"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Public Schools Are To Teach....Morals? Whose Morals?

At a recent Professional Development Day in a suburban St. Louis school district, a PhD in Life-Span Developmental Psychology told his captive audience of educators that “it's our responsibility to teach morals to the students.” He described a “teaching tool” that would help children explore their feelings and solve problems. This “tool“ involved the children sitting in a circle, rating themselves on how they are feeling, and then being asked to share, with the entire group, what their problems were. Their peers would then be called upon to help solve said problems. This equates to group psychotherapy. Normally psychotherapy is done by people who have trained for several years in psychotherapy and is conducted under the strict doctor/patient confidentiality code. The speaker at this Professional Development Seminar believes it can be done by anyone trained in a simple short course. He also believes that “children make better decisions than adults“ and thus are fully equipped to help their peers solve problems.

This same speaker may soon be invited to another St. Louis suburban school district so more teachers can learn how to turn authority over to their students! District counselors, curriculum heads, and administrators from this district raved to their teachers about how wonderful he was after hearing him at a recent University of Missouri St. Louis Workshop. Administrators were so thrilled about his presentation they couldn’t wait to begin implementing “class meetings” where students will relay their feelings, not only to their peers, but also other school staff like custodians and cafeteria workers who may attend his one day seminar.

The speaker’s contention that children have the physical and emotional wherewithal to solve their own or others’ problems flies in the face of work by Dr. Jay Giedd Chief Of Brain Imagery In Child Psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health. His brain imaging of 1,800 children, beginning at age two, showed that remodeling of the brain continues into the third decade of life, with the prefrontal cortex being the last to fully develop. The PFC is responsible for the executive functions of the brain: judging, reasoning, decision making, self evaluation, planning, suppression of impulses and weighing consequences of one’s decisions. Yet this PhD maintains that children as young as elementary school are perfectly capable of managing these functions, even while under the pressure of intense scrutiny by their peers.

The presenter also encouraged staff to turn their students into public relations agents. If they are counseled correctly, students can be used to accomplish goals, such as passing a bond issue, by presenting bureaucratic wishes as their own to their parents. So your taxpayer dollars would be used to train your children to manipulate you into agreeing to what the administration wants.

Who is this speaker, you may ask? His name is Dr. Marvin Berkowitz. He has a degree in psychology from Wayne State University. Most recently he is at the University of Missouri St. Louis where he is the Sanford N. McDonnell Professor of Character Education. UMSL has spear headed the development of character education programs that many have seen implemented in local school districts.

In Rockwood, for example, character assignments were sent home from the elementary school that left many parents scratching their heads as to why they were being asked to do these remedial character exercises with their children. In some instances, they promoted values that many families did not ascribe to, e.g. “Talk with your family about ways that all of you can stop hurting the planet.” “Try shutting off the television at dinner just one night this week and write about what your family talks about.” (What if we don’t habitually watch tv at dinner? What business is it of anyone else’s what our family talks about?) While these assignments were optional and not graded, if a character curriculum were instituted in common core standards, the answers required for a good grade might be in opposition to the values taught at home causing an ethical dilemma, or at least confusion, for the student.

What is Dr. Berkowitz's motivation in wanting children to learn values and morals in school? He seems to hold the belief that the family is not teaching morals, or at least the right morals, and that is why the school must pick up the banner and lead the charge. This seems part of a growing trend toward schools circumventing parental authority in the name of producing uniformly educated citizens. While it is desirable for children to learn values and ethics, such values must come from the community, not one man’s or even one committee’s perspective.

Tomorrow, we'll explore how character education began and its purpose in public schools.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"It's terrible what they are doing to these schools."

Who will charter schools help? We are being told by legislatures in many states this is a valid choice for students caught in failing systems. Missouri has Educated Citizenry 2020 which touts parental choice and charters are a large part of the plan.

This is from the Washington Post and one parent's experience with a Washington DC charter school:

Something wasn't right at the high school that Darwin Bridgers' son attends, so he sat in on the class to see for himself. All morning long, the instructor at the Washington, D.C., charter school pointed to a list of ground rules, a detailed list of rewards and punishments posted on a wall near the front of the class filled with black and Latino students.

Then the students filled out worksheets. That's how it went: rewards and punishments, then worksheets. No instruction, just worksheets. At the end of the class, Bridgers, who works as an exterminator, pulled aside the teacher, a young white male and recent graduate.

"I wanted to know when he was going to do some, you know, teaching," Bridgers explained to me recently. "You know, like, how we used to have in school? She would stand in front of the class..."

But in the name of reform, it's as if somehow the goalpost has been moved without our realizing it. Now education -- for those "failing" urban kids, anyway -- is about learning the rules and following directions. Not critical thinking. Not creativity. It's about how to correctly eliminate three out of four bubbles. The whole messy, thrilling, challenging work of shaping young minds has been reduced to a one or a zero. Pass or fail.

Is this what the version of charters will look like under the new plans called Race to the Top or Educated Citizenry 2020? Maybe so. They will operate under the same mandates and assessments as public schools. The same tests, the same curriculum. The same mandates from the Federal Government to show how well students do on standardized testing. It's about how to correctly eliminate three out of four bubbles. The whole messy, thrilling, challenging work of shaping young minds has been reduced to a one or a zero. Pass or fail.

This is what has happened to the Washington DC parents:

...they are required to navigate the education marketplace, choosing between neighborhood schools that have been creamed of their best students and the new experimental start-ups that on average perform worse than traditional public schools. "This strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don't exist," Ravitch wrote.

Did you catch that phrase in the above paragraph? "Experimental start-ups that on average perform worse than traditional public schools". Why should Missouri start-up schools fare any differently than those in Washington, DC? Is this really a valid choice for Missouri parents? Is this an educational plan taxpayers believe will really help children?

As Darwin Bridgers said about his son's charter school:

A week after Bridgers visited the school, his son told him that the young teacher had left and never come back. So Bridgers sent his son to live with his mother in Pennsylvania. "I coach football Little League," he told me. "This is what we talk about on the sidelines. It's terrible what they are doing to these schools."

The charter experiment is failing children in DC. Will it work here? Will hedge fund investors and venture captitalists who have no experience in education be able to find the answer to reach failing children?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Republican Utah Senators Understand Common Core Standards are Akin to Health Care Mandates: They Take Away State Control

Some legislators in Utah are having second thoughts about the common core standards that State Board of Education signed onto according to the Salt-Lake Tribune:

State education leaders decided last year to adopt new academic standards in an effort to better prepare students for college and the work force.

But now some lawmakers want State Board of Education members to reconsider adopting those standards out of concern that Utah might be losing some local control over education by doing so.

The Senate Majority Caucus passed a motion Tuesday asking the House Majority to join it in sending a letter to the state board asking it to reconsider adopting the new standards in place of Utah’s current ones, said Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser. The standards outline the concepts students should learn in each grade in math and language arts.

A State Board member who signed onto the standards said:

“I think there’s a misunderstanding that somehow the Common Core are federal standards,” Thomas said. “They’re not federal standards.”

I imagine this might be the same response from one of our Board members. Technically, they are not federal standards at this time, however, the standard writing funding process is partially federally funded and states take a risk by not signing onto the standards as Title 1 money will be withheld. The Federal Government has its hooks into the states with these standards.

The Utah senators are trying to slow down the process to determine:

  • exactly what are in the standards the Board agreed to for the students and school districts
  • how much these standards are going to cost when implemented
  • if the Federal Government mandates are binding
  • determining if Utah has any control over these new standards, i.e., "local control"
Maybe the Utah senators want to know exactly what's in the standards before they are implemented. Does that sound familiar? Regardless of your stance on the Health Care legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president, legislators should have known what was in the bill before they signed it. The Utah legislators apparently are in the same boat in as Missouri legislators. Signing on to the common core standards was decided by the appointed State Board members. It is no excuse, however, for Missouri legislators to tell voters they can't do anything about that decision.

They can do plenty to stop common core standards becoming the law in Missouri:
  • They can refuse to fund the unfunded costs (probably in the millions) incurred in implementing the standards;
  • They can write detailed legislation exempting public schools, charters, virtual, private and home schools from any current and future common core mandates;
  • They can amend the Constitution and give the power back to the Legislature for educational decisions.

The Missouri Legislature needs to take a play card from the Utah Legislature. Here are the quotes from the article that sum up the arguments of the 10th Amendment and the constitutional responsibility of the state:

“We’ve got a pig in a poke,” Buttars said. “We don’t know what we’ve got a hold of, yet we’ve been committed to it.”

Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the caucus mostly was concerned about making sure Utah has control over its standards.

“We want to be able to reflect in our core standards what we teach in Utah, what Utah wants to teach and not what people from other places want to teach,” Niederhauser said. “That might match up in a lot of ways, but we want to be able to have control over that.”

Haven't we learned enough from the Health Care debacle (we need to pass it so we can know what is in it) to say "NO" to this educational decision giving away our right to teach our own state curriculum? Our legislators were tenacious in crafting state health care legislation exempting Missouri citizens from federal health care mandates. It is time for them to step up to the plate and do the same on these educational mandates that take away state choice of curriculum.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Experiment with Google.

Try an experiment. Google "charters must adhere to common core standards". See what comes up for you. Of all the gazillions of links that could have appeared, look what popped up on my screen in the number two slot (as of 01.12.10 @ 7:45 ET):

Final Report. - Senate Committee on Educated Citizenry 2020

PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
Dec 1, 2010 ... Missouri's education system must adhere to principles that will ... sponsor and is based on standards set in the charter with the ... national Common Core Standards. DESE is also collaborating with other states in the ...

This is what we've been blogging about and believe is a renamed Race to the Top document. Reading through it once again, I was struck by the language the committee used in the plan. See if you can spot by the language not included in the document:

As students move forward in their education, the education system must be flexible and
adaptable to meet the needs of all learners in an ever-changing environment. This may
include different methods of delivering education through such means as online learning
or alternative school calendars. As one witness noted, “Missouri should change the
structure of schools to reverse the present system in which time is a constant and
learning is a variable. It should be just the opposite, with time as the variable and
learning as the constant…It would recognize the very real fact that different children
learn at different rates. The speed of a child’s rate of learning would take a backseat to
his or her mastery of knowledge and skills.”

Witnesses reiterated the Committee’s priority of ensuring the highest quality teachers
for Missouri’s students. A witness stated, “Missouri’s teachers must be world-class if our
students are to succeed and compete with those from our neighboring states and
around the world.”

To maintain a strong system of public higher education, Missouri must be responsive to
the changing demographics of students pursuing postsecondary education. The
availability of options in higher education and the means to access those options are

The following seems to be paramount in this plan:

  • Education system needs to be flexible
  • Differing methods of delivering education needs to be offered, i.e., online, extended year
  • Children learn at different rates and these children must be taught at the rate in which they can learn
  • High quality teachers mean Missouri students will be able to compete more effectively on a world stage
  • Education is shaped by demographics, rather than demographics is shaped by education
What was left out of this statement and never addressed? The issue of curriculum. Educated Citizenry 2020 will NOT provide the autonomy to teach children at the rate each needs to learn, and in fact, Missouri will not be able to provide the curriculum that might be most appropriate for that child (reading level, for instance) because it has been set by a consortium of states and frankly, that teacher and child is out of luck if the child doesn't understand it.

The panel never addresses the reality of giving up our right to teach our children the material Missouri thinks appropriate. The plan is all about charters, alternative schedules, highly effective teachers and making sure the educational system bends itself to demographic realities.

What happened to curriculum? Was it just easier for the State Board of Education to give this problem to a unknown consortium with unknown professionals and wash their hands of decision making? And what about the legislators? Why are they allowing the handing over the education of our children to federal mandates? Missouri receives 23% of funding from the Federal Government for state education costs. We are selling out our children and their education for a paltry amount and a plan that doesn't address the real problems in public education.

If students "need the time to become the person they are meant to be in the time they are meant to be that person" (from Mr. Rogers), this plan can't accomplish it, even though it states that's an important intent of the plan. The common core standards don't allow that flexibility and the school district and state are held hostage by these mandates. It sounds like a laudable goal, but it is impossible to provide such an education based on the constraints of common core standards.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm Exhausted with All the Craziness and Ugliness. Take a Break with a Musical Interlude.

Many of you may have seen the new Honda commercial for the Accord "Sun". For all you baby boomers, here's a question: what song is sung in the commercial and do you know which group sang the song?

The commercial takes you back to a time when songs had melodies, talented musicians, and master songwriters. Watch the youtube clip and see youthful photographs of a duo now considered senior citizens.

This is your music lesson for the day. And unlike one person on the internet who asked "who sang the song on the Honda commercial" and thought it was an "Indie" artist (sigh), no, this song has been around for more years than I care to remember.

Perhaps extraordinary music should be played more often just as classical literature should be studied in English class. There is craft in both music and literature that should be studied for structural reasons and the lessons they impart.

In this time of extreme disharmony, enjoy the unforgettable ethereal harmonies and hopeful lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel singing "The Only Living Boy in New York".

Who Is Responsible For Our Actions?

The media is wringing its hands, reaching and contorting itself trying to find someone else to blame for Jarad Loughner’s actions in AZ. They are practically becoming a chiropractors dream. Some may be asking, “Where does this thought come from, that someone else can make a person act a certain way?” The simple answer is, we create it. It is thoughtfully, if unwittingly, being taught in our schools.

A middle school administrator recently spoke to the students announcing that, as part of the school’s no-bullying policy, students who are overheard saying something about another student that could be offensive or threatening to that student are subject to punitive action by the administration, up to and including detention. Let’s think about that statement for a moment.

“Students who are overheard talking...” Not students who are actively harassing another student to their face, not students intent on taking action against another student, just two kids talking about someone (perhaps not even identified), blowing off steam or gossiping as pre-teen kids are apt to do. These kids would be subject to penalties for acting like… kids. They are told that they are responsible for someone else’s feelings. They can make someone else act or feel a certain way just by talking, even if they’re not talking directly to that person. Does this sound familiar?

They are told that they can speak for someone else’s feelings if they report this conversation to the administration. And without any further clarification from the administrator, the kids believe they can act on what they think they heard without verifying it. Then there is an administration who can do what the entire US judicial system cannot. They can determine intent with accuracy based on the hearsay evidence of a third party and , using only that evidence, determine punishment. That is a truly amazing administration.

So the message to the kids is, “Watch what you say, because you are responsible for everyone else’s reactions to your speech.” If I were to do what the administration does and try to interpret the intent of the administrator making this statement to the kids I would guess that the intent was to tell the students they shouldn’t say bad things about each other. You should speak kindly and respectfully about each other and what you do in private often carries over into your public behavior. It is very hard to separate the two, so you should be good even when you don’t think anyone is watching. It’s the whole Santa Claus message.

Those are all laudable goals, but what it leaves out is the other side of this little scenario, the person listening in to the private conversation. That, apparently, is perfectly acceptable. There should be no expectation of privacy. That person is encouraged to, to use the old vernacular, “narc” on his/her peers. If you think you hear something that you subjectively judge to be offensive you should immediately walk, no run, to someone else to do something about it. And they have promised to act on your report. The message the kids get is that they cannot or should not try to address these issues by themselves. They are too weak to do that . And lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly, these kids will come to believe that what someone else merely says about them is so painful that those in power are obliged to stop it. It teaches the kids that they are fragile and impotent. Imagine what kids taught these values will do when they become adults and the administration is the government.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Are Arne Duncan's Remarks Regarding Jared Loughner An Example of Critical Thinking being Taught to Public Education Students?

This statement via The Washington Post, is from Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education, regarding the shootings in Arizona and the actions previously taken by Pima Community College where the shooter attended:

...Where violence becomes sort of part of the political dialogue, where you have lax gun laws, where you have folks that are mentally unstable, easy access to guns, I think that's a recipe for disaster."

Duncan is blaming this on political motives and lax gun laws. When these two scenarios are combined, he apparently believes this allows the opportunity for mentally ill people to kill others.

Is this all about lax gun laws and heated political rhetoric? The latest news I've read about Jared Loughner's background, his fascination with the congresswoman started in 2007, long before any "violent political dialogue". Read two comments from readers that question Duncan's statements and refer to "lax gun laws":

Even before the horror of Virginia Tech, which forced a complete rethinking of classroom safety, many college administrators and faculty devoted countless hours to discussions and strategies about how to help students in distress or who are disruptive or manifesting signs of mental illness. The ADA compels us to help and support students who are ill, including mental illness, and quite often, there's a judgment call involved in whether to summon help from campus security or campus health services. FERPA -- the privacy law --- also sometimes obscures the best answer to red flag misconduct.

This unbelievable tragedy in Arizona will force even more review of student rights, disciplinary and security procedures, and campus mental health services. Most certainly, we will also see an equal amount of deeply concerned discussion on the part of faculty members and campus leaders about the balance between access and safety when students manifest weird, bizarre, inappropriate or strange conduct that may not be a direct threat (hence, actionable) but that may be evidence of an unfolding mental health breakdown.

Colleges are largely open places where unusual behaviors often gain notice as the searching expressions of free spirits. Each tragic story moves the walls of that freedom a little bit closer to the real need for more control, firmer rules about conduct, and less blithe acceptance of behaviors that signal possible illness. We will continue to struggle with the balance among the competing values of privacy, freedom, security and access.

The second comment:

yep, the sheriff was certainly aware of the man.

guess what they're supposed to do with such info?

get it to the feds so the man cannot buy a gun.

failure of existing laws.

too bad the sheriff blew off the threat and referred to it as the "judges problem"

read the full story, get all the info.

This may be the full story the reader refers to in his/her posting that Pima Sheriff County Clarence Dupnik doesn't want to talk about and Arne Duncan is ignoring.

These readers question college policy and the police not following the law. The readers have a better grip on reality than Duncan. If institutions could effectively deal with disturbed students without legal ramifications (privacy concerns) and governmental authorities had done their jobs, perhaps a tragedy could have been avoided. For Duncan to blame it on heated political rhetoric and lax gun laws is a travesty.

Is Arne Duncan really the best person to head the Department of Education? Is political correctness overtaking common sense and critical thinking?

Political Education 101: Niftiness and Transparency Are Taken to a National Level

We provided a link a few days ago, e-lobbyist.com, which gives readers information to track legislative bills introduced in state legislatures.

Here is a link I discovered sponsored by C-Span, congress.org, which focuses on national legislation and legislators' votes:

Track your Senators' and Representative's votes by e-mail
Each week (that Congress is in session) you will receive:
Key votes by your two Senators and U.S. Representative.
Links to send e-mail to your members of Congress using pre-addressed forms.
Upcoming votes for your review and a chance to offer e-mail input before they vote.
Use this weekly vote monitor to track the decisions made by your elected officials on key issues.

If you scroll down the website, you can access the following information:

You now have an efficient manner to track legislation on the state and national levels. These sites are marvelous tools in obtaining the elusive transparency voters desire from the government and elected officials. It seems this would be a valuable tool for students studying government.

Many thanks to C-Span for this service. The entire Health Care debate was promised to be read in the spirit of transparency on C-Span by the new administration, but alas, this did not happen. The public received one hour of debate the administration allowed C-Span to air. This site may be the only transparency the voters get until that promise is fulfilled.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Condoms in High School: An Example of the Potential Problems of Common Core Standards?

School officials in Monadnack Regional School District in New Hampshire quickly back pedaled a decision made to pass out condoms to high school students. The situation became a public relations nightmare for the school district when parents found out their students were receiving candy along with condoms and flavored lubricant without parental knowledge or permission:

When some parents learned about the distribution of the kits, they complained to the school administration, school board and AIDS Services.

"The biggest issue among parents and some staff is that AIDS Services for the Monadnock Region distributed sexually enticing products," said parent Brandie Roof.

Roof said she was also offended that as a parent, she was not notified of the visit from AIDS Services, the distribution of the kits, or given a chance to have her children "opt out" of the day's events.

You can watch a youtube of parent reaction here.

The distribution of the condoms in safe-sex kits was in conjunction with Worlds AIDs Day presentation. It was developed by AIDS Services of the Monadnock Region, a nonprofit that provides client services, community education and outreach, and housing for AIDS patients. Director Susan McNeil said this about distributing the condoms:

MacNeil defended the need for safe-sex kits in high schools and said officials at Monadnock Regional High School had given written approval for their distribution.

McNeil has visited other New Hampshire High School and made presentations and given bags to students:

..AIDS Services distributed all its 200 kits at Keene High School in November before Principal Alan Chmiel called a halt to the distribution. She said a team of Keene teachers approved the distribution, and the two-day program continued.

A Monadnock school board member responded in this manner:

...school board member Bruce Barlow said the board is revisiting its policies to make sure nothing similar happens in the future.

The preceding sentences encapsulates the important issue in the article as it concerns common core standards and the autonomy of local school boards. Presently school boards still have the authority to make such decisions if "curriculum" decisions are deemed to be inappropriate. They can reflect the social mores of the community they serve. With the adoption and implementation of common core standards, this ability is lost. The following comments are from other education officials in the state:

Across New Hampshire, each school district decides whether to distribute condoms or not, said Deputy Education Commissioner Paul Leather.

"I don't believe it's a wide practice, but I don't know," he said. He said school boards should have policies in place to deal with such issues.

Condoms aren't distributed in Manchester, the state's largest school district, said Superintendent Tom Brennan. He said Manchester schools focus on abstinence, and West High School even invites in an educator from Catholic Medical Center to discuss abstinence with students, he said.

The school district also teaches from textbooks that explain sexual activity and contraception, he said. Brennan, a former administrator in Jaffrey-Rindge and Kearsarge districts, said neither of those districts allowed condom distribution when he was there.

"I just don't think it's appropriate for schools to get into the situation where they're taking on the responsibility of parents," Brennan said.

I have a question: What will happen in the future when common core standards are in place for your state, and your consortium deciding curriculum in health possibly decides distributing candy and condoms to your 12 year old is part of an "appropriate education"? You or your school district will have NO POWER to change this curriculum.

This is a possible scenario and question to ask your legislators regarding the wisdom of agreeing to common core standards. Your school district is becoming increasingly powerless to decide what its students should learn. Our senators on the education committee seem to agree with relinquishing state responsibility and authority to set standards. Read "Educated Citizenry 2020".

State educational decisions are being handed over to an unknown consortium with an unknown agenda. We've signed away Math and Communication Arts standards; Science and Social Studies are next. Does that raise a red flag in your mind? Even charter schools so heavily touted in this plan are subject to common core mandates. Parents can't put their children in charters and expect a high quality education if they are operating under the same standards as public schools. Ask your legislators about this bit of information that is not addressed in the plan.

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