Sunday, January 30, 2005

Feel Like I'm Writing for Nothing -

It looks like I am down to writing about once a week. I had another idea this week but I did not act on it so here it is Sunday and I should be doing a ton of stuff for the coming week, but I really do feel the need to check in. The problem is, it is hard to find the motivation when I am pretty postive that no one is reading this stuff, and perhaps it's not worth reading. It has all been said before elsewhere, and better. the reason I even thought about doing this is that I do not understand why the education community is not up in arms about what NCLB and the Business Round Table and all of the other anti public school forces are trying to do. How can we just stand by and watch free public education die in front of our eyes? Why are not we fighting back in force? Perhaps we do not know how. Perhaps we do not believe that it is happening. Wake up! It is happenning! This is a call for organizing. How? I do not know. I am looking to you, if you are out there, for some ideas. Help!

If you are still in doubt, or just would like to read more check out the great series on The Buffalo Report on The Privatization of Public Education by Bernadette Medige. (Scroll to the bottom for all the links.) And do me a favor, if you read this let me know, and tell one other person about our site or our blog. This is real and we must do something!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Merit Pay for Teachers from NPR -

I heard this yesterday and I have not stopped thinking about since. The number one thing that sets me off is the juxtaposition of the good Gov. Terminator against the bad teacher unions. Of course the teacher unions are against anything that would make them accountable - This is total BS and really gets my blood flowing. Stop and think about it everybody - Teachers' pay tied to test scores. Right now the feds only require tests 3 times in a student's school career before high school. Which teacher are you going to hold responsible. If a whole class blows the third grade test, blame the third grade teacher? Or blame the K, 1 and 2 teachers? If those same kids did great, who gets the pay raise? So, that would seem to me to require testing in every grade. I have a 4 year old. If I am forced to, sit by and have him put through the testing meat grinder every year, even I would be tempted to look for a private school or charter school, who of course would not be required to give tests. Oh, I get it! Let's push even more middle class parents out of public schools! Now that they are out of our hair and we are collecting their money in the private sector, we can totally focus our energies to force feeding a narrowed down, test focused curricula to all the poor and disenfranchised kids that are left.

A couple of more things: It says in this article that Bush proposed a similar thing just after the Terminator, yet I cannot find any thing about it anywhere on the web, but I believe it. And on a related subject: in another article, Women Continue to Outpace Men in Graduating College it is stated once again that "most of the jobs of the future will require a college degree." Most of what jobs? The mostly low wage jobs that this economy has been producing since Reagan's days? No. These jobs will not be staffed by college graduates but by graduates, the ones that make it and the ones that do not, of the "prepare them for the test" public education system. Makes sense don't it? Meanwhile the more people that we can convince that "most" of the jobs will need college, the more people there will be to compete for those jobs and the less we will have to pay them. Meanwhile Learning Online Continues to Grow and I know that corporate America is already scheming as to how they can make profit on the middle class Americans that choose this means instead of the "Test 'em, test 'em" public schools.

How can we listen to this crap? How can we just sit here and take it? Please join me in resisting. Let us put our heads together to stop this trashing of one of the worlds' great public school systems!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And Then There's the Tests -

Yes the test. It all comes down to the test. In many states there is only one test, given at grades 3, 5 & 8, that decides whether a school make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or not. Now, each state gets to choose there own tests and some test every child every year from kindergarten on up. They are trying to sell this as a way to"inform your teaching" but that's load of crap. Many of the tests that each state uses are off the self, norm referenced tests, published by the same outfits that write the text books. So if every kid in the country has to take a test every two or three years, or maybe every year, why there'd be a whole pile of money in that for somebody. Exactly, the same corporate pals that profit from the America Reads "scientifically proven" reading programs. The same programs that have been chosen by some of the people involved in designing them. (Here is an interesting exchange that occurred in the Fresno Bee courtesy Susan O'hanian) Once again we see the "making huge profits off children's education" beast raise it's ugly head. But let's get back to the tests...

As I have said many, if not most of these test are "norm referenced." That means all of the scores are averaged and each student and school is given a percentile ranking. 97 percentile means 96% of the students that took the test scored worse than you. Likewise a score of 20 percentile means that 80% scored better than you. So to show AYP a school has to better it's score, percentile ranking, each year on this test. Remember all schools are supposed to have 100% of the students "proficient" (We'll discuss what this means exactly at a later date) by 2014. So while all schools are trying to better their scores, the same amount of schools are failing and excelling because it's all graded on a curve and that is the way it has to be!

Now, you have probably heard that the students at any given school are broken down into subgroups and that if any one of these subgroups fails to make AYP the whole school fails. This means that a particular group of low achieving students could conceivably be counted in several subgroups and really throw things out of wack! But I'm getting side tracked. As the above norm referencing makes no sense, neither do several other features of this law. English language learners, a group that is growing larger every day in schools across the nation, have to take the test in English only. Now eventually even the US Ed. Dept. saw the folly of this and graciously changed it so that these new English speakers can wait a whole year before they have to take the test. Now most experts agree that it take between 4 and 10 years until kids become fluent in "academic English," so it would seem that this subgroup is setup for failure from the start, but it gets worse. You see, after these students get exited from their ELL program they are no longer counted in that subgroup, so there never really is any chance at all to raise those scores. Oh, they can count them for a year or two after they are exited but still it all seems like a setup.

Luckily there are ways around some of the regulations. States get to set there own standards for AYP so some are setting them pretty low, with many more to follow as the bar keeps getting raised year after year. In some places, students are just held back the year before they have to take the test, and in this way scores look great! In some cases these kids are held back until they quit. Or in places like Houston Texas, the dropouts just are not counted. There is another way to avoid lack of progress in AYP. If any particular subgroup is to small to be statistically significant, that group's scores do not have to be counted. States have some leeway in setting the numbers on these groups. In our town, the first year scores were announced three of the five grade schools and the high school did not make AYP because of the reading scores of special ed students (this is yet another long story to be addressed at another time). So the State DOE sees this happening across the state and they raise the number necessary to count the kids. The next year all of our schools make AYP, not because there was any improvement but because the State fiddled with the numbers. And this is happening all across America. It's a joke. Even when schools are making serious efforts to raise test scores that is exactly what they are doing, not increasing learning but raising test scores.

As usual I have more to say but have run out of steam. Until next time...

Saturday, January 15, 2005

More thoughts on Why I Detest NCLB

And who gets all the blame? The teachers. If you pay attention you hear it over and over again. "It's the teachers." "They're not well trained." (OK, so the teacher schools share the blame.) "Our schools (and therefore teachers) are failing our students." OK again, the boards of education are taking a fair bit of the blame as well. You see the idea is to get all education out of local hands. Well the idea is more than that. The idea is to get government out of the business of education. Just look: Public school teachers must be highly qualified. Private school teachers do not and in many places do not even have to be state certified! Even a Teach for America volunteer, who might be teaching, does not need to be highly qualified!

The line for years from the right has been "throwing dollars at the problem is not the answer." It's not?! How do you fix dilapidated out moded buildings! Money. What is a proven strategy to improve student learning? Smaller class sizes. How do you get them? Money. How do you get and keep the best and the brightest in the classroom. Pay a decent wage, a wage comparable to other jobs with as much responsibility and education. How do you do that? Money. Money is exactly what it takes. Of course it takes more, but it takes investment dollars to make things work. And they know it!

They use money to promote NCLB: Armstrong Williams’ services were procured by written contract – an innovation in the political payola trade – which stipulated that "Mr. Williams shall utilize his long-term working relationships with 'America's Black Forum'…to encourage the producers to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB]," according to the New York Times. In return for $240,000 in public funds, laundered as “advertising” fees, the contract required Williams to “regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts" on his own TV show, The Right Side, and that "Secretary Paige and other department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests." Williams had no trouble arranging for Paige to appear on America’s Black Forum, as well – a freebie for the big-spending Bush crew. (from The Black Commentator) Then I heard on the radio just yesterday that Rod Paige said he is looking into it. Looking into it! He was part of it!

The Washinton Post reports that Bush and company have given "...
$77 million in U.S. Department of Education funds to promote their "school privatization" agenda." You can't just throw money at it? It seems you can.

In Virginia: Former education secretary Bill Bennett's
unproven on-line school (with non-highly qualified teachers) "...K12 will be paid a fixed amount by the district for each full-time student in the program. Costs will range from $1,644 for each kindergarten through second-grade student to $1,769 for third through eighth grade. The cost will be covered by the $101,709 grant the district received from the U.S. Department of Education..."

Susan Ohanian reports that Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
2003-10-14, said that the Arkansas Virtual Academy "..which has students from all over the state, began last year with the help of a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Voluntary Public School Choice Program." And on, and on, and on... I guess it all about what you want to spend your money on. Gotta go. Be back soon.

Friday, January 14, 2005


OK. It's friday night and it's been a long week. I have been doing a ton of reading lately and I am more and more convinced I am on the right side of this argument. I have added more links to great resources on our web site if you need more convincing. Here in Alaska our arguments are more the arguments of the rest of rural America. First and foremost we want local control. We do not want the feds or anyone else to tell us what is best for our kids. But most of the law does not make sense anywhere but in the big metropolitan areas. The areas where the middle class has already given up on public education. They send their kids to private schools. Even Michael Moore admits to sending his daughter to a private school in Manhattan, too many police. The same point is made in a video we just rented, Bringing Up Helen. Too many police at the neighborhood school so they had to pretend to be Luthrens to get into the Luthren school. "Can you afford the tuition?" "Yes" she said, she could. Bet it might be financially easier with vouchers though. Even here in dinky, pop. 30,000, Juneau, AK the ones who can, send their kids "outside" to high school. "The high school's a mess." And the Native Alaskan drop out rate is 30%.

But NCLB is bad for so many more reasons. The main reason is what it is doing to just those students that it claims to help. We are talking here about the inner city kids in schools with few resources. It is forcing a narrowed down curricullum on them. They need to show gains on the test. It doesn't matter how much is learned or absorbed, it is the test scores that count. Scores on tests that have been traditionally designed to sort out students just like themselves. Tests that would have, in years past, sent them perhaps to a tech school. Not many tech schools anymore. Everyone has to take collge prep courses. Everyone has to pass the test in algebra. And then we read about kids being forced out of school or kept back just to make the scores look better. It's late. I'm rambling. I'll begin again, hopefully in the morning. JF

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Will I think I finally got it.

Ok. I think that now I can do what I want, which is to talk to others about this abomination of a law, NCLB. Go to our website for some great links that will convince you if you are not already convinced that this law needs more than a little tweeking. I will write more soon, when I get more ideas together.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


It is late at night. I just set this up. I still am not sure how it works but I have been wanting to add a blog to our site since the beginning. So here it is. I will add more when I am more lucid. JF