Saturday, March 31, 2012

Education Issues 2012 #2

Testing, Corporate Reform, Teacher Evaluation, Job Qualifications, ALEC, Arne Duncan,
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

(Click on the titles below to read the complete articles.)

Testing isn't teaching
To understand how tests and learning become enemies, imagine the impact on teachers whose job security suddenly depends on the inappropriate application of a statistical model that almost all assessment experts warn cannot validly measure teachers' performance.

Coming Soon to a School Near You: Big Ed
Corporate America has given us Big Banks - banks too big to fail. Corporate America has given us Big Pharma - a pharmaceutical industry too big to fight. Coming soon to a school near you, courtesy of corporate America: Big Ed - a centralized education system too big to question its self-serving, profit-driven, intellect-destroying priorities.

Stephen Krashen on Teacher Evaluations

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, responds to a USA Today article about evaluating teachers using test scores.
A number of studies have shown that rating teachers using test score gains does not give consistent results. Different tests produce different ratings, and the same teacher's ratings can vary from year to year, sometimes quite a bit.

In addition, using test score gains for evaluation encourages gaming the system, trying to produce increases in scores by teaching test-taking strategies, not by encouraging real learning. This is like putting a match under the thermometer and claiming you have raised the temperature of the room.

The Tragedy of Education Transformation: Leadership without Expertise

Professional degrees in education and experience in the classroom don't matter. So say some politicians who have no professional degrees in education or experience in the classroom.
South Carolina's Superintendent of Education Mick Zais makes several claims in The State (March 25, 2012) that build on one central argument: "The most important information about teachers isn’t the degrees they have or their years of seniority. Their effectiveness in the classroom matters much, much more."

Like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Zais has no experience teaching children in K-12 public education. This complete lack of teaching experience and degrees in the field of education is a suspect position from which to claim that these two characteristics do not matter. In fact, political appointees and elected officials sit in unique positions often above both accountability (the mantra du jour of the political elite regarding education) and qualifications—unlike the real world markets they often praise.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money
ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

Condi Rice-Joel Klein report: Not the new ‘A Nation at Risk’
The report cites lots of statistics that paint public schools in the worst possible light, and continues the trend of comparing America’s educational system with that of high-achieving countries — but doesn’t note that these countries generally don’t do the kinds of things these reformers endorse. Its recommendations would lead to further privatization of public schools and even more emphasis on standardized testing.

Flunking Arne Duncan

Diane Ravitch gives US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, a report card.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves evaluation. He insists that everyone should willingly submit to public grading of the work they do. The Race to the Top program he created for the Obama Administration requires states to evaluate all teachers based in large part on the test scores of their students. When the Los Angeles Times released public rankings that the newspaper devised for thousands of teachers, Duncan applauded and asked, “What’s there to hide?” Given Duncan’s enthusiasm for grading educators, it seems high time to evaluate his own performance as Secretary of Education.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Does non-fiction help children learn to read better than fiction? Maybe if you define "learn to read" as "passing a standardized test."

See also Keith Oatley's Scientific American article (Nov. 2011) Fiction Hones Social Skills.

The first article below touts a study showing that non-fiction helps students learn to read better than fiction.
Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration’s early days, according to a new study...
Howard Gardner, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, responds.
Reading Curriculums

To the Editor:

Re “Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds” (news article, March 12): It is instructive to know that second graders who received a Core Knowledge curriculum performed better than comparison groups on measures of reading. But every choice of curriculum — and, more important, every choice of an assessment measure — entails a value judgment.

Those educators who selected a reading program that valued fictional works presumably thought that was an appropriate emphasis. It is now up to those educators to provide measures that might reveal better performances on their curriculum — for example, richer imaginations by students or a greater likelihood of reading books of any sort outside the school environment.

Cambridge, Mass., March 12, 2012
...and Neuroscience responds...
Your Brain on Fiction

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review: Learning on Other People's Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher

This is from the blog, A Teacher's Fight

Reviewed by Eileen Doherty
Book Review: Learning on Other People's Kids by Barbara Torre Veltri

I just finished reading a book about Teach for America called Learning on Other People's Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher by Barbara Torre Veltri. After countless numbers of conversations about whether or not TFA is good for schools and students, I decided that I better arm myself with some factual information since I don't want to unnecessarily discredit the organization. Here are a few of my thoughts from reading this book.

One only needs a little bit of common sense to realize that placing a TFA teacher, who only has about 5 weeks of training, into an urban classroom could be a recipe for disaster. Most TFA teachers have very little to no experience working with children or being in an urban environment. The original intention of TFA was to help urban or rural districts that had a difficult time finding and placing teachers in some of the most challenging schools by taking recent college graduates, putting them through teacher training during the summer, and placing them into these classrooms for at least 2 years. I can agree that using TFA teachers is better than putting uncertified, long-term substitutes into classrooms, but TFA has transformed into what I believe is a money-making business that ultimately preys on our neediest students.
"...many core members noted that they were "teaching out-of-field" (e.g., an English major teaching eighth-grade math). More serious questions surfaced with respect to the nearly 20% of TFA novices who were assigned to teach special education with no prior training or clinical exposure to special education classrooms."
The fact that TFA teachers were being placed in special education classrooms was a shock to me. Isn't this illegal? I figure that the only way schools would get away with this "crime" is if parents of special education students were not aware of their rights or that the teacher did not hold a special education license. This is just unconscionable.

Much of the book looks at how TFA teachers learn to be teachers. Unlike traditionally trained teachers who can refer to their combined practicum and student teaching experiences when they need to figure out what and how to teach, TFA novices can only rely on their limited group teaching experience from Summer Institute and their own experiences as students. When a TFA teacher enters the classroom, they have had no experience with running a classroom by themselves. The number of mistakes and mismanagement errors will be high and the students will be the ones waiting for their "teacher" to get things figured out. They are learning on other people's children.

Personally, I don't think poorly of the individual TFA teachers. The organization put them in an unfair situation in which they do not fully understand the true difficulty of the job or how they are ultimately giving children less than what they deserve. They also have to live up to some insanely demanding expectations. Corp members are expected to take on additional leadership responsibilities in schools like sponsoring clubs and writing grants. They also are required to attend corp meetings and attend university classes. Then there is the pressure to create results and make TFA look good. They have a certain type of allegiance to the organization that has to be maintained.
"It troubles me that, regardless of my good intentions, I am contributing to the cycle of inconsistency present in my school....
But, as I try to accomplish these goals, however, I am learning to be a teacher. Herein lies the struggle. My students need experienced teachers who know what works and can implement it effectively. Instead, they have me, and though I am learning quickly, I am still learning on them, experimenting on them, working on their time."
"I went through 4 years at Harvard and nothing was as hard as this."
The most troubling part of Teach for America is that there have been many corp members who have tried to speak up about problems and suggest ways to strengthen the educational foundations and provide better support to their members, but very little has changed. "Teach for America, Inc. spends three times as much on marketing and expansion, as it does on training." Any organization that does not address educational issues cannot claim to be putting students or schools first.

Some corp members have described TFA as acting like a cult. If you are not all for it, then you are made to feel that you are a bad person. There is a strange parallel between this organization mentality and the large charter school chains like Imagine Schools. I'll save that comparison for another blog post.

Overall, this book is worth reading to really understand how TFA harms schools and children. Veltri does a nice job of weaving research and anecdotes throughout the book. I also found it quite fascinating to look at TFA's tax forms and the example of their contract with a particular school district. My only criticism is that it gets a little repetitive with some of the ideas.

If Not Us, Who?

by Phyllis Bush

A friend of mine told me that the grassroots group that I am involved with is a noble cause. I thought and thought about what she had said. I do not look at it as taking on a noble cause; I look at it as taking on a just cause. She went on to say that she is so glad that her grandchildren are being home-schooled because they don’t want the public schools to destroy their children.

As I thought about that, it occurred to me the grandchildren of most of my friends have choices because their families have the financial wherewithal to find a school which they like, or if they can't, they have the resources to augment what the kids get outside of school. However, when we bemoan how the schools are destroying kids, what happens to the kids who come from families which do not have the means to home school or to send their kids to a private school or whatever? While I understand the desire of young parents to protect their children and who are willing to take the time and responsibility to home school their children, there are important things that kids can learn from working with others like building community, learning to share, learning responsibility, and being able to collaborate with others that they cannot learn in the isolation of their own home.

As Diane Ravitch profoundly remarked, “public schools belong to the public." Among our group goals is to educate and inform our community. Instead of a handful of people whose qualifications are somewhat suspect making decisions about how we will educate a nation, we need to have parents, school officials, teachers, and the community at large involved in making decisions about our schools. Unfortunately, people like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton Foundation decide what is best for students, and because they were smart and lucky enough to be rich, they obviously must know what is best for all of us. What they have created is a Brave New World of Alphas and Betas and Gammas and Deltas--good for a workforce, but not so good at teaching community or collaboration or critical thinking—not to mention the inability to express creativity. What has been forgotten is one of the fundamental principles of teaching and learning--each child learns at his own pace and his own fashion. One size does not fit all.

My friend lamented that our culture is off track, but I think a lot of that is because most people feel as though all of the issues facing our society are so overwhelming that ordinary people cannot do anything about it, and thus, we are passive and we look at what is wrong with our society, find a scapegoat, and then look the other way.

Our policy makers (both Democrats and Republicans) have decided that they know better than the rest of us about what is good for us in every part of our lives, and yet, their main goal--instead of being for the greater good of the society--seems to be for the greater good of getting re-elected...and in the meantime, the rest of us feel helpless, and in so doing we cling to our apathy. We look for someone to lead us who will give us easy answers, and there are no easy answers to the complex issues facing us.

There is no quick fix to education or to health care or to any of the other larger issues of our time, but if we choose to look the other way, then we deserve what we get.

Even though our grassroots group's mission may turn out to be a quixotic one at best, if we don't stand up and say ENOUGH, then who will?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

ISTA 2012 Indiana General Assembly Accomplishments

...from ISTA President, Nate Schnellenberger, on the ISTA Web Site
ISTA Membership Pays Off!

2012 Indiana General Assembly Accomplishments

K-12 bills are highlighted in the attached chart. We hope you will see and appreciate the broad array of issues that arose even in a “shortened” short session. Please know that year in and year out ISTA is at work for you day and night as the General Assembly convenes. While it is unlikely that any organization that deals in the breadth of issues in which we deal ever gets everything it wants from the legislature, I hope that you will be able to see in this picture, some key successes—maybe even some turning points.

ISTA worked very hard this session in cultivating new relationships with legislators. We always knew who our friends were. We just needed to grow some new friends. We call this our “pro-public education caucus” and membership is not based in party affiliation.Relationship-building takes time, but we believe we have made a good start. And remember, at the end of the day, legislators are uniquely accountable to their own constituents so we humbly ask that you consider building deeper relationships with them back home.

The truth of the matter is that the General Assembly’s unprecedented creation of the new SELECT COMMISSION ON EDUCATION is a direct result of the growing concerns that legislators from both parties had begun to internalize and voice. Their concerns were not only over what the State Board of Education and Department of Education were promulgating with regard to the 2011 reform programs but also how these agencies were going about it. ISTA places great stock in this unprecedented SELECT COMMISSION’s willingness to not only be an unfiltered sounding board but also to provide a fair forum for school employees to contribute to the reforms in meaningful ways. We will do our best to ensure that the SELECT COMMISSION reaches its potential.

In the meantime, thank you for all that you do each and every day for Hoosier children. We will keep you posted.

Nate Schnellenberger
View the chart with details about this session's legislation at

Book Review: What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?

What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? by Susan Ohanian

Reviewed by Susie Berry

What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? is not just for parents and teachers of young children. It is for anyone concerned about the radical changes happening in the public schools (charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, for example) in Indiana and across the country. While reading I marked (with my little book darts) many pertinent quotes from Ohanian and other educators, parents, and even students. Here are just a few of the quotes I “darted”:

From David Elkind, The Hurried Child: “International research shows that pushing children to read early causes later reading problems.”

From Lucy Haab, a longtime kindergarten teacher: “I am tired of the attitude that seems to serve politicians … if children have a difficult time learning something at age five, let’s ask them to learn it at age three.”

From Molly Ivins, who wrote about an excellent teacher she knows in Arizona: This teacher protested when legislators passed a law saying the only method that can be used to teach reading is phonics. She contends that phonics is a good way to teach reading but is certainly not the only way. She said, “There is not a single teacher in the Arizona Legislature. Why are they telling me how to do my job?” This teacher felt so strongly she resigned.

From Professor Stephen Krashen: He stated that in 2001 “Chicago spent $29 million in an attempt to boost test scores of 29,000 students. There might be an easier way,” suggests Krashen. “The time spent on reading for pleasure has a stronger impact on increasing reading test scores, and $29 million buys a lot of books.”

Annalise Schantz was the valedictorian of a high school class in Massachusetts (where high-stakes testing was encouraged by the governor). This was part of Schantz’s address to students, parents, administrators, and a few elected officials: She asked what separated her “from two, 50, or 120?” She said the “assigned numbers reflect nothing about the true character of an individual. Nothing about personality. Nothing about desire or will. Nothing about values or morals. Nothing about intelligence. Nothing about creativity. Nothing about heart.”

On testing, Ohanian says, “The notion that subjecting an eight-year old to a
17-hour test to prove that the state has standards is a colossal fraud as well as child abuse.”

Ohanian contends that schools should not be labeled based on test scores. She is afraid that testing is controlling the curriculum and worries about the fairness of the questions asked our students. Interestingly, even in 2002, when this book was written, parents were beginning to take stands on all the testing. Ohanian referenced parents in California, New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts. A California parent uses the slogan “High stakes are for tomatoes.”

Our voices need to be heard. Legislatures in our state need to be informed by teachers, administrators, and parents. We know what is best for our children; if the legislators don’t know how we feel we need to inform them.

I read this book and wrote this review before the Diane Ravitch speech in Fort Wayne March 13. It is noteworthy that the compelling research Ravitch cited is so similar to what Ohanian referenced in this book.
~ ~ ~

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ISTA Success at the State House

Here's some information about school related legislation from the Indiana State Teachers Association.
ISTA membership pays off. Today we have some good news from the State House. In fact, we have enough news that we will be sharing it over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

As ISTA members, you continue to answer the call each day to serve this state and its children. And at the end of the day, you should know that when public education was threatened once again, ISTA (all of us together) found legislative friends--some of whom we frankly didn't know we had.

It wasn't easy, but there is no denying that in the wake of a series of new bills that were introduced by the Department of Education (DOE) and the State Board of Education (SBE) to seize additional control over state accreditation, curriculum mandates, state takeovers and teachers' rights, ISTA took the lead in stopping this relentless crusade of bills and worked hard to secure real gains within the General Assembly by building bridges with members from both parties.

The result is that the General Assembly sent a clear message that it intends to step in, engage in bona fide scrutiny and meaningful evaluation over not only what the DOE and SBE have done with regard to some of the 2011 education reforms but also with regard to how they have gone about doing it:
  • HEA 1376 creates the Select Commission on Education -- comprised in its entirety of the members of the House and Senate Education committees.
  • In this unprecedented move, legislators from both standing committees of the general assembly have pledged to investigate all of the policies and rules (both enacted and proposed policies) of the DOE and the SBE concerning teacher evaluations, teacher licensure and the A-F school/school district grading policy (commonly called "the matrix") which is the springboard to state takeover.
  • The statutory charge to the commission calls for both substantive and procedural scrutiny and that a report be submitted by Dec. 1, 2012.
The convening of this Select Commission is an opportunity for us to:
  • make our case as to why some of these policies that have emerged after the 2011 General Assembly adjournment have been perceived as being heavy-handed, ill-advised, beyond the scope of authority, not reflective of the General Assembly's intent, and inconsistent with best practices in improving student learning;
  • acknowledge any positive policy changes that may have been implemented; and
  • make recommendations gleaned from the invaluable perspective of our members--those who have dedicated their professional lives to working closest with Indiana's children.
This work is just beginning, but the opportunity is now at hand.

Because we believe that the 2012 legislative session was a turning point for public schools, public school teachers and for public education, we look forward to sharing with you a list of specific legislative successes gained during the session. The list of successes is impressive and will be shared over the next couple of days.

Let it be said, too, that there are many legislators to thank along the way. That list is impressive, too, and will be shared tomorrow. We must continue to work to create a pro-public education/pro-public school educator caucus within the General Assembly that will serve Indiana's public schools and our members over the long haul.

This is why your membership in this Association makes sense. And this is why, by being a member and an activist, we can collectively make a difference.

Thank you for all that you do to help Hoosier children learn and grow. Thank you for all that you do for public education. Stay tuned . . . there is lots more to come!

Please bookmark and visit for additional information and updates as we move forward.
xposted at FWEA / EAEA

Diane Ravitch in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Diane Ravitch spoke to over 1000 people at IPFW last night (March 13). The Journal Gazette...

Ravitch and phony reform by Karen Francisco
The key to improving schools isn't found in vouchers, charter schools, teacher evaluations, merit pay and all of the other current approaches, according to Ravitch. Schools must end the punitive approach to education. They must identify their best performers and allow them to share what they know with other educators. It's making the arts a key piece of the curriculum and ensuring that students learn how to think critically and write well. It's ensuring health care for all children – including prenatal care – and quality early childhood education.
Read it all HERE

Educator criticizes Indiana reforms: Sees trend as threat to public system by Devon Haynie
Ravitch lamented that some Indiana legislators had jumped on the national education reform bandwagon, and she expressed concern that Daniels had successfully campaigned for the most expansive voucher program in the country – a system she said would weaken public education.

“There are no new ideas here,” she told a group of reporters before the lecture. And “no research” to support the ideas.

Ravitch questioned Indiana’s expansion of charter schools, which she said have no record of outperforming traditional public schools, and expressed dismay over how many for-profit charter management companies do business in the state.

She dismissed teacher merit pay as ineffective and said standardized tests were designed to evaluate students – not teachers. Moreover, she said, standardized tests aren’t the best way to measure whether students are getting a great education.

“I’m not opposed to tests,” she said. “I’m opposed to the usage of tests.”

Ravitch also called for an end to the “attack on teachers” – a trend she said was turning people away from the profession.
The entire article is on the Journal Gazette web site.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Education Issues: 2012 #1

Teacher Satisfaction and Morale, Corporate Reformers, Charters, ALEC, New York City Teacher Evaluations

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher
Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession. In one of the most dramatic findings of the report, teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher measured job satisfaction two years ago, now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey series in more than two decades. This decline in teacher satisfaction is coupled with large increases in the number of teachers who indicate that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation and in the number who do not feel their jobs are secure.

One of my finest teachers was near tears the other day. Her student had asked her, “You are so smart…why did you become a teacher?” Within the context of this teacher-bashing climate, that remark was just too much to bear, and I hugged her as she cried. Less than a mile away, her Governor had thumped on a podium at Molloy College saying “if they want the money, perform” as though she and her colleagues were trained seals.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools
Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.

Corporate Foxes in the IN DOE Henhouse: The Chain School Gospel of Jeb Bush, Jon Hage and WalMart
When the Indiana Charter School Board recently approved two new Charter Schools USA schools to open in Indianapolis, the corporate school honeymoon was on. The East Indianapolis Charter Academy and the South Indianapolis Charter Academy, Charter Schools USA claimed, would be “feeder schools” for students to eventually enter the three other Indiana public schools the Florida for-profit company will be handed $2 million yearly to “turnaround.” “Feeder schools” is an appropriate term, for what these schools do is “feed” taxpayer’s money to Charter Schools USA (CS USA) and whatever other for-profit companies it brings to Indiana.

A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education
A legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.

What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?

The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

A Dark Day for New York
Last week, with Cuomo's deadline looming, the state and the unions reached an agreement. It says that 20 percent of teachers' evaluation will be based on the state tests and another 20 percent on locally designed tests, or on the state tests used in a different way. (It's the same scores, used for the same purpose; I have no idea how those scores might be used in "a different way,") The remaining 60 percent is supposed to consist of classroom observations and other measures. All teachers must be rated on a scale from 0 to 100, using these multiple measures. This draconian point system will guarantee that a teacher with a perfect 60 out of 60 on teaching skill will nonetheless be judged "ineffective" if he or she is in the ineffective range on scores. As it now stands, the rating system is so bizarre that a teacher could be rated effective in all three categories and still be rated "ineffective" overall.

Secretary Duncan hailed the pact and urged other governors to follow Cuomo's example. I am sure that Secretary Duncan knows that President Barack Obama wants teachers to "stop teaching to the test," as he said in his State of the Union address, and to teach with "creativity and passion."

Does anyone seriously believe that teachers in New York state will dare to stop teaching to the test? How many will be fired if they take that risk?

In addition to the parties involved, charter school supporters hailed the agreement, which was odd because teachers in charter schools will not be subject to its provisions.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Taking Back Our Classrooms in North Carolina

From the Advancement Project via Schools Matter.

Taking Back Our Classrooms: The United Struggle of Teachers, Students, and Parents in North Carolina Against High-Stakes Testing

March 5, 2012

North Carolina students, parents and teachers say the state’s use of high-stakes testing as its primary means of evaluating students and schools is ineffective, counterproductive, and denies young people the quality education they deserve, according to a new report.

Released today by Advancement Project, Advocates for Children’s Services and the North Carolina NAACP, Taking Back Our Classrooms: The United Struggle of Teachers, Students and Parents in North Carolina Against High-Stakes Testing shares the experiences of more than 100 teachers, students and parents across five counties – Wake, Durham, Buncombe, Mecklenburg, and Guilford – and the results of a statewide survey of 600 teachers. The report offers their collective recommendations for structuring an accountability system which reflects the realities of classrooms across the state.

Key recommendations include:
  • Establishing classroom-based assessment and accountability for students, teachers and schools by offering multiple methods of evaluating students with different learning styles and incorporates peer reviews into teacher evaluations.
  • Equipping students to be active and engaged participants in society by focusing on the development of “life skills” and encouraging them to challenge ideas.
  • Focusing on early interventions for literacy as a basis for all learning.
  • Providing meaningful professional development opportunities for teachers around classroom management.
  • Establishing a system for evaluating implementation of reform efforts and identifying disparities in access to quality education.
Attached files
Taking Back our Classrooms Executive Summary (1.42MB PDF)
Taking Back our Classrooms Report (14.60MB PDF)
Taking Back our Classrooms Action Kit (1.57MB PDF)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

School Reform -- Louisiana Style. Are We Next?

Nancy Flanagan, who writes Teacher in a Strange Land, published a letter she got from a friend of hers. The letter described Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's Education Summit held in Baton Rouge on January 30, 2012. The letter writer, said Flanagan,
is a National Board Certified Teacher, with a long and distinguished career in education. She wasn't invited to Bobby Jindal's education summit--but a Teach for America corps member she's mentoring was, and urged her to attend, saying that she'd learn about the exciting innovations planned for public education in Louisiana.
The Education Summit included Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent John White and, according to, education reformers from across the country.

In a preview of the summit, announced that the summit boasted "a distinguished list of speakers."

The distinguished list included the aforementioned former governor Jeb Bush who brought devastation to the public schools of his state and Joel Klein, Executive Vice President of NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch's information empire. Mr. Klein is a former Chancellor of New York City public schools.

And, of special interest to us was guest speaker, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett.

Nancy Flanagan's teacher friend describes some of the action...
When the doors opened, we were instructed to go to the front tables if our nametag had a table designation on it; if not, we were to find a seat in the back. Thus began the division of the haves and the have-nots. Sponsors, legislators, school board members, TFA, chamber of commerce, Business Report, BESE, and other stakeholders were of course seated at reserved tables in the front.

Those of us who are really in the education business (teachers, principals, superintendents, university people) were left to fend for themselves and find a seat..

...Jeb Bush took the stage to tell us what a wonderful job he had done (singlehandedly) in Florida to fire bad teachers, raise the graduation rates, and buck the teachers unions. He quoted General Petraeus, saying we must "focus on the big idea and not let go." He also predicted that, "over the next five years you are going to see some train wrecks around the country as standards go higher and people fail to meet them."

...The love fest among the "haves" continued with the next speaker, Dr. Howard Fuller, from The Black Alliance for Educational Options. He spoke about the need for strong leaders (something our state has so far ignored, choosing to blame teachers instead). He said the current educational system itself is "dysfunctional." As a teacher, I appreciated most of what he said, especially since it made the front of the room squirm a little.

When Dr. Fuller was finished, Paul Pastorek got up to introduce the next speaker, who is obviously an old buddy of his - Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Instruction. The love fest at this point became nauseating.

Did you know that Mr. Bennett has singlehandedly reformed public education in his state, too? And that he's made a lot of enemies along the way? He believes that the system will be fixed with...competition. (And did you know that he was once a coach?)

Governor Jindal was next...One of the only things he said that struck me was that "we've taken steps to reward our teachers..." Is that why he took away the stipend for National Board Certified Teachers? Did you know that having a great teacher can change a child's life? Really? Finally--we should not be wasting money on failing schools. Give that money to parents as vouchers so they can choose. My question: What will be left for them to choose from?

...then a fiery speech by Joel Klein. He's part of the gang; they stopped just short of slapping each other on the back or high-fiving at their astounding success. Klein began by telling us how privileged we were to have John White as our state superintendent. Klein said three things must change if we are to have a better system:
  1. We need national standards.
  2. Choice and competition will cause us to be better and innovate.
  3. Professionalize teaching and make teachers our "heroes."
Then a "panel discussion" from Ben Austin, Director, Parent Revolution, California; Scott Shirey, Executive Director, KIPP Delta Public Schools, Arkansas; and Marc Sternberg, Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning, NYC DOE. (All three are TFA alums, and I really had trouble focusing at this point, so I took a break, took a walk - there were more people milling around in the lobby than there were in the room listening.)
Read the entire letter at

Diane Ravitch also discussed Louisiana in her latest post titled, Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education at her Bridging Differences Blog.

Race to Nowhere - Reminder

On Monday March 12th, IPFW will show Race to Nowhere, a film to mobilize people to challenge the current assumptions on how best to prepare the youth of America. 7:00 PM in room 101, Neff Hall.

A discussion will follow moderated by Carolyn Lindquist, Clinical Assistant Professor of Education at IPFW, with panelists...
  • Julie Hollingsworth, FWCS School Board member
  • Kathy O'Shaunessy, Homestead Parent
  • Kathleen Randolph, president and chief executive officer of Work One Northeast

Monday, March 5, 2012

Public education is under attack

...from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education -- Monroe County and South Central Indiana

Guest Column
Public education is under attack. Reformers, driven by private, free-market profiteers and by the politicians whose pockets are lined with their money, are seeking to undermine and weaken our public schools.

In 2011, the Indiana Legislature adopted the nation’s most comprehensive “school choice” program whereby all parents may now take a standard deduction of up to $1000 per child for private school expenditures. Among the many benefits to private schools and their supporters are the vouchers or “Choice Scholarships.”

Last year more than 3,900 vouchers were granted by the Indiana Department of Education at an average value of $4,150. This year 15,000 vouchers will be available. Next year, there will be no legal limit. Every dollar of voucher money is subtracted from our schools’ general fund, money that supports the ECAs for thousands of students, helps control class size, and provides special programs for special needs children, among countless other benefits. The state keeps any overage between the cost of the voucher and the state per-pupil support. The public school keeps nothing. Parents are left with paying for lost or reduced services and programs, either directly or through referenda.

Vouchers to private schools erode local control over how taxpayer money is spent. Transparency and open records for voucher schools are not covered by the same state rules as for public schools. Private schools can essentially choose which students will be welcome. If a child has a learning disability or has English as a new language, private schools are not required to admit them. Public schools are open to all. Public schools’ mission is to educate each and every child who walks through their doors.

Here is the big question: who benefits from this legislation? Unsurprisingly, the forces backing vouchers stand to make an enormous profit. To them, the nation’s $600 billion public education pie is there for untold profit. Slick marketing, accompanied by the endless repetition of “failure, failure, failure,” attempts to shape the argument in their favor. They use the inadequate education of the poor, the underserved and neglected urban municipalities as their justification for vouchers and private schools. These efforts are funded and supported by the test and textbook industries, the data and tech firms, corporate contractors and hedge fund managers selling stock in companies managing private, profit-generating charter schools. The major contributors to the campaigns of Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels (see, for example, HERE) tell the whole story.

Public schools are succeeding. Our Indiana schools are at or near their highest scores ever in attendance rates, SAT math, ACT, National Assessment, ISTEP+, and percentage earning Academic Honors diplomas and Core 40 diplomas (ICPE website). But our students are more than just test scores. They are children of diverse backgrounds, abilities and needs who are learning in an increasingly pressured and stressful environment. The caring and dedicated teachers and administrators who are facilitating this growth are doing an amazing job, given the enormous constraints placed on them by legislators who know nothing about education or child development. Should our schools be taken over by for-profit companies? Should the dollar become the bottom line?

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE), Monroe County, has been recently formed. We are a bi-partisan, non-profit organization whose purpose is to support public education and oppose any public policy which detracts from that purpose. Only through the concerted effort of organized parents and citizens across the state can we stop big money and special interests from overtaking the cornerstone of our democracy: the public schools.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Race to Nowhere:

The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture.

On Monday March 12th, IPFW will show Race to Nowhere at 7:00 PM in room 101, Neff Hall.

...from the Race to Nowhere web site:
Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

In a grassroots sensation already feeding a groundswell for change, hundreds of theaters, schools and organizations nationwide are hosting community screenings during a six month campaign to screen the film nationwide. Tens of thousands of people are coming together, using the film as the centerpiece for raising awareness, radically changing the national dialogue on education and galvanizing change.

Featured in the film:
  • Dr. Madeline Levine, Clinical Psychologist and author of the best-seller, The Price of Privilege
  • Dr. Wendy Mogel, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
  • Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Dr. Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University
  • Dr. Denise Pope, Co-Founder, Challenge Success, Stanford University
  • Sara Bennett, Founder, Stop Homework

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Diane Ravitch speaks at Barnard College

...a preview of what's to come when Diane Ravitch speaks in Fort Wayne.

Dr. Ravitch spoke at Barnard College on February 21, 2012.

Her speech -- Is A Public School a Public Good, or a Shoestore? -- begins 8 minutes into the video. Questions and answers begin at about 45:00.

You might also be interested in these articles by Diane Ravitch:


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Test Based Teacher Evaluations Released in NYC

New York City has released evaluation numbers based on student test scores for city teachers. The teachers union has argued that personnel information should be protected from publication and when the evaluation was first begun, then chancellor Joel Klein promised that, because the procedure was "experimental," it would be held in strict confidence. The administration, however, has reneged on that promise and has released the information.

Last week the newspapers in New York City published the results on tens of thousands of teachers.

Testing experts know that using student test scores to evaluate teachers is neither valid nor reliable. Diane Ravitch wrote in How to Demoralize Teachers,
Most testing experts believe that value-added assessment has many technical problems that reduce its validity and reliability. The most recent research review appears in the current issue of the Phi Delta Kappan. Unfortunately, advocates of measuring teacher quality by student test scores never let research or evidence or, in New York City's case, unequivocal commitments to privacy, get in their way.
The backlash against teachers has begun. Here's the story of one NY teacher who was the subject of misinformation, harassment and personal humiliation.

The True Story of Pascale Mauclair
As in many other cases, the story of Pascale Mauclair and P.S. 11 begins with a tale of the flawed methodology and invalid measurements of the Teacher Data Reports.

P.S. 11 is located at the epicenter of a number of different immigrant communities in northern Queens, and over a quarter of its students are English Language Learners. Mauclair is an ESL teacher, and over the last five years she has had small, self-contained classes of recently arrived immigrants who do not speak English. Her students arrive at different times of the school year, depending upon that date of their family’s migration; consequently, it is not unusual for her students to take the 6th grade exams when they have only been in her class for a matter of a few months. Two factors which produce particularly contorted TDR results – teaching the highest academic need students and having a small sample of students that take the standardized state exams – define her teaching situation.

If a journalist with integrity had examined the TDR data, a number of red flags which suggested something was seriously amiss with the scores for Mauclair and P.S. 11 would have presented themselves.
Read the complete story here.
More on the New York City teacher evaluations here and here.

Pro Voucher Money Coming to Local Indiana Elections?

The American Federation for Children is pushing its pro-voucher activities in Indiana.

Karen Francisco, who writes the Learning Curve blog for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, describes the American Federation for Children in her February 29th blog post titled, Big Money Ahead in School Board Races?
The group is a thinly-disguised front for anti-union interests. Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune is the group's leader and its Indiana mailing address is the Terre Haute law office of James Bopp, father of the Citizens United ruling that has spawned millions in secretive campaign financing. The organization pumped $336,500 into Indiana campaign coffers over the past two years – all of it to Republican candidates who have pushed the school choice/anti-union education agenda.
The group is sponsoring a Campaign Training School in Indianapolis at the end of this month in a search for pro voucher candidates to public office.
It's difficult to imagine how much more "reform" could be pushed on Indiana schools, but look for candidates backed by the American Federation for Children to surface in this fall's school board elections. They're already calling the shots in the Indiana House and Senate.
Read The Learning Curve for the complete story.