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ACROSS THE EDITOR'S DESK

 

FAST OUT OF THE GATE'S OPINION PAGE

 

 

 

 


 

 

"If brains were elastic, many legislators wouldn’t have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome Back, Jughead Jones

 

 

 

In May 2010, the New York State Legislature—in an effort to secure Federal Race to the Top funds—approved an amendment to Educational Law 3012-c regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals. The new law states that beginning September 2011, all teachers and principals will receive a number from 0-100 to rate their performance. Part of that number (ranging from 20% to 40%) will be derived from how well students perform on standardized tests.

Fastoutofthegate Responds

Recently the New York State Legislature approved an amendment to the Educational Law in which principals and teachers would be given a rating between 0 and 100. Close to 40% of that number would be derived from the performance of their students on standardized tests. While efforts aimed at increasing accountability are commendable, I have long opined that these reform- minded individuals are barking up the wrong tree. The heart of this matter is that it is nearly impossible to quantify human behavior.  And more so with student achievement. For example, some classes may be overloaded with bright students while others have more than their share of problematic pupils. This would immediately cast suspicion on a numerical rating for that class as a whole. If we were to track individual pupils through their academic careers, such outside- the -classroom events as divorce, relocation, peer pressure, or simply biology might have adverse effects on the child’s learning curve. These factors would remain invisible when it came time to rate the educator.  Moreover, the remaining 60% of the numbered rating would be even more subjective as it would be levied by varying individuals prone to prejudice, cronyism, or a personal rating system at odds with their colleagues.

The solution?  The most important key to successful learning remains the teacher. For the past fifty years schools have consistently failed to attract the best and the brightest.  Many college students from the lower half of the standardized test spectrum gravitate toward teaching because they love working with children and the hours are salutary regarding their station in life. This is unacceptable. The upper half of the university talent pool has their share of those who would love  to teach children but shun the profession not only because of the salaries but because of the lack of discipline, and the prevelance of uninformed principals and superintendents. Add this to the rampant, redundant overloading of meaningless paperwork, and might I add, a lack of peers among the teaching staff and it is no wonder so few adults are capable of discussing serious books, current events or abstract ideas in our schools.

Before demanding numbered accountability, the entire system needs to be overhauled.  This will mean that teacher unions, tenure, merit pay proposals (based on accountability testing or subjective, in-house ratings), vacillating school boards, and other obstinate bureaucracies will have to be reformed from within or legislated out of existence. This should affect the principal's office as well. Irrespective of results principals rarely lose their positions due to poor performance. If drastic action is called for they are tranferred laterally and maintain their pay scale. And don't think they are not aware of this. That is why so many continue down the familiar, unsuccessful paths with which they are well acquainted. There is simply not impetus to change. The principals of the public schools, like many teachers, drift up from the lower half of the college crowd. Once emplaced, they are empowered, obstinate, and not easily uprooted. Unfortunately, many of these dolts continue upwards to superintendent positions. All progressive parties need to keep their eyes on the prize - attracting candidates that can rectify the school system’s problems, most of which are attributable to a half-century- long brain drain.

"And the foolish man built his house upon sand, and the rains descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

-Mathew:7:27

-www.fastoutofthegate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nodding Homer


In his Ars Poetica, Horace took a pop at the Greek poet Homer who wrote the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." Horace noticed the reappearance of a character whom the author killed off previously in the epic, and noted in Latin, "Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus," translated as "Even good old Homer nods."

The Democratic Party and the national teachers unions have had a long, sustaining relationship. At the root of this symbiosis is, of course, the love of money. Unions grease the palms of progressives with campaign contributions. The politicians then look the other way as the unions push for their own brand of self-service (tenure, 180 day work year, and limiting competetion from private, magnet and charter schools) ahead of the welfare of children. In turn, the unions tip their cap and support one of the Democrats' signature issues - choice. We all know how the abortion issue relates to the education of elementary school children, don't we? No wonder the rest of the world considers our very expensive school systems laughable.

So now we have a president, Barak Obama. Mr. Obama likes to be liked. Likes to make speeches rather than get his hands dirty fashioning sacrificed-based compromise between squabbling factions. And he LOVES campaign contributions. That is why we will never see effective, educational reform on his watch. He is too mesmerized by the lucre the unions wave in his face. He is too wary of offending. Every step he takes is measured, studied and cognizant of the finer nuances of all competing viewpoints. He is the ultimate professor's lounge lizard. Therefore, in an era that demands glatiatorial measures to bridge the gap between the skills needed in the workforce and what is taught in our schools, our president is half asleep at the wheel. But that's okay. The teacher unions are doing the driving.

-www.fastoutofthegate.com

 

The only people for abortion are already born

 

 

 

 

 

Potato Heads

 

 

In Idaho, voters are deciding whether to uphold a suite of controversial and far-reaching measures passed by the state legislature last year, pushed by divisive state Superintendent Tom Luna and signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. As of 2 a.m. EST Wednesday morning, 382 of 967 precincts have reported. There are three individual measures presented to voters, who were asked to vote "Yes" to uphold them and "No" to repeal. Currently, the early results show all three propositions being repealed.


Screen Shot 2012-11-07 at 2.01.27 AM.pngResults as of 2 a.m. EST, with 382 of 967 precincts reporting. Source: Idaho Office of the Secretary of State

 

       Jason Tomassini on November 7, 2012

 

 

 

f

 

 

A Devilry of Gremlins

 

CHICAGO (EAG News) — The Chicago Teachers Union is not just about looking out for its members’ interests. The union wants to fundamentally change America, too.
That shift occurred when the radical Karen Lewis was elected as its president two years ago. She’s best known for mocking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s lisp and for taking on – and defeating – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the district’s first teachers’ strike in a generation.

CTU leaders have been on a victory lap of sorts since the September strike, with union activists seeing themselves as protectors of union power during a time of membership decline and education reform at the state and local level.

They’ve also taken on the role of social activities, fighting for causes like the Occupy movement and gay marriage, which have nothing to do with education.
Some union leaders have called for violence and other radical tactics to achieve social goals.

When Lewis appeared at the Illinois Labor History Society’s “Salute to Labor’s Historic Heroes from the History Makers of Today,” she didn’t disappoint the crowd. She threw gasoline onto the fire of class warfare, and even mentioned mob killings of wealthy Americans.

“… Do not think for a minute that the wealthy are ever going to
allow you to legislate their riches away from them. Please understand that. However, we are in a moment where the wealth disparity in this country is very reminiscent of the robber baron ages. The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just – off with their heads. They were seriously talking about that.”

Some in the audience laughed and clapped at her remark.

 

 

 

 

 

Science in the Twilight Zone

 

 

Witness one enlightened group of educators, standing alone, with strong core beliefs and nimble minds

 

Business Roundtable reports on the current crisis in science education. Low standardized test scores abound, and there is not a great groundswell of interest in this discipline among the student population. Further, if these issues are not confronted and solved, there will be a number of economic and security ramifications for our country. While major corporations are taking the lead in innovative solutions, many educational as well as governmental bureaucracies seem to be dragging their feet This is unfortunate, for without students mastering STEM concepts and preparing themselves for STEM careers, innovations in technology will lag behind China, India and other countries with a resulting loss of productivity and economic advancement for the U.S.

Recent research by McGinnis and Harris defines new goals for science educators. First, students should be able to understand and utilize scientific explanations of the natural world while generating and evaluating scientific evidence. They must also be able to discuss, as well as interact, with science-based activities. These goals are in direct conflict with current practices that often emphasize a dualistic approach, i.e., implement the scientific method while memorizing an array of facts.

Other radical ideas have recently emerged as well. Primary school children, who have had enriching science experiences, are now seen as being able to master abstract ideas. This notion will allow teachers to engage these youngsters in authentic activities rather than subjecting them strictly to memorization drills. Certainly, this theory should be looked into more deeply. Finally, the educational cognoscenti have endorsed the idea of narrowing the science curriculum to a tight four. The remaining fields will include the study of cells, evolution, forces and motion and atomic-molecular theory. Undergirding this narrowing of focus will be the revisiting of concepts throughout the elementary and higher grades in the interest of learning mastery.


I particularly like the idea of starting very young children on the path to “thinking like scientists” as soon as they are ready. However, this will entail a great deal of differentiation of lessons within each classroom. I also have a positive view of teachers (representing various grade levels) coordinating the curriculum in the interest of creating a more seamless educational voyage for the students. In addition, I endorse giving professionals from STEM fields opportunities to interact with students. This will allow young people a chance to widen their scientific horizons as well as contemplate career choices. Lastly, I believe most classrooms have already adopted more open explorations, built-in assessments and discussions surrounding authentic experiments.

On the downside, all of these ideas will take up time in an already hectic daily schedule. Anecdotally, I have yet to find a teacher who has enough time to teach science adequately (high stakes testing in language arts and math take priority). I have also yet to meet a teacher who thought his/her students were adequately prepared to navigate through the present curriculum. Perhaps the only solution is enhanced teacher training and professional development as well as lengthening the school day and the school year. Vested interests will fight this but if we are serious about reform at the core of the problem, then we must make this happen.

Reprinted from "Science Fiction"

-www.fastoutofthegate.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

 

If Your School Has Everyday Math You Should be Extremely Watchful

 


  Everyday Math is problematic because it is a language-intensive-based program that

Now, this means that some kids lose out:

Furthermore, if your child is mathematically gifted and is good in language, this program is just not advanced enough.
My town uses this and it is a disaster for both my kids. My daughter falls into the categories of needing the rule, then the concept and needing more drill. I am drilling my daughter in math concepts using a computer program, and she has improved dramatically. On the other hand, my son is so bored it is frightening. Particularly frightening is that I have read that it leaves out concepts that you need in order to go on to math at the highest levels. I’m doing more research on that now.

How did I find out about this and come to these conclusions? The state standardized tests; literally, thank God for the state standardized tests, the only test that allows a glimpse of what might be happening within the schools before it is too late. My daughter received a “needs improvement” on her 4th grade math scores.  Meanwhile, her math grades were all fine -- nothing that showed she should have received a needs improvement.

Of course, on receiving the score, I immediately contacted the school and asked for a copy of the test and her answers, which I received. I had her take the test in my kitchen to make sure that the results were valid. They were. Only one question off. I asked for a teacher conference, which I received. Her teacher didn’t seem concerned and said that she wasn’t a candidate for remedial math, and I can see why. My daughter gets concepts pretty quickly, but if she doesn’t drill to retain them, then they aren’t retained.

Furthermore, I found out at a school committee meeting that my daughter’s elementary school didn’t implement the curriculum correctly in comparison to the other schools in town. Everyday Math is based on a spiral – keep teaching the same concept in small doses each year. If you don’t get it that year, you will get it the next. Well, the teachers at my daughter’s school slowed down the curriculum so most children got it the first time. They didn’t go ahead as fast as they should have. As a result, they didn’t finish the program each year, and my daughter never was exposed to some key concepts at all. (This has since been fixed, but the parents who didn't listen to that school committee meeting were not informed.)

Fast forward to the end of 5th grade. It turns out that they give a pretest and a posttest for the curriculum. In other words, they give the final at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year to track the learning. My daughter received a 25 at the beginning of her 5th grade year in math, but she only received a 69 at the end of the year. Obviously, one year didn’t make up for what she was missing.
Clearly, intervention was needed. In the summer at the end of 5th grade, I had her try the Aleks computer program in math, www.aleks.com. The Charter School in my town uses it, and I decided to try it for my own daughter. A tutor would have been expensive and less than optimal in this situation because my daughter does get concepts, she just needs more drill (how can most kids hone their number sense if they aren’t ever asked to multiply and divide numbers continuously), and she needs algorithms that have fewer steps so there is less possibility of error (everything that Everyday Math does not provide.)
According to Aleks, my daughter only knew 21% of a traditional 5th grade curriculum – and this was at the end of 5th grade. Talk about having a heart attack! This was soon remedied. My daughter is now in the 6th grade and she has completed the 5th and 6th grade curriculum according to Aleks. I’m looking forward to the tests at the end of the year to see if my intervention worked.
All of the things that apply to my daughter don’t apply to my son. He gets everything the first time, including figuring out the multiplication tables, etc. He doesn’t need drill. He just needs to spend more than 60 seconds doing his math homework – something that is a bit more challenging. He isn’t going to get it from this program or the town’s teaching methods. When teaching reading there is more sophistication in the teaching methods, kids are broken out by ability and then brought back together. In math, every kid is the same. And every kid SHOULD learn math the same way; it doesn’t matter what their learning style is or what their strengths are – it doesn’t matter what IS.

So, bottom line? Kids in upper income communities will probably do OK despite the Everyday Math curriculum. Why? Because there are parents like me to pick up the pieces. If it isn’t Aleks, then it is high-priced tutors or mom or dad working with the kids each night. If there are concepts that are missing that are needed to become a mathematician, we’ll find out what they are and make sure they learn them.
Where Everyday Math will do real damage is in the communities who don’t have the knowledge or the resources to overcome the shortcomings.

And, sadly, who really gets shortchanged here? The kid who might be mathematically gifted but who has a language disability. All kids should have the opportunity to be good at something; these kids can’t even have that.


Reprinted from Parent Pundit

 

 

“Never argue with a person whose job depends on not being convinced”

H. L. Mencken

 

 

 

 

Nine Days Wonder

 

"The brags of life are but a nine days wonder"
-George Herbert

 

American Students Deserve Better than Arne Duncan

by Nikhil Goyal


As a 17-year-old high school student, I’m both a No Child Left Behind and a Race to the Top baby. I’ve lived through both pieces of failed legislation under former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and now current Secretary Arne Duncan that have seriously derailed the status of education in this country. But I’m optimistic. Along with millions of frustrated students, educators, and parents, I’m committed to a radical reinvention of the system from scratch.
And while it isn’t official yet, Secretary Duncan has hinted that he will return to President Obama’s cabinet for a second term. I can tell you that isn’t good news.


At the Council of Chief State Officers conference last week, Duncan outlined the basics of a second-term education agenda with plans to “replicate” the work the administration did in its first term. He hopes to reauthorize the defective No Child Left Behind law and continue his carrot-and-stick approach to ramming his proposals into states and school districts. Secretary Duncan’s most likely appointment is a clear sign to the American public that President Obama has turned a blind eye toward students, educators, and parents.


Look, I wholeheartedly respect Secretary Duncan and I’ve met him a number of times, but the Department of Education deserves nothing more than a big fat F for its first term. Race to the Top has been an utter failure for brutalizing the teaching profession, adding irrational testing for preschoolers (I wish I was kidding), driving a national obsession over high-stakes testing, and pushing for charters to hijack public schools. It’s like a “Russian novel, because it’s long, it’s complicated, and in the end, everybody gets killed,” as one superintendent quipped.


And now Secretary Duncan wants to “replicate” all of this. Give me a break. Education is not a race; it is a journey. And as John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
I don’t have a doubt that the president will re-appoint Mr. Duncan, but my question is: Why should the future of American education hang in limbo because President Obama wants to keep his pal for basketball scrimmages? Let me begin by noting that the president doesn’t even agree with Duncan on a number of things. In his State of the Union address last year, Obama declared that schools should “teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test”—antithetical to his very own Department of Education’s policies.


This model of governing, adopted from the Chicago schools system, is simply broken.
Recollect Secretary Duncan’s unnerving operations when he was the head honcho of Chicago public schools a few years ago, when he bounced kids around from district to district to make it appear as though schools were “turning around.” Duncan did not confront the issue of the effect of poverty on learning in a city where 80% of the school children live below the poverty line. He dumbed down standards, misleading the public when he proclaimed that test scores had risen. Mr. Duncan shuttered “failing” schools, replacing neighborhood schools with charters, often run by billionaires and corporations. Duncan didn’t address the abysmal 40% dropout rate, a national embarrassment. If his reforms unequivocally failed miserably in Chicago, how the hell were they supposed to work successfully on the national level?


At NBC Education Nation, Governor Mitt Romney lauded Duncan for his stellar track record; Romney raving about a Democrat should raise some eyebrows. Finally, take note that Duncan called Governor Bobby Jindal,  a politician who has tried strenuously with his iron fist to obliterate public education and establish a voucher system to more than half of the students in the state of Louisiana, ”a visionary leader.”
The last thing our schools need is Arne Duncan for four more years. President Obama—sack him now or you will soon find millions of educators, students, and parents in your backyard. Mark my words. Public education has had enough. Teachers have had enough. Students have had enough. Parents have had enough.


Call it whatever you want, but this is a blatant full-blown assault on institutions that educate the members of our democracy.
You know what would be a radical, and a popular, move by President Obama? If he appointed a progressive thinker to be the Education Secretary, someone such as Joichi Ito, Monika Hardy, Sir Ken Robinson, Lisa Nielsen, Gever Tulley, or Alfie Kohn, all of whom want to truly transform the way we learn. Now, that would be a big deal.


Nikhil Goyal is the author of “One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School,”and was a panelist during our Education Nation town hall on September 23 (above). Goyal, 17, is also a student at Syosset High School in New York.

 

Singling out the greatest acccomplishment of the Department of Education is like bragging about the tallest building In Schenectady

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Hopey Changey Thing

 

Is "Race to the Top's" Prominence

Due to the Flatness of the Ground Around It?

 

Is RTTT star strewn

or
simply a lofty vision that fell to earth?

 

Diane Ravitch

Obama's Race to the Top Will Not Improve Education


President Obama spoke to the National Urban League this week and defended his "Race to the Top" program, which has become increasingly controversial. Mr. Obama insisted that it was the most important thing he had done in office, and that critics were merely clinging to the status quo.

Mr. Obama was unfazed by the scathing critique of the Race by the nation's leading civil rights organizations, who insisted that access to federal funding should be based on need, not competition.
The program contains these key elements: Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students' testscores. Schools that continue to get low test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.

All of these elements are problematic. Evaluating teachers in relation to student test scores will have many adverse consequences. It will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever, and even more time and resources will be devoted to raising scores on these tests. The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test. There will be more cheating, more gaming the system.

Furthermore, charter schools on average do not get better results than regular public schools, yet Obama and Duncan are pushing them hard. Duncan acknowledges that there are many mediocre or bad charter schools, but chooses to believe that in the future, the new charters will only be high performing ones. Right.

The President should re-examine his reliance on standardized testing to identify the best teachers and schools and the worst teachers and schools. The tests are simply not adequate to their expectations.
The latest example of how test results can be doctored is the New York state testing scandal, which broke open this week. The pass rates on the state tests had soared year after year, to the point where they became ridiculous to all but the credulous The whole house of cards came crashing down this week after the state raised the proficiency bar from the low point to which it had sunk. In 2009, 86.4% of the state's students were "proficient" in math, but the number in 2010 plummeted to 61%. In 2009, 77.4% were "proficient" in reading, but now it is only 53.2%.

The latest test scores were especially startling for New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg staked his reputation on their meteoric rise. He was re-elected because of the supposedly historic increase in test scores and used them to win renewal of mayoral control. But now, the city's pass rate in reading for grades 3-8 fell from 68.8% to 42.4%, and the proficiency rate in math sunk from an incredible 81.8% to a dismal 54%.
When the mayor ran for office, he said that mayoral control would mean accountability. If things went wrong, the public would know whom to blame.

But now that the truth about score inflation is out, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein steadfastly insist that the gains recorded on their watch did not go up in smoke, that progress was real, and they have reiterated this message through their intermediaries in the tabloids. In other words, they are using every possible rationalization and excuse to avoid accountability for the collapse of their "historic gains."

Meanwhile Secretary Duncan travels the country urging districts to adopt mayoral control, so they can emulate New York City. He carefully avoids mentioning Cleveland, which has had mayoral control for years and remains one of the lowest performing districts in the nation. Nor does he mention that Detroit had mayoral control and ended it. And it is hard to imagine that anyone would think of Chicago, which has been controlled by Mayor Richard Daley for many years, would serve as a national model.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan need to stop and think. They are heading in the wrong direction. On their present course, they will end up demoralizing teachers, closing schools that are struggling to improve, dismantling the teaching profession, destabilizing communities, and harming public education.


The Wall Street Journal Chimes In


The Obama Administration unveiled its new “Race to the Top” initiative late last week, in which it will use the lure of $4.35 billion in federal cash to induce states to improve their K-12 schools. This is going to be interesting to watch, because if nothing else the public school establishment is no longer going to be able to say that lack of money is its big problem.

Four billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s a tiny percentage of what the U.S. spends on education. The Department of Education estimates that the U.S. as a whole spent $667 billion on K-12 education in the 2008-09 school year alone, up from $553 billion in 2006-07. The stimulus bill from earlier this year includes some $100 billion more in federal education spending—an unprecedented amount. The tragedy is that nearly all of this $100 billion is being dispensed to the states by formula, which allows school districts to continue resisting reform while risking very little in overall federal funding.

All of this is on top of the education spending boom during the Bush years to pay for the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Democrats liked to claim that law was “underfunded,” but the reality is that inflation-adjusted Education Departmentelementary and secondary spending under President Bush grew to $37.9 billion from $28.3 billion, or 34%. NCLB-specific funding rose by more than 40% between 2001 and 2008.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has been trying without much success to spend its way to education excellence for decades. Between 1970 and 2004, per-pupil outlays more than doubled in real terms, and the federal portion of that spending nearly tripled. Yet reading scores on national standardized tests have remained relatively flat. Black and Hispanic students are doing better, but they continue to lag far behind white students in both test scores and graduation rates.

 

Associated Press


So now comes “Race to the Top,” which the Obama Administration claims willreward only those states that raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and expand the reach of charter schools. “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,” said President Obama on Friday. “Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant.”

Sounds great, though this White House is, at the behest of the unions, also shuttering a popular school voucher program that its own evaluation shows is improving test scores for low-income minorities in Washington, D.C. The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first. The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012.

Race to the Top is bound to have some impact, and lawmakers in several states—including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Massachusetts—already have passed charter-friendly legislation in hopes of tapping the fund. But the exercise will fail if it is merely a one-off trade of cash for this or that new law. The key is whether the money can be used to promote enough school choice and other reforms that induce school districts to change how the other $800 billion or so is spent.

Charter schools and voucher programs regularly produce better educational outcomes with less money. But as long as most education spending goes to support the status quo, Race to the Top will be mostly a case of political show and tell.

 

"We know that the wishes of most politicians are written in water."
-Robert Lace

 

Obama is like a bull that carries his own china shop with him

 

 

 

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month


An Armistice Moment


How Can Education's Embattled Factions be Brought Together?

 

 

Christie's Tenure Coup

 

“Teachers’ Union backs a system where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure.”
-Chris Christie

Posted: June 23, 2012

Here’s a sign that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is fundamentally reshaping the Garden State: He’s got teacher-union leaders sounding like, well . . . Chris Christie.
The gov is just days away from enacting a sweeping reform of teacher-tenure laws, which currently guarantee lifelong jobs to even the worst educators.
And Christie has managed to twist the union into quite a pretzel: Its leaders now say they support making it easier to lay off the lemons among them.

“This legislation moves us in the right direction by making it harder to earn tenure, and less expensive and time-consuming to remove teachers who are not performing well,” said union boss Barbara Keshishian.

Yes, that’s the sound of Hell freezing over.
More precisely, it’s a labor leader explaining why she’s backing a bill that zaps the system that grants98 percent of Newark’s new teachers near-automatic tenure — and jobs for life — every year without fail.
It’s a real testament to Christie’s skill. He called out the unions last year for running a system “where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure.”

And the Senate answered, passing a bill this week that requires four years of high ratings to win tenure, and letsschools revoke tenure and possibly fire teachers who get back-to-back negative reviews.
A watered-down version awaits passage in the Assembly, and a compromise bill should reach Christie’s desk soon.

This legislation is far from perfect: It fails to fix the “last in, first out” seniority rules that require the state to fire the newest teachers first whenever there are layoffs.
And, truth is, we’d rather see tenure abolished wholesale in Jersey and New York.
But the reform is a major achievement that should help dig public-school kids out of a failing school system.
Again, kudos to Christie.
Andrew Cuomo, please take note.

"For now we see through a glass darkly: but then face to face."

- 1 Corinthians 13:12

"If they won't see the light, let them feel the heat"

-Ronald Reagan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casablanca Without Bogart

 

 

 

 

Guest Editorial

 

Year-Round School?

My Kids Love It.

Yours Will, Too.

By Brigid Schulte

Sunday, June 7, 2009

 

But Will the Forces of Good

Cower Before the Powers That Be?

Many Administrators and School Boards

Wish to Maintain the Staus Quo (A 180 Day School Year or Every Other Day Off!)

 

My second-grade daughter went to school the other day and made potions in her Harry Potter class. My son's class of fourth- and fifth-graders wrote movie scripts, filmed them and learned how to edit them on the computer.

At their Alexandria public school, my kids have learned how to sail, designed entire cities in cardboard, built skyscrapers with toothpicks and marshmallows, performed in a musical and built and set off rockets on the front lawn. They've created passports and had them stamped after "visiting" countries around the world. They've learned CPR, calligraphy, Japanese, rollerblading and how to make art like Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. My daughter was in kindergarten when she came home bubbling about Picasso's Rose period. In Spanish.

My children attend a year-round school. And these are the kinds of hands-on, big-project classes that are taught during "intersessions," or short breaks throughout the year that take the place of the long, lazy, Huck Finn summers that most Americans have come to think of as an inalienable right of childhood.

Far from grousing about missing out on the months-long summer break that will start in a few weeks, my kids love year-round school. My daughter had no idea that she was learning chemistry when her Harry Potter class made butter beer and chocolate frogs. My son developed a much better grasp of plot and character when he had to create both on film. I love their so-called modified calendar, too. And so, most of all, do the lower-income parents who've watched their kids thrive on it.

And now, it could be coming your way.

Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called the traditional school day and school year outdated and inadequate for the demands of 21st-century life. Students in countries that routinely outscore the United States on international tests go to school for as many as 230 days each year, 50 more than kids typically attend here. "Go ahead and boo me," Duncan said in April to Denver students. "I think schools should be open six, seven days a week, eleven, twelve months a year."

Obama's recently passed $100 Billion Stimulus Plan for education includes innovation grants and $5 billion for incentives to transform a public education system that produces too many high-school dropouts and too many failing urban schools. And the administration has made clear that it's ready to give high priority to proposals to extend the school day and year.

Though different schools and districts have different schedules, our modified calendar works like this: The first day back to school typically falls in the first week of August. The children attend regular classes for nine weeks. Then they have a two-week break, or intersession, in October, when they can choose either to attend fun, creative classes or to go on vacation. Then they have nine more weeks of school, winter break, and then a week of intersession in January. Nine more weeks of school, then a two-week intersession that bumps up against spring break. The school year ends in June, at the same time as schools on the traditional calendar. But summer break lasts five or six weeks, rather than the traditional 10.

If students choose to pursue the intersession classes, by the time they've gone from kindergarten through fifth grade, they'll have attended what amounts to an additional year of school. And this isn't just the same test-prep, paper-and-pencil, drill-and-kill stuff that so much public education has become. Done right, intersessions are a time to open minds and discover passions. At our school, students have learned karate, ballet, photography, cooking and a host of other things. Children needing extra help are invited to attend half-day remedial classes. But these are remedial classes with a twist. Like Math You Can Eat. My son learned fractions using brownies. Students learning English hone language skills in Books Come Alive by reading such classic stories as Goldilocks, writing their own scripts and acting them out.

Still, when Mount Vernon Community Schoolfirst considered the idea of going to a modified calendar a few years ago, it was a battle royale. Some middle-class parents argued that it was important for children to lie on their backs and watch the clouds for hours over a long summer break. That a year-round calendar was just another way to institutionalize our kids in the often dull busy-work of school.

I worried, too. But honestly, my children weren't idling their summer days away like ol' Huck on the Mississippi. A 10-week summer meant that my husband and I staggered our work schedules, shoved our kids in camps, set up carpools, cobbled together babysitters and imposed on neighbors and friends whenever one piece of our elaborately jury-rigged schedule fell apart. And because 71 percent of women with children under 18 work outside the home, I would imagine that most families experience summer much the same way.

But many middle-class parents left our school rather than lose a long summer. The ones who stayed, albeit uneasily at first, were in for a pleasant surprise. We found that intersession classes gave our children the kind of engaging school experience we had always wanted for them. The lower-income and immigrant parents, who had voted overwhelmingly to support the modified calendar, were convinced from the start that it would help their children academically and give them opportunities they could never provide. One of the most popular intersession classes recently taught children how to swim.


The majority of students in our school speak Spanish at home and have parents who work most of the day -- and sometimes the night. Summer break, for these children, was long, hot, bleak and boring. They start kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers, and after every summer fall farther and farther behind -- even those who are bused to dull remedial summer school. Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, studied 800 students for more than 20 years in Baltimore's elementary schools. He found that by ninth grade, low-income students had fallen 3 1/2 grade levels behind their middle-class peers. And most of that gap was attributable to learning lost over the long traditional summer.

What these children needed was more time to learn and less time to forget. And they needed more exposure to the world beyond their apartment walls, the TV and the 24-Hour Express Minimart. I saw that vividly when I chaperoned an intersession trip of first graders to the National Gallery of Art. As the children gazed up at the giant Calder mobile, the teachers asked who had never been to a museum before. More than half the hands shot up.

The atmosphere at school during intersessions even feels different. Teachers can experiment and get to know the students better in a more relaxed setting. "Problem" students, they find, are not problems when they're deeply absorbed in a task they like. Luisa Tio, an artist who regularly teaches intersession classes, was warned about one child. Instead, he was a model student. "He was able to create these incredibly detailed portraits," she told me. "Sometimes children need to learn in different ways."

Most importantly, teachers say, they are able to intervene throughout the year and help struggling students right when they need it.

But changing what has become a sacrosanct school calendar and messing with the cultural touchstone of summer will not be easy. It's expensive to pay teachers for intersessions and to keep buses, cafeterias and maintenance staff running five or six extra weeks. With school budgets already squeezed in the economic downturn, some districts are turning modified calendar schools back to the traditional calendar. "It had nothing to do with academics," said Eileen Cox, the spokeswoman for one such district, Virginia Beach. "It was all about the budget."

It's also controversial. Entire Web sites and organized parent groups, along with the Internation Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, are mobilized to fight modified calendars. Some states protect long summers by law. Virginia has what some school officials privately call the "King's Dominion Rule." It is one of six states that mandate that the school year start after Labor Day. Schools wanting to start earlier, like my kids', have to apply for waivers.

And the research on whether modified calendars lift academic achievement is muddy at best. Some schools show great improvement, others little or none. Even researchers who've found that modified calendars significantly benefit students learning English say it's a hard sell. "We know that there's really no basis for the current calendar other than tradition," said Elena Silva, a researcher with Eduction Sector, a Washington think tank. It wasn't until World War II that the current 180-day school calendar became standard. Before that, some rural districts opened schools only in summer and winter. And some urban districts were in session all year long. "Summer is a sacred cow," said Silva. "But it doesn't have to be a 10-week cow. It could be a five-week cow."

Done well, a modified calendar offers the possibility of transforming schools and the way children learn. One night in early January a few years ago, my son, who struggles in a regimented setting, lamented that school would be starting the next day.

"But you've been at school all week," I said. He'd been solving riddles in Code Breakers to hone his problem-solving skills and making volcanos explode with baking soda and vinegar in a science lab.

"That wasn't school," he said. "That was intersession."

So let's give students more time in school. But let's give them time with great teachers using more time in rich and exciting ways. The world is changing. Let's let Huck Finn go and not stand in the way.

 

 

 

 

 

High Popalorim

 

 

Huey (The Kingfish) Long, a U.S. Senator who represented Louisiana in the 1930’s, raised the art of demagoguery to new heights. He would relate to his friends how patent medicine men used to concoct a mixture of snake oil. The makers called it “high popalorum” or “low popahirum,” depending on how they manufactured it. They made the first by tearing the bark of a tree down, and the second by tearing the bark up. The Kingfish would later adopt these terms to describe two of his populist messages.
Before giving a stump speech, Long was frequently asked by his aide, “What will it be today Senator, “high populorum” or “low popahirum?” A high popalorum speech meant railing against the intrusion of the federal government into states’ rights, as well as harping on the states’ interference in local issues. A low popahirum speech appealed to the prejudices of the electorate, the majority of who were biased against anybody who appeared, spoke, acted or worshipped differently than themselves.

Guest Editorial

Seven Ways Politicians Are Dumb About Schools

By Jay Mathews

1. A good way to measure the quality of schools in each state is by average SAT score.

The Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, Jim Davis, used this again and again in a recent debate with his Republican opponent. Florida, he said, ranked 49th in average SAT scores. To him this proved that the state's Republican administration had done a bad job. But that is nonsense. States with large urban populations such as Florida, California, Texas and New York are always going to have low average SAT scores because they have unusually large portions of low-income students. Family background, not school quality, is what influences SAT scores the most. I know of no school system or state education department that has been able to change that, even with education policies that all experts consider brilliant. Even more irksome, states and schools systems that do the right thing and encourage more low-income students to take the SAT so that they can apply to college, are often going to see their average scores drop because of the increased portion of test-takers from poor families. If you hear any politician even mention the SAT, you can be sure she is trying to fool you.

2. It is bad to have programs that encourage educators to teach to a test.

Michael Steele, the Republican candidate for U.S. senator in Maryland, used this in a recent television commercial and on his Web site. He said in a press release that implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law "is too often leaving the needs of students behind, as teachers spend large amounts of classroom instruction time focused on teaching a test, instead of the unique needs of individual students." Many educators agree with him that teaching to a test is wrong, but I think this is sloganeering, not argument. Most of the time when people criticize teaching to a test, they are actually criticizing teaching to a state educational standard. Steele does not explain how Maryland schools can figure out if students are reaching the state standards in reading, writing and math without giving them a test. He does not explain how they can prepare the students for that test without teaching them the material that will help them pass it. But "teaching a test" sounds bad, so he uses those buzz words, and he is not alone. Politicians often use education-related phrases because they sound good, or bad, to voters, even if neither the politicians nor the voters are sure what they mean.

3. Schools would be better if they stopped promoting low-achieving students to the next grade.

This is called social promotion. It is very common, and I don't like it either. But politicians who demand the end of social promotion rarely mention that the research shows that holding such students back usually does not raise achievement. The students must be given remedial help or keeping them in the same grade won't work. Timothy A. Hacsi, a University of Massachusetts-Boston historian who has studied the gap between campaign issues and reality, noted President Clinton's stirring 1996 statement that "the worst thing you can do is send people all the way though school with a diploma they can't read." That remains a popular campaign stance, but Hacsi said the research shows that schools often do not give the held-back students the help they need, so they remain far behind.

4. Lowering class size is always a good idea.

This view rests heavily on a landmark 1980s study in Tennessee of Project STAR, which cut class sizes for elementary school students to 17 or less and found a significant increase in test scores. The problem with this approach, never mentioned by the office seekers who advocate it, is that it is very expensive to make classes that small and if you do, you are unlikely to find enough good teachers to staff all the new, small classes. When California spent more than $1 billion in the late 1990s to reduce primary school class sizes to 20 students, the results were disappointing. Many inexperienced teachers were hired to fill the new jobs and achievement did not go up. If you discover oil underneath the school playground, then perhaps you can afford to get class sizes to 17 or below, hire the best instructors and get the full benefits. But in the real world it is not as effective a tool as the campaign ads make it seem.

5. It is education policy and not specific school successes that matter.

I am still waiting for a political candidate to release a detailed analysis of one of the several inner city schools that have shown great improvement through a smart choice of principal and teachers, focused teaching and longer school days and years. I think a smart candidate would say: "This is what I am talking about. I am going to do to create more schools like this." Instead we just get nice-sounding slogans and irrelevant statistics.

6. What schools need is more money.

Hacsi's chapter on this issue in his book "Children As Pawns" is the best summary of the research I have seen. He concludes that, despite doubts among some education scholars, more money does make a difference. But he also notes that how the money is used is critical. In the real world there are too many examples of ineffective use of new funds to put such confidence in political promises of more dollars. Unless the ad tells me exactly what the office seeker plans to do with this money, I do not put much faith in it.

7. Electing new leaders will help fix our schools.

We have yet to elect any president, senator or member of Congress who has had a marked positive (or negative) impact on student achievement. Candidates for those offices will say they plan to rescue the education system because their polls say voters think this is important, but their promises are meaningless. Governors, as well as school board members, do have the power to make schools better, but very few have ever done so. Usually the best work is done by aggressive teachers and principals who know what they want and work very hard to get it, without ever asking anyone to vote for them.

 

Politicians Are All Over the Map on Education Issues

"Once upon a time there was a chameleon.

Its owner, to keep it warm, placed it on a piece of Scotch plaid.

It died of exhaustion."

- Jean Cocteau

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Campaign with Poetry

Govern with Prose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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