The Save Our Schools movement, on the other hand, did not occupy the schoolhouse or disrupt the delivery of education to children anywhere. Do not get me wrong: I share the anger and frustration behind the Occupy movement and I’m sympathetic to their actions. I just think the movement needs some focus if it is going to accomplish anything.
It is focus that distinguishes the Save Our Schools movement from the Occupy movement and is, I think, a key reason behind the lack of attention by the government, the media, and the public at large.  The Save Our Schools Movement is focused, articulate and crystal clear about what it stands for, what needs to be done, and the role of government in meeting the movement’s demands.  So what is wrong with clarity and focus versus diffused anger and unfocused frustration? Clarity and focus demand action. There is no escaping it; no place to hide. Diffused anger and unfocused frustration let those in positions of power off the hook. You can analyze, criticize, sympathize, but you don’t have to act. If you do want to take some action, you can do what you want in whatever measure you want, since no one seems to have any specific demands. Or, you can just deal in rhetoric.
The challenge for the Save Our Schools movement in 2012 is capturing and holding the attention of the public, the media, and government in a way similar to the Occupy movement, but without disrupting education or losing the focus  that demands action. How do we successfully occupy the schoolhouse  politically rather than physically?
Happy New Year!

Religious Indoctination Provides Break from Test Prep: "It's a great day in South Carolina."

Story below the video from NYTimes.  More details on rally in video are provided here by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

JEFFERSON, S.C. — It has been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled that officially sponsored prayer in public schools violated the separation of church and state.

But in some corners of the country, especially in the rural South, open prayer and Christian symbols have never really disappeared from schools, with what legal advocates call brazen violations of the law coming to light many times each year.

But in some corners of the country, especially in the rural South, open prayer and Christian symbols have never really disappeared from schools, with what legal advocates call brazen violations of the law coming to light many times each year.

At a school assembly here in South Carolina on Sept. 1, a preacher described how Christ saved him from drugs, telling his rapt audience that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need more than anything else.” A rapper shouted the Lord’s praise to a light show and most of the audience stepped forward to pledge themselves to Christ while a few remained, uncomfortable, in their seats.

Such overt evangelizing would not be unusual at a prayer rally, but this was a daytime celebration in a public school gymnasium, arranged by the principal for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

When the rapper posted a video on YouTube, announcing that “324 kids at this school have made a decision for Jesus Christ,” he drew unwelcome public and legal scrutiny to the event. It was the kind of religious advocacy that is increasingly coming to light, legal experts say, as school populations become more diverse and as the objection of non-Christians — or, in this case, the rejoicing of evangelists — is broadcast on the Internet.

In landmark decisions in 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court barred official promotion of religion in schools. That principle has remained solid, if pilloried by conservatives who blame it for what they see as the nation’s moral and social decline. At the same time, the courts and Congress have also reinforced the rights of students to pray on their own and to form after-school religious clubs.

But battles over the place of religion in schools continue. This month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the Chesterfield County, S.C., school district end what the suit describes as the continuing promotion of religion in several of its schools, including the middle school that held the prayer rally. The A.C.L.U. brought the suit on behalf of a seventh grader who said he was subjected to unwanted proselytizing and has been harassed for his avowals of atheism.

Among other recent examples:

¶ At Pace High School near Pensacola, Fla., teachers cited the Bible as fact in class and one teacher preached to students with a bullhorn as they arrived at school. In litigation that ended in July, the Santa Rosa County district agreed to stop promotion of religion but said that teachers could pray in private settings and could use expressions like “God bless you.”

¶ In Sumner County, Tenn., teachers led students in prayer and Bible study, and allowed Gideons International to distribute Bibles during school hours. Officials agreed this month to end the practices.

¶ In Baltimore, under threat of a lawsuit last spring, district officials stopped a school principal from holding prayer services to help students prepare for a standardized test.

“We continue to see, on a regular basis across the country, public school officials who include prayer in school events, try to convert students and engage in other promotion of religion,” said Heather Weaver, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U.’s program on religious freedom.

“In recent years, public school officials have engaged in these activities even more aggressively,” Ms. Weaver added.
Christian legal advocates counter that such plain violations are far less common than the opposite problem:

overzealous officials trying to cleanse the schools of religion, punishing students for protected speech like personal prayer or handing out devotional messages to their friends.

“The free-speech rights of students and teachers are under an all-out assault,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group in Plano, Tex. He described one continuing legal case in which “children had pencils ripped out of their hands” because they carried a Christian message and students were “banned from writing Merry Christmas to the soldiers.”

Despite such disputes, legal religious expression is more present in schools now than it has been for decades, said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington who advises school districts and helped develop teacher guidelines that are consistent with the law. It has been firmly established, he said, that students may pray if it is not disruptive, and can share their faith with other students. Teachers may pray with other teachers outside of class, though not in front of students during school hours.

But gray areas persist and dozens of bitter disputes erupt every year over the propriety of student prayers at graduations and football games (usually ruled illegal if given over a loudspeaker to a captive audience) or whether children can hand out written prayers at a Christmas party (permissible in theory, some experts say, but courts have allowed school officials to make judgments based on the circumstances).

Watchdog groups like the A.C.L.U., Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation say that in the last few years, they have learned more often about what they call blatant violations like the South Carolina rally. It is unclear, they say, whether the number of such events is growing, or whether they are now more likely to come to light. But still, these advocates say, even when clear violations occur, concerned families are often reluctant to bring legal challenges because they fear social hostility.

The September prayer rally at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson had deep support in the community. With a population of 47,000, Chesterfield County supports at least 200 Christian churches, according to Paul Wood Jr., pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Cheraw, S.C.

“There’s not a lot of religious diversity here, so it becomes hard for people to believe that everybody isn’t a Christian,” said Mr. Wood, who was perhaps the only pastor in the county to publicly question the rally.

The students were addressed by Christian Chapman of Charlotte, N.C., who describes himself as a “traveling evangelist” and often speaks at schools, he said in an interview.

“I definitely think that we should try to get our relationship with Christ back into the schools,” said Mr. Chapman, 43. “Jesus represents everything we want our students to live by.”

For non-Christians to hear this message, he said, is no worse than Bible believers being forced to hear about evolution every day.

On the videotape about the rally, Mr. Chapman quotes the school principal, Larry Stinson, as saying, “I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.”

Mr. Stinson declined to comment, while a district spokesman, Ken Buck, said that the district was studying the lawsuit and would not intentionally violate the Constitution.

According to the suit, the rally during school hours was far from an isolated event. Mr. Stinson routinely opens school programs with prayer, it alleges, and has often invited Christian speakers. A large poster of the Ten Commandments hangs on a hallway wall, a picture of Jesus hangs in the lobby, and a cross and two Bibles are on a table in the main office.

The principal’s supporters noted that students were given the option of skipping the rally.

According to Jonathan Anderson, who is a plaintiff in the suit along with his seventh-grade son, the boy was told that to avoid the assembly he had to report to the suspension room, which the boy interpreted as a punishment.

In any case, said Ms. Weaver, the A.C.L.U. lawyer, “the law is clear that a school cannot hold a worship rally, irrespective of whether it is optional.”

Mr. Stinson, in an e-mail exchange with a local pastor who expressed support, wrote, “Please pray for the dark forces out there who would seek to do harm in this situation.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 27, 2011
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Kelly Shackelford, president of the Liberty Institute.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Unpacking TFA Support: Twisted Logic and Assumptions

Teach for America (TFA), like Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) corporate-charter schools, finds opportunities where they least expect resistance—cities devastated by natural disasters (New Orleans) or communities ravaged by poverty. As I have detailed HERE, HERE, and HERE, TFA has now leveraged itself into Charleston, SC schools. Three articles in The Post and Courier present the twisted logic and assumptions underneath support for TFA:

First, let's consider the twisted logic. The stated problem for high-poverty schools often includes that hiring and retaining highly qualified and experienced teachers is historically a challenge (Peske & Haycock, 2006); Charleston school officials acknowledge this problem—so the solution? Hire uncertified, briefly trained (five weeks) college graduates who tend to come from affluence and privilege and have a well established track record of fulfilling only the two-year commitment to TFA to teach where the problem is un-/under-certified and inexperienced teacher pools.

The second logic failure involves claiming to use research as a mask for ignoring evidence.

The editorial supporting TFA offers three quick nods to research, suggesting that there is ample evidence that TFA offers evidence-based options for high-poverty schools seeking a stronger staff. However, this strategy is, in fact, cherry picking—identifying a few isolated pieces of evidence to confirm an agenda.

Instead, the evidence on TFA is mixed at best, incomplete, and muddled significantly by advocacy initiated by TFA itself.

View a review of research on TFA from 2010 HERE.

Also, see a detailed consideration of research HERE.

Evidence-based commitments to TFA require officials to consider the weight and patterns of the body of research in TFA—not selected studies. That weight of evidence?:
"There is simply no 'large and growing body of evidence' suggesting TFA corps 'members make as much of an impact on student achievement as veteran teachers.' In fact, there is a growing body of research suggesting otherwise, that TFA members have a negative impact on student achievement." (Kovacs, 2011)
This failure of logic is profound, but beneath this the twisted assumptions are more disturbing.

The assumptions driving TFA support are many, but the one often ignored is that much of the argument about teacher quality in general and TFA recruits' impact on students (and their impact when compared to other pools of teachers) remains trapped in two powerful errors: (1) reducing student learning and teacher quality to test scores (standardized test scores remain a reflection primarily of the status of children's lives, not their learning, not the quality of their teachers), and (2) assuming that a direct and clear connection exists between teachers and student outcomes. Consider this comment in the second article about TFA in Charleston:
"She said she wouldn't use Teach for America teachers with the district's high-achieving students because those children's teachers already are succeeding, she said."
Below the surface, and often directly stated, many people who have power over our schools associate all causes for educational outcomes within either the students themselves or the willingness of teachers simply to work harder and demand more.

Every year, however, the SAT has been administered—and the pool of students taking the SAT are disproportionately better students than all students, disproportionately sitting in the most challenging classes (college prep and advanced), and disproportionately being taught by the most experienced and highly qualified teachers—the scores are most closely correlated with parental income and levels of education.

So-called "top students" and so-labeled "struggling students" in Charleston and across the U.S. are in these categories primarily because of the circumstances of their birth—not the children's willingness to work hard, not the teachers' commitment to expect success.

Beyond simplistic and misguided views of tests, student learning, and teacher quality, however, the most disturbing aspect of supporting TFA rests in one phase, "missionary zeal":
"Corps members are selected because they are smart and energetic college graduates. They have majors in all fields of study and receive an intensive five weeks of training by TFA to teach in at-risk or failing schools. They tend to have what Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley calls 'missionary zeal.'"
"Missionary zeal" is being used to suggest a positive quality, but, in fact, it exposes everything that is wrong with supporting TFA:

• TFA is filled with "zeal," but the mission of the organization is to create a certain type of leader—not to support the democratic goals of universal public education. The truth is that TFA is using the education system and targeting the most vulnerable in that system to increase privilege among the privileged.

• What is beneath "missionary zeal"? A paternalistic arrogance and a condescending attitude toward the population being "saved" or "fixed." At the heart of TFA (and KIPP) is a corrosive and misguided classism and racism that has no place in our public schools.

• TFA is also essentially a perpetual experiment because the recruits have only a two-year commitment and historically few work beyond that commitment. While experimentation itself is not a problem, our willingness to experiment with other people's children is the problem. I have made this request often, (and the response is telling): If we believe students living in poverty, special needs students, and English language learners deserve the best possible teachers, and if we believe that teachers working with our "top student" are those elite teachers (again, see the comment HERE), let's hire TFA recruits to staff the classes now taught by our "best" teachers and move those "best teachers" to the students who need them most. Yet, no one is rushing to shift TFA recruits to the "top students" (students, in fact, who are most like the TFA recruits themselves) because "missionary zeal" includes deficit views of children in poverty (and their parents), children of color, special needs children, and children acquiring English as a second language.

The irony of moves to support TFA is that it can teach us some powerful lessons about our cultural assumptions, our genuine commitments, and the purposes within universal public education. That lesson is that TFA represents the worst of what is being offered during the last thirty years of corporate-driven education reform.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

"nothing left to do but opt out"

From Tim Slekar posted at HuffPo:
"If you oppose state testing, please contact your Senator and Representative... they can change, what we cannot." Superintendent.
Since our district's superintendent has decided to actively fight the opt-out movement I have tried to engage him by sending him articles that document the folly of high stakes testing and writing letter's explaining the opt out motives. I thought that we might enter into a civil discussion concerning government mandated public school reform as defined by the corporate elite.

I came across a Marion Brady article posted by Valerie Strauss. The Brady article hit some excellent points so I decided to forward it to the administrators of our district -- superintendent included. I received a response rather quickly to the Brady article from our superintendent.

The superintendent said that he agreed that research does not support high stakes testing and even mentioned listening to a Yong Zhao speech. However, according to our superintendent, the problem was our politicians. In fact he said, "The politicians are deaf to hearing about research."

This is a super observation because it is absolutely true. At this point in time, I also have no faith that our politicians have any intentions of "listening" to research challenging the failing school narrative and halting the high stakes testing regime. Therefore I sent our superintendent the response below.
Dear Superintendent,
You are absolutely right. However, the bigger problem is that politicians are not going to start listening to research anytime soon. You've met with them. I've met with them. They're not going to budge unless something forces them to budge. Take a look at their campaign contributors. All the major testing companies are funneling millions of dollars to the politicians. Research doesn't stand a chance against a system that is designed to ignore research.

That is why I want you to understand that the parents that opt out are not doing it because they want to hurt you, the teachers, or the school. They're doing it because politicians have taken you and the teachers out of the equation. You're not allowed to speak up against this misuse of resources that is designed to hurt our school. If you do, politicians will paint you as a "status quo" educator.

Whatever you think the "opt out" motivation to be, please be certain that it is not to hurt "our" school. It is the only thing left to do as a parent. Once we know the research concerning high stakes testing and the damage it causes, how do we as responsible parents allow our children to take part in a system that was never based on solid research and instead was imposed by political operatives, lobbyists, and think tanks that only want to get at the money tied up in public schools and declare the public system a failure?

Opting out of the PSSAs is the only action left. We want our public schools back. We want you, the principals and teachers to make the decisions. You are the experts.

After sending the email above I immediately crafted the email below. I just did not feel that the response above captured the emotions that I was feeling. It was factual and slightly passionate, but it was missing something. I wanted the superintendent to get a sense that the "opt-outers" were only engaging in this form of civil disobedience because the politicians have forced parents to take a more radical stand.
Dear Superintendent, I would like to start this note out from a more positive place than our last exchange. Let me clear up a misconception. I have no desire to hurt the school district, the town, or you personally. I love our town and I love the school district. My actions are actually being done in support of this small town and it's wonderful school system. You may question the opt-out tactic, but what is left to do instead?
I have sat with state and federal representatives and talked about the damage high stakes testing (NCLB, PSSA) is having on our children, teachers and schools. I have written these same representatives and detailed all the research that demonstrates the train wreck that is NCLB. I have written numerous Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor in local and national papers. I write a national blog for The Huffington Post. I have spent 5 years on local AM radio. I have been on CNN and FOX. None of this has changed anything.
I still walk into classrooms daily (all over the county) and I still see teachers wasting time on PSSA preparation. I talk to these same teachers. They are demoralized because of the deprofessionalization they have had to endure during NCLB. I know 30 veteran teachers that easily would have taught for years to come but tell me they're leaving because they can't take it anymore. They simply can't take not being able to teach. I have worked with teacher education students for 13 years. Each year it is clearly evident that they are products of the NCLB system. They have no ability to think or maybe worse, they have no desire to think.
There is nothing left to do but opt out. Will this action stop unneeded high stakes testing? I really do not know. However, I do know that if I do nothing it will continue until the entire public school system is dismantled.
Question: Am I just a misguided radical that should try to work within the traditional bounds of citizen engagement? Is opting out too extreme? Should I give up and try meeting with my representatives again? Maybe this time around they will start to listen, right?

Gingrich Chooses Keegan for Her Strong Corruption Credentials?

Lisa G. Keegan has come a long way since her feature in the Peoria Times in 2006, which followed many months of avoiding questions emanating from a federal audit that noted the missing millions that someone raked away while she was running the Education Leaders Council during the champagne popping days for the ed industry under Bush II.

Keegan served as McCain's mouthpiece on education 4 years ago, and this time around she has hooked up with someone whose corruption credentials make her look like a paragon of virtue.  Hey, everybody's doing it!

When Gingrich loses, will Keegan leverage her new visibility into a job in the post-partisan corporatist ED?  Maybe the new Secretary of Education?, since Party labels are meaningless in the brave new corporate ed world of pushing the same old bullshit to benefit the same 1%ers.

My post from June 14, 2006:

In a NOW segment aired March 26, 2004 that introduced the Bush cronies who had just been handed $77,000,000 in ED funds to seed school privatization ventures, Lisa Graham Keegan, head of the Education Leaders Council, gushed to reporter, Michelle Mitchell:
You don't think anybody's making money off of education? Big secret, it's happening. People make millions.

This admission came even as Mitchell was reporting that an audit had showed that the $16,000,000 that ELC had squeezed from ED (with the help of former ELC chief, Gene Hickok) was going to pay big salaries that Lisa and her friends were doling out to one another.

It wasn't long after that, however, until Keegan took her cut and split, leaving a big mystery as to what happened to the other millions that ELC had received for the impressive-sounding programs pumped on ELC's spiffy website, before it went black last year.

Now it seems Keegan is back, this time looking for more federal infusion for her version of virtual education. On the website for her company, e2020, Inc., it appears that e2020 is a form of on-demand teacher in a box, marketed heavily to urban areas where high schoolers find it too dangerous to go to school. One might think of e2020 as the Iraqi model for education: keep the students and the teacher in their virtual green zones, where they are free to learn all they desire to know.

One can expect, too, that there will lots of federal dollars to fund this new kind of powerful school choice--and, of course, to close the achievement gap. You know.

You can read about Lisa's new adventures in today's Peoria Times.

Russo Off by 4 Months (UPDATED)

If Alexander Russo had penned this near April 1, instead of January 1, and ended with "April Fools!" I would have enjoyed the irony, but instead, Russo appears serious with "Media: Reform Opponents Are Winning Online (For Now)."

The list of problems with this post are extensive, but a few major points include: (1) The educators and scholars Russo identifies as "Goliaths" are not against reform, but against corporate reform that perpetuates the status quo, (2) The status quo is not being propped up by the educators and scholars Russo identifies, but by the so-called Davids (Gates, Duncan, Rhee), (3) The Davids have billions of dollars, political clout, and popular assumptions on their side (odd dynamics to be an underdog), and (4) Russo ironically reflects what is seriously wrong with the media: They don't get it.

Instead of weighing in further, let me share the excellent responses among the ignored Goliaths identified by Russo:

Are Critics of Corporate Education "Reform" Winning the Online Debate?, Anthony Cody

Lopsided Debate Over Education Reform Reveals a Broken System, Anthony Cody

Reform vs. Anti-Reform: Quoth the Raven, Nancy Flanagan

Did you know I'm a Goliath?, Kenneth Bernstein

A biblical school reform metaphor, Mike Klonsky

* As a footnote, notice that the Goliaths tend to be people with DECADES of teaching experience, while the Davids have little and more often than not no experience as educators.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When Bribes Don't Buy Buy-In, New York Ed Commish Tries the Extortion Route

From the NY Times, by Fernanda Santos:
New York State’s education commissioner threatened on Tuesday to withhold tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts statewide if they do not prove by Saturday that they will carry out new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

Officials and union leaders in each district must first agree on the details of the evaluation systems, like how much weight students’ standardized test scores will have on the annual ratings that teachers and principals receive. Compromise has thus far proved elusive.

Of the 10 districts, which are the only recipients of the federal grants in New York, only Rochester and Syracuse as of Tuesday had submitted proposals for the state’s review, the commissioner, John B. King Jr., said in a statement. “When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” he said, “the money drops off the table, and it will be difficult to get it back.”

For New York City, it would mean losing roughly $60 million for 33 schools whose graduation rates and test scores put them among the state’s worst.

The money, known as school improvement grants, is supposed to help the schools lift their results through a series of changes, like replacing principals and at least half the staff members; giving teachers extra time for training and preparation; and extending the school day. In New York City, it offers, in essence, an alternative to the most common approach to dealing with failing schools, which has been to close them.

And there might be more at stake. Dr. King said Tuesday that the 10 districts could also lose their shares of the $700 million in federal financing that New York State won through the Race to the Top competition, because carrying out an evaluation system in struggling schools is among its requirements.

The Race to the Top program requires a new statewide teacher-evaluation system, and the methods used in the struggling schools could shape it, because districts are unlikely to want competing processes.

The State Legislature passed a bill last year calling for new evaluation systems, but the unions and the Board of Regents have been battling in court over the role of standardized test scores.

In response to Dr. King’s threat on Tuesday, New York City’s schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, released a statement saying that city and teachers’ union officials had been in discussions for months and were all “cognizant of the deadline.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the evaluation system, and the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, said Tuesday that there was still hope for a deal.

The school improvement grants have been the subject of increased scrutiny in recent weeks, after Dr. King and the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, visited several of the beneficiary schools and then expressed their frustrations over the way the money was being used.

In biting remarks, Dr. Tisch called the schools “warehouses” for struggling students, who were pushed there after the city shut the schools they used to attend.

Follow up: TFA in Charleston SC

I posted before about TFA coming to Charleston SC schools:


And the journalist did write a follow-up piece, with some challenges included to TFA:

Teach for America has supporters, critics

By Diette Courrégé
Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I am quoted, and solid comments against TFA are included, but the supporting comments are baffling, misguided, and disturbing. . for example:

"Charleston County schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley knows the founder of Teach for America, and she strongly believes the kind of teachers the nonprofit recruits can change the dynamics of the district's struggling schools. Schools nationwide are reaping the benefits of its well-refined system, and its competitive applicant pool, rigorous selection process and ongoing training program ensures schools receive educators who have a ripple effect, she said.

"'They came to teaching to change the world, and they have a missionary zeal,' McGinley said. 'Those people are not easy to come by.'

She said she wouldn't use Teach for America teachers with the district's high-achieving students because those children's teachers already are succeeding, she said."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Social Context Reform: Where to Start

Social Context Reform: Where to Start

In a recent commentary on whether or not education reformers on all side have accepted the powerful impact of poverty on the educational outcomes of students, I suggested that the reform debate appears to be a struggle between two perspectives (although I again concede within each perspective there remains a good amount of nuance): "No Excuses" Reformers and Social Context Reformers.
In the responses to this commentary, jkaa1 offered a comment I think worth considering:
"While I can agree with the thrust of the article--it fails to answer the fundamental question--What can we do? If we can all agree about the corrosive effect of poverty on educational outcomes--then how do we address it? If we can all agree that standardized testing is a flawed instrument to measure student achievement and teacher quality, what is the alternative? Until social context reformers develop a reform model that can be put in place, it will always be unable to win the argument."
Two points should be acknowledged based on jkaa1's view: (1) "No Excuses" Reformers currently own the education reform debate because this ideology is at the center of the elitist position from which the "No Excuses" Reformers speak (political leaders, political appointees, billionaires and millionaires), and (2) Social Context Reforms have, then, remained on the defensive, and when they have offered models, those models are ignored or simply too complex to be effective in public discourse.

Despite the likelihood that this too will go unnoticed, let me try once again to appease jkaa1's important claim.

Social Reform: Choosing Evidence over Cultural Myths

"For more than two centuries," explains Sawhill and Morton, "economic opportunity and the prospect of upward mobility have formed the bedrock upon which the American story has been anchored—inspiring people in distant lands to seek our shores and sustaining the unwavering optimism of Americans at home." For Americans, meritocracy is not an ideal to which we aspire as a people, but a reality of the American way of life:
"Historically, Americans have believed that hard work and talent bring a just reward, and that our society is, and should be, constructed to provide equality of opportunity, not to guarantee equality of outcomes. The belief in America as a land of opportunity may also explain why rising inequality in the United States has yielded so little in terms of responsiveness from policy makers: if the American Dream is alive and well, then there is little need for government intervention to smooth the rough edges of capitalism. Diligence and skill, the argument goes, will yield a fair distribution of rewards." (p. 2)
Sawhill and Morton, however, explain that "[i]ncome inequality has been widening for nearly three decades in the United States" (p. 3). The U.S. is in fact far less equitable than most democracies throughout the world. As the gap between the top 1% (and the further delineations within that 1%) and the 99% who produce the wealth of those elite at the top increases, we have ample evidence that the accident of any child's birth is the most powerful influence on that child's full life:
"The United States Has Less Relative Mobility Than Many Other Developed Countries. Data on relative mobility suggest that people in the United States have experienced less relative mobility than is commonly believed. Most studies find that, in America, about half of the advantages of having a parent with a high income are passed on to the next generation. This means that one of the biggest predictors of an American child’s future economic success—the identity and characteristics of his or her parents—is predetermined and outside that child’s control (emphasis added). To be sure, the apple can fall far from the tree and often does in individual cases, but relative to other factors, the tree dominates the picture." (p. 4)
The first step to education reform, then, in the U.S. is to acknowledge some sobering realities about our society as we move further into the second decade of the twenty-first century:

• Childhood poverty in the U.S. (about 22%) is both relatively high when compared to other countries similar to the U.S. and inexcusable in the wealthiest society of all human history.

• Upward mobility in the U.S. has not materialized, and remains something to which we should aspire—but is not something we have achieved.

• The economic and equity gap between the top 1% and remaining 99% is growing, and thus threatening our goal of meritocracy. That 1% maintains disproportionate control over wealth in the U.S. and by extension disproportionate control over politics, commerce, and (most significantly) public discourse. The 1% must perpetuate a faith among the 99% in meritocracy as a reality to preserve their status.

• Childhood poverty is a subset of adult poverty, employment, and wages. Even if we decide to address childhood poverty and the conditions of those children's lives, to ignore adult and family conditions is to ignore childhood poverty still. As Martin Luther King Jr. urged in 1967: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished."

Education reform in the U.S. must begin by shifting our cultural narratives away from making the inaccurate claim we live in a meritocracy and toward a national plan to achieve equity. That shift should begin with the conditions of children's lives that we know directly impact all children's ability to learn:
"(1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; (2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics." (Berliner, 2009)
These are tangible conditions that public policy can address, but first we must acknowledge their reality and then take action that addresses those realities.

But social reform is not enough, and Social Context Reformers must support wide-scale education reform as well.

Education as Social Reform?: Then Schools Must Be Unlike that Society

In my commentary, I made this argument against the "No Excuses" Reformers: "If we are to embrace and support public education as a vehicle for social reform, then we must create schools that are unlike our society." And here is where education reform must begin, like social reform, as a shift in how we view teaching and learning. Schools, then, must be experiments in equity that allow children to achieve and perpetuate the meritocracy we claim to be seeking.

• The current accountability paradigm (a competitive dynamic driven by prescriptive standards and testing that perpetuates stratification) must be ended (because it has failed in some form for almost a century, but distinctly over the past three decades) and replaced with a culture of collaboration and cooperation. Measurement, labeling, and ranking—the norms of U.S. public education—can only increase stratification and are thus counter to the goal of equity and meritocracy. Teachers must be transparent in their work, but no longer held accountable for conditions beyond their control; students must perform holistic and authentic acts that combine learning with receiving ample and expert feedback from their teachers, but no longer measured and labeled in ways we can predict before that child even enters the classroom.

• We must rethink curriculum, rejecting the standards movement and instead embracing knowledge and learning as interdisciplinary. Literacy and numeracy are complex human abilities that exist within all types of content; the view of school as distinct content areas and separate courses fails our students and our pursuit of meritocracy and individual empowerment. We persist at isolated courses and content areas because that lends itself to the efficiency of standardized testing, but that commitment distorts what matters and sacrifices equity for efficiency.

• Learning and growth are not linear and are rarely sequential in predictable ways (although in retrospect, each appears to be). We must rethink grade assignments as well as how and when students move forward in their learning. Again, our current system is a reflection of our obsession with efficiency, not learning (or even human dignity).

• School funding must also be addressed since in 2011 schools remain a reflection of the coincidence of the community within which they sit. That is not a lever for creating social change, but a guarantee to maintain inequity.

• Teacher recruitment and education as well as the conditions of the profession must be reformed. Yes, we need bright and sincere people to enter the profession, and yes, teacher education must be challenging and thorough. But neither will occur if we continue to deprofessionalize teaching through commitments to Teach for America and increased accountability and bureaucracy—which appear to be the trend we are pursuing today. Teacher education is failing because of bureaucracy, not from a lack of standards, credentialing, and accreditation.

Here, I have suggested places to start with social and school reform—not to suggest this hasn't been proposed before (it has, and often) and not to be exhaustive (this is just a broad start), but to explain this is why the Social Context Reform movement has failed to gain traction.

True reform is uncomfortable and complex. And the truth is that political leadership has been trained by the public to avoid both the uncomfortable ("Read my lips, no new taxes") and the complex ("You're either for us or against us").

2012 needs leadership and a public committed to the uncomfortable and the complex—or the status quo will remain both in the inequity of our society and the failure of our cultural myths to acknowledge reality over ideology.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bilingual education, yes. But high levels of English requires access to books.

Helping Language Minority Students Develop a Reading Habit
Sent to the Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA), Dec 26
Re: Non-English speakers' failures hit schools (Dec 24):

Bilingual education works. Children in bilingual programs consistently do better than children in all-English programs on tests of English reading. Also, studies have shown that the dismantling of bilingual programs in California after Prop. 227 did not lead to better English language development.

Bilingual education is not enough, however. As noted in the Breeze, language minority children are very often children of poverty. Children from high-poverty areas have little access to books at home, at schools, and in the community. This means less reading, and less reading means less literacy development.

For many children of poverty, libraries are the only source of reading material. California’s school and public libraries consistently rank at or near the bottom of the country. Investing in libraries will give language minority and other children of poverty a chance to develop a reading habit, a necessity for attaining high levels of English language competence.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Some sources:
Bilingual education works: Crawford, J. and Krashen, S. 2007. English Learners in American Classrooms. New York: Scholastic.
Access to books, impact of libraries on reading achievement: Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
California’s Libraries: America’s Most Literate Cities: http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=8140


Plenty of Left-Over Fruitcake for 2012: Abstinence Only Surges On

From AlterNet:
Reproductive-health experts breathed a sigh of relief in 2009 when President Barack Obama did away with over a decade of funding for abstinence-only funding under previous administrations (which had added up to more than $1.5 billion over ten years). But now, abstinence-only looks to be back on the conservative agenda.

Under Bush, ab-only had become the norm in most U.S. schools, even though study after study [PDF] had revealed its ineffectiveness in reducing the number of teen pregnancies and reducing the spread of disease. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, virginity pledges–a staple of abstinence-only programming–not only failed to decrease teen STD rates, but actually resulted in pledge-takers avoiding medical attention once infected, leading to increased chances of transmission. So it appeared science had prevailed when President Obama’s 2010 budget swapped out all federally funded ab-only programs for comprehensive sex ed.

That is, until abstinence-only funding reared its ugly head again when Republicans sneaked it into the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, to the tune of up to $50 million per year through 2014. And just last weekend, conservatives in Congress pushed through an additional $5 million for ab-only funding in the federal 2012 appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is considering a bill–SB 237–to kill comprehensive sex-ed in the state and reinstitute abstinence-only-until-marriage programming. The bill has already passed the state senate and will certainly pass the majority-Republican assembly come January.

This should worry Americans. In addition to their ineffectiveness, abstinence-only programs have also come under fire for questionable instructional methods and regressive curricula. Periodic in-depth reviews of abstinence-only programs by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) regularly find that the programs often rely on messages of fear and shame–directed almost entirely toward girls–and promote biased views of gender, marriage and pregnancy options.

Take the Denver, Colo.-based WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training, now known as The Center for Relationship Education, an abstinence-only group that has received over $8 million in federal funds since 2005. During an assembly in a Colorado high school, a WAIT/CRE motivational speaker told her audience:
  • “This (holding up a waffle) is (like) a high school boy’s brain…we use waffles because waffles have all these little compartments … You guys have very cool brains. You can stick stuff away in your thinking … Guys can tuck stuff away. Girls aren’t like that.”
  • “Girls’ brains are like spaghetti noodles. If I pull these noodles up, what do the noodles touch? Everything. So girls, when you have sex with a guy what does it affect? Everything.”
  • “As soon as a guy gets an erection you have viable sperm at the end of your penis. You do not have to have intercourse to get her pregnant, you just have to get that viable sperm close to her vagina and she turns on the little Hoover vacuum, because girls are very, very fertile.”
Such messages don’t just reinforce regressive gender stereotypes–they are also extremely heteronormative. According to a study [PDF] by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network):
A significantly greater portion of students in schools that used an abstinence-only curriculum reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and gender expression—64.8 percent of these students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation compared to 57.3 percent of all other students.
WAIT/CRE is but one example of the legion of discriminatory, shaming and worst of all, medically erroneous abstinence-only programs. It is time to end this funding once and for all. We must stop lying to our kids about their sexual health, shaming our young women, stigmatizing our LGBT youth and padding the pockets of ab-only hucksters.

A pending House bill by Representative Barbara Lee pushes to end abstinence funding and reallocate money to comprehensive sex ed. To tell Congress to end abstinence-only funding (as well as require honest signage for crisis pregnancy centers), you can add your voice here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Separate and Unequal in Body and Mind

by Judy Rabin
While the scrooges in the halls of Congress, the multi-billion dollar testing industry and the greedy, fascist proponents of more tests to measure and punish poor students and those who teach them sit down to their Christmas dinner, here's yet another story that is finally changing the conversation about education from "no excuses" to "it's the poverty, stupid."
A country that is now obviously divided along the lines of haves and have nots, when it comes to health, education, housing, jobs, security of any kind, is also a country of haves and have nots when it comes to physical fitness and overall health.
Here's another story from the Bay area where like most other places across the US, provides plenty of opportunities for the ones who live in the right neighborhoods.

December 24, 2011

The Haves’ Children Are Healthier Than the Have-Nots’

Every Monday, Sycamore Valley Elementary in Danville challenges its students to run a “Smile Mile” together after school. Some parents even run with their children. Photos of the student joggers’ grinning faces are posted in the cafeteria. On a recent Monday afternoon, there were 41 smiling faces on the wall.
Students at Sycamore Valley have a lot to be happy about when it comes to their physical fitness. Fifth graders there got the best scores among all of their Bay Area peers on the 2011 statewide Physical Fitness Test.
Eighty-three percent of the fifth graders tested at Sycamore Valley aced the test by receiving healthy scores on all six different measurements — of aerobic capacity, abdominal strength, upper body strength, trunk strength, body composition and flexibility, most of them gauged through physical activity. One part of the Physical Fitness Test measures a child’s body composition, usually through body mass index, which is calculated using weight and height and is used to determine who is overweight.
Statewide, only 31 percent of public school students performed as well, according to the California Department of Education.
An analysis of state data by The Bay Citizen revealed a large variation in how fifth graders in Bay Area elementary schools perform on the test. The schools that performed the best have few students from low-income families, for reasons that experts say are not surprising. At Sycamore Valley Elementary, in an affluent suburban community, not a single student was eligible to receive a free or reduced-price lunch because of low family income last year, according to the state’s data.
Across the Bay, in San Francisco’s Mission district, none of the fifth graders at Cesar Chavez Elementary School received six healthy scores on the test. More than a quarter of them were found to “need improvement” on every measure of fitness.
At Cesar Chavez, where Spanish is the first language for many, more than 85 percent of the students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school lunches. In the school district that includes Cesar Chavez, Hispanic and black students are less likely to receive healthy scores than their Asian and white peers, the state data show.
Students at Sycamore Elementary have a dedicated “physical education specialist” on campus to help them train for the test. Those at Cesar Chavez do not.
“There is an inequity problem with the availability of quality physical education between schools of varying socioeconomic status,” said Drisha Leggitt, executive director of the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a nonprofit organization.
Robert O’Brien, Sycamore Valley’s physical education specialist, who favors shorts even when the temperature dips into the 40s, is fond of slogans like “exercise, not extra fries.” He leads students as young as 6 in sit-ups, jumping jacks, push-ups and running, striving to get all of them moving, while giving their classroom teachers time to prepare other lessons.
All 21 of the elementary schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, in which Sycamore Valley is located, have a physical education specialist like Mr. O’Brien.
“Having dedicated physical education teachers can make a big difference in students’ performance on the test,” said Linda Hooper, an education, research and evaluation consultant for the California Department of Education.
The San Francisco Unified School District has just 15 physical education specialists for all 76 of its elementary schools. Spread thin, they work with about half the schools at any time. According to Michelle Zapata, the physical education program administrator for the district, Cesar Chavez was among the 38 schools that had no physical education specialist on campus.
Advocates for child health warn that failing to teach children how to be active and healthy will have long-term consequences.
“It comes as no surprise whatsoever that such enormous inequities would be present,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit organization. “It is grossly unjust and will have health and economic impacts on the state of California for generations to come.”
Sycamore Valley Elementary maintains a focus on health outside of physical education class time. Parents are not allowed to bring in cupcakes or other potentially fattening treats to celebrate birthdays. Instead, gifts of pencils or erasers to classmates are substituted.
Parents also contribute financially. Fund-raising pays for a twice-a-week movement class for kindergarteners that is not required by the state. In the fall, the school’s Parent Teacher Association gave Mr. O’Brien a $375 grant to buy new basketball hoops, and he also leads an after-school sports camp that helps raise money to buy sports equipment.
Each fall, the PTA holds a “fun run” fund-raiser, in which students are sponsored to run laps during school. It raised nearly $10,000 this year.
Even the school’s location supports fitness. It is next to a park, near a sweeping open space of rolling hills dotted with oaks. The park features a play structure, a basketball court, a bocce court and athletic fields, where Mr. O’Brien sometimes holds physical education lessons.
Many elementary school students in the suburbs also play sports outside school, including basketball and lacrosse.
Rebecca Adams, president of the Sycamore Valley Elementary PTA, said her children, who are in the first and third grades, participate in indoor soccer, swimming, gymnastics, baseball and softball, depending on the season.
Not all their activities are organized by adults. “A lot of kids play outside in their front yard,” said Ms. Adams, who lives less than a mile from the school. In-line skating, biking and tag are popular.
“My kids play outside all the time,” she said.
At Cesar Chavez Elementary School, physical education lessons, taught by classroom teachers, are held on a fenced-in blacktop lot below a huge, colorful mural of the school’s namesake. In the mural, Mr. Chavez, the late civil rights leader, is surrounded by a crowd of children as he carries a banner that reads “Help me take responsibility for my own life so I can be free at last.”
On the urban school’s blacktop, the basketball rims have no nets. “We don’t have a field or a park next door,” said Catalina Rico, the school’s principal.
Most of the students’ parents, many of whom are immigrants, cannot give extra money to help beef up its programs. Some families are homeless, and many others are struggling financially.
“A lot of our kids have been traumatized by poverty, violence, their parents being deported,” Ms. Rico said.
For those families, regular exercise in a safe place after school may be out of reach.
If parents are working two jobs, Ms. Rico said, “who is going to take them to the park?”
Sydney Lupkin contributed reporting.