Friday, April 29, 2005

Open Letter to Ed Week --

This is another post taken from the great Susan O'hanian's web site. Read this one. This letter is one of the most articulate pieces that I have seen on this subject. It is from an eighth grade teacher in California but can easily be applied to every other state.

"...Statistics prove the lowest performing schools are located in areas with the highest number of children living in poverty while highest performing schools are in wealthier districts. Students living in poverty, whose primary language is not English, who are transients, learning, physically or emotionally disabled perform poorly on standardized tests. More testing will not improve their academic achievement, but will reinforce their abandonment by the government and the system. More testing will make their "failure" more official, so the schools they attend and the teachers who work with them can be cast as the scapegoats. In reality, the under-funding of Head Start, nutrition, health, tutoring, after-school programs counseling and other vital services is what has adversely impacted their ability to bridge the achievement gap. The National Research Council (in a congressionally mandated report) found high-stakes testing has the unwanted result of "punishing and undermining the academic achievement of students who already face unequal educational opportunities." Furthermore this report stated: such testing is a bipartisan betrayal, reinforcing the worst aspects of the status-quo, categorizing millions of students as failures, while holding educators accountable (who have no control over socio-economic or other factors affecting student "performance"). This is akin to holding meteorologists accountable for the weather conditions (rather than for the accuracy of their own reporting or forecasting).

Public schools are held hostage by corporate interests. Businesses want highly-skilled, well-educated workers, but they want them without being taxed or investing in education; they have lobbied for these pseudo-reforms to evade their responsibility to children, schools and communities while expanding their influence and self-serving interests upon them. Educators and school administrators are simultaneously given more responsibility, increasing demands, constraints or mandates, and held accountable as their resources and decision-making latitude have diminished...

...Can anyone be na├»ve enough to believe the reduced funding of public education (on federal and state levels) has no correlation with a decline in levels of student achievement? When funding levels in our state were among the highest, our rankings were consistently 1st nationwide. Current levels of funding in our state are well below the national average with California ranking 48th of all 50 states, and student achievement rankings 46th. Yet prevailing rhetoric insists there’s no relationship in the parity of adequate funding and student achievement...

...Contrary to former Secretary Paige’s assertion that educators’ unions are “terrorists,” public school districts, dedicated administrators and educators who work with children are the ones being threatened and terrorized by NCLB and similar initiatives deceptively designed to dismantle public education in favor of vouchers that will be exploited by the savvy, influential or wealthy to fund private education for their own children (at public expense), causing an even wider chasm between affluent and indigent children... "

Read the whole letter. This teacher knows and is helping to get the word out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Spellings Should Cool the Insults and Check Connecticut's Results -

Here is a great column from today's Hartford Courant. According to Michele Jacklin:

"In terms of raising the performance levels of minority students, few states have pushed harder or dedicated more resources to the effort than this one.

Since 1997, Connecticut has invested $600 million in pre-school and after-school programs, early reading instruction and a multiplicity of services for disadvantaged students. That figure doesn't include the billions of dollars spent over the past 15 years, by virtue of the state's Education Cost Sharing formula, on schools with the lowest-performing students. It also doesn't include the hundreds of millions aimed at desegregating city schools through programs such as Open Choice.

Yet, despite those Herculean efforts, the achievement gap is among the widest in the nation. That's because performance is largely tied to socioeconomic status. And in this state of extreme wealth and poverty, white students outperform their peers nationally, while minority students struggle to keep pace. Nonetheless, in the past four years, the gap between Connecticut's least advantaged and most advantaged students has been closing.

Federal officials refuse to acknowledge that progress. They've blindly stuck to the rigid protocols laid out in the No Child Left Behind law, even though layers of additional testing won't tell experts anything more than they've already gleaned from 20 years of Mastery Test scores.

In truth, the Spellings/Sternberg faceoff isn't about educational equality; it's about a federal bureaucracy that defines issues in simplistic, messianic terms and a state whose leaders understand that raising the performance levels of all kids is a challenge that defies simplistic solutions..."

Simplistic solutions that are bound to produce failing schools so that parents can have more "choice" with corporate run charter schools and voucher subsidized private education.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In Alaska We Are Getting Fed Up -

The neo cons are doing it to us here too. This is the union's message but I think it presents the students, parents, teachers side pretty well. At the moment we have a projected $800 million surplus, but they will not give us what we need, because "We wouldn't want you to get use to it." This is with primary classrooms being staffed at 26:1 in our district. And I guarantee you it will get worse. Add to this the destruction of our retirement and insurance and it becomes obvious, to me at least that we are traveling down the road to vouchers and privitization.

Take the money away from schools so that classrooms are so crowded that only the brightest with the most home support will thrive. Then add in years of stagnant teacher salaries that no longer make us competitive with the lower 48. Add to that a system with retirement tied to the stock market and no insurance until 65, and why would anyone want to teach in Alaska when they could do better anywhere else? Not to mention the rigors of village life, but that wouldn't be a bother because they would bring boarding schools back even though they have been ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court. We are fighting hard but sometimes it seems hopeless.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Even Fairbanks! -

(Yes, I am back but it is almost May and things are getting very busy, so I may not be posting often, sorry)

Even in a conservative newspaper in a conservative state, in one of the most conservative parts of the state,

"The NCLB undermines state programs that were proving their worth before the passage of the act. Where the federal government funds less than 8 percent of the nation's education program, the NCLB affects almost 100 percent of all classroom activity. In flexibility the NCLB is a one-size-fits-all program. It measures groups of students and judges a school's worth based upon criteria of the act. Using the one measurement to judge each and every school across the nation is restrictive, to say the least, impractical, at best. When we look at the different challenges of rural vs. suburban vs. urban, English language learners, and special education, we find that this act is not accountability, it is intrusive, stifling and limiting..."

Yes there is hope! And of course while I was gone the most important development in the battle against NCLB was the NEA Lawsuit. It's all over the news in all the states that are involved. Meanwhile locally we are fight other battles as well. Hope to report on these soon. By the way, it is spring time in Alaska and it is beautiful!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sorry No Posts - Busy

It is time for the Alaska Folk Festival with lots of old friends from all over. It is really busy around here. You can listen live if you like at KTOO FM and you might even like to listen to me MC our guest artist on Thursday April 14, 8:00pm Alaska time (11:00pm eastern.) Blog you after fest.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Spellings - More Flexibility on NCLB -

Let's look at the special education flexibility. At my school alone we have at least 15 kids you would qualify for "alternative tests." So the new "flexibility' in our school of 250 students means we go from 2.5 kids that qualify to 5. What about the other 10. Thanks a lot Margaret.

The good news on this same front is that Connecticut is suing the feds over NCLB,

"The lawsuit will contend that the law illegally requires states and communities to spend millions above what federal funding provides to create standardized testing and initiate school reform efforts..."

The Coachella Valley Unified School District is suing the State of California.

"Joining Coachella Valley Unified School District, the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) and Californians Together jointly retained three major civil rights and education law firms to pursue a lawsuit against the State of California to enforce the provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act pertaining to the academic assessment of English Learners..."

Resistance takes many forms.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Wal-Mart Prepares to Bury Opposition Under Wall of Money -

This is form the Black Commentator and is dated from about a week back. (Article by Glen Ford and Peter Gamble, Co-Publishers, originally appeared in In These Times.)

Thanks to An Old Soul for helping me to remember to read this great site.

This is another one of those scary articles. According BC the extreme right wing Waltom family foundation is preparing to dump $20 billion dollars inot marketing , promoting and fund their voucher/privatizing agenda.

"The obscenely rich Waltons aren’t slumming, but rather, are pursuing a super-cynical, fiendishly clever, grand strategy on the way to final victory: destruction of the public is a mistake to view school privatization in vulgar market terms. That’s not how the denizens of Right-funded think tanks…think.

The public schools are by far the most pervasive public institutions – social spaces – in American society. Therefore, they must be made fully subservient to private capital. To the world-coveters of the Waltons’ class (all several hundred of them, plus their legions of hirelings), public education is more an obstacle than a potential convertible asset."

"In the here and now, two forces stand in the way of total corporate hegemony over U.S. political life: Black American voters and organized labor, particularly the teachers unions..."

And vouchers, NCLB and $20 billion should get them to their goals. I hope not..

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Anti Testing Letter to The N.Y. Times -

Once again from Susan O'hanian's web site, and since I could not say it any better:

"To the editor

From James Horn

Published in New York Times (04/05/2005)

I am glad to see the Times now questioning some aspects of NCLB (NYT 4/05/05), but I am dismayed at your editorial claim that NCLB requires schools "to erase the achievement gap between white and minority students in exchange for federal dollars." There is no such demand in the NCLB Act, even though the rhetoric from the U.S. Department of Education has been effective in making us believe that is the case.

In fact, in many schools the narrowing of the achievement has remained negligible, even as scores overall have increased in many schools. The sad fact is the low-performing students have suffered the brunt damage from the high-stakes testing hysteria accompanying NCLB, even though more middle class schools will inevitably be labeled as failures, too, as we move toward magic date of 2014 and its fantasy-world goal of every child competent in math and reading. As more and more schools are found to be failing the unrealistic expectations set by AYP, the public's opposition to school privatization will become softened.

When your editorial warns us that backing off these unrealistic demands of NCLB will lead to, yet, another failure "to remake the country's public schools," the point has been missed that the current Administration's agenda is, indeed, to remake the public schools, but it is to be accomplished by removing the public voice in educating our children."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Let's Pump Some Money Into Highly Promising Programs -

This is a guest column from the L.A. times by Richard Rothstein, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and a visiting professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. He has important things to say about spending money. (If you do not want to register you can view this article at Ohanian's site.) I agree with what he says. It has been shown that minority students make gains during the school year that equal or surpass their non-minority peers. But, they come to school with less, and lose more over the summer. His major point is this, in addition to early childhood programs he recommends,

"After-school and summer programs that provide academic support as well as cultural, athletic and organizational experiences for disadvantaged children would be a good use for added dollars. They would probably add 20% to education spending (including what is already spent by organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Children's Aid Society and other top-rated after-school providers). Only about one in five low-income children participate in after-school programs.

Throwing money at problems is not the way to solve them, but smart spending can pay. We spend too little on programs likely to succeed not because we lack consensus on their value..."

There are other ways to throw money around, we can throw it at the corporate education hounds and watch them fight over it. As is shown in this article from the New York Times.

"Propelled by the No Child Left Behind law, the federally financed tutoring industry has doubled in size in each of the last two years, with the potential to become a $2 billion-a-year enterprise, market analysts say."

The article talks about the aggressive marketing techniques used by for profit companies that stand to earn up to $1900 per student. I guess the thought is, if you are going to throw money around it might as well end up in someone's pockets.

Monday, April 04, 2005

F for Assessment - -

This comes from TeacherKen. He discusses an article "..written by W. James Popham, who started his career as a high school teacher in Oregon, and is professor emeritus at the University of California- Los Angeles School of Education and Information Studies. Author of 25 books, he is a former president of the American Educational Research Association, which with tens of thousands of members is the preeminent professional association for those who do research on educational issues. The article appears in the current issue of Edutopia, a magazine produced by The George Lucas Educational Foundation. ..."

In the article Dr. Popham explains what is wrong with the current testing mania in this country and lists steps for fixing it. TeacherKen provides discussion and insights.

"...One question I have often been asked as a result of the various education diaries I have posted is "what can I do?" Popham offers an answer that I hope readers will find useful. It is with this that I will conclude:

If you want to be part of the solution to this situation, it's imperative to learn all you can about educational testing. Then learn some more. For all its importance, educational testing really isn't particularly complicated, because its fundamentals consist of commonsense ideas, not numerical obscurities. You'll not only understand better what's going on in the current mismeasurement of school quality, you'll also be able to explain it to others. And those "others," ideally, will be school board members, legislators, and concerned citizens who might, in turn, make a difference. Simply hop on the Internet or head to your local library and hunt down an introductory book or two about educational assessment..."

"With a better understanding of why it is so inane -- and destructive -- to evaluate schools using students' scores on the wrong species of standardized tests, you can persuade anyone who'll listen that policy makers need to make better choices. Our 40-year saga of unsound school evaluation needs to end. Now. "

In the past, my posts on testing have always brought negative comments out. Please read this whole piece, and think about it first, before you post back to me.

Over at The Super's Blog he has cleared up something for me.

"Under NCLB, Big Government Right and Big Government Left came together on the topic of education. BG Left wanted more money for education and BG Right wanted to see the demise of public education. BG Right was willing to "invest" in it to do so, and wait it out. BG Left decided to take the money and run. I assume they thought they could bring logical accountability standards to the table during future reauthorizations of the NCLB Act. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, as time goes's less local control at every level, on every single issue."

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Ad -

As I said below, this is another commentary from Ohanian's site. This time from Gerald Bracey. To quote Susan, "Here is a fascinating account of the flap and the chicanery surrounding the publication of a New York Times article about a report on charter schools."

This is all about the analysis that AFT did on charter schools using the NAEP data that NAEP refused to release for a long while. This is the same data discussed in our March 31 post. After the times article came out the conservative education community went nuts, to the point of spending $125,000 to refute the analysis. That is a lot of money to refute a little article. Must be important to them. Anyway, read what Bracey has to say, especially if you have a doubt that this is all about making money off of American public education.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Saving Public Education--Saving Democracy -

This article comes from Susan Ohanian's site. Susan's site is a great resource for all kinds of links to information on the current attacks on public school education in this country. She often publishes articles and papers that come out on her site first. I plan on writing about two of these in the next few days. This is the first.

This article is food for thought and though it is addressed to the alternative press, there are some important ideas here for us all to ponder.

"...As Thomas Jefferson observed, the health of democracy depends on an educated and informed citizenry..."

"...The strongly bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has...Insidious policy implications. In the first place, this legislation set ridiculously high standards that simply defied common sense. NCLB requires schools and teachers to insure that all students perform at or above grade level within a three year-period. This outrageous requirement includes children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders no matter how profound. By definition, then – getting these kids to perform at grade level, NCLB holds teachers accountable for doing what medical science has never accomplished; namely, curing mental retardation...NCLB sets impossible standards for a reason. Public access to institutions of learning helps promote the levels of critical civic activism witnessed during the 1960s and 70s that challenged the power of the state and the corporations that it primarily serves. The current reform environment creates conditions where public schools can only fail, thus providing "statistical evidence" for an alleged need to turn education over to private companies in the name of "freedom of choice." In combination with the growing corporate monopolization of the media, these reforms are part of a longer-range plan to consolidate private power's control over the total information system, thus eliminating avenues for the articulation of honest inquiry and dissent...While both the media and schools function as major institutions in the dissemination of knowledge, information, and ideas, the mainstream media will continue to be privately owned and operated. Therefore, the public will always find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to influence their editorial policies. Public schools, on the other hand, are public. That is, insofar as they continue to be operated under public control, the public can wield considerably more influence over the policies that impact the educational practices within public education than it can ever hope to wield over the corporate media. This, in our view, offers the best explanation for the growing movement to privatize schools. Privatization would effectively transfer the control of schools from public hands to corporate hands..."

"...We want to believe that public schools serve us, the public, “We, the people.” We want to believe that schools strengthen our democracy, our ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes that impact our communities and our lives. Educational resources need to be directed towards increasing people’s awareness of the relevant facts about their lives, and to increase people’s abilities to act upon these facts in their own true interests. For the past twenty years, however, significant efforts have been made to resurrect a statist view of schools that treats teachers as mere appendages to the machinery of the state and seeks to hold them accountable to serving the interests of state and corporate power. Linked as it is to the interests of private wealth, this view defines children’s value in life as human resources and future consumers...We believe that students should not be thought of as a potential market or as consumers, but as future citizens..."

There is a lot more here, some you may or may not agree with, but the above is the core of what I believe the authors are saying. We are educating citizens not consumers or human resources. This is why we must always work to give all children the best education we can, but NCLB and all that it stand for and is attached to, is not the way.