Monday, July 15, 2024

Science of Reading and the Emporer's New Clothes

By Michael B. Shaffer

I should clarify that I am not against ANYTHING that improves the practices of literacy instruction and helps students gain better reading skills. I am not against anything that supports teachers in gaining additional skills in literacy instruction. I dedicated most of my professional life as a principal to studying literacy, and providing professional development to the teachers in the schools where I was principal on the topic of literacy. I should say that I started my career as an elementary teacher.

The major argument I have against the current push for Science of Reading at this point is that it is the embodiment of the fable, The Emperor's New Clothes. We have been told that it is something shiny and new and that if we follow it, our students will suddenly start to read effectively where they could not prior to following the path established by SOR and as trained by the State of IN through Keys to Literacy, and includes (are you ready for this?) phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Hold on. Every responsible reading approach I have seen in the last twenty years has been built on these five pillars! Oh, yeah, that is what they call them. The Five Pillars of Reading Instruction. That is not new.

So, what is new? Oh, they added in a focus on Orton-Gilingham which was the basis for Reading Recovery and a host of other programs. Orton-Gillingham has been around since the 1930s. Again, not new.

I know, they have created a new approach to dealing with dyslexia as we teach literacy. That has to be what is new! Some of you are not old to remember that we were told not to use the term DYSLEXIA. So, allow me to give you a very brief history. Dyslexia was first added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association) in 1980. It had five distinguishing characteristics then. It stayed there until DSM 5, which removed dyslexia because the APA said there were more precise terms to describe reading difficulties than the broad term dyslexia. However, now, we have brought dyslexia back. PATOSS (the Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific learning difficulties) announced a new definition of dyslexia on 15th May 2024. The new definition that PATOSS gave of dyslexia is: Dyslexia is primarily a set of processing difficulties that affect the acquisition of reading and spelling. Thank you, PATOSS, but that is even less specific than we had before.

Now, let's approach the title, The Science of Reading. I personally love to hate that title. Why? Because I am a teacher at the university level, and I teach teachers. What I do, what YOU do, is as much art as it is science. That is every bit as true about the teaching of reading as it is anything else. Now, don't get me wrong, I am a huge believer in intense reading programs for students in kindergarten through second grade. I believe in programs that focus heavily on the five pillars and identify the needs of students who need additional assistance because they cannot learn through traditional means and require RtI or assessment for learning disabilities. I believe in a strong identification process at the building level that actively progress monitors every student to insure that they are making progress and learning. As far as I have seen, the lower grades are largely the setting where much of the science part applies because I have worked with many incredible lower elementary teachers who have mad skills in teaching children to read.

The art side of reading instruction is what I believe applies once a student has gained the skills and mastery of the actual act of reading. It is here that we cross a line in the sand that outsiders to our great profession don't even know exists. This is where the teachers take students from "stop and go" reading to I LOVE READING! What does that mean? To a teacher, it means that a kid will have a book under their desk that they pull out any time they have a free second. It means a boy will scour the library for any book they can find on motorcycles because they are fascinated and want to read every word written about them. It means that a principal or teacher starts book wars against another class and they all read the same book, and the biggest thing going in the school is who can answer the most questions correctly about a book they have all read. It means that a principal has started a book club for boys that has 100 fourth and fifth-grade boys who skip recess every other Friday to hang out and talk about books, and then every day on the way to the bus one of those boys stops to talk to the principal about a. book he is reading.

So, am I impressed with The Science of Reading as defined by what is happening now? If and only if it generates the kind of practices that get teachers more motivated to raise expectations for every child to read in their room, whether that is kindergarten, fourth grade, sixth grade, eighth grade or tenth grade. I am for anything that gets Indiana reading. I am just afraid that the approach mandated by the legislature, ordained by ALEC, and implemented by the DOE is not going to get us there.

Indiana Educators United, we deserve better, and it is about time we demanded it. This THING was rolled out by the legislature without input by professional teachers because ALEC despises teachers' unions (it is part of the warp and woof of their very being) and that is why they did not ask for any of us to participate. And now you know the rest of the story.

Reprinted with permission. Find the original on the Indiana Educators United Facebook page.

In Case You Missed It – July 15, 2024

Here are links to last week's articles receiving the most attention on NEIFPE's social media accounts. Keep up with what's going on, what's being discussed, and what's happening with public education.

Be sure to enter your email address in the Follow Us By Email box in the right-hand column of our blog page to be informed when our blog posts are published.

"Across the nation, conservative billionaires are funding a coordinated effort to dismantle public education to pay for private school vouchers that largely benefit wealthy families and enable corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. In the last three years, an unprecedented number of states have expanded their private school vouchers, many providing universal access to these policies for the first time. Under the false promise of “school choice”, Republican-led state legislatures are adopting or expanding K-12 private school vouchers that drain hundreds of millions of dollars from their state budgets and public education systems to fund unaccountable private schools. The cost of private schooling is increasing well beyond what lawmakers anticipated, further draining state resources needed to pay for public services like public schools." -- U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pension, Senator Bernie Sanders, Chairman


Senator Sanders Releases Report Assailing Billionaire-Funded Voucher Movement

The Senate HELP Committee has released a report on vouchers.

From Diane Ravitch
Sen. Bernie Sanders released a report Tuesday detailing how right-wing billionaires are bankrolling coordinated efforts to privatize U.S. public education by promoting voucher programs that siphon critical funding away from already-underresourced public schools.

The report notes that last year, the American Federation for Children (AFC)—an organization funded by former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—”ousted state lawmakers in Iowa and Arkansas who resisted proposals to subsidize private education in states and passed expansive private school vouchers.”

Aided by millions of dollars in funding from DeVos and her husband, “AFC’s political affiliates and allies spent $9 million to win 277 out of 368 races to remove at least 40 incumbent lawmakers,” the report adds.

The DeVos family is hardly alone in using its wealth to undercut U.S. public education...


When Religion Becomes Farce

There's a reason not to mix church and state. Which version of the Ten Commandments should we use? Should we include Buddha's Eightfold Path? excerpts from the Rig Veda? or the Koran? We have a diverse population so we should stick to the First Amendment's prohibition against establishing a state-sponsored religion by favoring one religious tradition over others.

From Sheila Kennedy
Most of us have seen the news that Louisiana now requires posting the Ten Commandments in that state’s schoolrooms. What I hadn’t seen reported–until this fascinating article from Salon–is that the version to be posted comes not from the Bible, but from Hollywood. Rather than go to any of the biblical texts, Louisiana opted for Cecil B. DeMille’s, taking the version to be posted from “The Ten Commandments.”

Actually, that shouldn’t be a surprise–Christian nationalists aren’t known for consulting original texts. Or for honesty.

The article is lengthy–and fascinating. It quotes several biblical scholars who have read–and engaged with–the biblical versions...


Florida: Textbook Authors Told to Delete References to Climate Change

"If we pretend it doesn't exist, maybe it will disappear..."

From Diane Ravitch
Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel reports that Florida’s Department of Education has warned textbook authors to delete references to climate change, although some apparently are getting through. This is especially egregious since Florida is one of the states most threatened by climate change.

She writes:

Textbook authors were told last month that some references to “climate change” must be removed from science books before they could be accepted for use in Florida’s public schools, according to two of those authors.

A high school biology book also had to add citations to back up statements that “human activity” caused climate change and cut a “political statement” urging governments to take action to stop climate change, said Ken Miller, the co-author of that textbook and a professor emeritus of biology at Brown University.

Project 2025: Ending Public Education for Students with Disabilities

The Republican Party's Project 2025 has an entire section on education that includes the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, universal vouchers, and the elimination of teachers' unions. Media Matters has an excellent summary, here.

From Nancy Bailey's Education Website
Project 2025 wishes to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). The USDOE should not be eliminated, but serve as a vital bridge, a unifying force, and a check on local and State education departments, ensuring the cohesive and well-rounded development of our public education system.

In recent years, the USDOE has failed, opening its doors to corporations wanting to end public education and funding elite-driven, unproven programs like Common Core State Standards. It hasn’t supported teachers, students, and parents like it should and has reduced student privacy protections.

However, the USDOE is still responsible for vital programs, like special education, ensuring students from infancy to age 21 have services, Title I programs, and more, to ensure that there are no barriers for children educated in America.


East Allen County Schools eyes new buildings, renovations in long-range vision

Changes for EACS...

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette**
East Allen County Schools unveiled Tuesday a $190 million plan to build two new schools and renovate others.

The proposed projects, which would affect property owners differently, are part of the district’s broader long-range plan, which addresses the years through 2032. Superintendent Marilyn Hissong spent about 50 minutes detailing the student-based safety and renewal initiative.

“(It) represents our collective commitment to the future of our students, our schools and, most importantly, our communities,” Hissong said during a public hearing before the school board’s regular meeting.

The overall plan calls for improvements in every attendance area – Harding, Heritage, Leo, New Haven and Woodlan – with construction of new schools beginning as early as next year.

New Southwest Allen County Schools leader ready to listen

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette**
Kent DeKoninck’s experience mentoring school leaders in recent years sometimes reminded the longtime educator why he retired.

But those relationships also reminded the former Indiana Superintendent of the Year what he missed.

“Anytime I was involved with superintendents and/or principals and helping them through issues, it’s like, I miss this,” DeKoninck said. “I miss that piece of me that wants to help and wants to solve problems and wants to make situations better for kids and for staff and for parents.”

That niggling feeling shouldn’t be an issue anymore. DeKoninck began leading Southwest Allen County Schools last week following the June 30 retirement of Superintendent Park Ginder.

**Note: The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette is behind a paywall. Digital access, home delivery, or both are available with a subscription. Staying informed is essential; one way to do that is to support your local newspaper. For subscription information, go to [NOTE: NEIFPE has no financial ties to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette]

Note: NEIFPE's In Case You Missed It is posted by the end of the day every Monday except after holiday weekends or as otherwise noted.


Monday, July 8, 2024

In Case You Missed It – July 8, 2024

Here are links to last week's articles receiving the most attention on NEIFPE's social media accounts. Keep up with what's going on, what's being discussed, and what's happening with public education.

Be sure to enter your email address in the Follow Us By Email box in the right-hand column of our blog page to be informed when our blog posts are published.

"The assault on public education has displayed the fundamental disconnect between the civic purposes of education and citizens who see education as just another private, consumer good–skills to be acquired (by those who can afford it) in order to enhance the ability of one’s children to succeed in the marketplace." -- Sheila Kennedy in The MAGA Vendetta Against Arts And Education.


The MAGA Vendetta Against Arts And Education

Former Republican Sheila Kennedy writes about politics in Indiana. In this article, she explains an imminent threat to public education.

From Sheila Kennedy
I forget who first popularized the phrase “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” but if Trump should win in November, Project 2025 has outlined policies that would dramatically escalate the attack on public education.

Here are some of the elements of what I can only describe as an assault on steroids:
  • Title I, the $18 billion federal fund that supports low-income students, would disappear in a decade.
  • Federal special education funds would flow to school districts as block grants with no strings attached, or even to savings accounts for parents to use on private school or other education expenses.
  • The U.S. Department of Education would be eliminated.
  • The federal government’s ability to enforce civil rights laws in schools would be scaled back.
The proposals are contained in a comprehensive policy agenda that’s part of a Heritage Foundation-led initiative called Project 2025: Presidential Transition Project, which includes nearly 900 pages of detailed plans for virtually every corner of the federal government and a database of potential staffers for a conservative administration. It will also feature a playbook for the first 180 days of a new term.

Project 2025 was devised by several former Trump administration officials and allies, working with dozens of aligned advocacy organizations (misnamed “think tanks.”) including Moms for Liberty. You will recall that Moms for Liberty is the organization that fought school boards over COVID-19 safety protocols, advocates for censorship of books in school libraries, and endorses far-right school board candidates.


The Education Wars Provides A Guide For Supporters Of Public Education

The podcasters at Have You Heard provide a playbook to defend public education.
"If we are to preserve our schools, it must be clear that public education is for all of us. We must win the peace.

"If we fail at that, we will lose our schools. And if we lose them, they won’t come back."
From Peter Greene at Forbes
In their 2020 book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire sounded the alarm:
The threat to public grave. A radical vision for unmaking the very idea of public schools has moved from the realm of ideological pipe dream to legitimate policy.
In their new book The Education Wars (out this week), Schneider and Berkshire update us on how that radical vision, now fueled by the culture wars, is faring.

The culture wars—roaring debates over what schools are for, what they should teach, who should decide— are not new. But the writers note that “this time it’s different.” This time, the questions under debate include the question of whether public schools should exist at all.

Debunking the School Choice Movement’s Top Evangelist

Corey DeAngelis is on a mission to demonize public schools—and promote voucher programs that benefit his wealthy backers.

From Peter Greene at The Progressive
Corey DeAngelis is an influential, if not the most influential, voice in the rightwing campaign to demonize public schools and privatize public education. The guy’s résumé hits all the bases in the libertarian gameplan. After earning a doctorate at the University of Arkansas’s education reform program (funded by the pro-school choice Walton family), DeAngelis helped found the Education Freedom Institute, became a senior fellow at the Reason Foundation, worked as an adjunct scholar at the CATO Institute, took up an appointment as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and was hired on as a senior fellow at Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children.

He still holds all of those jobs, but his more common title is “school choice evangelist.” As the recent school voucher wave has surged in state after state, DeAngelis has been there to spread the word. While on tour in support of his new book, he distills the current pro-voucher argument.

In a recent talk at the Heritage Foundation, DeAngelis touched on most of the main arguments for vouchers (many of them false) and revealed a few truths about the pro-voucher strategy.

1. The Evil Unions and COVID...


Imagine if every child has a library of their own

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is a free children's book gifting program that she started in 1995. The program began by offering every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, the area where Dolly was born and raised, a free age-appropriate book each month in the mail until the age of five, regardless of family income. In 2000, the Imagination Library became so popular that Dolly announced that she wanted to make the program available to any community that would partner with her and support it locally. The program has expanded and is currently located in 1,800 local communities in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Now, the Imagination Library is coming to Fort Wayne.

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette**
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a pathway to bridging the reading gap between low-income families and their wealthier counterparts. But most of all, the library is fun for children and families.

Inspired by Parton’s favorite children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” Allen County Public Library staff has launched a spirited $100,000 fundraising campaign with the Allen County Public Library Foundation to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to local children. The program gives children one free book each month from birth to age 5.

The enthusiasm is palpable, with nearly 900 Allen County families eager to enroll their children — a testament to the community’s belief in the power of early literacy.

**Note: The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette is behind a paywall. Digital access, home delivery, or both are available with a subscription. Staying informed is essential; one way to do that is to support your local newspaper. For subscription information, go to [NOTE: NEIFPE has no financial ties to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette]

Note: NEIFPE's In Case You Missed It is posted by the end of the day every Monday except after holiday weekends or as otherwise noted.


Monday, July 1, 2024

In Case You Missed It – July 1, 2024

Here are links to last week's articles receiving the most attention on NEIFPE's social media accounts. Keep up with what's going on, what's being discussed, and what's happening with public education.

Be sure to enter your email address in the Follow Us By Email box in the right-hand column of our blog page to be informed when our blog posts are published.

"Imagine there is no public schooling and a candidate in 2024 runs on a great new idea: “Let’s provide universal free K-12 for all students and tax ourselves to pay for it!” What was established 150 years ago would seem outrageous today, especially in an environment strongly influenced by wealthy donors who want to do away with public programs. We take for granted the fact that in all of our communities, we have tuition-free schools that welcome all of our children—it’s a natural feature of the landscape. The system isn’t perfect and often disappoints us. But we need to remember that the core features of this system—that it is publicly governed, taxpayer-supported, open access, and used to advance the common good—are actually pretty remarkable. Moreover, our public education system has made our country far more equal than it was in the past. If we dismantle public education, it would be difficult if not impossible to bring it back." -- from NEA Today, What do Book Bans and Vouchers Have in Common?


What do Book Bans and Vouchers Have in Common?

A new book from the Have You Heard podcasters...coming on July 2.

From NEA Today
In their latest book The Education Wars, journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education scholar Jack Schneider explain the sudden obsession with race and gender in schools and the ascendancy of book bans. It offers analysis of school vouchers and the impact they’ll have on school finances and explores the movement for “parents’ rights,” explaining the rights that students and taxpayers also have.

NEA Today spoke to Berkshire and Schneider about the new book and some of the alarming findings. We also asked about the path forward...

...Can a family with an LGBTQ+ student attend private school with a voucher? What about students with disabilities?...

JB and JS: LGBTQ+ students would be embraced by a Quaker school, but those are a small percentage of the faith-based schools that dominate the private sector. Most LGBTQ+ students would face resistance at a religious private school or, worse, intolerance and exclusion. So vouchers may offer options, but they don’t protect students’ rights. They can deny admission and equal treatment based on their “religious freedom.”

Students with disabilities will face similar obstacles. We recently did a podcast on threats to special education in a voucher system. A mother of a student with disabilities from Tennessee read 20 different rejection letters she got from 20 different schools. In a privatized system, a school can say “no, we don’t have the facilities or the personnel to accommodate your child.” And there will be no incentive to do so. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which turns 50 next year, would not apply as it does in our public school system. Again, vouchers provide some options, but no rights, which leaves a large population with no options.


The Comprehension Problem with New Reading Programs: Ignoring the Books Children LIKE to Read!

The Science of Reading leaves out one essential aspect...the joy of reading.

From Nancy Bailey's Education Website
I’m not a gambler, but if I were, I’d bet that a lot of parents whose elementary school-age children are getting explicit phonics instruction, memorizing rules, and who can define words like diphthong and schwa will be disappointed when their children get to high school and couldn’t care less about reading.

New reading programs promising the Science of Reading don’t cover what children need to become good readers. What’s missing are reading comprehension and the incentive to read because it’s fun and interesting.

When critics of public schools and teachers debate how to teach reading comprehension today, they chatter about knowledge building (of course, previous knowledge is important) and raise questions like, should you teach a child about the main idea? (of course, you should), as if teachers haven’t taught children to read (and write) in the past.

The difference is that, today, they often ignore the main star: books children like to read.


New Indiana virtual charter school report shows $60M in funding for 2022-23

The annual report also gives other data on class sizes and teacher-student ratios across the state’s seven virtual charters.

From the Indiana Capital Chronicle
More than $60 million in state tuition funding went to Indiana’s virtual schools during the 2022-23 academic year, according to a new report.

In all, those dollars covered roughly 8,500 students — a majority of those attending a handful of virtual charter schools operating in the state.

Each year, virtual charter schools are required by law to submit data to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) with the number of student-teacher meetings conducted in-person or via video conference, classroom size, the ratio of teachers per class, as well as state funding totals.

The newest numbers were submitted to the Indiana State Budget Committee last week.


New Hampshire: Why the GOP Is Determined to Destroy Public Schools

This is an important article for everyone to read, no matter where you live. It explains succinctly the true goals of the privatization movement.

From Diane Ravitch
A responsible citizen is an informed citizen, and that appears to be the problem today. Too many people interested in power instead of governing don’t want a truly informed public. Instead, they want enough of the public spoon fed “alternative facts,” conspiracy theories, and outright lies to ensure they retain power although they have views that are both harmful to the majority of citizens and allow the tyranny of the minority to overturn the will of the majority.

At the heart of the minority’s transformation plan is the destruction of the public school system.

Indiana’s attempt to take shortcuts on education is costing us.

It’s time for the State to stop trying to privatize schools and start investing in our public school system.

From Masson's Blog: A Citizen's Guide to Indiana
Ball State economist, Michael Hicks, has a column about Democratic run areas of the country getting richer while Republican run areas are getting poorer. He notes that the U.S. is seeing its best economic performance in the last half century but the benefits are not being distributed uniformly. He doesn’t lay the blame on one party or another because some of the underlying reasons were a long time in the making. But he does underscore the significance of educational attainment in the dynamic.
It is difficult to lay the blame for worsening economic conditions at the feet of one party or the other. For the past 50 years, there was considerable overlap in state policies, so conservative Democratic states behaved a lot like more progressive Republican states in tax, education and economic development policy.

...The 15 states that have seen the biggest relative drop in educational attainment are all solidly Republican states—and poor. Indiana ranks 10th on this list...

FWCS board unanimously approves $55M loan for Snider stadium

At Monday’s meeting, the Fort Wayne Community Schools Board welcomed a new member and approved financing of the upcoming Snider football stadium.

The FWCS Board unanimously approved the financing of the new Snider Stadium alongside other improvements in the district. The cost will come as a loan of $55,650,000 from general obligation bonds and building corporation property tax first mortgage bonds.

FWCS Board President Maria Norman assures that the project will not raise property taxes.

Snider’s new 4,000-seat stadium will utilize a large portion of the loan. The remaining money will be used to update athletic equipment, scoreboards, and other FWCS facilities such as restrooms and offices.

Note: NEIFPE's In Case You Missed It is posted by the end of the day every Monday except after holiday weekends or as otherwise noted.