Monday, October 31, 2005

"High Expectations" and Comfortable Prisons --

This one come from Elisa at Two Feet In, by way of a reccomendation at the New Advovate, which is out by the way. This is scary. I do not know what else to say, it is almost unbelievable. I am left, almost, speechless.

...So anyway, I was sitting in this classroom watching a teacher implement the Open Court curriculum for the mandated 90 minutes a day. Since teachers and students don't have much choice in the matter, I could hear the same sentences coming out of both adult and student mouths from other classrooms up and down the school hallway. The teacher I was watching was running a few minutes behind, so I'd hear stuff coming from other classrooms, and sure enough, several minutes later nearly the same words would be replayed in the room where I was sitting.

I thought I might be mishearing things when the kids down the hall started chanting, "It was a comfortable prison! It was a comfortable prison!" But no... Moments later the kids in my room were directed to chant the same sentence. Nobody blinked an eye -- these beautiful, vibrant children who had not moved or been asked, pushed, prompted, or inspired to think an original thought for the entire hour that I'd been sitting there, were chanting "It was a comfortable prison." Direct from the teacher's manual. These are high expectations, NCLB-style.

I've been thinking about the many levels at which this little classroom vignette illustrates injustice and inequity in education and society, but for tonight I'll just ask you to think about it the next time you hear rhetoric of high expectations.

By the way, the last time I heard Open Court classroom chanting, the sentences were:
"The boycott destroyed the toy company."
"The loyal employee enjoyed her bonus."

Add in "It was a comfortable prison." and then consider whose agenda is being satisfied with this so-called education.

On those on the right will always tell you that cries of "class warfare" are ridiculous. How can we continue to believe this? It is time to wake up America.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

“Thousands of Native children being left behind --

October 13, 2005 by: Rick St. Germaine / Indian Country Today

Education convention opens in Denver

DENVER - Responding to a growing dissatisfaction from Indian educators who complain about damaging impediments resulting from the No Child Left Behind legislation, the National Indian Education Association on Oct. 6 launched a critical broadside at the federal education program with charges that it is actually causing more American Indian students to give up and drop out than it is helping...

In a rousing speech, interrupted at times with applause, he cited the components of the federal program that are causing the most problems.

''The Indian voice is heard less and less in this discussion as the Native American community is only beginning to understand the impact, the consequences of [discord] between NCLB and Title VII [the Indian Education Act programs],'' warned Beaulieu, as he described the testimony elicited in 11 field hearings sponsored by NIEA in sites from Washington, D.C. to Oklahoma City and Window Rock to Tacoma, and even Honolulu...

''Kids are taking the blame for poor [Adequate Yearly Progress] scores and don't even want to come to school,'' he noted, criticizing the focus on testing and on classroom practice for the test. He suggested there should be a love of reading because students are interested in what they're reading. ''There's a focus on the skill of reading, and not what they're reading.''

''NCLB parts don't fit,'' he continued, ''with major disruptions in our schools that directly impact on Native culture-

based education.''

Beaulieu released 1,000 copies of the summary report from the NIEA field hearings that were held strategically throughout Indian country, charging that the Department of Education ''selectively'' invited NCLB proponents to its field hearings and quashing parts of testimony that were negative...

It doesn't matter what race or nationality you com from. This law is misguided and ill-fit for any and all kids. Help us change it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The McGraw-Hill Companies Reports 17.7% Increase in Third Quarter --

Can there still be anyone out there who doesn't believe that all this education reform and testing mainia is, at least partially, about making money...

"The reading and testing markets continue to benefit from the federal government's No Child Left Behind program. Our revenue from Reading First programs again showed a year-over-year increase in the third quarter. The gain is attributable to purchasing by newly eligible districts, orders from large urban districts including St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, and increased sales of intervention products.

"The testing provisions of No Child Left Behind continue to fuel growth in custom contracts while reducing the demand for higher margin norm-referenced test products and services at the district level. We also benefited from growth in value-added reporting and instructional guides for district and state assessment programs and from the State of Qatar's National Assessment Program.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And the Reading First Corruption Award Goes to . ..

I know if you read the Advocate you have probably seen this but Jim over at Schools Matter has done such a great job of putting together the Reading First chain of conflicts of interest, that I felt I just had to point it out again for those of you that might have missed it...

n 2004 there was good reason for Dr. Doug Carnine to take a lead role on the Bush-Cheney '04 National Educators for Bush Steering Committee. The re-election of W. would mean a continuation of the Carnine mission to return reading instruction to the bygone era of phonics fixation and testing--and to solidify that mission by pushing through educational research requirements that can only be efficiently fulfilled by amassing large quantitative databases.

Indeed, a second Bush term would mean the chance for Carnine to build a sprawling empire of consulting and research expertise among his colleagues at the University of Oregon and beyond...

...Here are the other members on that very important and exclusive group who decided among themselves the fate of 900 million dollars a year in federal grants for the Reading First Initiative. One may note the prominence on the Committee of the University of Oregon colleagues of Doug Carnine:

Team Leader: Dr. Edward J. Kame'enui, University of Oregon
Dr. David Francis, University of Houston
Dr. Lynn Fuchs, Vanderbilt University
Dr. Roland H. Good, III, University of Oregon
Dr. Rollanda O'Connor, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Deborah C. Simmons, University of Oregon
Dr. Gerald Tindal, University of Oregon
Dr. Joseph Torgesen, Florida State University

But I digress! Good's and Kaminski's real gravy train is not in training sessions, however important they may be in developing new disciples who will preach the DIBELS message. By far the real money is in the DIBELS materials marketed by Sopris West, a company whose catalog focuses on materials that help eduational customers to "better manage behavior" of those "tough to teach student." (Remember the tough ones that Carnine's direct instruction spinoff outfit prepares teachers to deal with)?

Then he goes on to list all the books that they sell. This is a scam of the first order. Reading First-NCLB -- the scam within the scam.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Difficult Lessons --

From the Time Magazine | Notebook, By ARLYN TOBIAS GAJILAN, Posted Monday, Oct. 24, 2005
The new Advocate is out, several must reads here, check it out!

Public schools got their report cards last week with the release of national reading and math test scores. A look at what the results say about student skills--and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush's three-year-old education initiative:

Are students scoring higher? Yes and no. The results of the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress were the first since broad implementation of No Child Left Behind. On a 500-point scale, fourth-graders improved on average by 1 point in math and 3 points in reading over 2003's results. Eighth-graders scored 1 point higher in math but 1 point lower in reading.

What were scores like before NCLB went into full effect? From 2000 to 2003, when the math exams were last given, fourth-graders' scores jumped 9 points, and eighth-graders' rose 5 points. In reading, the only data were for fourth-graders, whose scores climbed 5 points. So the rate of improvement has slowed.

But is Bush's plan working? Yes, says the President, who calls last week's results "encouraging." That's debatable, says Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. Early data show NCLB hasn't helped boost scores, he says, and the slowdown in improvement may suggest that "it might actually be holding some students back."

Are kids still getting left behind? The good news is that the gap between math skills of white students and black students is shrinking. But Gage Kingsbury of the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts testing for public schools, says the NCLB's goal of eliminating the gap by 2014 seems too optimistic. "At this pace, it'll be 2034 before they're on a par," he says, adding that, without huge advances, achieving parity in reading may take 200 years--yes, 200.

May be holding some student's back...for 200 years. It is time to give up on this ludicrous law and start looking for real solutions without help from corporate America.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Test Scores Move Little in Math, Reading

By Lois Romano, Thursday, October 20, 2005; Washington Post Staff Writer

Reading scores among fourth- and eighth-graders showed little improvement over the past two years, and math gains were slower than in previous years, according to a study released yesterday. The disappointing results came despite a new educational testing law championed by the Bush administration as a way to improve the nation's schools.

Most troubling for educators are the sluggish reading skills among middle-school students, which have remained virtually unchanged for 15 years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which administers the federal test and bills itself as the "nation's report card."

Though the tests have been taken by fourth- and eighth-grade students about every two years since 1990, the latest NAEP scores were the first tangible testing numbers available since the implementation of No Child Left Behind -- the Bush administration's premier and controversial education initiative requiring all states to test students annually as a prerequisite for receiving federal funds.

"No one can be satisfied with these results," said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, an advocacy organization that backed No Child. "There's been a discernible slowdown in progress since '03, at a time when we desperately need to accelerate gains. The absence of particularly bad news isn't the same as good news..."

So DIBELS and scripted, prescribed lessons are not working either. Let's not even discuss NAEP, for now. I believe that this shows that this is a problem that is not going away soon. The one good thing that has come out of NCLB is the whole nation is focussing on the same issues, unfortunately the feds keep sticking their noses in with things like the Reading First grants and reading programs that have not been researched but have great political connections. Hopefully the country will soon realize NCLB, Reading First and more and more high stakes testing are not the answers that we need.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Survey says NCLB shifts curriculum

From the Times Argus, October 20, 2005 MONTPELIER — What Vermont students learn and how they are taught are increasingly dictated by standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new Dartmouth College survey.

The curriculum shift often departs from standards adopted by local school boards and the state Department of Education, said the survey, which was conducted by the Policy Research Shop at Dartmouth's Nelson A. Rockefeller Center.

The survey's preliminary results suggest that as students, teachers and parents start dissecting the latest national achievement scores released Wednesday, they need to analyze whether local and state control over education standards are being changed.

While the No Child Left Behind Act was designed to "strengthen student competency in math, reading and science, policymakers, educators and researchers have raised concerns that the new accountability system may also lead to a shift in school curriculum toward the tested subjects and away from other non-tested subjects," the study's authors concluded.

The survey said more than 83 percent of Vermont superintendents who responded said that "teaching to the tests" is increasingly common or occurring "throughout the district..."

..."Despite state standards in non-tested subject areas, the imposition of high-stakes testing appears to cause school districts to prioritize tested subjects over non-tested subjects," the survey said.

It added, "A curriculum shift to the tested subjects is occurring regardless of other state standards and policies that require other subjects, like social studies and the arts, be important parts of the curriculum."

Contact Darren Allen at

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Big Squeeze --

From the New York Times via O'hanian, once again, comes this depressing editorial from Paul Krugman. When that plight of the working man gets worse what do you suppose that means for education?

In 1999 Delphi, the parts division of General Motors, was spun off as an independent company. Now Delphi has filed for bankruptcy. Its chief executive, Robert S. Miller, wants the company's workers to accept drastic wage cuts, from an average hourly wage rate of about $27 to as little as $10 an hour.

There are a lot of questions about how Delphi and the auto industry in general reached this point. Why were large severance packages given to Delphi executives even as the company demanded wage cuts? Why, when General Motors was profitable, did it pay big dividends but fail to put in enough money to secure its workers' pensions?

But Delphi's bankruptcy is a much bigger deal than your ordinary case of corporate failure and bad, self-dealing management. If Delphi slashes wages and defaults on its pension obligations, the rest of the auto industry may well be tempted - or forced - to do the same. And that will mark the end of the era in which ordinary working Americans could be part of the middle class...

...What if neither education nor health care reform is enough to end the wage squeeze? That's the possibility that makes free-trade liberals like me very nervous, because at that point protectionism enters the picture. When corporate executives say that they have to cut wages to meet foreign competition, workers have every right to ask why we don't cut the foreign competition instead.

I hope we don't have to go there. But denial is not an option. America's working middle class has been eroding for a generation, and it may be about to wash away completely. Something must be done.

Let's start by changing those that represent us in Wasington!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Six Phonics Myths Dispelledx Phonics Myths Dispelled--

by Maryann Manning

Another gem from Susan O'hanian. This is a great article about teaching young children to read.
The author makes a lot of sense.

No issue in the field of reading conjures more emotion than the teaching of phonics. So often I'm asked, "Do you believe in teaching phonics?" The question always surprises me; of course children must have knowledge about phonics in order to read.

However, no other aspect of reading instruction is more misunderstood by the public. It seems to me that six common misconceptions about phonics...

Maryann Manning is on the faculty of the School of Education, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The New Advocate is Out --

Check it out!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

DIBELS Clearinghouse --

Welcome to the new DIBELS site

Case studies

style="font-size:85%;">The Test Puts Children In Their Place--And They Know It


And so the sorting begins, as does the training of children to accept the place they are assigned.

Boston Grandpa: Honey, how is first grade?

Child: I don't know yet. My teacher hasn't corrected my DIBELS test--to see which group I belong in.

DIBELS™Kindergarten Grade Classroom Set


Comment: Here's the premise: The kindergartner takes this test and then everybody will know if he'll pass the federally-imposed, high stakes third grade reading test. This is being marketing as assessing the vital signs of students' reading health. Heretofore, vital signs referred to the pulse rate, temperature, and respiratory rate of an individual. Now, by corporate-politico mandate, it means how fast a five-year-old child can decipher such stuff as

hoj rij ad bol em
buv haj en wof loj
tuc rul vab fum han
hol mun yud dav dub

National Clout of DIBELS Test Draws Scrutiny: Critics say reading tool's scope fails to justify its broad use.

And on and on. This is a site to watch. Bookmark it and visit often.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A State Mandated Underclass --

From Indy by Tiny/PoorNewsNetwork Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005

This article is about California and it' s governor:

...Arnold's recent veto of AB1531 which would have allowed school districts to develop alternatives to the mandatory high school exit exam that California students have to pass before they graduate and receive their diploma. AB1531 along with SB385, which focuses on allowing English learner students to take the high school exit exam in the student's first language, were vetoed by the increasingly right wing leaning Govenator on Friday Oct 7th...

...In fact, as I did some research for this story I found that notwithstanding Arnolds's anti-youth, anti-immigrant, jingoist stance the Austrian school system which Arnold is a product of, teaches its children to master three languages, and when confronted with an increasing mono-lingual Slovenian population in one of its districts, began, without protest or fascist policy interlopers to incorporate the Slovenian language into its core curriculum. Not to mention the fact that Austria, like most of Western Europe, is a welfare state that supports its population with low and/or no cost healthcare, child care and housing, cradle to grave. Perhaps, as he states in his message about his veto of 385, "As an immigrant whose second language is English, I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, in order to be successful in the United States," he should have added that he already knew English when he arrived in the US, because he had the privilege of an elementary and secondary education that included a tri-language curriculum, something all California would benefit from.

"This test discriminates against not just Latino students but all immigrants and students of color...

This is what it increasingly looks like to me: In America we consiously cut people out of the system to make them pieces of the pie bigger for those that don't get cut out, and especially for those that run the system and their rich friends and patrons. We cannot afford to keep supporting this. Unfortunately I am afraid I am sounding more and more like some kind of left wing nutcase, which I do not believe that I am, but the excesses of the right seem to be forcing me that way, and, I can only hope, that more of the electorate are feeling forced that way as well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Emperor Doesn't Disclose: Why the Fight Against Fake News Continues --

Submitted by Diane Farsetta on Tue, 10/11/2005 from PR Watch a site that is worth watching.
This is about our goverment's propaganda specifically the NCLB propaganda that Sen. Kennedy and others are asking the GAO about right now.

Like much news that's damaging to the Bush administration, the report came out on a Friday.

Reporter Remixed Propaganda

Since then, it's gotten little media attention -- just 41 mentions in U.S. newspapers and wire stories, according to a news database search on October 11. That's remarkably sparse coverage for a story showing that the U.S. government has been engaged in illegal propaganda aimed at its own citizens...

...The failure of an agency to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual -- the essential fact of attribution is missing...

...As French screenwriter Jean Anouilh wrote, "Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way." With your help, the snake will not just be deflected, but defanged.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Universal Preschool Provider Celebrates Funding of 100th Facility in Los Angeles --

from Ohanian

This time it's not the article as much as O'hanian's comments that interest me. As a kindergarten teacher I happen to agree, and the article just reinforces the comments and my agreement.

Ohanian Comment:
Sorry to rain on the good progressives' parade but let's not lie down and roll over for universal preschool. Too often, it is a smokescreen and an outrage. The fact that no corporate-politico and even few progressive do-gooders will face is that people who live in places characterized as needy neighborhoods need more money. They need a living wage much more than they need skill checklists for their 4-year-olds. And without that living wage the skill drills are likely to do more harm than good.

Universal preschool is an outrage:

  • when it denegrates and demeans parents' abilities to nurture their own children.

  • when it is used to obscure the fact that what families really need are living wages--so they can take care of their own children.

  • when it is used as a first step on the test-prep conveyor belt leading to kindergrind, which has become an obstacle course of skills blocking a kid's entrance to first grade, which is viewed as preparing kids for second grade, which starts prepping kids in the skills necessary to pass the third grade test, which is the gateway to college entrance.

  • when it labels children as deficient in the arbitrary and inappropriate skills dreamt up by committees.

  • when it travels under the political banner of the great equalizer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Lagunitas district faces sanctions for alternative approach --

A test of wills by Jennifer Gollan from the Marin Daily Journal Sunday Oct. 9, 2005

An interesting article about what happens when parents in a district revolt against NCLB. If only we would see more of this.

The same maverick tendencies that prompted the Lagunitas School District to offer alternative curricula in lieu of traditional education programs could lead to mounting sanctions from state and federal education regulators, and, ultimately, a state takeover.

"Irony is one of the better words to put on it," said Richard Sloan, a member of the Lagunitas School District Board of Trustees since 1972, and a proponent of test exemptions. "The Lagunitas School District could be used as a model for education nationwide. Instead, we are under attack and are being punished for being so successful. We have demonstrated how to get the kind of parental involvement talked about everywhere, yet it is bound to destroy us.

"We're in a nightmare right now."

Last year, the federal government introduced sanctions against the 300-student district because a third of Lagunitas' students had boycotted state standardized tests. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that at least 95 percent of students participate in state standardized tests.

San Geronimo Valley School, which includes kindergarten through sixth grade, fell subject to federal penalties this year after about 90 percent of the students who were supposed to have taken state tests excused themselves. And if the past is any guide, the district's other school, Lagunitas School, which includes kindergarten through eighth grade, will likely follow suit next year, said Mary Buttler, superintendent of the Lagunitas School District.

Under No Child Left Behind, the district is in the so-called "program improvement" category, and must spend about $4,000 annually on training programs for teachers, and send letters home to parents notifying them that they may send their children to higher-achieving schools at district expense. If the boycott continues in the coming years, the sanctions will grow progressively harsh until Lagunitas enters its fifth year of so-called "program improvement," which could trigger a state takeover.

Lagunitas' challenge to No Child Left Behind illustrates the dynamics of a bitter struggle between state and federal education officials over parents' rights to exempt their children from standardized tests...In the highly charged debate over No Child Left Behind, Lagunitas' steadfast resistance is unusual because it is largely defined in philosophical terms, rather than financial... The Lagunitas School District is plotting its own retreat. On Tuesday, the board is tentatively scheduled to vote on a measure that would forfeit about $95,000 annually in federal funds for special education and achievement programs to avoid penalties under No Child Left Behind...But the district won't be off the hook. In accepting federal money, California has made all its public schools subject to the terms of No Child Left Behind. That means Lagunitas - even if it refuses federal funding - still would have to comply with the No Child law by ensuring it has qualified teachers and that test results are made public according to students' ethnicity and income bracket...

"The school district uses a lot of alternative measurements, and we find that it is a much better indicator of students' progress than a gross generalization," said Stephanie O'Brien, a Lagunitas school trustee who authored the proposal to refuse federal funding, and whose first-grade son will opt out of his first round of state tests next year. "I can't imagine the community would say we really want that (federal) money so we'll put up with this bull---- from the federal government..."

... Nationwide, it is uncommon for school districts to forgo federal money to avoid No Child sanctions...

The districts that have refused federal funds are populated by relatively wealthy parents who can pad school budgets with donations, Jennings said.

"Generally, it's better-educated, affluent parents who tend to protest against this type of thing," he said. "They are generally the ones that are familiar with the law that do not like standardized testing like this..."

This is exactly what we need to see more of, "relatively wealthy parents" to protest intead of enrolling their kids in private or charter schools as so many currently do.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Educational Policy and the Democrats --

By Bryan Nelson From: Democrats Table

This blog is about what democrat's should do to take control of the debate on public education, but there is good stuff here for all of us. Public schooling is for all and we all need to take the debate away from those that would destroy public education in the name of reform.

The Democrats need a real policy, and real rationale and a real counter argument to the conservatives around our public education system...

...The conservatives, have demanded some 'public school reforms' that simply don't address the issue of improving the process of educating children. At the same time, the Democrats have done one of two things. Immediately sound like they are members of the NEA or they have complained about conservatives ideas, without providing specific ideas to counteract those they so despise.

In the end, the conservatives have been leading the conservation on public schools for far too long, and we now end up with awful things like NCLB and a growing outcry for vouchers.

We must take this issue back, not only because we believe in public education (the conservatives do not), but because it is critical for our future in this country.

Several steps need to be implemented in order to bring the issue back into our camp. Step one is to de-mythify the conservatives message that 'business' practices can improve education. There are two parts to our public school educational process. The part, and most critical to the mission part, is to educate children. The second part, is the 'business of running the system'. In the first part there are no business plans, there are educational work plans. In the second part, there are business plans to assure fiscal solvency.

When I see, merit pay, come up time and time again (apparently Mitt Romney has this 'new idea), it simply reflects the confusion out there regarding business practices and the educational process. In regards to merit pay, I was in an educational entity that attempted it 20 years ago, and it failed miserably. Why? Because the process of working with the individual needs of children, who come into the system with varying educational needs, who learn at different rates, who require different teaching methods cannot be so quantified as to determine who deserves 'merit' and who does not. And that is for a classroom of 'typically' developing childern. Throw in your special needs, low-income, and ESL students, and I can assure you it is impossible to define, in quantifiable terms, who should receive 'merit' pay.

So the myth, that somehow we can apply the business technique of 'merit pay' aka bonuses or commissions, is simply wrong. It will not work, because the process of education is not a business process...

... Regarding the entire issue of vouchers, it simply is a method to further errode the funding base for public education...Vouchers have been argued to enhance 'competition' between private and public schools so that the 'winner' will get the funding, either through the public funding going directly to the public school or the public funding going to the private school via vouchers, if they are the 'winner of the compitition'. Again, what competition? The differences between public and private schools is a myth.

Private schools are not tasked with educating every student in society. Private schools are selective and self-selecting on the part of the parents. They can exclude any student/family they choose. They can hire based on their criteria, and not adhere to EEOC rules. They can create a more narrowly defined curricula, than can the public schools. To even suggest that there is a legitimate competition between public and private schools is to compare the competition between public libraries and private bookstores. They both have books, but the scope of the mission is very different...

...Some public schools have primarily serve upper middle class children that come to school armed with a mulititude of experiences, a strong language base and a basic level of pre-academic readiness skills. While other schools serve a lower-economic class of children, who through no fault of their own, or their family's, come with few experiences, a less than adequate language base and less overall readiness skills.

I can assure you - the field is not level. I assure you, that even though both schools are serving all who walk through the door, to compare them and then make them 'compete' is rediculous. Then factor in private schools, that select who they can and won't serve and you really have a silly 'competive' situation.

Friday, October 07, 2005

One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier --

<>from the New York Times, By MICHAEL WINERIP, Published: October 5, 2005

PARENTS are delighted when state test scores go up. Obviously, their children are getting smarter and the teachers are doing better. Politicians are ecstatic; their school reforms must be working. Indeed, during his re-election campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has repeatedly cited the rise in the city's 2005 fourth-grade test results (up 10 percentage points in English to 59 percent at grade level, and up 9 points in math to 77 percent) as proof that his school programs are a success. "Amazing results," he said, that "should put a smile on the face of everybody in the city."

However, those in the trenches, the teachers and principals, tend to view the scores differently. While they would rather be cheered than booed, they know how much is out of their control.

Take Frances Rosenstein, a respected veteran principal of Public School 159 in the Bronx. Ms. Rosenstein has every right to brag about her school's 2005 test scores. The percentage of her fourth graders who were at grade level in English was 40 points higher than in 2004.

How did she do it? New teachers? No, same teachers. New curriculum? No, same dual-language curriculum for a student body that is 96 percent Hispanic and poor (100 percent free lunches). New resources? Same.

So? "The state test was easier," she said. Ms. Rosenstein, who has been principal 13 years and began teaching in 1974, says the 2005 state English test was unusually easy and the 2004 test unusually hard. "I knew it the minute I opened the test booklets," she said.

The first reading excerpt in the 2004 test was 451 words. It was about a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail. There were six characters to keep track of (Levi, Austin, Pa, Mr. Morrison, Miss Amelia, Mr. Ezra Zikes). The story was written in 1850's western vernacular with phrases like "I reckon," "cut out the oxen from the herd," "check over the running gear" for the oxen, "set the stock to graze," "Pa's claim."

Ms. Rosenstein said such language was devastating for her urban Hispanic children. "They're talking about a 'train' and they mean wagon train," she said. "Our kids know the subway. I walked into a class and there was a girl crying. I took the test booklet and read it. I thought, 'Oh, my God, we're in trouble.' "

In contrast, the first reading in the 2005 test was 188 words about a day in the life of an otter. A typical sentence: "The river otter is a great swimmer." Ms. Rosenstein said: "The otter story was so easy, it gave our kids confidence. It was a great way for them to start the test."

She said the pattern continued throughout the two tests. In 2004, on the "hard test," the second passage was about the Netherlands thanking Canada for its support during World War II by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. The third story was about a photographer, Joel Sartore, who embedded himself in Madidi National Park in Bolivia to get rare nature shots.

"These were very sophisticated pieces," Ms. Rosenstein said. "We teach our kids when reading to make a connection to themselves. These stories were foreign to their experience. You didn't have anything like this on the 2005 test."

In 2005, on the "easy test," the second passage was about hummingbirds. The third was about a boy who thought he won a real horse, but it was a china horse. The story was told mainly in dialogue that read like the old Dick and Jane primers:

" 'What's going on?' asked Beth.

'I just won a horse,' said Jamie."

"What a difference from the 2004 test," Ms. Rosenstein said. "I was so happy for the kids - they felt good after they took the 2005 test."

One might think that these tests are designed to make the district look better. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if these so called test making experts have a clue as to what they are doing. Or maybe they do and that id even scarier!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

AFT Proposes Additional Title I/NCLB Funds for Schools With Students Displaced by Katrina --

The Advocate came out on Sunday, if you have not checked it out yet, do it.

Press release, WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 /U.S. Newswire/

Here is another press release. This one offers, I believe, a better approach than funding more charter schools. I cannot tell you how it makes my blood boil to think that these neo-cons will use anything including the suffering of millions of people to advance their agenda of privatizing public education! I have not had much use for AFT over the years but this is at least a start.

..Public school districts and nonpublic schools that have students displaced from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast would receive additional funding using a model established 40 years ago and still in place today in the No Child Left Behind Act, under a solution proposed today by the American Federation of Teachers. The proposal would allow legislators to avoid an ideological battle that the administration's private school voucher plan would provoke and allow funds to go immediately to the children and schools that need them..."This would provide needed accountability for public funds while also providing assistance, something a private school voucher plan would not do," AFT President Edward J. McElroy said.

All displaced students from the affected Gulf areas would benefit and be considered eligible under the AFT proposal because they would be placed in a "high need" status. The local education agencies would provide a certified count of the displaced students enrolled in area public and nonpublic schools. States would be responsible for overseeing the process of counting and certifying local efforts.

An idea that actually thinks about the kids! How novel!