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Monday, January 31, 2011

NAACP grows a pair, school board should follow

The local NAACP fired a shot across the bow of the school board today when they said they would sue if they allowed an out side agency to take over the four predominantly black schools that are in danger of being taken over by the state and I say good for them. It’s about time we had somebody stand up to the state. I however don’t think we should stop there.

We need a leader to stand up and say, we remember how for decades the state didn’t think Jacksonville kids were as important as those in South Florida, we believed your promise abut the lottery only to see funds originally intended for education diverted, we are tired of the f-cat which has turned our schools from a place where kids got a well rounded education to a place where all they know how to do is pass a test, we want an end to unfunded mandates and your data driven education policies have turned our teachers into stat taking drones and we’re not going to put up with it any more. Try and take our schools and we’ll expose you for the uniformed hacks that you are. Not that it is much of a secret.

We need our superintendent and our school board to follow the NAACP’s lead and after years of just going along start fighting for what is best for our children.

Isn’t that what they should have been doing all along?

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Building kids of character: Quality time defined

by Deborah Hansen

“To go from a boy to a man is a very long road, which needs the help of older men…. but older men are working overtime or retiring to Florida….

Young girls abandoned by their father may go into depression, but young men will burn your city down.”

Once and Future Myths, by Phil Cousineau

It is time for us to accept the fact that what our society is doing for our children isn’t working very well. Don’t get me wrong: Many parents embrace their roles as the builders of character, but there are thousands of others who are not picking up that banner. Their children are left to find their way to adulthood on their own, and look where that has led us. We live in a community that reverberates with violence, and those ripples permeate every corner of town.

Calls for mentors go unanswered. A few folks trickle in, but the need is much greater than a trickle. We need a flood of adults who are willing to give ONE HOUR A WEEK to a young person who has no one to ask important questions of, or show them how to dress for a job interview, or just listen to their hearts. If everyone who attended a football game in this town gave an hour to mentoring, the children within our reach would benefit for the rest of their lives. Plus, our city would be a safer place to live. It’s that simple.

Related to this, there are probably few of us who haven’t read at least one book or watched one television program that encourages us to spend “quality time” with our children. The statistics in support of the concept would most likely reach around the globe. The studies also provide data about the dire consequences that lie ahead for children who don’t get the time they need from the important adults in their lives, all reflective of the quote above by Phil Cousineau.

We need to be clear, though, on exactly what constitutes “quality time.” Some folks seem to think merely being in the presence or their children qualifies, but quality time is not:

■picking the kids up from school or practice and then talking to your friends or office on the cell phone all the way home.
■eating at the same time but in different rooms.
■seeing a movie together but not discussing it when it’s over.
■going to the mall together but taking off in different directions until it’s time to leave.
■taking the family out for dinner but not allowing the kids to get involved in the conversation.
■asking your children what they think and then condemning them for their answer.

I think you get the picture. Quality time means active engagement. It means talking to your children and then listening to them in return. We must discover who our kids are underneath the façade they like to present to us and their peers. We should also be prepared to share ourselves with them, complete with the mistakes we made and what we learned from those mistakes. It means attending to one another.

Many young women are depressed, lost in a media-drenched view of the world that is warped beyond comprehension. And young men are burning cities down. We must all carry a share of responsibility for these children.

Yes, that means you.

Where kids have kids and learning dies

From the City

by Gerry Garibaldi

In my short time as a teacher in Connecticut, I have muddled through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind act, which tied federal funding of schools to various reforms, and through President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which does much the same thing, though with different benchmarks. Thanks to the feds, urban schools like mine—already entitled to substantial federal largesse under Title I, which provides funds to public schools with large low-income populations—are swimming in money. At my school, we pay five teachers to tutor kids after school and on Saturdays. They sit in classrooms waiting for kids who never show up. We don’t want for books—or for any of the cutting-edge gizmos that non–Title I schools can’t afford: computerized whiteboards, Elmo projectors, the works. Our facility is state-of-the-art, thanks to a recent $40 million face-lift, with gleaming new hallways and bathrooms and a fully computerized library.

Here’s my prediction: the money, the reforms, the gleaming porcelain, the hopeful rhetoric about saving our children—all of it will have a limited impact, at best, on most city schoolchildren. Urban teachers face an intractable problem, one that we cannot spend or even teach our way out of: teen pregnancy. This year, all of my favorite girls are pregnant, four in all, future unwed mothers every one. There will be no innovation in this quarter, no race to the top. Personal moral accountability is the electrified rail that no politician wants to touch.

My first encounter with teen pregnancy was a girl named Nicole, a pretty 15-year-old who had rings on every finger and great looped earrings and a red pen with fluffy pink feathers and a heart that lit up when she wrote with it. Hearts seemed to be on everything—in her signature, on her binder; there was often a little plastic heart barrette in her hair, which she had dyed in bright hues recalling a Siamese fighting fish. She was enrolled in two of my classes: English and journalism.

My main gripe with Nicole was that she fell asleep in class. Each morning—bang!—her head hit the desk. Waking her was like waking a badger. Nicole’s unmarried mother, it turned out, worked nights, so Nicole would slip out with friends every evening, sometimes staying out until 3 am, and then show up in class exhausted, surly, and hungry.

After a dozen calls home, her mother finally got back to me. Your daughter is staying out late, I reported. The voice at the other end of the phone sounded abashed and bone-weary. “I know, I know, I’m sorry,” she repeated over and over. “I’ll talk to her. I’m sorry.”

For a short time, things got better. Nicole’s grades started to improve. Encouraged, I hectored and cajoled and praised her every small effort. She was an innately bright girl who might, if I dragged her by the heels, eventually survive the rigors of a community college.

Then one morning, her head dropped again. I rapped my knuckles on her desk. “Leave me alone, mister,” she said. “I feel sick.”

There was a sly exchange of looks among the other girls in class, a giggle or two, and then one of them said: “She’s pregnant, Mr. Garibaldi.”

She lifted her face and smiled at her friends, then dropped her head back down. I picked up my grimy metal garbage can and set it beside her desk, just in case. A moment later she vomited, and I dispatched her to the nurse. In the years since, I’ve escorted girls whose water has just broken, their legs trembling and wobbly, to the principal’s office, where their condition barely raises an eyebrow.

Within my lifetime, single parenthood has been transformed from shame to saintliness. In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. During the last presidential election, much was made of Obama’s mother, who was a single parent. Movie stars and pop singers flaunt their daddy-less babies like fishing trophies.

None of this is lost on my students. In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. Other girls in school want to pat their stomachs. Their friends throw baby showers at which meager little gifts are given. After delivery, the girls return to school with baby pictures on their cell phones or slipped into their binders, which they eagerly share with me. Often they sit together in my classes, sharing insights into parenting, discussing the taste of Pedialite or the exhaustion that goes with the job. On my way home at night, I often see my students in the projects that surround our school, pushing their strollers or hanging out on their stoops instead of doing their homework.

Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments: medical coverage when they become pregnant (called “Healthy Start”); later, medical insurance for the family (“Husky”); child care (“Care 4 Kids”); Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.

In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock.

The young father almost always greets the pregnancy with adolescent excitement, as if a baby were a new Xbox game. In Nicole’s case, the father’s name was David. David manfully walked Nicole to class each morning and gave her a kiss at the door. I had him in homeroom and asked if he planned to marry her. “No” was his frank answer. But he did have plans to help out. David himself lived with his mother. His dad had served a short sentence in prison for drug possession and ran a motorcycle-repair shop somewhere upstate. One afternoon, David proudly opened his father’s website to show me the customized motorcycles he built. There he was, the spit and image of his son, smiling atop a gleaming vintage Harley, not a care in the world.

Boys without fathers, like David, cultivate an overweening bravado to overcome a deeper sense of vulnerability and male confusion. They strut, swear, and swagger. There’s a he-man thing to getting a girl pregnant that marks you as an adult in the eyes of your equally unmoored peers. But a boy’s interest in his child quickly vanishes. When I ask girls if the father is helping out with the baby, they shrug. “I don’t care if he does or not,” I’ve heard too often.

As for girls without fathers, they are often among my most disruptive students. You walk on eggshells with them. You broker remarks, you negotiate insults, all the while trying to pull them along on a slender thread. Their anger toward male authority can be lacerating. They view trips to the principal’s office like victory laps.

With Nicole, I dug in. In journalism class, I brought up the subject of teen pregnancy and suggested that she and a friend of hers, Maria, write a piece together about their experiences. They hesitated; I pressed the matter. “Do you think getting pregnant when you’re a teenager is a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Depends,” Nicole replied caustically, glancing at Maria and another friend, Shanice, for support. They knew this was coming and went on the defensive.

“On what?”

“My mom and my grandma both got pregnant when they were teens, and they’re good mothers.”

“Nobody gets married any more, mister,” Shanice and Maria chime in. “You’re just picking on us because we have kids.”

At this point, my “picking” has only just begun. It’s partly for their benefit, but mostly for the other girls in the room, who haven’t said a word. As much as Nicole is aware of her mother’s sacrifices, she is equally proud of her mother’s choice to keep her. It’s locked away in her heart like a cameo. They’re best friends, she offers. The talk turns to her mother’s loyalty and love, and soon the class rises in a choir to mom’s defense.

“Fine,” I say, glowering like Heath Ledger’s Joker. “If that’s your position, like any good journalist, you have to back up your arguments with facts and statistics.”

As do most of my 11th-graders, Nicole reads at a fifth-grade level, which means I must peruse the articles and statistics along with her, side by side. She groans each time I pick out a long article and counts the number of pages before she reads. With my persistent nudging, she and Maria begin to pull out the statistics for the children of single parents. From the FBI: 63 percent of all suicides are individuals from single-parent households. From the Centers for Disease Control: 75 percent of adolescents in chemical-dependency hospitals come from single-parent households. From the Children’s Defense Fund: more than half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts come from single-parent households. And so on.

“I don’t want to write about this!” Nicole complains. “I’ve changed my mind.”


“Nobody wants to read it.”

I point out that they committed to it. If they don’t complete the essay by the due date, they know I will give them an F.

Their first drafts are little more than two scribbled paragraphs, which they toss to me as a completed assignment and I toss back. Maria, in particular, rebels. She wants to recast the article in a rosier vein and talk about how happy her son makes her. It’s in these light skirmishes that we have our richest discussions. When the girls open up, their vague doubts come to the surface, and my flinty-eyed circuit preacher melts away. A father myself, I understand a parent’s love. Our talk turns more sweetly to teething cures, diaper rashes, and solid food. Nicole listens to us with tender interest. It’s in these moments that I feel most effective as a teacher. I suggest ways of incorporating that love into the piece, while also hoping that some of these grim statistics have gotten through to them.

As morbid as it sounds, the students take an interest in obituary writing. I have them write their own obits, fictional biographies that foretell the arc of their lives. From Nicole’s, I learn that her mother was 16 when she had Nicole; her father, 14. After high school, the fictional Nicole went on to have four more kids—with strangely concocted names, all beginning with M—whom she loved dearly and who loved her dearly. She also left six grandchildren. She died of old age in her bed.

“Nicole, you never got married?” I remarked.

“No,” she responded with a note of obstinacy in her voice.

“I think you would make a wonderful wife for someone.”

“I would make a good wife,” she replied. “I know a lot of stuff. But I’m not going to get married.” She was speaking to a hard fate that she was accepting as her future. She was slipping away.

As Nicole entered her third trimester, she had a minor complication with her pregnancy and disappeared for nearly two weeks. She returned, pale and far behind in my classes. She no longer had to report to two classes: physical education and a science lab where strong chemicals were used. The administration didn’t want her to be alone during those periods, and since my schedule coincided with the vacant spots, I was asked to be her chaperone.

For five weeks, Nicole became my shadow. If I had cafeteria duty, she’d happily trot along. I’d buy her a candy bar and she’d plop down in the seat beside me. I’d also escort her to her restroom runs, which were frequent, and wait for her outside the door. She carried a grainy sonogram picture of the baby, framed in a pink card with a stork on the front. Gazing at it with a smile, I felt my duplicity and the ragged trap of my convictions.

Her paleness and fatigue alarmed me. I carried Vitamin C drops in my pocket and slipped her a constant supply. A second private concern began to nag at me: the father in me wanted to be protective and kind, but Nicole was becoming too connected with me. She blew off assignments regularly now. When I admonished her, she only giggled and promised to get them done. She trusted me and would never think that falling behind in my classes would result in a failing grade. Life had allowed her to slide before, through every year of her education, as others in her life had slid—starting with her father, whom she barely recalled.

I felt that I was being drawn into this undertow. A simple D would ease everyone’s load, particularly mine, and Nicole wouldn’t register yet another betrayal of trust. More than anything, she wanted a buoy in her choppy sea.

Nicole failed both my classes, which meant summer school. When she returned the following year, she was in good spirits. The birth of her son had gone well. She had a heart-adorned album full of photos of her boy. Things were settled, she said. She was going to work hard this year; she felt motivated, even eager. And by year’s end, her reading level had indeed risen nearly two grades—but it was still far below what she would need to score as proficient on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, one of the yardsticks for accountability in Title I schools.

The path for young, unwed mothers—and for their children—can be brutal. Consider how often girls get molested in their own homes after Mom has decided to let her boyfriend move in. The boyfriend splits the rent and the food bill, but he often sees his girlfriend’s teenage daughter as fair game. Teachers whisper their suspicions in the lunchroom or in the hallways when they notice that one of their students has become suddenly emotional, that her grades have inexplicably dropped, or that she stays late after school to hang out in her teacher’s classroom or begins sleeping over at a friend’s house several nights a week. Sometimes she simply disappears.

And there are other dangers. I once had a student named Jasmine, who had given birth over the summer. She did just enough to earn Ds in my class. One day, I observed her staring off mulishly into space for nearly the entire period, not hearing a word I said and ignoring her assignment. At the end of class, I took her aside and asked, with some irritation, what the matter was.

Her eyes welled with tears. “I gave my son to his father to look after yesterday. When I picked him up, he had bruises on his head and a cut.” Her son was six months old.

Honestly? I just wanted that day to go by. But we have a duty to our students, both moral and legal. “You have to be a brave mama and report him,” I said. I led her to the office and to the school social worker, and I tipped off the campus trooper. Even with that support, she backed off from filing a complaint and shortly afterward dropped out of school to be with her baby.

My students often become curious about my personal life. The question most frequently asked is, “Do you have kids?”

“Two,” I say.

The next question is always heartbreaking.

“Do they live with you?”

Every fall, new education theories arrive, born like orchids in the hothouses of big-time university education departments. Urban teachers are always first in line for each new bloom. We’ve been retrofitted as teachers a dozen times over. This year’s innovation is the Data Wall, a strategy in which teachers must test endlessly in order to produce data about students’ progress. The Obama administration has spent lavishly to ensure that professional consultants monitor its implementation.

Every year, the national statistics summon a fresh chorus of outrage at the failure of urban public schools. Next year, I fear, will be little different.

Gerry Garibaldi was an executive and screenwriter in Hollywood before becoming an English teacher at an urban high school in Connecticut.

Why are they just now asking, how much does it cost to fund our schools?

Why are Mike Weinstein and Steven Wise, Jacksonville represenatives, making the Orlando Sentinel but not the Times Union? -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel

A state lawmaker wants a study to figure out “the minimum amount of dollars per student” needed to meet the so-called adequacy requirement in Florida’s constitution. And he’s filed a bill, HB 565, that would do just that.

An amendment added to the state constitution in 1998 says, in part, that the state must make “adequate provision” for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Orange Park, wants a study (done by OPAGGA, the legislature’s research arm) to figure out the “minimum amount” needed per student to meet those requirements.

Not sure at the moment what prompted Weinstein’s bill. But the issue of adequate funding — and high-quality schools — is the subject of a lawsuit against the state filed in late 2009 by parents and education advaocates, who argue Florida has fallen short on its commitment to public education. The lawsuit is still pending in a Tallahassee court.

Merit Pay: Public Input on Friday, Bill Submitted on Monday

Et Tu Brutus? I am not optimistic. -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Leslie Postal,

Florida teachers would be judged on their students’ growth on standardized tests, and new teachers would be paid based on that test-score data as part of a new merit pay bill filed today in the Florida Senate.

Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, filed the “Race to the Top for Student Success” bill.

It is the first merit pay bill filed for the 2011 Florida Legislature session but is similar to plans floated in the past few months by both the Florida Education Department and an education advocacy group.

Wise, whose committee took public comment on the issue Friday, has said he hopes this year’s debate on how to improve schools by changing how teachers are evaluated and paid would be less contentious than last year’s.

The controversial bill lawmakers adopted last year was vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and widely criticized by educators.

“We’re not here to beat up the teachers, we’re not here to beat up the administrators, we’re here for student success,” Wise said at Friday’s meeting.

The new bill, SB 736, would grandfather in current teacher-pay plans but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014.

The bill would require that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student test-score data — preferably three years worth. The data would be filtered into a new system that could take into account factors outside a teacher’s control, such as a student’s absentee rate, the bill says..

Teachers would earn one of four designations — unsatisfactory, needs improvement, effective and highly effective.

Under the new pay plan, they would get raises only if they earned one of the top two ratings.

Surviving the present


by Julianne Hing

Education reform is about to return to the headlines, if not the floor of Congress, if President Obama’s State of the Union is any indication. Obama built his feel-good speech Tuesday night around the uncontroversial theme of “winning the future” and nestled every major policy issue within this rhetorical frame. He put particular emphasis on education as the path to that victorious future. But the education agenda the president articulated contained no surprises. It’s the same one his administration’s been selling for the past two years—and it’s the same one many of his critics have been fretting about for just as long.

Education reform watchers offered Obama reserved praise for giving education such a prominent place in his speech. “One reaction I had was exactly that he spent a lot of time on education, which I think is a good thing,” said John Rogers, associate professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. But Rogers, like a handful of other educators I spoke with after the speech, added long caveats after this initial praise.

Obama touted his administration’s undeniable wins, including student aid reform, and championed the more questionable achievements of Race to the Top, which is a $4.35 billion competitive grants program for states that adopt the president’s reform agenda. Eleven states have won millions of dollars each as a reward for opening up their states to more charter schools and agreeing to make test scores a component of teacher evaluations and salaries.

Under Race to the Top, states were rewarded for forcing public schools that were designated as failing to undergo a total restructuring or a takeover from a charter school company. The program remains controversial, especially among teachers who oppose new evaluation systems that they feel unfairly punish individual educators for a systemic problem.

Obama also called for 100,000 more science and math teachers by the end of the decade and called on Congress to take up a No Child Left Behind reauthorization in the model of Race to the Top. He didn’t suggest how those teachers would get funded, and congressional watchers consider it unlikely that the new Congress will have the stomach for a major overhaul of any program, including No Child Left Behind.

Obama called Race to the Top “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” If success is measured by impact, Obama’s correct. The program circumvented Congress entirely and got 39 states to rewrite their education laws. But if success is measured in students’ improved performance and teachers’ increased retention rates, the jury’s still out.

“I think the speech clearly shows the president understands the link between education and our country’s future,” said John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which works toward racial equity in public education. (Colorlines’ publisher, the Applied Research Center, has done contract research for the Schott Foundation.) But, Jackson stresses, the Race to the Top initiatives Obama is pushing aren’t proven to work. “We haven’t seen one state that has reformed its education system by removing its charter school cap, or reformed its education system by linking teacher salaries to student performance.”

A September 2010 study by Vanderbilt University found that performance pay on its own had no measurable impact on teachers’ ability to raise their students’ test scores.

Global Competition

In his speech, Obama tapped into the pain that many Americans are feeling right now as they wade through seemingly endless economic crisis, and tried to redirect that frustration toward global competitiveness. He warned that while America’s middle class has been dismantled over the course of a generation, other countries have been ascending, creeping onto the medal stands that the U.S. occupied alone for decades.

“Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world,” Obama said. “And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies.”

But pitting the U.S. against other countries unsettled some educators.

“The line here is: ‘Yeah, they go to the sweatshops now and make stuff for us, but if they beat us they won’t be in the sweatshops making stuff anymore. They might dare to have a standard of living that’s better than us,’ ” said Rick Ayers, adjunct professor of education at the University of San Francisco and co-author of “Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom.” “It’s all put out in a very polite, liberal veneer, but I would point out that it’s the dark, Asiatic other that is being called up.”

Ayers said that the true comparison between present-day America and Cold War America is “an extraordinary rise in income inequality that public policy could address separately, an extraordinary rise in incarceration rates that public policy could address. The presumption that education can act independently of economic inequality and incarceration is wrong.”

The United States is ninth globally in the percentage of undergraduate degree holders, Obama said. He wants the country to claw its way back to the top. As it is, more than a third of college students don’t graduate in six years, and that number is even higher for undergraduate students of color—something Obama pointed out in a speech he gave at UT Austin last year. The president seemingly knows that students of color are key to achieving his education goals.

Jackson said other countries’ educational success has been linked to the educational equity that the U.S. has not yet found. “All of the countries that are outcompeting us don’t deal with fringe structural issues,” he argued. “They provide all students access to early education. They hold teachers in high regard, and not in a punitive frame, and they have a much more equitable distribution of their resources.”

Jackson pointed out that there are over a million homeless children in the U.S., for instance.

“Yes, we want to ‘win the future,’ but for many the concern now is surviving the present,” Rogers echoed, adding that 22 percent of American children below the age of six are living below the poverty line. “How do young people who are growing up in families that are really facing difficult economic circumstances survive the present without a whole host of social supports that are being eroded or eliminated outright?”

There was a time not so long ago when Obama was willing to examine the structural factors that influence a kid’s education, Rogers said. “None of that was in the speech [Tuesday] night,” he complained. “Instead, all we get is that parents need to shut off the TV.”

Obama’s lone reference to the role that parents and communities play in the nation’s education effort was to declare, “Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.”

That’s the narrow, individualized perspective that makes teachers and parents feel so besieged. Obama tried to soothe teachers—“Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect”—but critics say his policies don’t match that rhetoric. “The truth is I didn’t feel the sincerity in that,” said Jim Anderson, who serves on the statewide board of the Alliance for Quality Education. “I haven’t seen the policies that shows that respect.”

Educators said that Obama’s rhetoric contradicted his policy in other parts of his education remarks as well. Obama praised America’s public school systems for providing students with more than memorization drills for standardized tests. “It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations,” Obama said, “but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ “

Rogers considered it one of Obama’s strongest lines and said that it reflected the part of the president’s vision he most admires. “But that’s not the sort of question that emerges when you have the narrowed standardized tests we have now,” he warned.

“Obama’s good at co-opting the criticism,” said Ayers. “He said, ‘We’re not talking about rote memorization; we’re about learning deeply and asking questions.’ But that’s our argument,” Ayers said, referring to progressives who take issue with the Obama administration’s policies, “that the test prep stuff undermines the possibility of deep learning and learning for democracy.”

Of course, amidst everything the president was said, there were notable silences as well. Rogers said he wished Obama was more willing to address the vast racial disparities in kids’ educational opportunities. “I was struck by the fact that there was so little attention paid explicitly to the issue of race in education, or even outside of education,” Rogers said. “He didn’t highlight those equity issues.”

The upcoming year holds many uncertainties. It’s still unclear whether Republicans or Democrats have any interest in tackling No Child Left Behind, or even what another Race to the Top round would look like. In the meantime, the debate rages on over what winning the future even means, let alone how to do it.

Obama's State of the Union speech found lacking

I have to say I am very disillusioned with the presidents education policies. -cpg

From the blog

“It makes no sense”: Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech

“It makes no sense” is perhaps President Obama’s favorite phrase, using it twice in his 2011 State of the Union speech. I like the sound of it and what lies behind it—a simple way to point out the obviously illogical things that need to change. That is how I feel about the education section of his speech. It makes no sense.

President Obama wants to win the future by “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” “[I]f we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

How to win the race to educate our kids?

More math, more science, more high school diplomas, more college graduates, more Race to the Top, more standards and standardization, more carrots and clubs for teachers and schools, and no TV.


Because China and India “started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science;’” because “[t]he quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations;” and because “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.”

None of these makes much sense to me because they are either factually false or logically confusing. For one, President Obama suggested that parents make sure the TV is turned off. If every parent followed his suggestion and turned off the TV, there would be no one to watch his State of the Union next year. As with everything else, there is good TV and there is bad TV. More seriously, I did some fact checking and logical reasoning and here is what I found out.

Is it true that “China and India started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science?”

No, China has actually started to reduce study time for their children, with less emphasis on math and science

I am not familiar with education in India so I will stick to China and I assume President Obama meant education in schools, not education at home. Unless he meant 50 years ago, the statement is completely false. The school starting age in China has remained the same at age six since the 1980s when China’s first Compulsory Education Law was passed in 1986. Since the 1990s, China has launched a series of education reforms aimed at reducing school hours and decreasing emphasis on mathematics. According to a recent statement from the Ministry of Education (in Chinese):

Since the implementation of the “New Curriculum,” the total amount of class time during the compulsory education stage (grades 1 to 9) has been reduced by 380 class hours. During primary grades (grades 1 to 6), class time for mathematics has been reduced by 140 class hours, while 156 more class hours have been added for physical education. In high school, 347 class hours have been taken out of required courses and 410 class hours added for electives. (People’s Daily,

Is it true that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations?”

It depends how one measures quality. If measured in terms of test scores on international assessments, yes, but these test scores do not necessarily indicate the quality of math and science education and certainly do not predict a nation’s economic prosperity or capacity for innovation.

When he says that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations,” President Obama ignores the fact that American students performance on international tests have been pretty bad for a long time, and believe it or not, has got better in recent years. In the 1960s, America’s 8th graders ranked 11th out of 12 countries and 12th graders ranked 12 out of 12 countries on the First International Mathematic Study. America’s 12th graders’ average score ranked 14th out of 18 countries that participated in the First International Science Study. In the 1970s and 80s, America’s 12th graders did not do any better on the Second International Mathematics study, with ranks of 12, 14, 12, and 12 out of 15 educational systems (13 countries) on tests of number systems, algebra, geometry, and calculus respectively. On the Second International Science Study, American students’ performance was the worst (out of 13 countries with 14 education systems participating, America’s 12th graders ranked 14th in Biology, 12th in Chemistry, and 10th in Physics) (Data source, National Center for Educational Statistics). In 1995, America’s 8th graders math scores were in 28th place on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. In 2003, they jumped to 15th , and in 2007, to 9th place.

Obama also said in his speech:

Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

So who has made America “the largest, most prosperous economy in the world?” Who are these most productive workers? Where did the people who created the successful companies come from? And who are these inventors that received the most patents in the world?

It has to be the same Americans who ranked bottom on the international tests. Those 12th graders with shameful bad math scores in the 1960s have been the primary work force in the US for the past 40 years. The equally poor performers on international tests in the 70s and 80s have been working for the past 30 years now. And even those poor performers on the 1995 TIMSS have entered the workforce. Apparently they have not driven the US into oblivion and ruined the country’s innovation record.

Is it true that Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of public education in a generation?

Again, it depends. It depends on how one defines “meaningful.” If defined as the scale of impact without questioning whether the impact is beneficial or not, it may be true but considering the actual consequences, Race to the Top is neither meaningful nor flexible. It does not focus on “what’s best for our kids” nor spark “creativity and imagination of our people.”

I wonder if Obama knows what Race to the Top actually does because it is just the opposite of what he asks for. He says:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world” perhaps explains why the American students scored poorly on tests but have been able to build a strong economy with innovations.

But Race to the Top is about killing ideas and forcing students to memorize equations by imposing common standards and testing in only two subjects on students all over the nation; by forcing schools and teachers to teach to the tests; and by forcing states to narrow educational experiences for all students to a prescribed narrowed defined curriculum.

Race to the Top is precisely what he said it is not: “We know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” It is nothing but a top-down mandate. Race to the Top applications required states and schools to be innovative in meeting the top-down mandates: adopting common standards and assessment, linking teacher evaluation/compensation with student test scores, offering more math and science learning, and allowing more charter schools. In the first round of competition, Massachusetts was penalized for not wanting to rush to adopt the common standards. Pennsylvania was penalized for proposing innovative practices in early childhood education (Source: Let’s Do the Numbers: Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Lin By William Peterson and Richard Rothstein)

Race to the Top is anything but what Obama says “the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” States that were desperate for cash had to use all means to coerce teachers, principals, and school boards to sign on to the application because participation of local schools was a heavily weighted criterion. And if teachers and school leaders did not agree, they risked being accused of not supporting children’s education.

And with regard to common standards, while it is true that they were not developed by Washington, but Washington definitely helped with billions of dollars to make them adopted nationwide.

Is it true that “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree?”

It depends for a number of reasons. First, different countries have different definitions of a college degree. Second, not all college degrees are of equal quality. Third, the changes in rank do not necessarily indicate America’s decline. It could simply other countries have caught up.

President Obama may be drawing the figures from a report published by the College Board recently. The report cites OCED data and suggests that “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.” But the data actually do not support the statement.

According to the report, in 2007, America ranked sixth in postsecondary attainment in the world among 25-64-Year-Olds. It ranked fourth among those ages 55 to 64. But for the 25-34 age group, America ranked 12th. Simply looked at the rankings, America is indeed in decline. But looking at the percentages of postsecondary degree holders shows a different picture. For the age group of 25 to 64, 40.3% of Americans held a college degree. The two countries that were immediately ahead of America, Japan and New Zealand, had a lead of less than 1% at 41%. The other three leading countries were Russia (54%), Canada (48.3%), and Israel (43.6%). For the young age group (25-34 year olds), America had 40.4% and five out of the 11 countries led by about 2%. The countries with over 10% lead were Canada (55.8%), Korea (55.5%), Russia (55.5%), and Japan (53.7%). For those ages 55 to 64, America ranked fourth, but the percentage was 38.5%. The countries ahead of America were Russia (44.5%), Israel (43.5%), and Canada (38.9). Based on this data we can draw two conclusions. First America was never number one. Second, the percentage of college degree holders in America has actually increased.

How many more math and science graduates does the US need?

President Obama wanted “to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.” This is driven by the belief that America does not prepare enough talents in these areas. But according to a comprehensive study based on analysis of major longitudinal datasets found “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before.” The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute. “Our findings indicate that STEM retention along the pipeline shows strong and even increasing rates of retention from the 1970s to the late 1990s,” says the report. However, not all STEM graduates enter the STEM field. They are attracted to other areas.

“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” one of the study’s co-author Lindsay Lowell was quoted in the study’s press release, “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”

What America really needs?

President Obama actually got the destination right when he said “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” But he chose the wrong path.

To encourage American innovation starts with innovative and creative people. But a one-size-fits-all education approach, standardized and narrow curricula, tests-driven teaching and learning, and fear-driven and demoralizing accountability measures are perhaps the most effective way to kill innovation and stifle creativity.

What America really needs is to capitalize on its traditional strengths—a broad definition of education, an education that respects individuality, tolerates deviation, celebrates diversity. America also needs to restore faith in its public education, respects teacher autonomy, and trusts local school leaders elected or selected by the people.

In addition, America needs to teach its children that globalization has tied all nations to a complex, interconnected, and interdependent chain of economic, political, and cultural interests. To succeed in the globalized world, our children need to develop a global perspective and the capacity to interact and work with different nations and cultures, the ability to market America innovations globally, and the ability to lead globalization in positive directions. That includes foreign languages and global studies.

Even the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct result of Sputnik and a product during the Cold War, was broader in terms of areas of studies than conceived in Race to the Top and the blueprint for reauthorization of ESA. It included funding for math, science, foreign languages, geography, technical education, etc. Moreover, it did not impose federal mandates on local schools or states.

Heading north for south: A Chinese story for the President

A Chinese story best illustrates the danger of choosing the wrong path for the correct destination. This story was recorded in Zhan Guo Ce or the Records of the Warring States, a collection of essays about events and tales that took place during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Here is my recount of the story.

The king of the state of Wei intends to attack its neighboring state of Zhao. Upon hearing the news, Ji Liang, counselor to the king rushes to see him. “Your Majesty, on my way here, I met a man on a chariot pointed to the north,” Ji Liang tells the King, “and he told me that he was going to visit Chu.”

“But Chu is in the south, why are you headed north?” I asked.

“Oh, no worry, my horses are very strong,” he told me.

“But you should be headed south,” I told him again.

“Not to worry, I have plenty of money,” he was not concerned.

“But still you are headed the wrong direction,” I pointed out yet again.

“I have hired a very skillful driver,” was this man’s reply.

“I worry, your majesty, that the better equipped this man was,” Ji Liang says to the King, “the farther away he would be from his destination.” “You want to be a great king and win respect from all people,” Ji Liang concludes, “You can certainly rely on our strong nation and excellent army to invade Zhao and expand our territory. But I am afraid the more you use force, the farther away you will be from your wishes.”“it-makes-no-sense”-puzzling-over-obama’s-state-of-the-union-speech/

If only teachers could grade legislators

The Florida legislature is considering a bill that would require teachers to grade their students’ parents. As you can imagine the bill has garnered quite a bit of attention nationwide from education experts and in the state from teachers themselves. Almost universally it has been ridiculed though that has not slowed it down in the Florida Legislature. Where we all think more meaningful parental involvement would be beneficial, most of us think the unwieldy ht it with a hammer bill isn’t the way to go.
It did however get me to thinking, what if teachers could grade legislators, what kind of grade would they get?

Listening in class, D minus: There are very few members of the legislature that were teachers or worked in the education profession but that doesn’t stop them from meddling and thinking that every notion that pops in their heads won’t somehow improve education. They have also shown very little interest in listening to those on the front lines of education. Rick Scott’s transition team had only one teacher on it out of 23 people and he taught at a virtual schools

Completing Assignments, F: The Florida constitution requires the state to fund education at a world class level, instead the legislature has chosen to cut education funding in order to pay for tax breaks to special interests (and I don’t want to hear the argument that they are the group that creates jobs because if that is the case then they have failed too). They also ignored the people with the class size amendment, preferring to fine districts or violating it rather than properly funding it.

Critical Thinking, F: Their keep proposing the same solutions, vouchers, charter schools and merit pay, despite the fact the first one violates the constitution and the last two have been proven in study after study not to improve education that is right friends not one study has said those two things work. Their other solution, virtual schools, have been ripe with fraud and the jury is still out on how effective they will ultimately be.

Conduct, F: Rather than looking for solutions that would be beneficial to our children and schools they have engaged on a smear campaign against teachers and their unions proposing solutions that will only serve to weaken public education and force more teachers from the field (less than half of all new teachers last 5 years). Whether it’s by hook (incompetence) or by crook (maliciousness) the legislature has kneecapped our public schools and the children that go there and there seems to be no end in sight.

I give them a failing grade. What about you?

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Silly Florida Education Ideas Make National News

Unfortunately it seems like Florida makes this type of stuff up all the time. -cpg

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Valerie Strauss

In the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category, a Florida (no surprise there) state legislator has filed a bill that would require some elementary school teachers to grade parents on how involved they are at their children's schools.

Schools, students, teachers, now parents: The grading frenzy moves on. The bill, HB 255, was just filed in the Florida House by Rep. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, says:

“Although the school environment has a great impact on a child’s well-being and academic success, parents and the home environment form the foundation of a child’s present and future life. Without proper parental involvement in all aspects of a child’s life, the child’s prospects to be a well-equipped and useful member of society are greatly diminished.”

Yes, Stargel has that right. It is imperative that students have all kinds of support in their home life to be successful at school.

This, though, raises the question of why Stargel and other legislators who think this parent evaluation system is a good idea have voted to evaluate and pay teachers on the basis of how their students do on standardized test scores.

The big movement in teacher evaluation across the country is to link standardized test scores to student pay through a “value-added” formula that fails to take into account any part of a child’s life outside school.

Requiring teachers to grade parents is a nutty idea. Some parents work two or three jobs and can’t be as involved as they would like to be, and, besides, teachers have enough to do already.

Even if it were possible to set up a reasonable parent evaluation system, there could be no real enforcement mechanism, at least not in traditional public schools. Private schools, and even public charter schools, quietly counsel kids out for bad academic performance; traditional public schools can’t.

Now that Stargel has shown that she accepts the fact that home life has a major impact on academic performance, she and her colleagues should now ask themselves just how hypocritical it would be to keep pushing “value-added” assesssment of teachers.

The legislation calls for teachers to assess how involved parents are in meeting teacher requests for conferences and other forms of communication; and ensuring that children are physically ready to attend school, that they show up on time, and that they complete homework and prepare for tests.

The evaluation then would be part of the student’s report card, and a parent could appeal under a process that would be set up by the Board of Education. Of course, though, there is no real way to make a parent do better.

Here’s the list of things that Stargel’s bill says parents are supposed to be doing:

(2) CAUSES FOR STUDENT UNDERACHIEVEMENT.—The following behaviors with respect to the relationship between a child’s home and school are identified as possible causes for a student’s underachievement:

(a) A child is not physically prepared for the school day to inadequate rest or improper clothing, lack of necessary school supplies, or frequent tardiness or absence.

(b) A child is not mentally prepared for the school day due to uncompleted homework or inadequate preparation for tests.

(c) Communication between parents and the teacher is often written rather than through personal contact and often occurs only when a problem has arisen rather than on a consistent basis throughout the school year

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Scott and the state legislatures ideas don't add up

From Practical

Posted by Umpire

With state legislators already drafting legislation that will impact public schools, the time to discuss education reform is now, not the legislative session’s first day. For those who follow trends in education reform, much of the debate centers on increasing performance pay and ending tenure for teachers. Sadly, few people want to discuss equally important issues such as school funding and student poverty. Florida’s education reformers must be willing to discuss all of the issues affecting our schools and not just politically trendy topics that research demonstrates will do little to improve student achievement. The reality is no quick fix exists for public schools. The only way sustainable reform can take place is if all stakeholders including educators, parents, elected officials and community members take action.

Gov. Rick Scott recently named Michelle Rhee, who resigned as superintendent of the District of Columbia’s public schools before she could be fired, as his education-reform advisor. Floridians should know that Rhee publicly admitted to taping her students’ mouths shut, causing them to bleed, when she was a teacher. This alone would have caused Florida teachers to be suspended or fired. Rhee also described swallowing a bee in front of her students.

During the coming months, Floridians will hear from Scott and Rhee about merit pay. Elected politicians who maintain veto-proof control of the Legislature also want to tie teacher salaries to student learning. Teachers are more than willing to discuss raising their salaries, which remain 28th in the nation, including performance pay.

Even so, when it comes to tying teacher salaries to test scores, research has shown that teachers do not control about 60 percent of the factors that influence student learning. Achievement is impacted significantly by what occurs in the students’ lives outside of the classroom. Vanderbilt University studied 300 teachers who received an additional $15,000 in salary if they raised student test scores. After three years, the students’ test scores of teachers receiving merit pay was no different than the students of teachers who did not receive more pay.

Successful merit pay requires student performance assessments to consider a variety of measures including attendance, ongoing classroom assessments, traditional letter grades, academic portfolios, and yes, even test scores. Reformers must recognize that teachers are already doing everything they can despite severe budget cuts to increase student achievement without performance pay. Florida schools are not filled with bad teachers.

Reformers such as Rhee also talk about ending teacher tenure as a solution to public schools’ problems. Tenure provides teachers with the right to due process so they cannot be fired arbitrarily. It does not mean they have a job for life.

Teachers do not give themselves tenure. After a teacher has worked successfully for several years, administrators decide which teachers deserve this protection.

Rather than ending tenure, reform should study improving teacher evaluations. Currently, most administrators conduct quick drive-by evaluations that provide teachers with little feedback that they can use to improve. By making evaluations more transparent and objective, teachers will have the opportunity to learn better ways to increase student achievement.

If Scott, Rhee and elected officials want Florida’s schools to rise to the very top in the nation, then they cannot continue to provide funding at the very bottom of all states. Good schools cost money.

Reducing child poverty also must be a priority as research shows students who live in low socio-economic conditions suffer academically. Nearly 66 percent of Broward County’s 281 schools are considered Title I, which means a majority of the students come from low income families. Miami-Dade County has 328 Title I schools.

Education reform cannot be dictated from Tallahassee. Increasing student achievement must be based on research and best practices that have been proven to work rather than political rhetoric. If we hope to achieve long-term school improvement than teachers, parents, elected leaders and community stakeholders must be involved in the process

With respect to Rhee, Santeramo’s piece is hard-hitting. It should be. These are the facts that far too many people dismiss about someone who is turning out to be the face of reform efforts all over the county. Floridians do not realize that education policy is being driven by the most radical of reformists in Rhee, Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque.

Little evidence of Rhee’s Baltomore teaching tenure exists aside from what she tell us. It was only three years after a short training period with Teach for America. She touts a success level of her student’s test scores that not only is unverifiable, but is too high to believe. Santeremo is also correct in pointing out that the story Rhee herself circulates about taping a child’s mouth shut would result in a firing of a Florida teacher. And yes, even one who was a union member.

Scott’s teacher assessment proposal includes a 50 percent reliance on test scores. This is right out of Rhee’s controversial IMPACT system. This system is the reason why both Rhee and her boss the mayor both lost their jobs. Rhee is disingenuous when she blames the teacher’s union for her defeat, and IMPACT is now in danger of being scrapped by the new DC mayor.

If only teacher unions were as powerful as Rhee asserts and Republicans assume. Such influence would have long ago halted the juggernaut of high stakes testing like FCAT. Politicians like Scott and Bush along with policy makers like Rhee and Levesque are ignoring the voices of parents who realize the monster that high stakes testing became. In what was intended to be a means with which to monitor student achievement became an ends of final judgements on students, teachers, administrators and schools.

They dismiss mountains of evidence and refuse to take into account the role poverty has in a child’s learning. To do so would render null and void their teacher assessment scheme.

Levesque, who has no experience in education, is portraying the Scott plan as one which provides “choice” for parents. What if parents chose not to want their children and their children’s teachers and schools judged by high stakes testing?

You can find the piece by Pat Santeramo at:

Decloaking Superman

From the blog Education Next

by Diane Hanfmann

I wish there was a hero that possessed the superpowers to fix what ails education in America, truly I do. Would they be able to sneeze and end poverty? Could they blink and make bad policy go away? Would a twist of their wrist send a message into the heads of bad teachers that they should leave the profession? Could a simple slap on the knees serve as a barrier keeping all persons without appropriate background from entering policy making? Perhaps a magical ring could detect political motive trumping student benefit and emit a purple ink onto the face of the perpetrator regardless of distance. We don't have that.

I reject the substitute. Her vision is blind to poverty and the very lives of the children for which she portrays herself as savior. Her voice is not used to reflect the enormous bulk of literature which correlates poverty to low static achievement measures. You can't fix a leaky pipe by adding Kool Aid to the water. The woman the media portrays bypasses the leak. That is not super thinking, imho. Her strategy is flawed from the start. Yet she is hyped by the media. I must be missing something.

Interestingly, her vision is eagle sharp on teachers as the blame for bad things. I am reminded of missing the gaping

gunshot wound in the chest of a man but notice instead his pale skin on his toe. Focusing on and coloring the skin via the world's best dermaologist won't solve the problem at hand. A hero with the wrong focus should only be called misguided.

I reject the substitute. Her presentation to the public is irksome to me. I am reminded of media handlers and words which sound good but beneath them lie a whole new plan. I can't say she knows what she is doing as she has no background in education. I do and I am aware of her use of placing static achievement measures in the face of the public, who is ill equipped to place such information in context. Certainly. this plays to her advantage. Wouldn't a hero teach the public and work at fairness in presentation of information?

Her visual field is missing the evidence of looking at policy which dictates teacher behavior. Why not look at NCLB and . in my state, the A+ Plan? Even I , a mere mortal, can show this supposed hero detriments of such policies.

She doesn't look. She is no hero and she has the glory. More worrisome, she has power.

Her rise is fraught with question but one certainty I found is her connection to bilionaires. Her test score claims are

uncertain. Erasures and other events during the time of her leadership add to the mystery surrounding the boost of this lady into stardom. Her choice to fire 266 teachers and then discover a budget surplus does not point to super powers of investigation.

I reject this substitute. She pushes merit pay and vouchers.. Why call someone a hero when their platform includes implementing practices research shows ineffective in education? Do heroes suggest wastes of energy and damage on thier mortal neighbors? Would Robin crusade that Batman should walk to the next crisis and leave the Batmobile in the garage? Would Spiderman shoot his web at the good guys t o immobilize them and their aid efforts? Would Superman give his crusader outfit to a mortal person and send them to the phone booth without instructions on flying? Did Batman protect Gotham by holding and promoting checker tournaments ? How little is her concern with our nation's children that ineffective practice is touted?

I guess there actually may be one tie in with superheroes. Ms. Rhee used tape to keep all her class's mouth shut, somewhat reminiscent of a Spiderman web shooting. Imagine the teachers who haven't done so. Imagine theteachers who advocate for better things for our students and schools. Imagine the teachers with appropriate background to address issues in education? Imagine teachers with a visual field that includes a larger scope?

If Ms. Rhee is the best example of a hero for America's teachers, parents, and policy makers, we are in more trouble than even she states.

Bill Proctor, chairman of the Florida House K-20 Education Committee, talks education

I am not optimistc we will see anything but union busting and teacher bashing reforms. -cpg

From TampaBay.coms gradebook

by Jeff Solocheck

The Florida Legislature renewed its discussion on teacher quality and performance pay issues this past week, with several hearings in both the Senate and the House. The question hasn't been whether a revamped version of last year's vetoed Senate Bill 6 will come up this year, but rather what the details will be. The Senate opened the doors to anyone who wanted to come offer ideas, with no language on the table, while the House started its conversation with a detailed proposal from Jeb Bush's Foundation for a Better Florida. House K-20 Committee chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his expectations of this year's effort to push for change to the ways teachers are contracted, paid, evaluated and certified.

I'm wondering where you see this headed now. There's definitely going to be a bill, it looks like, and I want to know how closely the two houses are working on it and how much input you are seeking from outside groups.

Well I guess two things. No. 1, most of the committee hearings that I am acquainted with on education in the House have been predominantly testimony from representatives of the various segments of the education system. We really haven't had any testimony, any hearings dealing specifically with bills, that I am aware of. ...

I guess I am thinking when you had at the subcommittee Patricia Levesque making a presentation on the recommendations she had from the Foundation (for a Better Florida).

Okay. All right. I saw when Patricia made those. But as far as I know no one has filed a bill with the recommendations. I am sure they will be considered. I've met with Patricia on several occasions just to try to understand the proposals they are putting forth. But those are not in any type of bill form now and I don't know they will be.

Do you think there is more of an opportunity for people to have a meaningful participation in this discussion this year than last year? Because last year a lot of people felt shut out.

I think there has been a considerable amount. Of course the commissioner and his people have had meetings with the superintendents. They have had meetings with the teachers unions. I met with Sen. Wise earlier this morning. He has gone to a number of teacher meetings. But basically the SB 6 that we had last year, there were two main parts to it. One of them had to do with what we are calling teacher tenure. It's really service contracts, professional service contracts. And the other one had to do with performance pay. There has been widespread discussion of those two topics.

Are those things for sure going to happen this year?

I can't tell you anything for sure. I can tell you I don't think there's any question that we in the House will be looking at those topics.

What do you envision? What kinds of things do you think are important in that legislation? What does the House want?

Well, to say what the House wants, I don't know that I'm qualified. But I can tell you where I think we're heading, to some extent. But you've got to realize of course I've got to be consistent with what the leadership is looking for, what the governor's office is looking for. And we've got to be compatible with what the Senate is looking for. So I could tell you what I think is going to be the main frame of those issues. But it doesn't mean that's going to come out that way at the end of the day.

I want to know the way you describe it.

I think you're going to find an approach to teacher employment that will not be a tenure system. Now, will there be a probationary time? Will there be one year contracts? Three year contracts? All of that is up for discussion. But I do believe there will be an adjustment of the tenure system as we now know it.

Performance pay, I can only say at this moment it is very likely that how we come out will be fairly consistent with what the commissioner and others have negotiated with the federal government in the Race to the Top.

Are you concerned that there will be another outburst by teachers who are angry with what's going on that will stop things or make it more difficult to accomplish?

Hmmmm. Well, I don't speculate on what others might do. But I think it would be difficult for anyone to argue that there hasn't been widespread consultation with others on this issue, including teachers and the teachers union. My understanding was, they may not be in complete accord on tenure but I think they've reached some common ground on performance pay.

I know some districts are asking that you just do what Race to the Top says and just let it be a pilot program until you can see what works. Is that an idea that holds some water?

I have not heard that. I met with a group of superintendents and we had a pretty good discussion of the two topics along with several others. But I have not heard that as being a pilot program. I think we are beyond the pilot program time. I think we have got too many districts involved in Race to the Top. ... There was a relatively small number that didn't sign on in the final analysis. But it's like anything else. You're not going to please everybody. If we can come to agreement with the majority that's probably the best we can do. But I do believe that something definitely akin to what the Department of Education came up with -- I should say likely, I shouldn't say definitely -- in their Race to the Top program is where we'll start and it may be where we end up.

Do you think the collective bargaining rules and laws will stand in the way at all?

It's hard to say until you see how the bill is written in the final analysis if you would anticipate any conflict between the two. I would hope not. But I really don't know why it should. I think most of what you bargain for is still open for bargaining. But I think how people are paid and ... if we're talking about pay for performance to say we are going to pay for performance, I don't know that's a violation of any union collective bargaining standards. And I don't know that tenure is sacrosanct within the bargaining process. I don't know how many professions or organizations bargain away lifetime employment.

What about the issue of testing. That's another thing I've heard superintendents touch on, that they think kids are tested too much already. Do you think there's a way to do this without putting more testing on kids?

Well, I don't know. I don't know that I necessarily agree with the notion that there is too much testing already. Unless schools have changed dramatically since I went to one and I taught in one, we generally had tests at the end of each week. And we had tests at the end of each unit. The question is probably, are we going to have some sort of standardized tests as opposed to teacher-made tests. And I think you will see more. But a test is a test. If you're going to have a test at the end of each unit, I don't think it makes a world of difference if you're going to have a standardized test on that unit or if it's a teacher-made test. As long as the test relates to the curriculum.

Okay. What's the time frame going to be for all this? Is it going to be something that happens fast? Or will there be lots of debate and go to the end of the session?

That's a guess. ... Next week is not a committee week. The following week is a committee week. At the end of that week we should know pretty well, we'll at least be able to roll out some ideas and see where we are in relation to where the Senate is.

School Reforms don't make the grade

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

We're hearing some interesting ideas for "reforming" schools nowadays — from a legislator's desire to grade parents to gubernatorial advisors who want taxpayers to cut checks for home-schoolers.

So I thought maybe we should look closer at these ideas — and run them by the region's top school officials.

Let's start with the home-schooling.

Gov. Rick Scott's educational advisers are talking about redirecting public-school money to parents who home-school their kids.

Want specifics? Too bad. Our governor isn't much into such things. Scott's office didn't respond to a request for more details.

But let's think about this for a minute.

You take a dirt-poor mother of three and offer her vouchers — say $5,000 a kid — if she wants to "home school" her children.

So she can send them to public school and get nothing. Or she can keep them at home and collect 15 grand to spend on who-knows-what.

"How would we know that money would be used for the student?" asked Osceola School Board Chairman Cindy Hartig:

"Think of the drugs you could buy with that," said Seminole County School Board Chairman Dede Schaffner.

Obviously the majority of parents wouldn't do such a thing. But the bigger question is still there: Where's the accountability?

We have politicians obsessed with standardized tests to prove results. And yet now they're talking about just giving school money to anyone who wants it?

The real goal seems to be the continuing effort to de-fund traditional public education in this state. Lawmakers would rather give money to private schools, charter schools, virtual schools — apparently even home schools — than meet the constitutional requirements of a properly funded school system.

"Public education would lose," said Candace Lankford, the Volusia County board member who leads the Florida School Boards Association. "And students wouldn't necessarily gain."

Parents are, of course, free to home-school their kids. But they shouldn't expect to tap into money that was collected for public schools. (And by the way, the same goes for you retirees who attended public schools up North but gripe about paying taxes for schools down here. It's called a society. And you're part of it whether you like it or not.)

Now, on to grading parents.

The concept behind Polk County Republican Kelli Stargel's bill is decent enough. She wants more parents to be involved with their kids' education.

Amen. Who doesn't? President Barack Obama gave voice to that sentiment just last week, saying in his State of the Union speech that "responsibility begins not in our classrooms but in our homes."

But Stargel's demand that teachers start labeling some parents "unsatisfactory" is unsatisfactory itself.

Most school officials were troubled by several aspects of the proposal — including the presumptuous nature of a teacher, who may know nothing about a parents' work schedule or home life, labeling parents a failure.

Volusia County schools Chairman Stan Schmidt (also a Republican) doubted the bill would even be taken seriously. "What would happen to parents who receive poor grades?" Schmidt asked. "Is the state willing to fine the parents? Require them to take parenting classes? Take away the children?"

And while we're asking questions, I have another one for Rep. Stargel: Why are legislators in this state obsessed with butting their noses into other people's business?

You people scream bloody murder about "federal intrusion" — but try to control everything from term limits for city councils to tax rates for county commissions.

And now you're trying to dictate policies that should be set by local school boards.

You have more than enough of your own problems.

Besides, the latest test scores and graduation rates suggest things are actually improving in Florida's schools.

Leave the school policies to those who were actually elected to handle them.

As Seminole's Schaffner said: "We are the closest to the issues. Let us do our job."

If Tallahassee lawmakers want to do something productive, they could properly fund our schools in the first place. That would be better than ideas that are heavier on shtick than substance.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at or 407-420-6141.

NCLB responsible for the dumbing down of America

I think I wrote about this three yeas ago. -cpg

From the

by Emmanuel Touhey

President Obama placed special emphasis on education in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, mentioning it 10 times in all. With Congress set to renew the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law this year, The Hill’s Comment Editor Emmanuel Touhey sat down Thursday with Education Secretary Arne Duncan here in Washington, D.C. They discussed the approach Congress should take to overhauling the law, school vouchers, the DREAM Act and proposed rules governing for-profit colleges and universities.

The Hill: ‘No Child Left Behind’ is up due for reauthorization this year. What exactly do you want to see fixed in the law?

Secretary Duncan: There are a number of things that I think are broken with the current law that working in a bipartisan way we can have common sense fixes. I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible. When I ran the Chicago public schools, I almost had to sue this department for the right to tutor my children after school. It made no sense why I had to fight this department to help kids who wanted to learn after school, so we have to really get out of the way there. We have to continue to raise standards. We’ve seen 40 states provide leadership, and do that, and we need to provide a well-rounded curriculum, so reading and math are important, but science, social studies, dance, drama, art, music, foreign languages, physical education, all those things. We want the new law to be fair, to be focused to be flexible. And we think we can do these things working together this year.

The Hill: You said recently that education reform is a chance for bipartisan governing. Education is something that both parties have rallied around, but in the current climate where there is a lot of talk about budget cuts, do you think that is possible?

Secretary Duncan: I do think it’s possible. It’s possible and we want to continue to invest in education, not in the status quo but in this new vision of reform in where we’re going. But I think what folks haven’t really understood is reauthorizing the law, that’s a legislative fix, that doesn’t cost a nickel. There is no price tag attached with that. So these are two separate conversations, and we need to have them both and we need to have them at the same time, but fixing the law, we need to do and we need to do now, and there’s no dollars attached to doing that.

The Hill: Are there any programs that you would like to see actually cut that you think are not necessary now?

Secretary Duncan: We’re making some very tough calls on our budget. We’re looking to consolidate 38 programs into 11. We’re trying to streamline, we’re trying to become much more efficient and focus scarce resources in those areas that are making the biggest difference. And we hope Congress will understand that while we’re looking for an increased investment in education, we’re trying to do business in a very tough way and make some tough choices ourselves.

The Hill: Are you in favor of one single bill, or several small bills?

Secretary Duncan: I’m open to that conversation. What I’m interested in is getting to the right outcome, and whatever the best way to get to the finish line makes sense. I don’t think we need another thousand-page, thousand-pound bill. Maybe we do it in 100 pages, and do it in a way that folks can really understand it and be thoughtful on it. Whatever it takes to get there, what I want to get is to the right finish line. We did a national conference call Wednesday with Senator Harkin, Senator Enzi, Senator Alexander, they were very, very positive on this. And the goal is to get a bill to the President before the recess in August. And there are a lot of reasons why it may not happen, but if you ask me today, I’m actually very hopeful.

The Hill: As a practical matter, which do you think would be better, doing a number of small bills – John Kline in the House has talked about that possibility.

Secretary Duncan: Yeah he’s talked about that. I actually was in Minnesota with Congressman Kline on Friday and we talked about that. I talked about maybe the idea of maybe doing a smaller bill, he was interested in that, and I think that conversation will continue. So I don’t know if there’s an exact right answer on it. For me it’s been very clear about where we end up, and what’s the best way to get there.

The Hill: You did spend some time with him visiting some schools in Minnesota, what did you talk about in terms of education and moving forward?

Secretary Duncan: We talked about a range of things. I just have so much respect for Chairman Kline. He’s thoughtful, he’s smart and he’s committed on this issue. We share fundamentally a need to fix the current law. He has about 26 or 27 schools in his district. Under the current law almost every single one is going to be labeled a failure in the coming year. And we went to some phenomenal schools, they’re not a failure by any stretch, any definition of what failure is. So schools that are being mislabeled, that are being stigmatized is very demoralizing to hard working teachers, very confusing to parents, and we need to work together to fix it and to do it now.

The Hill: Speaker Boehner has introduced some legislation regarding the school choice program here in the District. Are you in support of that legislation?

Secretary Duncan: I’m just really pleased that the Speaker’s really focused on education. I think the more we have these conversations that’s helpful. In the past as you know we’ve fought hard to keep children who are in those current programs, in them, not have them leave schools. We didn’t push for renewal of it. And what I’m really interested in is not just saving one or two or three children, but in turning around these chronically underperforming schools. And as you know, we’ve put $4 billion behind these efforts, these school improvement grants, and I don’t want to just save a handful of children and leave 500 in the school to drown. We want to fix the entire schools, turn them around, and that’s the focus of my efforts.

The Hill: Can you do both though? Allow his legislation, and Sen. Lieberman is also doing a similar bill, and your efforts side-by-side?

Secretary Duncan: Well I’m happy to have the conversation and continue to talk it through. Again I think the more all of us are focused on education that’s a good thing, and we’ll continue to talk with Speaker Boehner. As you know he was a real champion in the previous authorization of No Child Left Behind, worked very hard in a bipartisan way, and I think he’s going to be a crucial leader as we move forward this year.

The Hill: The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington was his guest at the State of the Union, so this seems to be something that’s important to him, I just want to press you on it. Do you think that his piece of legislation should go forward?

•Talking with Arne Duncan
Secretary Duncan: Well I haven’t read his piece of legislation, so I don’t know the specifics. I haven’t in the past supported the continuation of the voucher program. When I got here what I fought hard to do was to keep the current students in the program and what I’m most interested in is thinking about how we help every single student in this country be more successful.

The Hill: And new students maybe coming back into it, at the moment you’re not willing to go there?

Secretary Duncan: We hadn’t supported that in the past. Again my focus has been on these school improvement grants to significantly fix the schools here in D.C. As you also know D.C. is one of the places that won our Race to the Top grant, so we’re very heavily invested here in transforming the entire school system in D.C. Again not just saving one or two children.

The Hill: What do you say to the parents who have been invested in those programs themselves, that live in the District, that can’t because you don’t support that legislation as of now?

Secretary Duncan: Again, every family, every student that was in that program, we absolutely fought hard to keep them in that program.

The Hill: But new people that want to go in.

Secretary Duncan: Right, well we want to, I’m repeating myself here now, fix the entire program to make the District a high performing District.

The Hill: The DREAM Act almost made it in the last Congress, but didn’t. The president talked rather passionately about immigration in the State of the Union, you’ve also described it as personal to you. Can you elaborate on why the DREAM Act is personal to you?

Secretary Duncan: I will and I’ll also say how disappointed I am that it didn’t pass. I mean it was a big step in the right direction but ultimately this has to pass. When I ran Chicago’s public schools, I had about 400,000 students in my system. About a third of them, more than 100,000, were from the Hispanic community. Many of those were people who came to this country as 4- or 5- or 6-year-olds with their families, don’t have status. In my school system they worked extraordinarily hard. They got good grades, stayed in school, were often on the student council, were community leaders, played on sports teams, served in the neighborhood. And then when it was time for them to graduate, the dream of going to college wasn’t there for them. And that was just absolutely heartbreaking to me. That students who hadn’t committed any crimes, who had done nothing wrong, had done quite the opposite, quite the contrary, have played by all the rules, have been assets, for us to not take advantage of their skills and talents as a community and as a country, is absolutely backwards to me. And my wife and I set up a small, we don’t have much money, but we set up a small scholarship program to help some of these students. We had one young man who graduated from high school, was working 40 hours a week at a gas station trying to pay his tuition, the full freight at the University of Illinois-Chicago, it made no sense to me whatsoever. We should all work hard in college. I know I had a job in college, but you shouldn’t have to work 40 hours a week pumping gas to try and pay your tuition. And I just think as a country we’re leaving tremendous talent on the sidelines at a time when we need every smart, talented, innovator, entrepreneur, and to deny this community the chance to go to college is fundamentally backwards.

The Hill: So what happens now?

Secretary Duncan: I’ll do whatever I can to help this come back. I don’t know timing, I don’t know what the next move is, but I was just deeply, deeply disappointed that it didn’t pass.

The Hill: Have you had any conversations with the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Lamar Smith or others on the Republican side of the aisle to moving this?

Secretary Duncan: I haven’t had a conversation with him directly. I have had conversations with folks from both sides of the aisle, and I just think as a country we missed a real opportunity to strengthen our nation by helping more young people go to college.

The Hill: Final question for you is on the lawsuit from the Association for Private Sector Colleges. What’s your reaction?

Secretary Duncan: We’re happy to continue working with them, and I’ve said repeatedly that our ultimate goal in this country is to see many more young people graduate from college, the president has drawn a line in the sand, he’s said by 2020 we need to again lead the world in college graduation rates, and that’s really the north star of all of our work. We think the vast majority of for-profits do a very good job of helping people get back on their feet and retrain or retool and get skills to be competitive in the global marketplace today. We have unfortunately some bad actors that have taken advantage of folks and left them with tremendous debt and without the skills they need to be successful. And so as we work through all of this, we want to really draw that line in supporting those folks who are doing great work, but also letting those know that where they’re abusing this situation, that where they’re taking advantage of taxpayer money, that where they’re taking advantage of disadvantaged folks who are trying to better their lives, and leaving them in a worse position and not a better one, that we simply can’t tolerate that.

The Hill: Any final words as we close on the possibility of cuts that are been talked about?

Secretary Duncan: These are very tough economic times, but there’s nothing more important than continuing to dramatically improve the condition of education. You saw in the State of the Union how passionate and how committed the president is on this issue. I don’t know if you’ve seen the president anytime ever talk so thoroughly and from the heart about education in a State of the Union Address. We want to work hard together and in a bipartisan, bicameral way, to improve the quality of education and to help our country get where we need to go.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Education reform is not always data driven

From the Washington Times Answer Sheet

By Alfie Kohn

The relationship between educational policies and educational research is both fascinating and disturbing. Sometimes policy makers, including those who piously invoke the idea of "data-driven" practice, pursue initiatives they favor regardless of the fact that no empirical support for them exists (e.g., high-stakes testing) or even when the research suggests the policy in question is counterproductive (e.g., forcing struggling students to repeat a grade).

Sometimes insufficient attention is paid to the limits of what a study has actually found, such as when a certain practice is said to have been proved "effective," even though that turns out to mean only that it's associated with higher scores on bad tests.

Sometimes research is cited in ways that are disingenuous because anyone who takes the time to track down those studies finds that they actually offer little or no support for the claims in question. (Elsewhere, I've offered examples of this phenomenon in the context of assertions about the supposed benefits of homework -- along with details about some of the other ways in which research is under-, over-, or mis-used.)

Then there's the question of what happens when the press gets involved. It's no secret that the reporting of research is often, shall we say, disappointing: A single experiment's results may be overstated, or a broad conclusion vaguely attributed to what "studies show" despite the fact that multiple qualifications are warranted. Possible explanations aren't hard to adduce: tight deadlines, lack of expertise, or a reporter's hunger for more column-inches or prominent placement (hint: "the results are mixed at best " is not a sentence that advances journalistic careers).

Whether ideology may also play a role -- a tendency to play up certain results more than others -- is hard to prove. But last week I found myself wondering whether The New York Times would have prominently featured a study, had there been one, showing that taking tests is basically a waste of time for students.

After all, the Times, like just about every other mainstream media outlet, has been celebrating test-based "school reform" for some time now -- and, in its news coverage of education, routinely refers to "achievement," teacher "effectiveness," exemplary school "performance," and positive "results" when all that's really meant is higher scores on standardized tests. The media have a lot invested in the idea that testing students is useful and meaningful.

So we probably shouldn't have been surprised to discover that the Times ran a lengthy (30-something-inch) story on the second page of its national news section last week under the headline "Take a Test to Really Learn, Research Suggests." And it should be equally unsurprising that the study on which the story was based didn't really support that conclusion at all.

(I'm picking on the Times because of its prominence, but many other news organizations also featured this article and described the study in similar terms. Other headlines included: "Taking a Test Helps Learning More Than Studying, Report Shows," "Learning Science Better the Old-Fashioned Way," and "Beyond Rote Learning.")

We should begin by noticing that the study itself, which was published on-line in the January 20 issue of Science, had nothing to do with -- and therefore offered not the slightest support for -- standardized tests. Moreover, its subjects were undergraduates, so there's no way of knowing whether any of its findings would apply to students in K-12 schools.

The real problem with the news coverage, though, is twofold: On closer inspection there are issues with how both the independent variable ("Take a Test") and the dependent variable ("Really Learn") are described.

What interested the two Purdue University researchers, Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Jannell R. Blunt, was the idea that trying to remember something one has been taught can aid learning at least as much as the earlier process of encoding or storing that information. Their study consisted of two experiments in which college students either practiced retrieving information they'd learned or engaged in other forms of studying. The former proved more effective.

The type of retrieval practice used in the study was an exercise in which students recalled "as much of the information as they could on a free recall test." But the idea of retrieval practice need not involve testing at all. In an e-mail message, Karpicke told me, "The NY Times article emphasized 'testing,' which is unfortunate, because that's really irrelevant to our central point. . . .Students could engage in active retrieval of knowledge in a whole variety of ways that aren't 'testing,' per se." For example (as he explained in a subsequent message), they might put the book aside to see how much of it they can recall, try to answer questions about it, or just talk about the topic with someone.

In other words, the experiments didn't show -- and never attempted to show -- that taking a test works better than studying. They were really comparing one form of studying to another.

Then there's the question of outcome. When I said a moment ago that the study showed retrieval practice was more "effective," the most appropriate response would have been to ask what that word meant in this particular context: More effective at what?

In the first experiment, students were asked both verbatim questions and inference questions that drew on concepts in the text they had been given. In the second experiment, they either took a short-answer test of the material or were asked to create concept maps of that material from memory.

The researchers seemed impressed that practice retrieving facts worked better than making concept maps (with the text in front of them) at preparing students for a closed-book test even when the test itself involved making concept maps. But the students were tested mostly on their ability to recall the material, so it may not be surprising that recall practice proved more useful.

I would argue that this result says less about how impressive the method was than about unimpressive the goal was. Karpicke and Blunt weren't investigating whether students could construct meaning, apply or generalize concepts to new domains, solve ill-defined problems, draw novel connections or distinctions, or do anything else that could be called creative or higher-order thinking.

Now if testing -- or any other form of retrieval practice -- were shown to enhance those capabilities, that would certainly deserve prominent media attention. But this study showed nothing of the sort. Indeed, I know of no reason to believe that tests have any useful role to play in the promotion of truly meaningful learning.

The main contribution of the articles that were published about this study is to remind us of the importance of reading the actual studies being described. To understand why the description of this one was misleading, try to imagine a newspaper running a more accurate account -- one with a headline such as "Practice Recalling Facts Helps Students Recall Facts."