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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

More Screen Time = More Radiation for Kids

The Silicon Valley elites, the paternalistic politicians, and the corporate education parasites comprise an axis of influence that threatens the public space, educational integrity, and the health of children.  ESSA's funding for competency-based personalized learning, which amounts to constant prepping and testing via wi-fi networks, is the latest example of wired education going haywire.  

Already, the charter school industry has discovered that children forced onto screens half the day can save millions in personnel costs by reducing the number of required teachers.  Without oversight or regulation, KIPP, Rocketship, Uncommon Schools, and other brutal charter chains have used the most vulnerable children as guinea pigs without any monitoring of the health effects of hooking children to screens for half the school day. The visual below is from KIPP Empower in Los Angeles, where up to 30 kindergartners have been warehoused in a single classroom.

Now with federal support guaranteed under ESSA, the competency-based education scheme will assure the spread of these potentially dangerous practices into public schools as well.  

The lack of concern among Silicon valley profiteers is evident with Google's latest eye candy that could be damaging children's brains.  

Does Google know if their free virtual Mars journey has deep health costs?  Should children be holding cell phones to their eyeballs, thus directly exposing their frontal cortex to more radiation?
Environmental Health Trust (EHT) scientists are calling on Google to stop the spread into schools of wireless virtual reality system Global Expeditions Pioneer Program where middle-school children hold a cell phone encased in a cardboard box in front of their eyes to take virtual expeditions to Mars, the moon, and other special places.

“Two-way microwave radiation transceivers, in the form of Smartphones, should not be used directly in front of children’s eyes and brains,” cautions University of Utah Distinguished Prof. Om Gandhi, who is one of the original developers of testing to evaluate wireless radiation from cellphones and is a Senior Advisor to EHT.

Prof. Gandhi added, “We have never tested microwave radiating devices directly in front of the young developing eye. The absence of proof of harm at this point does not mean that we have evidence of safety.”

“We want to know why is Google encouraging young children to employ a technology that has never been tested for their use when Samsung has a similar system that explicitly advises that no child under the age of 13 should be using it,” asks Devra Davis, President of EHT, and Visiting Professor of Ondokuz Mayis University Medical School and The Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Center.

EHT collaborating scientist, Professor Claudio Fernandez from the federal university of Canoas, Brazil, used cutting-edge modeling and found that radiation from the virtual reality applied wireless phones could easily exceed levels tested on adults.

The same known and unknown hazards exist for the other wireless experiments now underway or in the planning stages for children in your community.  This will continue until parents demand a halt while health questions are settled.

A lousy way to evaluate teachers

Published in the Chicago Sun Times, July 1, 2016

The Chicago Public Schools have decided that student scores on the PARCC test will be used as part of teacher evaluation ("PARCC will count in CPS teacher and school ratings," June 29).
Everything is wrong with this plan. A number of studies have shown that rating teachers using test score gains does not give consistent results. Different tests produce different ratings, and the same teacher’s ratings can vary from year to year, sometimes quite a bit.
In addition, using test score gains for evaluation encourages gaming the system, trying to produce increases in scores by teaching test-taking strategies, not by encouraging real learning.
This is like putting a match under the thermometer and claiming you have raised the temperature of the room.
We are all interested in finding the best ways of evaluating teachers, but using student test-score gains is a lousy way to do it.
Stephen Krashen

original article: http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/parcc-count-cps-teacher-school-ratings/
this article: http://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/friday-letters-good-cops-dont-ignore-misdeeds/

Sources (not included in published version)
Different tests produce different ratings: Papay, J. 2010. Different tests, different answers: The stability of teacher value-added estimates across outcome measures. American Educational Research Journal 47,2.

Vary from year to year: Sass, T. 2008. The stability of value-added measures of teacher quality and implications for teacher compensation policy. Washington DC: CALDER. (National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research.) Kane, T. and Staiger, D. 2009. Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation. NBER Working Paper No. 14607 http://www.nber.org/papers/w14607.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On the Charter Feeding Frenzy in Detroit

A clip from NYTimes:
. . . .Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produced a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.

While the idea was to foster academic competition, the unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles. Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.

Detroit now has a bigger share of students in charters than any American city except New Orleans, which turned almost all its schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. But half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.

“The point was to raise all schools,” said Scott Romney, a lawyer and board member of New Detroit, a civic group formed after the 1967 race riots here. “Instead, we’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city.” . . . .

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Amazon About to Launch New Enterprise in the Education Industrial Complex

Susan Ohanian

In Amazon Unveils Online Education Service for Teachers Natasha Singer, a business reporter for the New York Times covering education technology, describes Amazon's new enterprise, Amazon Inspire. In late August or early September, Amazon plans to  "introduce an online marketplace with tens of thousands of free lesson plans, worksheets and other instructional materials for teachers."

           Called Amazon Inspire, the education site has features that may seem familiar to frequent Amazon shoppers.
           Search bar at the top of the page? Check. User reviews? Check. Star ratings for each product? Check.

Singer notes that the educational materials market is where the money is. Analysts predict that, over time, it will  be much more valuable than the school computer market.  The New York City Department of Education is already paying Amazon $30 million to provide e-books to its 1.1 million students. But at least with e-books produced by major publishers, someone has vetted the manuscript. Amazon is  asking  "innovative teachers" to sign up right now for its mahem: "Be a pioneer and help build the future of open educational resources." You can fill out a form and Amazon will let you know if you qualify:

       Complete the form below and we’ll send you a special code if you qualify (we’ll also notify you when we are open
       to schools everywhere). Once your account is set up, we just ask for just 10 minutes of your time to upload and share
       5-10 of your own resources to Amazon Inspire. We also encourage you to rate and review the resources you discover

Amazon also invites

      Are you a state, district, or school? An OER provider or a publisher with free content to share? We’ve collaborated
      with thousands of teachers and dozens of states, districts, and publishers during the private beta of Amazon Inspire.
      Now it's your turn. Help us to provide teachers everywhere with access to a large and diverse selection of free digital
      teaching resources.

L'etat c'est mois.

Natalie Singer's article focuses on the big money involved in this market and who Amazon's competitors are. There's no hint of  any slough of despond that should cause anybody who cares about schoolchildren. Singer points out that entities like TeachersPayTeachers already exist. She doesn't mention AFT's Share My Lesson. Here's my take on that: A Letter from Randi Weingarten about Share My Lesson . Of course Singer doesn't mention how dreadful this stuff is. Business reporting is about where the money is, not very often about what offal goes into producing it. But consider: Does anybody think that teachers at Sidwell or  Chicago Lab School will be dialing up Amazon for free lessons?

Of interest: Natalie Singer is also  "doing a part-time fellowship at the Data & Society Research Institute in Manhattan, researching the use of learning apps in primary and secondary schools in the United States." According to her bio at The Times, Singer joined the staff in 2005  "to develop the Skin Deep column for the Thursday Styles section and cover the beauty industrial complex."

Beauty industrial complex. What a phrase. I checked to see if the New York Times had ever been  honest enough to write about the education industrial complex. Only once, and then, in the context of Louisiana governor Jindal trying to dump the Common Core:
        Emmett McGroarty, education director of the American Principles Project, a right-leaning think tank, said Mr. Jindal
        had “given more hope to the moms, dads and other citizens across America who are pushing back against a $600 billion
        education-industrial complex and the elites in both parties who have been advocating for the national Common Core

It is a phrase we all, liberals and conservatives, should employ--as a reminder that children are at risk. In case you didn't follow the TeachersPayTeachers link above, here it is, though it's easier to see here
Don't blame Pearson for this test prep practice sheet. It is part of a 20-page packet of test prep materials for Kindergarten and Grade 1 sold by Teachers Pay Teachers--$5.

Footnote: Speaking of TeachersPayTeachers, Amazon has already run into trouble by using some of their copyrighted material:  Amazon Inspire Removes Some Content Over Copyright Issues.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jesse Williams: Change or Be Changed

Earth to NPE: There is NOT an Opt-Out Provision in ESSA, So Stop Pretending

Appearing this morning is a hand-wringing appeal at the NPE website, urging teachers and parents to request changes in USDOE Regulations governing the implementation of ESSA.  If readers were to believe the dissembling and phony interpretations by the corporate union front groups, FairTest and NPE, the ESSA is being hijacked by Team Obama to do awful things that were not intended by the Senate's lead education privatizer, Lamar Alexander.

From NPE:
Although the intent of ESSA was to put an end to the “test and punish” regime of NCLB and give more flexibility to the states, in some ways the draft regulations are even more punitive and prescriptive than under NCLB.

For example, although ESSA permits states to pass laws allowing parents to opt their children out of taking the state tests, the draft regulations would require states to harshly punish or label as failing, schools in which more than 5% of students opt out.T
This is a false statement, pure and simple.

ESSA mandates annual testing in grades 3-8 and twice in high school, and ESSA mandates state remedies for schools scoring in the bottom 5 percent.  Which remedies?  It's left up to the states, but the ESSA offers unprecedented piles of cash to states with "failing schools" in the bottom 5 percent to expand charter chains and to start new ones based on the "no excuses" pumice-based pedagogy.  And there will always be a bottom 5 percent.

Contrary to NPE and FairTest claims, ESSA does NOT say anything about permitting "states to pass laws allowing parents to opt their children out of taking state tests."  The draft regulations requiring 95 percent participation in state tests is entirely consistent with the same ESSA that FairTest, NPE, and Ravitch supported.

Here is what the ESSA says with regard to opting out:
At the beginning of each school year, a local educational agency that receives funds under this part shall notify the parents of each student attending any school receiving funds under this part that the parents may request, and the local educational agency will provide the parents on request (and in a timely manner), information regarding any State or local educational agency policy regarding student participation in any assessments mandated by section 1111(b)(2) and by the State or local educational agency, which shall include a policy, procedure, or parental right to opt the child out of such assessment, where applicable (p. 56).

Notice that there is nothing here that "permits" states to do anything other than to report information to parents about existing state law or local policy, and there is nothing here that allows state law or local regulations to overule or take precedent over the federal law, ESSA.

NPE and FairTest are stuck with the policy they supported, which doubles down for another generation on the same loser policies that have decimated public education in the U. S. No amount of wheedling or pretending is going change that, and no amount of appealing is going to change the next Clinton's priorities if elected.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A KIPP Pre-K or a Yale Pre-K: You Choose, Part 1

Two days ago The Oklahoman reported that "KIPP Reach Academy Principal Tracy McDaniel pulled his proposal off Monday's school board agenda because he said it doesn't have enough support" among Oklahoma City school board members.  

We must applaud those school board members' positions to protect the most vulnerable children of their city from the miseducative and punitive indoctrination that segregated KIPP Model schools provide for the black and brown children of the poor.

I came across a report published in 2015 by some Harvard public policy graduate students that examined the feasibility and advisability of developing Pre-K programs at Uncommon Schools, one of the infamous "no excuses" corporate charter chains based on the KIPP Model.  I will have more to say about the scary possibility of Uncommon Schools getting into the Pre-K business in another post.

A later section of appendices in the 90 page report includes comparisons of some very different Pre-K programs that were examined in the study.  Here are the 12 schools where researchers gathered data in preparation for their recommendations for Uncommon School:

Bank Street School for Children

The Coop School

Fieldston School

First Step NYC

Pre-Pave Academy

Pre-Prep (Public Prep)

Eliot Pearson Children’s School (Tufts)

Calvin Hill Day Care Center (Yale)

DC Prep


Powell Elementary

UDC Lab School

I have provided the data below on two of the schools to give readers an idea of the vast gaps in opportunity that begin formally when children enter Pre-K.  I hope you will go the report, itself, and compare the privileged school environments like Eliot Pearson (Tufts) and Fieldston to the public school and punitive charter Pre-Ks that "serve" the poor.

As you look at the KIPP Pre-K information below, note the stark differences in curriculum, environment, scheduling, goals, pupil-teacher ratio, etc. 

KIPP Grow uses the canned curriculum, Tools of the Mind, which was developed to increase tiny humans' capacity to achieve self-control and grit.  A KIPP Grow faculty member justified the use of this curriculum with this: “(If) this play-based learning is what people are paying big money in private schools for… and that’s considered the best education for kids, why are we not providing that for our kids for free?”
This would be laudable, indeed, except that none of the other programs examined as models used Tools of the Mind.  In fact, the exclusive programs at Fieldston, Bank Street, Tufts Lab School, and Yale all use an emergent curriculum based on student interests, rather than a canned curriculum aimed at self control and grit.

Interestingly, research studies show that Tools of the Mind has been demonstrated to have no effect on improving self-control, memory, or attention span.  I suppose it can be useful when no one in the school has any knowledge of pre-K.  But, then, how would KIPP non-educators ever know what research says, since educational research is not exactly high on the priority list within the corporate model of schooling. 

Note, too, below, how the Harvard researchers warn Uncommon Schools leaders that programs like Yale Lab School would not be appropriate for preparing children for school environment that begins in Uncommon Schools kindergarten.  

Our next post will tell you why. 

One Page Overview: Yale Lab School (Calvin Hill Day Care)
The Calvin Hill Day Care Center (Yale Lab School) serves approximately 60 three to five year olds. Attached to Yale University, students and their families are mostly Yale affiliates. The vast majority of data is collected through observing students in their play. Students perform highly on Connecticut early learning standards.

Philosophy in their own words:
All the research shows that children who have a high quality preschool experience do much better when they get to school….They’ve had opportunity to learn how to live in a group… The
readiness for school is not so much whether they know their alphabet or how to count but that they can wait, they can share, they know how to get help from a teacher, they know how to play with other children, (and) they have been exposed to curriculum that supports their cognitive development” Center Director

Strengths of Academic Program

Strong teacher-student interactions with vocabulary
Teacher 1: “The other day when we were outside, we saw a very special thing. What was that?” Child 1: “A squirrel eating a pumpkin!
Child 2: “That was yesterday!”
Teacher 1: “That was on Friday, which is in the past, like yesterday. But yesterday was Monday.”
Explicit writing practice at the “writing center” during Activity Time: In groups of four, children practice writing words. They tell the teacher what word they want to write, and she writes it on a card for them to copy. They are all holding the markers correctly. They ask to write the words “friend,” “family,” and “once upon a time.” After some time of practicing writing individual words, the teacher gets their “books” out. These are books they have been writing about topics
of their choice. One girl was writing her book about
Frozen. She illustrated it and the teacher wrote the words she dictated.

Other things of note: Strong parent engagement strategies
Teachers go on home visits before school starts.
Parents are invited into the classroom. They even recommend against carpooling so that the teachers can see the parents every day.
 “Parent pockets”: a hanging pocket folder that is stuffed with childrens work, announcements.

Bottom Line:  The Center’s teachers were very strong at developing vocabulary and their community is quite clearly strong. Children were joyful and engaged in the work. However, the population is different than that of Uncommon. [Here we see a clear reminder by the Harvard researchers that this kind of Pre-K should not be offered to children of the poor who are being trained for “no excuses” K-4].

School Overview: KIPP Grow

KIPP Grow is in its fifth year of operation. It serves Pre-K 3, Pre-K 4, and Kindergarten students. KIPP Grow recruits students through word-of-mouth, city-wide fairs and canvasing with flyers. KIPP Pre-K is both publically and privately funded. Philanthropists contributed to the school’s transition to the Tools of the Mind” curriculum.


“We want to make sure students are entering elementary school with no deficits…. [that] there is no achievement gap between our students entering first grade and their suburban counterparts We want them to be academically prepared but we also want to focus on the social-emotional aspect as well… We want to make sure that they have the social and communication skills they need as well as the vocabulary” Vice Principal.

Strengths of Program:

Parent engagement is strong: monthly two-hour Saturday school for students and families; monthly meetings for KIPP Parent Organization; biweekly parenting sessions held by school psychologist; organized days for parent volunteering; lending library of books for families
Summer school is required for Pre-K 4 students.
Behavior management and routines are strongly in place:
o    Numbers on the floor show students where to line up
o    While walking to the carpet, students whisper, “tip, toe, tip, toe”
o    During large group literacy, when students hear music, they erase their board and walk to the carpet
o    Students sit still on the carpet (they sometimes call out but are sometimes instructed to raise their hand)
o    Teachers explicitly narrate how to say “Oh well, maybe next time” or “not getting upset
because it’s a little deal”
o    Students who are misbehaving after corrections are told to take a “break.” While taking          a break, a child flips over a one minute hourglass or three minute hour glass
There are bathrooms in every classroom as well as some whole-class bathroom trips.
o    When a student goes in, he/she velcros a “stop sign” to the door so no one else enters
The classroom environment supports learning: Furniture is labeled “Door,” “Closet,” etc.; there is a classroom job chart; the daily schedule is posted; each child has their own cubby labeled with their name and photo; past months calendars (with days crossed off) are posted; bulletin boards outside classrooms show each childs photo next to their work

Explicit Math and Literacy Instruction:
To track attendance, when students arrive they put their name on one side of the mystery number/word chart to show what number/word they think it is.
During the Morning Meeting the class adds to the weather graph” which shows the number of
rainy, cloudy, snowy, or sunny days.
During small groups there are seven students with each teacher, and one group on the computer with headphones. Each rotation is 12-15 minutes.
o    One teacher works on math. Each student gets a card, and calls out one-by-one: “I have
a brown hexagon, who has a yellow square?” or “I have a six, who has a three?”
o    The other group works on literacy with a Read Aloud.
o    During the computer rotations students use a Waterford Literacy program.
During large group literacy, the teacher models how to write a letter. Students then use
whiteboards to practice the letter/chant (e.g.: they say “down, bump, bump” while writing “m”)
Explicit vocabulary development. Students discuss what a ‘bagger’” at the store does after having gone on a field trip to the grocery story. The teacher then brings out a picture of a bagger for further discussion of this person’s role and how its different  from other jobs at the store.

Curriculum  and  Tools  of   the  Mind”:

They switched to Tools of the Mind last year. “(If) this play-based learning is what people are paying big money in private schools for… and that’s considered the best education for kids, why are we not providing that for our kids for free?”
They have tried to show 100% fidelity to Tools.
They choose Tools of the Mind” because it explicitly teaches self-regulation and grit.
Additionally, the academics are “developmentally appropriate.”
They have a Tools of the Mind trainer.
Before centers, a teacher models how to write a “play plan,” then students choose their centers.
Before going to his or her center, each student writes a “play plan” which is reviewed by a teacher. Play plans say “I am going to….” with an accompanying picture
Student dance to “Mr. Sticks” that allows motion during the song and shows them a position to
get in when it finishes. This is practicing self-regulation and
gross motor development.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations:
Behavior protocol is very important. The school has had a lot of PD on the time out protocol system. Teachers can
adopt their own management system if it is consistent.
Some teachers used Super Sticks”: teacher says the behavior expectations at the beginning of each activity. At the end, they spend one minute giving a stick to each student who met expectations. If students meet the daily goal, they can get a high-five at the end of the day, go to the “class store,” or even just tell their parents. This has been motivating because it is personal and discrete.

Bottom Line: KIPP Grow is a strong resource for learning how a high-performing charter has adapted their programming for young learners.