"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, June 4, 2011

Common Core Tests For Special Needs Students

If you've been worried that your special needs child will be left out of the Common Core Assessments, fear not. Nirvi Shah from EdWeek reported today,

"The two groups tasked with developing the common-core assessments have been thinking about students with disabilities from the time they first won the grants from the U.S. Department of Education to design the tests. That’s a sharp departure from what’s been the norm in standardized testing, which has been to consider accommodations for students with disabilities as an afterthought."

The two consortia are working to minimize or eliminate any school to school inconsistencies that currently exist in giving standardized tests to children with IEP's. Carol André, the special education director at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. said,

"In particular, when teachers or proctors are allowed to read portions of a test aloud for students, the way that information is read can vary widely... We had to all but police our own people to be sure they were not giving the kids an unfair advantage or leg up. It was really hard, especially for our younger kids. The adults desperately want them to do well. Suddenly, without even being conscious of it, you may have an adult who’s reading the question and the four answers but they’re doing a little more emphasis on choice C, or the kid is reading the adult’s expression.”

Michael Hock, co-chair of the accessibility and accommodations work group for the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, boasted that the new generation of computerized tests will be able to read words aloud in the same way, in the same voice, from state to state. He added,

We’re not trying to provide anyone with any kind of advantage—that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Accommodations available on the test include:

  • Portions of the test can be magnified right on the screen. No more oversized type on paper tests. Such features also can be turned on and off, so only students for whom they are allowed may access them.
  • Individual students will have the ability to highlight or obscure words on the screen (for the science test only)
  • Background music or sounds may be played to keep the students calm or focused, (a feature intended for students with attention disorders.)
  • Changing the color of the text or allowing students to change the contrast of what they are reading. (for students with visual impairments and some types of reading-based learning disabilities)
  • Future tests may be translated into different languages.

“The idea of making tests accessible, it’s a social-justice issue,” Mr. Hock said. “And we want to accurately measure every kid’s skills.”
The consortia are charged with creating exams for 99 percent of students. For the remaining 1 percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities, separate exams are being designed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Would Homeschoolers Want to Enroll in a Public Education Virtual School?

The Mehlville School District is offering virtual school courses to homeschoolers:

He might not be selling ice to Alaskans, but Mark Catalana's job is no easy task.

He's trying to convince parents of home-schooled children to send their kids to the Mehlville School District.

But Catalana's offering something a little different: the ability to attend Mehlville without leaving home.

It's called the Virtual Program.

"It's distance learning with an online curriculum," said Catalana, director of alternate programs for the Mehlville School District.

Why is the district reaching out to a segment of students whose parents aren't particularly interested in what public education has to offer? Why would homeschooling parents want to give up the autonomy of educating their children with curriculum that is indeed "parent approved" and the fact that homeschoolers, as a whole, outperform publicly educated students in testing results?

The district believes some of the advantages of enrolling in the program are benefits such as earning a standard high school diploma and the ability to join in school activities such as clubs and social events. Sports, however, are out. The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) prohibits athletes from enrolling in distance learning programs.

The spokesman stated adding home-schoolers has a negligible financial impact on the district, given the small number of students involved in the Virtual Program. What he didn't state was enrolling homeschooling students in a virtual program would garner the district more money as it is paid per student. So, more homeschoolers enrolled in the Virtual Program means more money for the district.

Allowing them to play sports, however, would cost the district money, and there isn't an offset revenue generator for this extra expense. Clubs and social events don't cost much money, but playing sports does. Even though you may homeschool and you are paying taxes for a service you aren't using (or maybe you are through virtual school), your child can't play high school sports if he/she doesn't attend the brick and mortar public school building.

The offering of Virtual School seems as if it is a money making generator for the district which cedes control of homeschooling curriculum and autonomy to the district with no real added benefit to the homeschooled student. Social clubs and outings exist within the homeschooling community, so the draw to mingle with students they don't know in a large school may not hold much appeal. Virtual schooling allows students to study when they want and work on their own pace. From what I know about homeschooling, that's how it operates now without the added component of governmental intrusion.

It will be interesting to see if Mehlville will enroll many homeschoolers in the program. As of now:

Whether such positive endorsements are enough to draw interest from home-schoolers remains to be seen. Catalana has yet to sign up a student, but outreach efforts have just started.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Unions Target Charter Schools

We all know that card check is a way for unions to easily gain new membership (and funding) without all the hassles of having to make a case for unionization to all employees or the messy encumbrance of a secret ballot. Couple this scenario with the teachers union's animosity towards charters and you have the latest tactic in shutting down good charter schools.

This is what happened in Orleans, MA to the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, one of MA's brightest charter schools. Kyle Olsen reported that a coordinated effort by subgroup of teachers and staff was successful in unionizing the teachers of that school without even notifying all the teachers of what they were trying to do. One teacher wrote, “In fact, a number of employees were not approached at all and found out, quite by accident, that a union had been formed without our input."

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, summed up the union strategy in a recent newsletter:

“Organizing charters will strengthen our power and influence as a union. It is reasonable to believe that as more charters are faced with having to be more like traditional public schools in terms of accountability, wages and benefits, due process, and paying into the retirement system, many of them will dry up because now they will not be as profitable, thus not as appealing to those seeking to authorize them.”

Those who think that unionizing the teachers won't have an effect on the day-to-day functioning of the school should look to it's longtime director who resigned upon learning of this development and transferred her own children to a different school.

Olsen said, "In the beginning the unions reacted by fighting the establishment of charter schools. When that didn’t work, they started pressing state governments to cap the number of charter schools. Now that isn’t working, either, so the unions have changed their strategy. Their current goal is to infiltrate charter schools, organize their teachers and change the very nature of the schools."

This tactic is being used in MA, CA, and NY. Tom Gosnell, the President of the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts (AFT) said, "[Our mantra is] what's good for kids and for teachers..." His claim is that, with unionization, teachers have a greater collective voice on such issues as class sizes, professional development, and the strengthening of curriculum, along with advantages regarding working conditions, salaries, and benefits.

Some believe that the only way to fight this strategy will be for parents to organize their own school co-ops that cannot be infiltrated by teachers unions. That may be the beginning of the end of public education. But everyone will have to be on guard because that last thing the unions do is work to get legislation passed that outlaws any and all end runs around their entrenched system. Missouri is a fairly homeschool friendly state, but watch for any proposed legislation that would change that indicating a union pre-emptive strike.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New York City School Administrators Should be Turned in for Bullying Parents and Students

The anti-bullying campaign has taken hold in public schools with Facebook and Britney Spears lending assistance in advertising the administration's message.

The President has taken a lead in this campaign for children to learn how to be nice to each other:

Perhaps school administrators should practice what they preach as they are apparently trying to make students' and parents' lives difficult when and if the administrators are challenged.

Is it okay to send a child home because he wears an American flag (because it might hurt someone's feelings) but permissible for administrators have a child wear a T-Shirt with the saying "Not Yet", suggesting he wasn't "ready" to be integrated back into his class? Maybe this was a literary example of explaining the 'Scarlet Letter' and visual methods of scorn to the other students.

But good news! States are attempting to make certain bullying doesn't occur in public schools. The Nevada Legislature is set to vote on anti-bullying curriculum fashioned from an anti-bullying New Jersey law already enacted.

Apparently adults need to know how to practice and teach the "Golden Rule" because of legislation. Do you remember that ethical code that made you learn how to regulate your behavior? This moral code did not need to clutter up precious curriculum time:

The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code, or morality that essentially states either of the following:

  1. One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (positive form)
  2. One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (negative/prohibitive form, also called the Silver Rule)

Personal morality isn't expected these days, now it is legislated. Will the threat of legislation and enforced curriculum teach these adults they will be under the threat of expulsion if they continue with their bullying tactics against students and parents? The New York school administrators should not expect behavior from their students they can't/don't practice themselves.

"If You Build It, He (and Other Students) Will Come". Well, Maybe Not.

This is what happens when the government runs out of money and can't fund expenses.

Students in Riverside, California won't be able to use the newly constructed $105 Million school:

Kenneth Young, Riverside's superintendent of schools, said his districts have lost more than $1 billion in combined state funding. His is not the only county to close schools, many districts across the state have been forced to close institutions open just a few years.

"I think we've bottomed out as far as the economy, but here's the thing: The state budget is still out of balance," Young said. "That's where the funding comes from … so that means things might not get better any time soon.

Moral and lesson of the story? The California and the United States economy needs to recover and jobs are needed so the California Legislature can provide funding for projects. (This is according to the Alvord School District Wendell Tucker).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why is this Young Woman Crying?

(My Caption to photo: Obama explains educational vision of the administration to new graduate. The realization of unfunded and federal debt overwhelms her). Add your own caption in the comments.

Increasingly there is dissension about the constitutionality of the Common Core standards, the lack of research, and its funding. Here is an opinion piece from Politico about the standards and the author opens with the lines from a song:

“Won’t you share a common disaster?/Share with me a common disaster/A common disaster"

--Cowboy Junkies, "A Common Disaster"

The author explains the educational disaster in a concise manner:

In short: voluntary out; coercion in. Federal control up; local control down.

I would edit that last sentence to read: "Federal control complete; local control eradicated".

Be sure to read the readers' comments. The majority of the commentors are concerned about the waste of taxpayer money, political correctness being taught in schools vs academics, the power of the teacher unions, and the control of the Department of Education.

Do taxpayers want a "fundamental transformation" of the education system (such as the abolishment of Federal control) vs "school choice"? Do you think Americans are realizing school "choice" in a flawed system is really no choice at all? Are taxpayers, thinktanks and educational organizations realizing the fundamental transformation of education couched in federal control, based on untested methodology and crony capitalism, will not reform education, wastes money and is unconstitutional?

Are we at the tipping point in education? Can we make all American schools "common"? Should public education be common? If we are common, then how can we be a leader in the global community, a stated goal of this administration?

Does any of this make sense? The only aspect that makes sense is the President making someone cry.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"What are you Doing with This Incredible Gift of Freedom?"

Here's a short 2 minute video about the Honor Flights celebrating the service of the WWII veterans.

This is a history lesson about honoring WWII soldiers every school child should learn. All veterans should be afforded our respect and honor, regardless of when they served. But how would you construct a history test encompassing the human condition of humbleness, honor, camaraderie, dignity and bravery? Those traits don't show up on a standardized test, do they?

My dad took an honor flight a couple of years ago and expressed many of the same sentiments these veterans did in the movie trailer. Thanks to my dad and all the others for their service. Thanks to everyone connected with the Honor Flights and for honoring veterans.

You can go here for more information on Honor Flights and learn about how the organization fulfills its mission to transport America's veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.

The question posed by the veteran, "What are you doing with this incredible gift of freedom?" should be a question in every history and civics class. That's a profound question and a profound gift from these veterans.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Can You Name This World Leader?

If our teachers can't identify world leaders, do you think they know what Memorial Day commemorates?

This is an interesting story about education...or lack therof. And it's not about the lack of knowledge from the students, it's the teachers who might need to be schooled in history.

From some of the commentors:

I tutor high school students in Boston. The week of president's weekend I decided to have my group of five read The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. None of them heard of Paul Revere, Longfellow or of North Church, which is mere miles from their school and despite the fact that the Boston Marathon traces the ride of Revere. What bothered me though is that none of them knew the War of Independence and only one knew that the U.S. was originally a British colony.
Basically, if it isn't on an MCAS state test, there is no need to learn it. Which is why the ace college student/future teacher can't recognize Churchill- it isn't on the teacher licensing test.


This is rich testimony to refute the myth that centralized/federalized standards improve outcomes. We "lean forward," building a nation of super credentialized, super cretinized young citizens.

Welcome to the world of school standardized testing requirements. If it's not on the test, chances are the teachers don't have time to talk about Churchill's importance in WWII. It may be more important than ever for parents to take the responsibility for educating their children, either by supplementing public educuation material, homeschooling or private schooling. Apparently the main players in WWII are not important enough to teach to recent education major graduates, so it is probably safe to assume your child is not being taught this information either.
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