Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush, Alaska, and NCLB: The Week Ahead --

The "Bush" in the title refers to not to the current president but to rural Alaska. This is from a blog of a high school teacher in his fifth year of teaching in an isolated village accessible only by boat, plane or snow machine. Background, and necessary reading is found here in a eye opening article written by this same teacher in the Anchorage Daily News.

Normally, people refer to where I live as bush Alaska. It is remote; there isn't a road in or out. It is isolated; the flights to Anchorage cost nearly $500, and have to go through Bethel. And there are bushes. Well, at least here that's all there is. You have to go nearly 30 miles inland to find trees and those are spindly willows that only grow along the riverbanks.


This week will see a visit from officials at both state and district level. You see, we are a level 4 school. Basically, we are failing. Our kids are failing their standardized tests and they are failing to graduate. Essentially, each year you school fails to meet the requirements (which also change every year, though the basic politico-speak is "proficiency in reading , writing, and math") you move further up the NORAD inspired defcon system of levels. Level 5 is the worst and I'm afraid the visit will only confirm we are heading that way despite my best efforts.

Read the Daily News article and you will discover that these kids have problems you, or the writers of NCLB, never even thought of. The state of Alaska allows communities to declare themselves wet - sale and use of alcohol is permitted, damp - sale is prohibited but use and importation is allowed, or dry - neither sale or importation is allowed. When the article mentions "bootlegging"
they are not necessarily talking about a complicated distillation process. It could mean the fermentation and sale of anything alcoholic, such as fermented sugar and water. The author doesn't talk about it but gasoline "huffing'' is also a big problem in bush Alaska.

One thing the author also does not talk about is there are no educational options for these kids. There are no schools to transfer to. There are no private tutors. NCLB was geared to inner city schools but has been forced on everyone from the Alaskan village to the Indian reservation, to isolated farming and ranching communities to small towns, from mixed suburbs to gated communities, it is all applied the same.

In Alaska these kids really need help. They need someone to show them a future, and right now that future looks like more of the same, teachers that come and go and students that are tested and tested and still fail, as well as a curriculum that is not relevant to their day to day existence. The agenda being pushed by the NCLB crowd is not what they or any of us need. What they do need is another post.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Let's truly have no child left behind --

This opinion piece from Milwaukee offers a refreshing change of mind set from all of the "Test and Privatize" items appearing lately such as here, and here, and here. At least this piece has the right idea, but this piece has the right attitude:

A correlation has been found between a student's financial status and his or her performance on the ACT or SAT. The wealthier the student, the higher the score most likely will be. In MPS (Milwaukee), many high schools do not offer ACT/SAT prep courses. If they are offered, many families cannot afford them.

Low-income families also cannot afford specialized tutoring services that can help their child. The poor child who wants to go to college has to be extraordinarily motivated and seek out the help needed. Many affluent children find it in their college-educated family or on their own computer.

Personally, I find a standardized test score a poor marker for future success. A true picture only emerges from application essays, transcripts and recommendations from people who know the young person. Motivation and drive are not covered on a test.

Many prestigious colleges no longer ask if a child will request financial aid on applications. They want the best and most unique, regardless of finances. This message must get out to all students.

If our poorest and most disadvantaged are given proper guidance, more would achieve success in college. Those in the community who believe in equal access for all students can share their expertise. Offer to visit a high school to talk up your alma mater. Mentoring programs exist all over Milwaukee, and they need volunteers and financial support.

Professionals can also offer visits to low-income students interested in their career field. Chue (the author's adopted son) became even more excited about studying medicine after visiting doctors at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.

We can support scholarship and student loan programs that help the disadvantaged. Poor students are in all communities, but the hardest affected are in rural and urban areas.

So far, Chue has been pleased with acceptance to Purdue and Valparaiso. He's still waiting to hear from the others before making a final decision. He knows he will be attending a top school this fall.

Every qualified young person should be so lucky.

Or at least given a chance.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

To Raise NAEP Scores, Improve Access to Books --

Agghh! I spent quite a while this morning assembling a piece on the movement to link federal college grants and loans to test scores and to the "grade" of the high school the student came from. Then my browser froze at the very end and, well you know. Any of you who are teachers and have a family know how precious time can be, so reassembling that article will have to wait. For now I offer this letter from Steven Krashen to Ed Week. Although I believe that his argument is a little simplistic he makes some good points.

To the Editor:

You report that comparing 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores from 11 cities is not beneficial in determining the effectiveness of reading approaches("NAEP Results Offer Scant Insight Into Best Reading Strategies," Jan. 11, 2006.) . But NAEP has taught us a great deal: NAEP results consistently confirm that children with more access to reading material read better, and that children who read more likewise read better.

NAEP itself has reported a positive relationship between the amount of reading children do and how well they perform on its reading test. Also, NAEP analyses have shown that scores are higher when teachers give students more time to read books of their own choosing.

In an analysis of NAEP scores in 41 states, Jeff McQuillan, in his book The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, reported a strong relationship between performance on the NAEP test and the quality of children’s overall print environment (books available at home, school libraries, and public libraries). This relationship remained when the effect of poverty was controlled.

We should also consider the interesting case of California. That state’s extremely low score on NAEP in 1992 was blamed on whole-language reading instruction. Yet, despite the purge of whole language from California schools and the introduction of intensive, systematic phonics, there has been no significant improvement in California’s NAEP scores: The state still ranks near the bottom among states that took the national assessment, tied for next to last in 2005. California has the worst school libraries in the nation and among the worst public libraries. This was true in 1992 and remains so today.

These results suggest that the way to get higher NAEP scores is to improve children’s access to books, and the most obvious way for schools to do this is to improve their libraries. Studies show that when interesting and comprehensible reading materials are available, children do in fact read. Perhaps NAEP scores have “stagnated” because we have not considered this easily discerned way of improving reading.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

City schools chief says NCLB robs citizens of local control

Things are heating up in Connecticut. this is an article from the New Britain paper. The lawsuit that the state's attorney general is bringing against the feds and NCLB apparrently goes to court on Tuesday according to this article about yet another town backing the suit.

NEW BRITAIN -- Doris Kurtz, the city’s schools superintendent says she’s 100 percent behind the recent decision by the school board to support a lawsuit by state attorney general Richard Blumenthal challenging the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"With mandates, the control is elsewhere and forces you to use the money the way they prioritize it," Kurtz said.

"There is a loss of local control, and ever since the law went into effect in 2002, we’ve had more money cut each year, with more initiatives added.

"Mandates are someone else’s priorities, so that means that it’s less for you to have priority over, because you have to give whatever focus is required first to the resources to the mandates, and what’s left you get to manage,"Kurtz said.

"That may or may not be the same mandates as you, but you don’t have a choice."

Kurtz also criticized the way the NCLB program is designed.

"The focus is so narrow, we don’t have the finances to focus on the whole child. It’s something we need to do, and much more than that," Kurtz said.

"(If) they think it’s important enough to have this law, you have to have the money to meet the demands.

"You can’t calculate all of the money that it costs us in human resource time." She said when her staff spends time on mandated items, it depletes resources for local initiatives.
Currently, 109 of the 169 school boards have endorsed Blumenthal’s NCLB suit since he filed suit in August. Connecticut is the only state to challenge the law in court.

And now, according to the article mentioned previously, it is currently 117 0ut of 169 school boards that have joined the suit. That is very impressive. This is one to watch. i do not have much hope but we shall just have to wait and see.

Friday, January 27, 2006

No child left a chance --

This opinion piece was written by junior marketing major Anika Fontaine and was first printed in the University of Maryland's on-line news paper Diamond Back On-Line on January 26, 2006. Even young college students are beginning to see the light about NCLB:


It is clear the public education system is failing many of America’s low-income children. The current administration’s solution is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), passed in 2002. This education reform plan, based on high standards and accountability, relies on extensive standardized testing to measure the progress of a school. Schools that do not improve their test scores face consequences such as public humiliation, budget cuts or, in extreme situations, closing school. But NCLB has not improved education (even if test scores have risen) — it has actually made the situation worse.

The problem with the standardized tests imposed by NCLB is they cannot test the most important and useful skills education is supposed to give. Problem solving, analyzing, powerful writing, imagination and the connection of ideas are all skills that aren’t tested. Suddenly, instead of enjoying history and reading literature, children have to memorize dates and find syntax errors in sentences. Their education turns into a year-long cramming session for annual tests.

Schools in low-income areas reacted with fear to the possibility of losing much-needed funding and decided to focus on improving test scores, at the loss of any meaningful education. Curricula were standardized and narrowed to what the tests could easily measure, and teachers were given “teacher-proof,” scripted lesson plans. Teachers are supposed to give a child a love for learning and a thirst for knowledge. But how can teachers do so if they are given no room for creativity in the classroom? No opportunity to create a relationship with their students?

This is, in the most basic sense, a fast-food approach to education. The children are hamburgers; the teachers are temporary, unskilled employees performing routine motions. But children aren’t just hamburgers. Some are chicken fingers, some are french fries and others are strawberry milkshakes...For the benefit of the children, teachers must be able to vary their approaches according to the needs of their students.

So what would solve the problems facing public education? Of course, nothing can be solved by merely throwing money at it, but increased funding — guided to the neediest school districts — would go a very long way here. Many low-income schools are still trying to catch up to schools in wealthier areas by fixing the often dangerously decrepit school facilities or by buying updated text books for the students. Moreover, the NCLB should be abolished in order to develop curricula that are flexible enough to allow teachers discretion in their methods instead of pushing all students through mind-numbing tests.

The public education system will face problems for many years to come, and it will take a lot of dedication and time to salvage it. The failure of the education system is a very complex issue for which there is not the one-size-fits-all solution many programs such as NCLB are touted to be. To make a difference, we need to develop a new and adaptable way of thinking about education focused on the needs of students and not the scores of schools.

Why do our political leaders see problems in black and white when even young college students can see the shades of gray?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The McGraw-Hill Companies Reports 12.8% Increase in Earnings Per Share for 2005 --

It has happened again. McGraw Hill, with it's close ties to the Bush family, is making wads of money thanks to NCLB and Reading First.This from MSN Money:
"The McGraw-Hill School Education Group's revenue grew by 18.5% to $1.5 billion in 2005 and by 23.6% to $267.5 million in the fourth quarter.
In the best year so far in this promising decade for the U.S. elementary- high school market -- industry sales were up 10.7% through November, according to the Association of American Publishers -- we had outstanding results and captured share. Our ability to capitalize on the strong 2005 state new adoption market was key.

"Texas presented the single largest opportunity in the state new adoption market with dual funding of materials for Proclamation 2001 and Proclamation 2002. With a 57% market share in K-12 music and a 43% share in K-12 health, we were the overall leader in Texas, capturing 33% of the available funds.

"Reading First, a key program created as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, produced incremental revenue in the fourth quarter and for the year.

"The No Child Left Behind Act also continues to expand the testing market as states prepare for the first time to test all students in grades three through eight in reading and math before the end of the current academic year. We realized incremental revenue in 2005 and in the fourth quarter stemming from the federal mandate, but increased state demand for customized tests continues to put pressure on our margins.

I just can't help but think that money would be better spent on things like smaller class sizes, better teacher inservicing, and adequate supplies and materials for the classroom. Instead we ahve created an expanding "testing market."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Power Grabbing For School Curriculum Standards Under Cover Of Secrecy --

This comes from a blog called Jim Downey's Rants and Raves. Also check out Jim Horns' post on the same subject.

...Amidst a 774-page budget bill, tucked deep into the body of the document without fanfare or publicity, was a $3.75 billion initiative that puts the federal government in charge of ranking the 18,000 high schools. Not only will the federal government rank each school; it will now have a major role in determining curriculum standards, a role that has traditionally been the province of local school boards and state departments of education.

Most of what he talks about is what he perceives as a "federal power grab" but it is his facts that I find most interesting:

The Bush-backed measure would provide inconsequential grants (up to $1,300) to low-income college freshmen and sophomores having completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study." Larger grants, but equally inconsequential given the cost of most college tuition, will be available to juniors and seniors studying math, science and other critical fields.

Although this part of the budget bill has to yet pass the house, it empowers the secretary of education to define the criteria of what constitutes rigorous and allows the DOE to set standards for high school curriculums in order to qualify students for these grants.

Being aware that the initiative could be seen for what it is a grab for power reserved to state and local authority members of the Bush administration, the Republican leadership and the DOE have vowed to consult with governors, state departments of education and local school boards. Such promises smack of the same trust me approach Bush and his cohorts have used in terms of other grabs for power, including the secret spying by the NSA. The Bush administration has earned a lot of credibility offering up the trust me defense of such actions. NOT!
However, sensible minds have taken notice that the fed, under the small governmentRepublican banner, is indeed trying to usurp power and gain control. Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, stated that this initiative "involves the federal government in curricular matters in a way that opens a new chapter in educational history. Hartle added, I'm very sympathetic to the goal of getting more students to take more math and science courses, but this particular plan has the potential to turn the Department of Education into a national school board."
This initiative would have some profound effects on schools. While we can conjecture that most schools would strive to qualify as having a rigorous curriculum (however vaguely defined by the DOE), what would happen to the overall curriculum for students not bound for college? Even with recent increased percentages, the national average for those completing a 4-year college degree is only 20-25% for high school graduates. (National Center for Education Statistics and US Census Bureau). While these averages increase for suburban communities and places of affluence, the overall average is only 20 to 25%, depending upon the source of the data and the method used to collect that data. Interestingly enough, that statistic represents a dramatic increase. In the early 1990s the range was only 15 to 18%.

So what would this initiative do for schools that do not ordinarily produce a lot of college bound graduates? Many rural schools produce graduates that want a career in agriculture. Many inner city schools have a lot of students that pursue vocations in the so-called trades.Would students graduating from a technical-vocational high school be left out of this initiative? What would happen to inner city schools that have a disproportionate number of learning disabled students? There is a certain amount of elitism built into this initiative. There is also a lot of discrimination against schools that do not have students that are focused on college while in high school. What will happen to students that want to pursue college through one of the community colleges rather than start off in a four-year program? This initiative is way out of balance in far too many ways.

Bush has drawn from his days as the governor of Texas and attempted to bring forth a model that has not worked effectively in Texas. Like the No Child Left Behind law, there is great promise but no substance. NCLB has not been properly or fully funded. NCLB is also out of balance with the realities faced by many schools. The NCLB model and the model of this new initiative places all schools, all teachers and all students in a pigeon-holed box that does not allow for differences of learning, needs of different school populations, and the individual needs of students.
The only role the federal government should have in education is funding and supporting the effort states and local boards make toward striving for excellence, leaving it to the states and local authorities to determine those standards.

Unfortunately the push right now is for a National Curriculum.necessarilyhis is neccasarily a bad idea but right now in this current climate with this particular administration I'm scared of what it would look like.
All this when they have just made major cuts to continuing education funding including money for vocational programs and grants and loans to those in need as well as raised the interest rates on the loans that are still available. What do all these mixed messages mean? What do you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shall We Dance? (The Privatization of Education) --

I was steered to this older item by a post at Susan Ohanian's site. As she says, this is a must read and it is. It is about Canada but offers some real insights into what is happening in public education in the U.S. today. Read it all, but here are some excerpts as motivation...

At a 1998 Education Industry Summit, Charles Ivey was perplexed that so little of his dream of privatizing Canadian education had come to pass...

AT A 1997 investment seminar, promoted as "The First Canadian Education Industry Summit," an American analyst claimed that Canada's schools were ripe for the picking. Canadians, he noted approvingly, were not encumbered by all the political baggage that Americans bring to the privatization debate.1

The sold-out audience did nothing to contradict this assessment of Canadian complacency. Participants from the education sector exchanged business cards just as enthusiastically as those whose interest in education was limited to how it could contribute to their clients' bottom lines. There was no scent of animosity in the room, no evidence of values in conflict. When the chairman of the summit, Charles Ivey, claimed that "the sound you hear is an industry about to be blown up," no one rushed for cover. (All emphasis is mine.)

Everyone took notes when Stephen Beatty, from the investment house KPMG (one of the summit's sponsors), patiently explained that "the value of an education is what people are willing to pay for it" But Canada has been giving it away for free, Beatty complained, which really isn't fair. The champions of the for-profit education market are out to level the playing field. They have found eager allies in what Michael Apple calls the conservative alliance -- even though this club is not restricted to conservatives.2 Entrepreneurs, free-marketers, right-wing ideologues, fed-up taxpayers, religious fundamentalists, and radical education reformers may make strange bedfellows, but they have found a common mission: dismantling the monopoly of public education so that market rules can be applied to the business of schooling
Politicians, opinion leaders, and the media have promoted these reforms as apolitical, efficient, and empowering. Any suspicion that they have been intended to imitate privatization, at best, or induce it, at worst, is not part of the authorized debate. Parents can easily be persuaded to focus on new curricula, new report cards, and new standards -- reforms that are much more concrete than the philosophy of school governance. Criticism has been muted. What reckless politician or union leader would challenge "parent involvement"? Yet public education is public only if it is governed democratically. Quasi-volunteer parent councils, no matter how dedicated their members, are not elected by the public and have neither the mandate nor the mechanisms to be held accountable to that public. Forced to concentrate only on their school's market share and competitive advantage, parents soon lose interest in what misfortune befalls other schools and other people's children.

This is how the public is groomed to accept privatization, because privatization starts with perception. In rhetoric and reality, education is recast as a private good, not a public service. Those who have children in school are urged to judge the curriculum, teachers, and even other students on their contribution to the bottom line of personal advantage. Those who have no children in school get the message that what happens there is of no consequence to them, since they are no longer shareholders. Surely it is only a matter of time until this substantial majority of nonparents concludes that it no longer wishes to pay taxes to support an institution it neither uses nor influences. Then the other shoe drops. If parents are the school's only customers, let parents be the only ones who foot the bill.
Privatization also ducks behind the confusion that thrives when everything is reformed simultaneously. Critics have had their hands full merely keeping track of new developments, let alone linking them to a common agenda. In systems where school secretarial work has been shifted to volunteers granted easy access to confidential student records, there has been controversy over privacy, but not privatization.
Canada participates in a variety of alliances in the Americas, among Francophone countries, and within the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), but its participation in APEC influences government policy most directly. This opinion is not widely shared among Canadians, perhaps because our governments dismiss APEC as merely an opportunity for good friends to exchange deep thoughts about mutual economic advantage. Few find reason or opportunity to challenge this official position, and APEC activities are hardly the focus of daily newscasts.
According to APEC, the goals of education and their achievement must be subjected to market forces: "Decisions must be taken by a school system for good business reasons with maximum business intervention." The paper criticizes the teaching of "concepts and theories" and "learning for the sake of learning" -- wasteful activities that could be eliminated by subjecting schools to "business practices."

There is of course much more. Please, read it for yourself.

Horn Further Unspins AIR "study" --

Especially if you read Jim Horn's first post on the now often misrepresented AIR study, you will want to read this post and the one in between. This study has been spun and a way must be found for unspinning.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Leave testing plan behind --

They are at it again. Even though more and more people and groups are coming out against NCLB every day, the "Privatize everything we don't want to pay any taxes (except to spend %50 more on the military than the rest of the world combined,) group wants to test at the university level as well. Now they have come out with the first study to back up their arguments. I read about it in my home town newspaper this morning then saw this great comment from Jim over at Schools Matter:
AIR, (
American Institutes for Research) which has profited mightily from federal research and Reading First oversight grants under the present regime, continues to prostitute itself by spinning its own research to pretend that it says something that it does not say. The current effort, which goes nicely with the recent one that tries to justify the use of chain-gang pedagogy in K-12 (see previous post here), represents a sustained attempt to the prime the pump for the anticipated gush of support for federal meddling in higher education by corporationist interlopers—which, in the end, is aimed at privatizing universities so that they become wholly the campus laboratories for corporate research and development. After all, the Chinese do it—except that their dictatorship is on a government payroll rather than a corporate one. Whatever—the world is flat, remember?!
Be sure to read on to see how this news article is spun.

Anyway, the editorial that titles this post, from the Daily Iowan, makes a good case against testing at the university level:

Last month, the National Department of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education suggested it was likely to propose standardized testing for college students. Chairman Charles Miller said the commission might recommend that the test scores be linked to whether a school qualifies for federal accreditation or student financial aid. This is part of the Bush administration's push for more accountability in education and to keep the U.S. education system competitive with the rest of the world.
The goal of this program would clearly be similar to that of the No Child Left Behind Act - to promote achievement through competition for funds and benefits. But, unlike elementary and secondary schools, this sort of competition already exists at universities as they vie to recruit top students and faculty, secure research grants and financial aid, and increase diversity. Plus, universities have plenty of incentive to offer a challenging and relevant curriculum - successful alumni ensure the schools' futures. And, many universities routinely undergo an accreditation process to hold them accountable for their education strategies.

Worse, implementing standardized tests could threaten to make a college education less accessible to U.S. students. As we watch our tuition continue to rise, it is evident that many universities are already short on funding. In an effort to ensure that they receive federal aid, many schools might be tempted to increase admissions standards, only admitting students they know will score well in testing.

The best way to hold universities accountable for the quality of their education is to encourage transparency among schools, so state governments need not rely on regulation to measure student achievement. But it is essential that policymakers take into account the vast diversity that exists: Different universities attract different students, and they vary so much in terms of philosophy that it would be impossible to hold them to a single educational standard.
In any case, the Department of Education must be careful not to focus solely on the issue of accountability. Just as much effort should be put into making college accessible to all motivated students and supporting innovation in science and technology. Universities should be encouraged to strive for advancement in specialized fields instead of being forced to adhere to uniform standards. A postsecondary version of No Child Left Behind is not the way to maintain the American university system's reputation as the best in the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Will teaching be a lost art?

Opinion from the Baltimore Sun, January 17, 2006, by Walt Gardner

The test is everything. Prepare for the test. Tie teachers salaries to test scores. Give whole schools bonuses for raising test scores. Look here for a dismal example of what can happen when the test is everything. Walt Gardner has some serious warnings as well. (Emphasis and comments are mine.)

With Teacher Man by Frank McCourt a nonfiction best-seller, the moment is right to question the way we are preparing teachers for the more than 53 million children in the nation's public schools. The answer to the inquiry has more than mere pedagogical appeal because it will ultimately help nurture the values that we cherish as Americans.

What Mr. McCourt's memoirs of his years teaching English in New York City's high schools make clear is that inspired instruction is more an art form than a scientific endeavor. Mr. McCourt was at his memorable best when he jettisoned lesson plans tied to the mandated curriculum and relied instead on his inner talent to reach seemingly unreachable students.

This special connection between teacher and student - part magic, part mystery - places Mr. McCourt in the same company as Pat Conroy and Jonathan Kozol.

Mr. Conroy's days teaching poor children on a remote island off the coast of South Carolina were captured in The Water is Wide, later made into Conrack, a movie starring Jon Voight.

Mr. Kozol's career teaching in the impoverished Roxbury section of Boston formed the basis for Death at an Early Age, which received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy and Religion.

It's a telling commentary that both Mr. Conroy and Mr. Kozol were fired for their unconventional teaching practices, despite their success in the classroom with children who had been written off as hopeless.

These are largely the same children that today's federal No Child Left Behind law is supposed to help.

Yet despite cases of teachers - famous and obscure - who leave behind an indelible imprint on their charges by following their inner compasses, we persist in the fiction that teaching has a unique pedagogy that can be inculcated. The nation's 1,300 schools of education continue to imbue teacher candidates with principles of effective instruction in the comforting delusion that by doing so, novices will become "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind.

The experts are so certain of their evidence that they have persuaded increasing numbers of school districts to require the use of daily scripted lesson plans. This disturbing trend calls into question whether schools need teachers in the first place.

If the approach achieves what supporters claim, then why not hire any adult who is capable of reading and following directions spelled out in minute details? (Why not? Could this be what they have in mind? Hmmm...) Districts could significantly reduce their payroll costs and get the same results that they maintain signify educational quality.

All of which leads to the most important point: Teachers are considered to be the single most influential factor in student learning.

But if teachers are also viewed essentially as automatons who are interchangeable because they are all expected to rely on the same techniques, then we may be able to put a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom according to the letter but not the spirit of the law. They may boost the standardized test scores that have become the sine qua non in today's accountability movement, but they won't be the teachers we remember. They won't be the teachers who teach us how to think, to dream and to create. They won't be the ones who change our lives in ways that are not quantifiable on tests.

They certainly won't be the next Frank McCourt, Pat Conroy or Jonathan Kozol.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ravitch, the Radical Revisionist? --

Another great post from Jim Horn at Schools Matter. Read it.

Community will lose with new retirement plan for public employees --

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner December 25, 2005, By Tim Parker

Another post about
Alaskan issues. I happened to come across this while researching the previous post. It's not NCLB but it is related, as I see it, to the organized attempt to drastically alter public education that resulted in NCLB. This, to take away hard fought retirement systems and replace it with something much less. In this state, with harsh climate, vast distances and few roads, at least %25 of teachers are imported from outside the state. We need to be able to draw these teachers. As this opinion piece shows the new changes in law will make that even more difficult. (Emphasis is mine)


(Alaska)... has long attracted top-notch teachers because of the quality of the community, as well as the reasonable salary and retirement.

However, this could soon change.

Changes to the state's retirement system--known as Senate Bill 141--have put in place incentives that will encourage new employees to leave.

Instead of the defined-benefit system that the state used for decades, starting next July newly hired employees will get a 401(k), also referred to as a defined-contribution plan. If they stay five years, the state will match the amount the employee puts in, and the employee can leave, taking their money and the state's money with them.

At an AARP meeting at the Noel Wien Public Library on Dec. 17, Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Gary Wilken were asked if they had calculated how much money would leave the state under this new plan. Neither had an answer.

The real difficulty with the new plan is that teachers in Alaska do not collect Social Security. Now, under the new plan, a teacher could work for dozens of years, puts thousands into a 401(k), and if the market did not perform well, or something else went wrong, they could be left with nothing, as in zip, or zilch.

Asked what would happen to these public employees who outlived their defined-contribution plan, Kelly and Wilken had no answer.

Another potentially serious issue for taxpayers is that the new plan is likely to cost more than the old one. Right now, the income put into the defined-benefit plan pays the benefits of current retired workers. In the new plan, the money to pay future retirees will come out of Alaska's general fund.

That would mean less for roads and other public services, said Wilken. At the AARP meeting, Sam Trivette, a member of the Alaska Retirement Management Board said other states--West Virginia, Nebraska and Michigan--scrapped their 401(k)-style plans after discovering they cost more money.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of the AARP meeting came when a woman stood up next to her two daughters and explained that the cuts to retirement and pay in Alaska have forced her to encourage her daughters--who are in college and thinking about becoming teachers--to look to the Lower 48 for employment.

Kelly said that if the daughters were only after money, then they should leave. He made a broad wave of his arm and said, "Adios."

Is this really the attitude of legislators toward future Alaska teachers? Do we really want to encourage our best and brightest to leave Alaska instead of staying and becoming teachers?

Keeping teachers in Alaska was becoming harder even before SB 141. Teacher salaries in Alaska have been on a steady decline for the past 10 years compared with other states. In fact, Alaska went from the top three in the country in the early 1990s to 11th in 2003-2004. When cost of living is factored in, Alaska now ranks 36th.


A diminished retirement will create a revolving door that will not only hurt the community but ultimately children.

Tim Parker is a teacher at Lathrop High School and vice president of the Fairbanks Education Association, a union representing the approximately 1,000 teachers in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Murkowski: Pay teachers for results --

This is from the Juneau Empire from January 12, 2006. Two other related artices can be found in the Anchorage Daily News and here in the Fairbanks News Miner, and an earlier mention here.

It seems our governor in his wisdom, along with his commissioner of education,
Roger Sampson, have proposed to give bonuses of up to $5,000 to all members of a school staff if they show that they have raised student achievement. The plans are still sketchy, but fom these articles we learn:

from the earlier News Miner Article:

Ann Shortt, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District superintendent says:

"There would be three levels of compensation...The money would not come from the state education budget, she said. The education department would have to ask the legislature for extra money to fund the plan.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the plan would cost millions. Sampson (the ed. commisioner) told him and other legislators about the idea in the spring.

The bonuses wouldn't be based entirely on test scores, he said.

"It's based on all sorts of criteria," he said. "I liked what I saw, but it was very sketchy."

Wilken said he hasn't heard from Sampson since the April discussion, but the plan would have to be approved by the Legislature.

But in the Daily News piece another legislator weighs in differently:

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the Department of Education could use the governor's proposed $90 million increase for education to fund the program.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that scares me. I'm not sure I like the plan at all but if legislature does not find more money for the program the funds will come out of the classrooms. This cannnot be allowed to happen.

from News Miner 2:

Bill Bjork, president of NEA-Alaska, said giving educators additional pay is a good idea, but it depends where the money comes from.

The governor has proposed a $90 million increase to education funding and some legislators have suggested using that pot of money to pay for the new program. But the teachers' union argues that school districts need a $140 million increase just to maintain current programs.

"The proposal has merit as long as it doesn't come out of the base school funding formula," Bjork said.

Wilken said he would support adding money to the education budget to fund the program if it turns out to be viable.

It's good news that Wilkens will support the extra money, but I won't hold my breath. It must be said that the $90 million figure just keeps us at status quo. The $140 milliuon number would allow reduced class sizes and programs that really could make a difference. We must remember that raising fuel costs in Alaska and especially in rural Alaska are taking a big chunk of those funds.

from the Daily News:

The program's cost would be difficult to gauge at the outset, (Sampson) said, and would depend on how successful the program is. For example, Sampson said it could cost $15 million if a quarter of the state's school staff members qualify for the highest bonus, but only about $3 million if 5 percent of the staff qualifies.

He figures that as little as 5% of the schools might qualify and a top figure of 25%!?!? Doesn't sound like a very effective plan to me.

From News Miner 1:

Ross Bolding, the superintendent of the Alaska Gateway School District, isn't too sure the plan is a good idea. The seven schools in Alaska's Upper Tanana school district are suffering from budget shortfalls. He'd rather have more money for a music program or better library services for the students in Northway, Tok, Tanacross and other Gateway district communities.

He thinks teachers will be discouraged by a performance based-pay system, making it even harder for rural Alaska school districts to hire and maintain teachers.

"I'm all for incentives, but we're not turning out widgets," Bolding said. "I certainly applaud the commissioner for trying to be truly innovative, but we're in a terrible fix right now."

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, questions paying for extra programs when some school districts struggle with meeting basic needs.

"We need to be funding not only at an adequate level but a little bit extra," he said.

Susan Stitham, a former member of the state Board of Education and University of Alaska Board of Regents, questioned whether such a plan would work in Alaska. She's never heard of a successful performance for pay plan from the many that have been tried across the U.S., she said. That's because measuring a child's development is difficult because students are diversely influenced.

"It's virtually impossible to identify with any objectivity who is responsible for student success," she said. "It's pretty darn hard to measure."

Stitham criticized Sampson's method of drawing up the bonus plan. Those who will be affected by the plan haven't been asked for testimony or input, she said. A successful bonus system has to have the cooperation of the stakeholders.

"Process is the key," she said. "The community needs to have an opportunity to say we need to do this, because they never got to say we need a graduation exam."

from the News:

Sampson said the incentives would attract the best and brightest teachers to Alaska. But Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asked what would happen if the best teachers look for the best chances for reward.

"If they are motivated by money, they will look at schools that have achieved the most (in bonuses) and leave the others behind," he said.

from News Miner 2

Educators were also concerned how the program would measure achievement among students with special needs and those who speak English as a second language--some of the most difficult children to educate.

"It's a fairness issue," Bjork (state teacher's union president) said. "Are there going to be some schools, based on the kids they serve, that will never be able to meet the benchmarks to earn a bonus?"

Bjork said his organization is waiting to see the fiscal details of the program before making a decision.

"In a perfect world, this money would just go directly to the local school districts because we think the schools have a much better idea about what will help students," he said.

And according to the articles both Sampson and Wilkens are in favor of a pilot program or programs. At least we might have a chance to see if it is even possible to pull this off.

But this from the News is perhaps the most troubling issue for me as a teacher of young children:

...the Alaska program would track and award points for each student's progress on the state's standards-based assessments from year to year. Points would be totaled and divided by the number of students in the school to gauge the school's overall progress.

and from Miner 2:

Sampson said the state would compare individual student performance with the previous year in six categories and award a school points based on whether a student moved up or down in the categories.

The points would be compiled and divided by the number of students in a particular school to determine the school's overall progress.

Does this mean we will be testing every child every year, And How many times per year? Do Alaska's parents really want their children to feel the stress of these tests every year beginning in kindergarten? Look at other schools in other places and you will see what can happen. The arts are gone, gym is gone, real critical thinking has been forsaken. There isn't time we must prepare for the test. We must teach to the test. We must teach how to take the test. We must prepare the kids to succeed on the test. Is this what we want for all of our kids, every year? I do not think so.

When we talk about costs let us not forget the costs of the test themselves, and the costs of the oversite and administration of all these tests.

There are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. I just hope that we can ask the right quetions so that we can properly consider the real costs of this proposal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Greg Palast: No Child's Behind Left - The Test

From Scoop,

New York -- Today and tomorrow every 8-year-old in the state of New York will take a test. It's part of George Bush's No Child Left Behind program. The losers will be left behind to repeat the third grade.

Try it yourself. This is from the state's actual practice test. Ready, class?

"The year 1999 was a big one for the Williams sisters. In February, Serena won her first pro singles championship. In March, the sisters met for the first time in a tournament final. Venus won. And at doubles tennis, the Williams girls could not seem to lose that year." And here's one of the four questions:

"The story says that in 1999, the sisters could not seem to lose at doubles tennis. This probably means when they played

"A two matches in one day
"B against each other
"C with two balls at once
"D as partners"

OK, class, do you know the answer? (By the way, I didn't cheat: there's nothing else about "doubles" in the text.)

My kids go to a New York City school in which more than half the students live below the poverty line. There is no tennis court.

There are no tennis courts in the elementary schools of Bed-Stuy or East Harlem. But out in the Hamptons, every school has a tennis court. In Forest Hills, Westchester and Long Island's North Shore, the schools have nearly as many tennis courts as the school kids have live-in maids.

Now, you tell me, class, which kids are best prepared to answer the question about "doubles tennis"? The 8-year-olds in Harlem who've never played a set of doubles or the kids whose mommies disappear for two hours every Wednesday with Enrique the tennis pro?

Is this test a measure of "reading comprehension" -- or a measure of wealth accumulation?

If you have any doubts about what the test is measuring, look at the next question, based on another part of the text, which reads (and I could not make this up):

"Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs. In this sentence, a club is probably a

"F baseball bat
"G tennis racquet
"H tennis court
"J country club"

Helpfully, for the kids in our 'hood, it explains that a "country club" is a, "place where people meet." Yes, but WHICH people?

President Bush told us, " By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, we are regularly testing every child and making sure they have better options when schools are not performing."

But there are no "better options." In the delicious double-speak of class war, when the tests have winnowed out the chaff and kids stamped failed, No Child Left results in that child being left behind in the same grade to repeat the failure another year.

I can 't say that Mr. Bush doesn' t offer better options to the kids stamped failed. Under No Child Left, if enough kids flunk the tests, their school is marked a failure and its students win the right, under the law, to transfer to any successful school in their district. You can' t provide more opportunity than that. But they don 't provide it, the law promises it, without a single penny to make it happen. In New York in 2004, a third of a million students earned the right to transfer to better schools -- in which there were only 8,000 places open.

New York is typical. Nationwide, only one out of two-hundred students eligible to transfer manage to do it. Well, there' s always the Army. (That option did not go unnoticed: No Child has a special provision requiring schools to open their doors to military recruiters.)

Hint: When de-coding politicians ' babble, to get to the real agenda, don't read their lips, read their budgets. And in his last budget, our President couldn' t spare one thin dime for education, not ten cents. Mr. Big Spender provided for a derisory 8.4 cents on the dollar of the cost of primary and secondary schools. Congress appropriated a half penny of the nation's income -- just one-half of one-percent of America 's twelve trillion dollar GDP -- for primary and secondary education.

President Bush actually requested less. While Congress succeeded in prying out an itty-bitty increase in voted funding, that doesn' t mean the extra cash actually gets to the students. Fifteen states have sued the federal government on the grounds that the cost of new testing imposed on schools, $3.9 billion, eats up the entire new funding budgeted for No Child Left.

There are no "better options" for failing children, but there are better uses for them. The President ordered testing and more testing to hunt down, identify and target millions of children too expensive, too heavy a burden, to educate.

No Child Left offers no options for those with the test-score mark of Cain -- no opportunities, no hope, no plan, no funding. Rather, it is the new social Darwinism, educational eugenics: identify the nation's loser-class early on. Trap them then train them cheap.

Someone has to care for the privileged. No society can have winners without lots and lots of losers. And so we have No Child Left Behind -- to produce the new worker drones that will clean the toilets at the Yale Alumni Club, punch the cash registers color-coded for illiterates, and pamper the winner-class on the higher floors of the new economic order.

Class war dismissed.


See a clip of the actual practice test at http://www.GregPalast.com


Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Read his investigative reports at http://www.GregPalast.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The No Child Left Behind Act Does Not Serve Students

Letter to the editor from first grade teacher Joe Navarro. From the Hollister Free Lance, January 6, 2006:

...In practice, the NCLB has restricted people of color to receive more remedial education, drill-n-skill instruction and rote memorization where art, music, science and other subjects are sacrificed. These students are often not challenged with learning that elevates their higher-order thinking skills or problem solving skills. The NCLB does not adequately address the need to distribute resources equitably so that the most disadvantaged students can be sufficiently prepared for school. Also, while schools may be punished under the guidelines of the NCLB for having low test scores, there are no penalties for fostering racial and ethnic segregation or other harmful racist practices...

No there ain't.

College Funds or Yacht Funds? --

By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. © Tribune Media Services, from Black news.com

The Reverend Jackson hits home in this comment. Read the whole thing. It is pretty long, so here are some excerpts: (Emphasis is mine)

One resolution for the new year: let’s make clear the choices we are making as a country. I am certain that if Americans understood the choices that are being made, they would be outraged – whether conservative or liberal, male or female, rich or poor, whatever their race, religion or region.

Consider one choice the Congress is about to make. If the current leadership has its way, the Congress will pass over $100 billion in tax cuts early this year, the vast bulk of which will go to the very wealthy. At the same time, it will cast the final vote to make the largest cut in student college loan programs in history – some $12.7 billion over five years.

I doubt that many Americans would support raising the cost of college for students in order to reduce taxes on the wealthiest Americans, yet that is exactly what the administration and the conservative leadership of Congress are planning.


This comes at a time when tuitions and fees are soaring. After factoring out inflation, private college costs have risen by over 1/3 in the last 10 years. Public college costs have soared by over 50%. States are cutting back public subsidies to colleges, forcing them to raise tuitions and fees. We are witnessing the slow privatization of higher education. The result is to price college out of the reach of more and more American families.

These costs are rising just as we tell Americans that college or specialized training after high school is the sole ticket to the middle class. The good union jobs in industry that paid wages, pensions and health care are disappearing fast. Our leaders – whether Bill Clinton or George Bush – say they can’t do anything about that. But, they argue, get your child a college education and they will do just fine in the global economy of the 21st century. Without that, the next generation is likely to face a future less secure and less fortunate than their parents.

Yet at the same time our leaders tell us that college is indispensable, fewer and fewer families can afford it... ...

At this moment, our leaders should be summoning the nation to a major effort to insure that college education is affordable to all. The wealthy should insist on paying higher taxes to insure that the children of all Americans can afford the education that they will need. Corporations should be unleashing their high priced lobbyists to demand that legislators increase grant and loan programs, and that states increase their subsidies to public schools.

Instead, the Bush administration demanded cuts in student loans, and the right-wing that controls the Congress voted for the largest cut ever – even as they insist on cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans. This doesn’t make sense and isn’t popular. So the Republican leadership mislead Americans about what they have done. Republican legislators have been on TV parroting the claim that the cuts will provide “significant new benefits” to students, by lowering fees and simplifying the application process. What they don’t admit is that parents and students, already struggling to make ends meet, will end up paying thousands more in higher interest rates.

Educating the next generation isn’t a time for political posturing, for clever spin, for misleading parents and kids. Let’s resolve to make the choices clear. And let Americans decide whether the choices made by the current crowd in power make sense for America.

This message need to get out to more and more Americans. Spread the word!

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Must Read Blog

It occurred to me today that I check this blog two or three times a day every day. I consider this a must read. Written by Jim Horn a professor of teacher education, I believe, at Monmouth University in New Jersey, and a student of his Judy Rabin. Recent posts include:

Poor Students Pay for Katrina,
How do these guys sleep at night?

Here's an interesting take on the budgetary priorities of our elected officials you won't find on CNN. Chairman of the Education Committee calls for deeper cuts?


Tightening the Noose on Teachers

As pressure mounts under NCLB's impossible mandates, teaching to the test is fast becoming the mantra of know-nothing and dangerous politicians like Republican State Senator Teresa S. Lubbers, of Indianapolis who equates raising test scores with learning. She has introduced a bill in the Indiana legislature that ties ISTEP to teacher ratings.


Targeting Colleges of Ed
An enemy generally says and believes what he wishes
-- Thomas Jefferson

Out to destroy the last bastion of liberal or progressive thinking, George Will gets on board with Horowitz and Tierney in an attack on professors and specifically on colleges of ed. This is a new low even for Newsweek.


"Stereotype Threat" -- A New Phenomenon?,
Tampa Tribune -- January 8, 2006

by Adam Emerson St. Petersburg

The message is everywhere, black students say: You perform far worse than your white classmates, especially on high-stakes tests.

And much, much more. Check it out!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: Local educators launch effort to show legislators challenges facing schools

From an article in the Northern Illinois, Times, January 7, 2006, by MELISSA GARZANELLI, melissag@mywebtimes.com

This article is about local action. It's about getting legislators into the schools to see what the effects of NCLB are. This is something that could and should be happening in small towns and big cities all over the country. (Emphasis is mine)

STREATOR -- At Centennial School in Streator on Friday, two fifth-grade students read a section of a sample test of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test that they will take later this year.

One student easily relays the information about the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, reading the text that will supply the answers to the upcoming questions. Later that morning, the other student struggles over the same text, painstakingly working to pronounce each word.

"He has made tremendous gains," Linda Brooks, a special education teacher at Centennial, said to state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who visited the school Friday. " ... But what I've seen doesn't count on the ISAT. He has had problems in his life, but he never ceases to amaze me."

The session with Mautino was part of an effort by local schools who are part of VOICE -- a regional education lobbying group made up of more than 40 school districts -- to educate legislators about the challenges facing schools.

"The VOICE group, of which I am a board member, said we have got to get legislators into our schools so they can see and hear the human interest stories," said Ed Allen, superintendent of the Streator Elementary School District. " ... Then they can go back to the legislative session and tell these stories."


"It seems the majority of laws passed are geared toward preK-12 education. It would be foolish not to be proactive and build relationships with our legislators," said Mark Cross, chairman of VOICE and superintendent at Peru Elementary School District. " ... There are bills that are passed that sound good but are not good for children or education. We want to educate our legislators about the impact to our districts and help them understand better."


"In the reading portion of the ISAT, there are no accommodations (for special needs students)," said Cathy Centoni, a fifth-grade teacher. "No matter what accommodations students have in their IEPs (Individual Education Plan), in reading, they are not allowed to have those accommodations. If they normally have to have the test read to them, they are not allowed that on test day."

"I didn't realize that," replied Mautino.


District coordinator Chris Dougherty and district social worker Cindy Komater relayed stories of some low-income students and how that impacts education, including students coming to school hungry, without homework completed and missing basic school supplies.


Dougherty said that students entering kindergarten should have had 1,000 books read to them during their first five years, but some from low-income families don't have books in their home, have no magazine or newspaper subscriptions and have parents who are not readers.

"Because they've not had (exposure to reading) there is that achievement gap," she said.

Educators said being able to offer after school programs and summer "bridge" classes to provide an opportunity for extra help would benefit these students, but financially the district cannot afford it.

Special needs programs are also quite costly, said Allen.


"We cannot turn these kids away -- and we should not," said Allen.


"In the old days, you might have a student who was a low achiever but he had a strong family life," said Allen. "Now there are all sorts of variables."

"I wish people that are older could see how school is now," said Centoni. "Even in my nine years teaching, I've seen change."

What is VOICE?

VOICE is an education lobbying group made up of more than 40 school districts in La Salle, Bureau and other surrounding counties. The group serves 25,000 students.

As part of a recent effort to increase communication between legislators and school districts, VOICE is encouraging superintendents to invite their local lawmakers into classrooms. State Rep. Frank Mautino's visit to Centennial School in Streator was the first such effort.

To see if your school is involved for more information, visit the Web site at www.voiceforeducation.org.

This is the kind of thing that needs to happen over and over again if we are ever going to change NCLB and reverse this mad dash to destroying and then privatizing public education.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Roddy Stinson: The biggest news that you didn't read or hear last week --

Comment from My San Antonio.com, by Roddy Stinton, Web Posted: 09/25/2005 12:00 AM CDT

This comes from a while back but I think what he has to say is important and relevant. The study he talks about has recently been posted on
the Education Policy Analysis Archives
(EPAA). I was led to this article by this post on the TLN Teacher Voices blog. The original study can be found here. (Bold print emphasis is mine.)

One of the most significant news events of 2005 occurred last Tuesday. But you missed it.

I can say that with confidence because a check of Express-News databases found only a brief United Press International report of the event, and that report wasn't published in any newspaper or mentioned on any TV/radio broadcast.

Why did the news die aborning?

Because it bordered on heresy:

"According to a study released by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Great Lakes Center for Educational Research and Practice, the pressure associated with high-stakes testing has no real impact on student achievement."

Let me put that another way so no one will miss the heretical significance:

The standardized-test-as-God formula for educational success — concocted and adhered to religiously by the political and educational establishments in Texas and elsewhere around the nation — has been dissected and shown to be a sham.

The proof was produced by three scholarly researchers — David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass of Arizona State University and Sharon L. Nichols of the University of Texas at San Antonio — who analyzed National Assessment of Educational Progress test data from 25 states and determined:

There is no consistent link between the pressure to score high on a state-mandated exam and that state's student performance on the NAEP.

The pressure created by the standardized-test-as-God formula has primarily served to increase student retention and dropout rates.

Nichols, the study's lead author, concluded:

"A rapidly growing body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing, along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students on NAEP tests of achievement, suggests that we need a moratorium in public education on the use of high-stakes testing."

And that's why the remarkable study has been (and will continue to be) ignored.

For more than 20 years, the nation's educational and political establishments have touted the standardized-test-as-God philosophy as the solution to the nation's academic shortcomings. And the media establishment — like a baby bird with mouth agape — has swallowed the worm without a peep.

These elite groups could never admit their foolishness ... could never confess that they took tens of billions of dollars designated for improving public schools and blew it on educational hocus-pocus that was doomed to fail and that enriched no one but testing companies, high-dollar consultants and political demagogues.

Dissemination of the truth might cost them their air of superiority. (Oh, the psychic pain.)

So don't look for any serious public discussion of the Nichols/Glass/Berliner findings.

There won't be any.

Don't search for the trio's names on educator-convention programs or lists of witnesses at legislative hearings.

They won't be there.

Don't surf TV-talk channels or monitor newspaper editorial pages looking for commentator praise for the three researchers.

You will just waste your time.

In fact, you will never see or hear the matter mentioned again.

I theologically guarantee it.

Postscript ...

Out of curiosity, I looked in the Express-News archives to find the column in which I first used the term, "standardized-test-as-God" to describe the misbegotten path of Texas education.

The date: Oct. 6, 1991.

The column: Parental complaints about the education community's all-consuming focus on preparing students to take the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. ("My daughter has brought home no work from school this year," one mother reported. "The first five weeks of classes have been devoted to drilling the kids for the TAAS test.")

At the end of the column, I asked rhetorically:

"Where, when and how will the standardized-test-as-God nightmare end?"

Fourteen years later, the question is still relevant, the nightmare is still real and the end is nowhere in sight.

To contact Roddy Stinson, call (210) 250-3155 or e-mail rstinson@express-news.net. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Colo. Town Raises Taxes to Finance NCLB Withdrawal --

From Civilrights.org January 4, 2006 they list their source as David J. Hoff from Education Week.

If only:

Residents of a Colorado town have decided they would rather pay more in taxes than force their tiny district to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In what is believed to be the first voter referendum on the 4-year-old federal law, taxpayers in the 95-student Kit Carson school district narrowly approved a property-tax levy to replace the $25,000 in federal money the district will lose by dropping out of the law.

"It felt like the federal government had overstepped its bounds," said Geoffrey Wolff, the president of the Kit Carson school board. "I believe in a limited federal involvement. They provide 3 percent of the money, and they want total control."...

Despite having teachers who may not be considered highly qualified under the law, the district has met targets for adequate yearly progress under the law, Mr. Wolff said.

While Ms. Johnson, the dissenting board member, agrees that such rules are onerous for Kit Carson and other rural districts, she said that federal officials are committed to finding "common sense" solutions to problems that districts such as Kit Carson face in complying with NCLB.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why Tom Friedman does not compute --

By Gary Stager, from Distrct Administrator. (As usual, the emphasis is mine.)

There has been so much noise about this World is Flat B.S. It is about time educators began to speak out about this bogus, corporate led, race to the bottom.

I'm always on the lookout for educational trends. Over the past couple of months the usual suspects who speak at education conferences have been toting around copies of Thomas Friedman's new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. These knuckleheads and the administrators who love them can't resist the temptation to quote Friedman in reverential terms. One popular speaker uses Friedman to support his new mantra, "American students need to develop a global work ethic." What the heck does that mean? Should U.S. high school students produce SpongeBob shirts for Wal-Mart?

I admired Tom Friedman. I found his insights into Middle Eastern politics interesting. I paid $65 to see him speak, but he read from the aforementioned book, virtually page-by-page. The naive yarn he spun stunned me.

For those of you who have not surrendered $27.50 to Mr. Friedman, allow me summarize The World is Flat. The Indians are going to eat your children. If any remain, the Chinese will kill the rest a few years later.

This book is a hysterical screed about how the Internet has made it possible for developing countries to threaten the American Way. Of course, our schools are maligned with test scores and insults about our lazy students.

No matter how complex the issue--education, economics, international affairs or technology--an expert is anyone willing to speak with Friedman. An e-mail from a gentleman Friedman met while waiting in an airport is included as a prescription for improving our schools and global competitiveness. The history of personal computing, as told by the Microsoft Corp., is littered with misinformation, glaring omissions and Ron Popeil-like amazement. Imagine if your grandmother explained Internet protocols and you begin to get the idea. Southwest lets you print your own boarding passes. Copying machines can fax... yada yada yada.

The book is littered with self-evident news of the information age. Think of it as The Weekly Reader Guide to Globalization or Current Events for Dummies. If you have not used the Web, read a newspaper, watched TV or left the house since 1980, this book is for you.

Wisdom is not always found in sound bites or factoids. Comparisons regarding the number of engineering graduates in China, India and the U.S. are meaningless. The only way we can "catch-up" is if Mr. and Mrs. Friedman do their part and birth a billion American children.

Friedman breathlessly tells the tale of Rajesh, an Indian programmer who owns a computer gaming company. Rajesh's employees are, of course, smarter and much harder working than Americans and the 'Net allows them to compete in the global marketplace. The most shocking revelation is that Rajesh's company recently bought the rights to use Charlie Chaplin's image for computer games. "That's right--a start-up Indian game company owns the Chaplin image for use in mobile computer games."

Say it ain't so!

How many 14- to 25-year-old boys want to play a Charlie Chaplin computer game? There is a reason why American companies don't invest millions in Charlie Chaplin-themed games. Nobody will buy them. If this is the best evidence Friedman can offer of global high-tech entrepreneurial threats, our test scores can safely slide for a few more decades.

Even if you are fascinated by what Friedman reports, his writing gave me a toothache. Every idea is named, 1.0, 2.0, etc... to demonstrate Tom's high-tech hipness. Cutesiness abounds. In discussing the end of Communism, Friedman writes, "Someone else was raising a glass--not of champagne but of thick Turkish coffee. His name was Osama Bin Laden and he had a different narrative." The book is peppered with spew-inducing passages like, "When the Berlin Wall becomes the Berlin Mall..." I suspect Nipsey Russell was the ghostwriter.

Maybe I'm wrong and the book is fabulous. It's still alarming that so many school leaders feel compelled to seek advice from people who know nothing about education. Such pop business books create great PowerPoint bullets, but do little to transform classroom practice. You may curry favor with the Business Roundtable, but will do little to benefit children. Seeking wisdom from a variety of sources is laudable, but books sold in airport gift shops should not set education policy. DA

Gary Stager, gary@stager.org, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.