Let's Call It Radical

Submitted to Newsweek but not published

To the editor

Newsweek describes Pres. Obama's education plan as "centrist" ("More big effing deals," April 5, p. 33). Hardly. It is a radical plan, involving far more testing than we have ever seen in the history of American education.

According to the "Blueprint for Reform," released by the Department of Education in March, the new standards will be enforced with new tests which include "interim" tests in addition to those given at the end of year. No Child Left Behind only required reading and math tests. The Blueprint recommends testing in other subjects as well. The Blueprint also insists we measure growth, which could mean testing in the fall and in the spring, doubling the number of tests.

The most radical aspect of this plan is that there is no research showing that this vast expenditure of time and money will increase learning.

— Stephen Krashen
h/t SO

Another Honest Assessment Of The Dunc And NCLB 2.0

Test-and-punish system is ineffective

Monty Neill, Interim executive director, National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) - Boston

Despite fresh evidence of No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) failure, USA TODAY and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want to keep its test-and-punish paradigm. Duncan at least acknowledges that the law is not working, but both responses call to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" ("Changes to 'No Child' ease up on middle-class schools," Our view; "We're flexible but tough," Opposing view; Education standards debate, Tuesday).

Last week's National Assessment of Educational Progress report should have been the final nail in the coffin for this approach. It showed student achievement has stagnated. U.S. students made faster academic progress in the decade before NCLB became law. Achievement gaps are not narrowing significantly between white, African-American and Latino students.

USA TODAY recommends we stay the course. And Duncan, though recognizing NCLB isn't working, wants more emphasis on standardized exams. Then he wants to rate teachers based on their students' scores. This will turn more classrooms into test-prep centers.

It's promising that Duncan wants to abandon the illusion that all children will become "proficient" by 2014. Targeting federal attention on low-performing schools and replacing one-size-fits-all mandates are also good ideas. Unfortunately, the plan relies on NCLB's discredited notion that raising the testing "bar" and yelling "jump higher" will magically yield better performance.

To improve education, Congress should replace NCLB with a program to help struggling schools develop the capacity to meet children's needs. The Forum on Educational Accountability, which includes leading civil rights, education, religious, disability, parent and civic groups, has drafted such a plan. Sadly, by leaving so much of NCLB intact, Duncan would consign our children to more of the same damaging insanity.


Good Friday Cartoon Fun: Updated

Diane Ravitch: Don't "Waste The Next Eight Years"

A new agenda for school reform

By Diane Ravitch
Friday, April 2, 2010

I used to be a strong supporter of school accountability and choice. But in recent years, it became clear to me that these strategies were not working. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program enacted in 2002 did not produce large gains in reading and math. The gains in math were larger before the law was implemented, and the most recent national tests showed that eighth-grade students have made no improvement in reading since 1998. By mandating a utopian goal of 100 percent proficiency, the law encouraged states to lower their standards and make false claims of progress. Worse, the law stigmatized schools that could not meet its unrealistic expectation.

Choice, too, has been disappointing. We now know that choice is no panacea. The districts with the most choice for the longest period -- Cleveland and Milwaukee -- have seen no improvement in their public schools nor in their choice schools. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them. Nationally, only 3 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters, and no one is giving much thought to improving the system that enrolls the other 97 percent.

It is time to change course.

To begin with, let's agree that a good education encompasses far more than just basic skills. A good education involves learning history, geography, civics, the arts, science, literature and foreign language. Schools should be expected to teach these subjects even if students are not tested on them.

Everyone agrees that good education requires good teachers. To get good teachers, states should insist -- and the federal government should demand -- that all new teachers have a major in the subject they expect to teach or preferably a strong educational background in two subjects, such as mathematics and music or history and literature. Every state should expect teachers to pass a rigorous examination in the subjects they will teach, as well as a general examination to demonstrate their literacy and numeracy.

We need principals who are master teachers, not inexperienced teachers who took a course called "How to Be a Leader." The principal is expected to evaluate teachers, to decide who deserves tenure and to help those who are struggling and trying to improve. If the principal is not a master teacher, he or she will not be able to perform the most crucial functions of the job.

We need superintendents who are experienced educators because their decisions about personnel, curriculum and instruction affect the entire school system. If they lack experience, they will not be qualified to select the best principals or the best curricula for their districts.

We need assessments that gauge students' understanding and require them to demonstrate what they know, not tests that allow students to rely solely on guessing and picking one among four canned answers.

We should stop using the term "failing schools" to describe schools where test scores are low. Usually, a school has low test scores because it enrolls a disproportionately large number of low-performing students. Among its students may be many who do not speak or read English, who live in poverty, who miss school frequently because they must baby-sit while their parents look for work, or who have disabilities that interfere with their learning. These are not excuses for their low scores but facts about their lives.

Instead of closing such schools and firing their staffs, every state should have inspection teams that spend time in every low-performing school and diagnose its problems. Some may be mitigated with extra teachers, extra bilingual staff, an after-school program or other resources. The inspection team may find that the school was turned into a dumping ground by district officials to make other schools look better. It may find a heroic staff that is doing well under adverse circumstances and needs help. Whatever the cause of low performance, the inspection team should create a plan to improve the school.

Only in rare circumstances should a school be closed. In many poor communities, schools are the most stable institution. Closing them destroys the fabric of the community.

We must break free of the NCLB mind-set that makes accountability synonymous with punishment. As we seek to rebuild our education system, we must improve the schools where performance is poor, not punish them.

If we are serious about school reform, we will look for long-term solutions, not quick fixes.

We wasted eight years with the "measure and punish" strategy of NCLB. Let's not waste the next eight years.
links at the original

There's A Complete Moron In Congress!

I know, duh. But this is amazing. The dude is worried Guam might capsize.


New Report On School-Homing

WASHINGTON—According to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education, an increasing number of American parents are choosing to have their children raised at school rather than at home.

Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W. Miller said that many parents who school-home find U.S. households to be frightening, overwhelming environments for their children, and feel that they are just not conducive to producing well-rounded members of society.

Thousands of mothers and fathers polled in the study also believe that those running American homes cannot be trusted to keep their kids safe.

"Every year more parents are finding that their homes are not equipped to instill the right values in their children," Miller said. "When it comes to important life skills such as proper nutrition, safe sex, and even basic socialization, a growing number of mothers and fathers think it's better to rely on educators to guide and nurture their kids."

"And really, who can blame them?" Miller continued. "American homes have let down our nation's youth time and again in almost every imaginable respect."

According to the report, children raised at home were less likely to receive individual adult attention, and were often subjected to ineffective and wildly inconsistent disciplinary measures. The study also found that many parents expressed concerns that, when at home, their children were being teased and bullied by those older than themselves.

In addition to providing better supervision and overall direction, school-homing has become popular among mothers and fathers who just want to be less involved in the day-to-day lives of their children.

"Parents are finding creative ways to make this increasingly common child-rearing track work," Miller said. "Whether it's over-relying on after-school programs and extracurricular activities, or simply gross neglect,† school-homing is becoming a widely accepted method of bringing children up."

Despite the trend's growing popularity, Miller said that school programs are often jeopardized or terminated because shortsighted individuals vote against tax increases intended to boost educational spending.

"The terrifying reality we're facing is that the worst-equipped people you could possibly imagine may actually be forced to take care of their children," Miller said.

Parents who have decided to school-home their children have echoed many of Miller's concerns. Most said that an alarming number of legal guardians such as themselves lack the most basic common sense required to give children the type of instruction they need during crucial developmental years.

"It's really a matter of who has more experience in dealing with my child," Cincinnati- resident Kevin Dufrense said of his decision to have his 10-year-old son Jake, who suffers from ADHD and dyslexia, school-homed. "These teachers are dealing with upwards of 40 students in their classrooms at a time, so obviously they know a lot more about children than someone like me, who only has one son and doesn't know where he is half the time anyway."

"Simply put, it's not the job of parents to raise these kids," Dufrense added.

Though school-homing has proven to be an ideal solution for millions of uninvolved parents, increasingly overburdened public schools have recently led to a steady upswing in the number of students being prison-homed.
h/t JJ

A Note From TFT

I am on a little vacation in L.A.

I am posting, but not very much.  I will be back to a regular schedule Monday, whatever my regular schedule is.

Enjoy the break.  Kiss your family.

Here is a Sherffius cartoon for you...


Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Show Some Restraint Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Be Counted Edition


Mike Rose: Reform, To What End?

This is just a snippet. Go to the link for the whole thing.
Growing Good Teachers

Everyone in the current reform environment acknowledges the importance of good teaching. But most characterizations of teaching miss the richness and complexity of the work. The teacher often becomes a knowledge-delivery mechanism preparing students for high-stakes tests.

Moreover, reform initiatives lack depth on how to develop more good teachers. There is encouragement of alternative pathways to qualification (and, often, animosity toward schools of education and traditional teacher training). There are calls for merit pay, with pay typically linked to test-score evidence of student achievement. There are general calls for additional professional development. And, of course, there is the widespread negative incentive: By holding teachers' "feet to the fire" of test scores, we will supposedly get more effort from teachers, although proponents of this point of view never articulate the social-psychological mechanisms by which the use of test scores will affect effort, motivation, and pedagogical skill.

But when you watch Stephanie, a very different image of the teacher emerges. She is knowledgeable and resourceful across multiple subject areas and is skillful at integrating them. She is spontaneous, alert for the teachable moment, and able to play out the fruits of that spontaneity and plan next steps incrementally as the activity unfolds. She believes that her students can handle a sophisticated assignment, and she asks questions and gives direction to guide them. Her students seem comfortable taking up the intellectual challenge.

What is interesting is that none of the current high-profile reform ideas would explain or significantly enhance Stephanie's expertise. Merit pay doesn't inspire her inventiveness; it doesn't exist in her district (although she would be happy to have the extra money, given that she furnished some classroom resources from her own pocket). Standardized test scores don't motivate her either. In fact, the typical test would be unable to capture some of the intellectual display I witnessed in her classroom. What motivates her is a complex mix of personal values and a drive for competence. These lead her to treat her students in certain ways and to continue to improve her skill.


Race To The Top = Blackmail

A well deserved slam from FDL
Race to the Top just announced their first two grant winners, Tennessee and Delaware, yesterday.

I hope we can be honest about what this actually represents: blackmail. It forces states to change their education laws to fit particular notions about how to manage public education in America. And it does so at a time of crippling state budgets, when the Race to the Top funds mean the difference between thousands of teachers laid off or kept on the job, between class sizes expanding or shrinking. Basically, Arne Duncan and the White House are leveraging crisis to make preferred changes in education policy.

And let’s be very clear about this: the changes sought are entirely at the discretion of Arne Duncan and the Education Department. These changes include ideas typically advanced by “reformers” like charter schools, merit pay for teachers and many other “market solutions” for education. You can agree with these ideas or not; I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and it’s important to note that teacher’s unions largely agreed with the changes in Tennessee’s policies that draw the Race to the Top grant. And let’s not be naive in thinking that the federal government doesn’t leverage public money to garner preferred policies in the states all the time – that’s basically how the speed limit works.

But the metrics for winning these stimulus funds comes down to “what Arne Duncan likes about education policy.” I don’t think he’s somehow all-knowing about it, or has access to the best policy prescriptions for every school district in America. The data is not conclusive about the effects of charter schools, or merit pay, or test measurement, or any of the jumble of new ideas in the education sector. It’s just not, no matter what anyone on either side tells you. We could be experiencing “declines” relative to the rest of the world on education based purely by cultural factors and more funding for education in developing nations in Asia and elsewhere. I don’t believe we have the kind of “comparative effectiveness research” to cement that certain kinds of learning environments or school structures beat others; given all the variables, I don’t know that we ever will.

What we do know is that only one side of this debate is withholding funding until their preferred policy prescriptions are enacted. And they’re doing it at a time when the biggest obstacle to education in America in the near-term can be measured in dollars and cents. Giant budget shortfalls in the states mean layoffs for teachers and worse opportunities for students, whether your state has a cap on charter schools or not. The compassionate education policy at this time is not to shock-doctrine states into changing their ways, but in allowing them the means to survive and not fail a generation of students.

The Obama Administration wants to extend the Race to the Top program for the 2011 budget. And that’s their prerogative. But let’s not pretend that’s a decision entirely borne out of a desire for students to reach their educational goals. No, that would look more like giving schools what they need to maintain their current effort.
h/t JH


Monday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Jason Edition

"Reason" Not An Administration Value

Over at The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss kicks Duncan and Obama, deservedly, in the teeth:
Duncan uses a lot of jargon too, but it is easy to understand what he is trying to do with education: expand charter schools, increase student standardized testing, link teacher pay to test scores and close down the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Unfortunately, what is not easy to understand is why President Obama's education secretary is pushing those initiatives. This administration was supposed to bring some reason back into education reform after the failed era of No Child Left Behind.

But from the looks of it, Secretary Duncan may be taking on a race to somewhere even worse.


Monday Cartoon Fun: The Pope Is Guilty Edition

Get Yer Feet Off My Desk!

Some people think putting your feet on the desk in the oval office while being black is disrespectful.

Others think it's just fine to put your feet on the desk in the office of the People's House if you're white.

A Nice Graphic Of Health Care Spending

From Newshoggers:


Geoffrey Canada Thinks He's Awesome

Geoffrey Canada says:
Here's a final outrage. Some charter school opponents - crying "separate and unequal" - are inexplicably fighting to stop the closure of failing traditional public schools. I find it hard to believe that charter schools that are succeeding, but have minor, fixable issues around admitting English Language Learners and Special Education students are condemned - but schools that have failed for decades are rallied around and supported.

It's clear to me that on the merits these opponents' case does not stand up to scrutiny. I find their arguments are weak, inconsistent and insincere.
Some have tried to explain why they are fighting to stop the closure of failing traditional public schools.  But that's not the only inexplicable thing Canada says.  He says charters have "minor, fixable" issues that are neither minor nor "fixable".  But the thing that almost gets me is his characterization that those condemning schools closures are therefore "rall[ying] around and support[ing]" those schools.  We are trying to support those schools!  Because those schools have issues that require huge commitments--commitments often never met by those in control--and serve the most impoverished communities.

But to say we are inconsistent and insincere is bullshit.  We don't condemn the hard work teachers do no matter where they teach.  We condemn the notion that schools-as-businesses is good for kids.  And we are sincere about that.

I admire Canada's HCZ.  If only the whole country could get behind its children like they have in Harlem.  Maybe rich and powerful businessmen should use their influence to push policy that includes funding for our public schools, not contests to create young American winners and losers.

Arrest The Pope

A new facebook page for your enjoyment.  Surely we can get at least 10,000,000 fans!

Deb Meier On The Likes Of Duncan, Gates, Broad, Vander Ark, And The Rest

Richard Dawkins: "Pope Ratzinger Should Not Resign"

Richard Dawkins chimes in on the Pope as rape apologist thing:

He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

More On The Takeover Of Education By Big Business

How Content Standards Enable Corporate Takeover of Public Education

Somewhere on Wall Street there is a frustrated investment banker. He's run model after model and he can't understand it. No matter what he tries, he's just not seeing the kind of numbers his high high-flying clients expect.

Instead of generating markets where more people are either buying more stuff or buying more expensive stuff, the fundamentals of the American economy just don't grow anymore. Population growth is treading water. Disposable income for most people is on a sharp decline. And globalism and the Internet have reduced everything to a commodity, so prices are driven into the dirt.

If only there were a way to break into a whole new market. A market where demand is certain, but competition is weak, and pricing can be highly controlled. Kind of like what those guys in the defense business have been enjoying.

Take public schools, for instance. It's almost 6% of our economy that is mostly off-limits to big business. Sure, you can get a contract here and there. But what about something going nation wide! Now that could yield double-digit growth right away. Maybe 20% or more!

The infrastructure has already been built. R&D is minimal. We've all been to school. We're not talking rocket science here. And everyone pushes education in a bad economy.

Once you get around the unions, teachers are a dime a dozen. Heck, some will practically volunteer for the job. And I'm sure we can get foundation money for the start-ups. After all, "it's for the kids."

Only problem is that each school and district is so different from one another. Everything is geared to the local population, and what works for one school doesn't necessarily work for another. That makes every deal a one-off with no economies of scale to work to your advantage. If only there were a way to get some standardization across the board.

Maybe our guys on the Hill can help us out with that . . .
More links at the link.

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Clergy Edition

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