Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book Review: Many Children Left Behind

Many Children Left Behind by Deborah Meier and George Wood (Editors).

Reviewed by Susie Berry

Many Children Left Behind (edited by Deborah Meier and George Wood, 2004) is a compilation of essays written by educators and supported by detailed research. There has been considerable bashing of No Child Left Behind (a law mandated by the federal government) and these authors agree that much is wrong but this book gives suggestions on how we can attempt to “right that wrong.” The book is loaded with information so this review will only focus on testing – how it has changed curriculum and how it is affecting students, teachers, and schools.

One of the biggest problems of NCLB is how it measures schools. As part of the NCLB law, states are required to test students each year and show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The issue is how the states do this testing. The law mandates that 100% of students must score at the “proficient” level by the year 2014. How reasonable is that expectation and is a 100% proficiency level even possible with the kinds of tests being given? ISTEP+ (Indiana’s yearly test) is a criterion-referenced test currently based on Indiana’s State Standards. Students must score above an arbitrarily selected “cut score” in order to pass. NCLB requires that a school be labeled “failing” if a certain number of students do not reach the “cut scores”. One of the problems is that the test themselves as well as the “cut scores” are often changed from year to year. It’s almost as if the state is setting up students to fail.

Then to complicate this complicated issue, there is a question of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students and special needs students (what the law calls “students with disabilities”). Schools with a high number of these students are being punished and labeled “failing” – no matter what gains these students are making yearly. Large urban schools are most vulnerable.

Another issue that has surfaced with high-stakes testing is the increase in the high-school drop-out rate. Interestingly, students who have not done well on these tests eventually drop out of school. The consensus among the authors who contributed to this book is that the extensive standardized testing hurts more than the drop-out rate. Teaching to the test (so that students can pass, so that schools are not labeled “failing,” so that good teachers can keep their jobs) severely narrows the curriculum. There is less discussion, less critical thinking, and fewer school experiences. It’s not fun to teach and it is certainly not fun for the students. More than one student has come to school asking, “What kind of test do we have today?”

George Wood, one of the seven contributors to Many Children Left Behind, is a high-school principal married to a kindergarten teacher. He says that changing this law “will require a strategy that shows the progress of the standards and testing agenda and at the same time offers ways to focus on helping schools, especially those that serve our most vulnerable children.” He has these suggestions for a national campaign:
  • Testing Moratorium – Call for a national or state-by-state moratorium on high-stakes testing. Tests need to have predictive value and should be linked to predicting success after school.
  • Assessment of School Health – A measure of school health would show if children are engaged using their minds, and are “even happy”. It would also use samples of student work and academic achievement.
  • Targeted Intervention – “We should begin by demanding that funding for our schools be equalized. Additional funds should flow to schools that serve our most needy students.
Wood contends that many supporters of NCLB have (had) good intentions. The one-size fits all, blame-and-shame agenda does nothing to help our schools and our children.

Monty Neill was another contributing author and he has these specific suggestions for helping our schools. He bases them all on “authentic accountability:”
  • Shared Vision and Goals – Community goals should prioritize what is important in both academics and school life.
  • Adequate Resources Used Well – Hire good teachers; spend money on professional development; and provide books, technology, and supplies in a comfortable, clean environment. Children who need more should be provided with more.
  • Participation and Democracy – Teachers, parents, and administrators must play key roles in planning goals and expectations and appropriate ways to evaluate them.
  • Prioritizing Goals – Standardized testing might be the easiest way to measure but improving the climate and culture in schools is more important.
  • Multiple Forms of Evidence – Standardized tests do identify some educational problems but “accountability requires the use of both qualitative and quantitative evidence.” And the focus of all this assessment should be to improve instruction.
  • Inclusion – Accountability and assessment should include all children but in-school and out-of-school factors should also be considered.
  • Improvement – Schools and districts must implement procedures to “guide decision making” to improve the quality of schools and learning.
  • Equity – All the measures established must focus on overcoming “the consequences of poverty and racism.”
  • Balance – We should expect “equitable uses” of resources and a sound basis for educational reform.
  • Intervention – “Firing teachers or changing governance are not paths to meaningful improvement. Intervention should focus on factors that can produce powerful improvement, such as rich professional development, stronger parent involvement, and high-quality classroom assessment.”
All this takes time but some states have begun implementing alternative forms of assessment and are minimizing the role of state standardized testing. Indiana and other states should follow and establish reasonable criteria that is good for students and truly will improve the quality of our schools.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let Them Eat Tests

The following appeared on the United Church of Christ web site. It was written by Jan Resseger, a lay minister for Public Education and Witness for the United Church of Christ.
Let Them Eat Tests

Written by Janice Resseger
June 25, 2012
Click here to support Justice and Witness Ministries

The blogosphere went wild recently when Reuters reported that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has granted $1.4 million to university researchers to investigate the use of biometric, galvanic skin response bracelets to measure whether teachers are engaging students’ interest.

This is one more step in the move to de-professionalize teaching, part of the idea that it doesn’t help teachers to go through the college certification process. Today’s “so-called” education reformers believe we need to replace “qualified” (certified) teachers with “effective” teachers, as measured by students’ standardized test scores or perhaps galvanic skin responses. We’ve come to trust counting and measuring instead of our judgment and our hearts.

I like to browse among college bookstore shelves stocking the required books for students studying to be professional, certified school teachers—books like Mike Rose’s Possible Lives and Gloria Ladson-Billings’ The Dream-Keepers.

Just read the titles. They are books of hope, the stories of excellent school teachers. Ladson-Billings, whose book is subtitled “Successful Teachers of African American Children,” describes professionals who honor their students’ home culture, help children understand their world and equip them to improve it. She celebrates teachers who understand themselves as members of their communities and simultaneously lifelong professionals called to nurture children steadfastly, creatively and thoughtfully.

For four years Rose traveled the United States, visiting classrooms where fine teachers in cities, towns and even a one-room school in Montana’s Grasshopper Valley inspire children to explore and work together. Rose begs us not to look for a one best measurable way to replicate good teachers: “Though the chapters offer a number of portraits of good teachers, there is no single profile of the Good Teacher.... I recommend no final list of good practices…. Such profiles and lists have value…but they also have a tendency to be… reduced to slogan or commodity.”

These books, published in the mid-1990s, have become classics. I encourage you to read them because, although the students learning to be school teachers still read The Dream-Keepers and Possible Lives, many of us outside the colleges of education no longer understand teaching as the kind of profession these books present. Our understanding of teaching has changed as our understanding of public education itself has narrowed.

In a recent graduation address at Teachers College, Columbia University, Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University expert on teaching, declared, “The new scientific managers… like to rank and sort students, teachers and schools—rewarding those at the top and punishing those at the bottom…. while issuing multimillion-dollar contracts for testing and data systems to create more graphs, charts and report cards on which to rank and sort…. And the new scientific managers cleverly construct systems that solve the problem of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepening levels of severe poverty an ‘excuse,’ rewarding schools that keep out and push out the highest-need students.” “The United States now has a far higher poverty rate for children than any other industrialized country… Our leaders do not talk about these things. They simply say of poor children, ‘Let them eat tests.’”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Parents Across America Fact-Checks Won't Back Down

Parents Across America Fact-checks Won’t Back Down, the Parent Trigger propaganda flick.

"Inspired" by real events? The new movie by Walden Media (makers of Waiting for Superman) about parent triggers, is apparently "inspired" by the parent trigger movement in 2010 launched against McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif. That movement, unlike the one in the movie, failed.

Simply put, parent trigger laws allow 51% of parents of a given public school the right to close a "failing school" or replace it with a privately managed charter. So you can guess who is in favor of the laws...Charter Management Organizations, Corporate Reformers and politicians who are pushing charter schools on America despite the lack of research showing that charters offer any advantage over regular public schools.

The evildoer in the movie is, as expected, the teachers union. NEA responds...
It’s no coincidence that “Won’t Back Down” is funded in large part by Walden Media, the same company that bankrolled “Waiting for Superman.” Walden Media is owned by Phillip Anschutz, a right-wing billionaire who has a long history of supporting conservative politicians and causes.
Won't Back Down, like Waiting for Superman, describes another battle in the war against public education in America. Diane Ravitch explains why parent trigger laws are the wrong way to help struggling schools.
Public schools don’t belong to the 51 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled this year. They don’t belong to the teachers or administrators. They belong to the public. They were built with public funds. The only legitimate reason to close a neighborhood public school is under-enrollment. If a school is struggling, it needs help from district leaders, not a closure notice.

Parents in Florida got it right earlier this month. By organizing, they stopped a parent trigger law. No Florida-based parent group supported it. By their actions, they recognized that collaboration — not hostile takeovers — is the most effective way to improve their public schools.
Ravitch asks, should "51 percent of people using a public service have the power to privatize it?" Perhaps corporate reformers might answer "yes" to that question. However, the right thing to do is to improve public services -- not throw them away.

Parents Across America provides a comparison of the film version, as shown in the trailer (see below), to the reality of the Compton CA action.
Film version: The trailer shows parents, led by the Gyllenhaal character, mobilizing valiantly to take over their school — and only much later contacting an outside organizer for extra support.
  • Reality: The Parent Trigger attempt at McKinley Elementary School was entirely orchestrated by outsiders – the staff of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles organization that first proposed the legislation that created the Parent Trigger. Parent Revolution looked around the state for a school to target, chose McKinley and pre-selected a charter school operator called Celerity to take it over. Parent Revolution sent paid operatives door to door in Compton with petitions. Only then did any parents at McKinley even hear about the petition drive, according to the Los Angeles Weekly, which covered the story in detail.
Film version: The trailer shows parents determined to take over the school, against all odds.
  • Reality: In Compton, there was no discussion of parents taking over the school. The Parent Trigger attempt was intended from the beginning to turn the school over to the Celerity charter school operator.
Film version: The trailer shows parents uniting in support of the purportedly parent-led cause.
  • Reality: In Compton, after Parent Revolution turned in the petition signatures, hundreds of McKinley parents turned out to a school board meeting to oppose the Parent Trigger. Many parents protested that they had been misled into signing the petition and that they didn’t want their school to become a charter school, according to the Los Angeles Weekly.
Film version: The trailer shows a movement destined to triumphantly turn a hellhole into a successful school.
  • Reality: In Compton, the charter operator, Celerity, ended up opening a school near McKinley rather than taking it over. The vast majority of McKinley parents kept their children at McKinley. Only 20 percent of the McKinley families transferred their children to the new charter, according to the Los Angeles Times. “
There has since been a second Parent Trigger attempt, also led by Parent Revolution, at another California school, Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, in early 2012. That effort divided the school community into factions, and is currently mired in court battles.

None of this is to say that struggling schools are acceptable and that we shouldn’t be working to improve them. But the Parent Trigger is not an attempt to improve struggling schools; it’s an attempt to divert public money into private pockets. It’s about empowering opportunistic entrepreneurs, not parents. No star-powered propaganda vehicles can make that reality go away.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Equity and the Fight Against Competition

Diane Ravitch has posted a profile of a tireless advocate for public education and equity.

Ravitch, who is a powerful and vocal advocate for public education in her own right, describes Jan Resseger, a lay minister for Public Edcuation and Witness for the United Church of Christ, as
a fearless and tireless advocate for public education and for equity. She has a passion for justice and a deep and loving concern for people. She understands in a visceral sense that a decent society must sustain vibrant public institutions.
Resseger's focus for this year, according to an email she sent to Ravitch and others on her list, is to fight the concept of competition in public education.
My biggest beef is with the Administration’s transformation of Title I from a formula program that delivers federal funds (admittedly so small relative to the need that these dollars don’t accomplish what I wish they did) to schools with large numbers of or concentrations of students in poverty. The goal of this program is to help those schools meet the students’ needs. Title I was created back in 1965 as the cornerstone of the War on Poverty. Its context was expanding civil rights for children who had been shut out or left out or left behind. The current Administration and Congress have frozen the Title I formula program in the last two budgets and re-directed the money into competitive programs like Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants in which the states or districts with the best grant proposal writers can help their states or districts be winners. That means, of course, that a lot of states and school districts and schools are the losers. If you have winners, you always have losers and I don’t think any state or school district or school that serves children in poverty ought to lose the chance to serve those children. You may think this particular issue is way too deep in the weeds of policy to worry about, but for me it is a big, heartfelt worry—and let me warn you, I’ll be mentioning it again and again this year as part of my personal campaign against competition.
You can read more from Jan Resseger here and here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New PAC supports public education

(from ICPE)

A new bi-partisan political action committee, Hoosiers for Public Education, deserves your support. It is researching and endorsing candidates from either party who support public education. The lobbying ICPE does is essential, but it is effective only when we have legislators who are willing to listen.

The PAC has identified 10 key Indiana General Assembly races in 2012 where there is a good chance of electing a legislator who will stand up for public education.

Hoosiers for Public Education will make financial contributions to new candidates in key races as well as incumbents who have been great friends to public schools.

Hoosiers for Public Education welcomes participation and financial contributions from ICPE members and other supporters. We believe public education advocates will have a more effective voice to elect candidates if we combine our resources and concentrate them where they will have the greatest impact.

To learn more or to donate, visit the website at Tell your friends!!

Friday, June 1, 2012


Horace Mann at The Huntington Teacher posted this important information about the new proposal for teacher licensing.
ACTION ALERT: Your Comments Needed on REPA II PROPOSAL (Deskilling Teacher Licensing)

The Proposed Rule known as REPA II, scheduled to be heard June 21st, is 53 pages long and complicated, but at its core are rule changes to teacher licensing that will deskill the profession of teaching and dismantle public education. Basically, REPA II could potentially mean all one needs is to pass a test and become a licensed teacher in Indiana.

Consider that a "walk-on" could pass a basic test and be licensed to teach special education. Also consider that with the RISE evaluation, a teacher with 20 years experience in special education could be riffed, have to reapply for their job in the fall, and find they have been replaced by the walk-on who passed a basic test. (If you have wondered how Mitch Daniels and our State Government has created a budget surplus, but didn't understand the loss of service to Indiana students, this deskilling of a work force example explains how.)

Please visit this page where the REPA II public comment form can be found on the IDOE website to make your voice heard.

Please check out this document that gives ideas of what to post on the comment section of the IDOE website.


The availability of the public comment site for REPA 2 has been extended until June 29 at 4 p.m. The original deadline was June 22.

If you wish to comment online, you may do so 24/7 at the following link: