"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, July 9, 2011

Arne Duncan and His "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad " Interview

The title for this blog is adapted from the Judy Blume book about Alexander's awful day. I've adapted it to illustrate Arne Duncan's astonishing terrible, horrible, etc, interview about education reform. Here is the NPR transcript of Arne Duncan talking about his ideas for education.

What are the topics covered in the interview?

Host Michel Martin and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss No Child Left Behind, the plan aimed to improve failing public schools; as well as the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some undocumented youth.

Duncan's thoughts on NCLB?

DUNCAN: Well, the law is fundamentally broken. And the law is far too punitive, far to prescriptive, it's led to a dumbing down of standards. It's led to a narrowing of the curriculum. And what I'm so angry about, Michel, is if whatever the number, 75, 80 percent of schools are labeled as failures with the current law, that's dishonest. It's not true.

We absolutely have schools that are struggling. We absolutely have schools that we don't challenge the status quo, but many, many schools are doing an amazing job. And as we talked at the start of the conversation doing a great, great job in very tough economic times.

And so to label schools that are getting better each year as failures, that's demoralizing to hardworking teachers and principals. It's confusing to parents. It's confusing to the community. And so, we've challenged Congress to fix the law. And we want to fix it together in a bipartisan way, and we want to fix it with a real sense of urgency.

I absolutely hope that happens. But if it doesn't happen, I'm prepared to use our waiver authority to provide some relief now to states and to districts that are doing this hard work.

What he doesn't tell the listeners is the way he wants to fix the law is make it even more assessment and mandate heavy and punish schools financially if they don't follow the new restrictions. He hasn't "challenged" Congress to fix the law, he's taken a dictatorial and bullying stance to the states and threatened to withhold federal funding. His waiver authority is currently being challenged by the House Education Committee. As Representative John Kline has stated, "he's not the nation's superintendent".

What are his plans to improve the nation's schools?

DUNCAN: Well, there's no upside to when state and local governments are cutting back and these are tough economic times, as you know, Michel, at every level state and local and federal. And what the president is trying to do is lead by example and walk the walk. And in these very tough economic times, when he basically flat-lined the rest of domestic spending, he asked for a $4 billion increase in our budget, in education's budget.

What he fundamentally sees is that education is an investment not an expense. And that where folks cut back, that's penny-wise and pound-foolish. This is the best investment we can make. So, I've challenged all 50 governors. I've challenged local political leaders that, you know, when you cut back in early childhood education and when you go from five-day weeks to four-day weeks, when you eliminate extra curriculars and art and P.E. and music, you absolutely hurt your children and ultimately you hurt your state.

And so, budget, Michel, reflect our priorities. They reflect our values. And we either care about children and we're going to continue to invest in them or we're not.

It seems the answer is to challenge the nation's governors to spend more money their states don't have into a system that doesn't work. A 190% increase in federal spending in four decades of the DOE has resulted in flat lined scores. You can couch it as an "investment" instead of an "expense", but the truth is more money thrown at a broken educational organization is going to give you the same results at even greater expense.

How does the DREAM Act affect education?

MARTIN: In Congressional testimony last week, you talked in support of the DREAM Act. How do you see this as an educational issue?

DUNCAN: I'm a passionate, passionate supporter of the DREAM Act. And quite frankly, Michel, I think as a country we have our priorities absolutely backwards on this. To deny young children who have, you know, come to this country, their parents brought them sometimes when they were infants. They've worked hard. They've gone to school. They've gotten good grades. They've been community leaders. To deny them the chance to go to college is absolutely crazy. And we need their talents. We need their expertise. We need their creativity. We need their ingenuity. We need them to create the jobs of the future.

And so, it's two things. One, this is an issue of fairness to not give them a chance to go to college is simply un-American. It's not fair. And secondly, as a country, we have, I think, a selfish interest that we need their talents and we don't want them to be the next generation of teachers and entrepreneurs and engineers and innovators or they're going to be stuck doing, you know, under-the-table, you know, small-time jobs the rest of their life, you know, for cash.

If it's not the children's fault their parents brought them to the United States illegally, then why not direct these individuals to apply for citizenship when they turn 18 years old? Why grant them automatic citizenship because of the parents' actions? Do you see any parallel to the DREAM Act position taken by Duncan and the Atlanta cheating scandal as it pertains to the culture argument? It seems to be nobody's fault that anyone is breaking the law in immigration matters or educational cheating.

MARTIN: I wanted to talk about an education story that's making headlines now. A Georgia state investigation revealed on Tuesday that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta public school system cheated on standardized tests. And they're saying that part of it is that there's just too much writing on test scores now and it creates an environment where people are desperate, and desperate people cheat. Well, what do you make of that?

DUNCAN: Yeah. Well, you always want a balance. But the other day, Michel, was so disturbing. There - this was clearly part of the culture. This is endemic. And I think approximately 80 percent of schools had cheating in it. So, this isn't - wasn't an isolated incident.

If our culture bends immigration laws, why not bend the methods for reporting educational progress? If the educational mandates are so onerous and jobs and funding depend on the results, what do you think will happen? Here is Duncan's response:

MARTIN: But why do you think this happened, though? I mean, are you saying that - why did this culture exists? Do you think these are just bad people or they're lacking in morality or...

DUNCAN: I don't think - no, I have no idea on the details there. But at the end of the day, what I care about is, you know, are we helping children fulfill their tremendous academic and social potential? Are they getting the support they need? And clearly, there was a culture here that at some levels was rotten.

Is he serious? Does he really not know the details? Does he understand the Federal Government is a huge part of this problem? When the government has designed educational and immigration reform systems that can't possibly succeed, what result can it expect? I guess it means more money, more mandates and ignorance of existing laws will need to be put in motion.

But don't worry, note the NPR's title for its piece: "How Dream Act Can Cut Deficit". This is absurd and aptly illustrates Arne Duncan's "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" in this NPR interview.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Is the Massive Atlanta Teacher Cheating Scandal a Harbinger of Education Practices?

Here's a glimpse into the possible future for public education.

Massive cheating and test scores changing by teachers and administrators apparently are common in the Atlanta school district. Investigators identified 178 principal and teachers who they say were involved in cheating. The cheating included teachers having parties on the weekends in teachers' homes to change test answers so students would score more favorably and the school's results would improve. If the Atlanta public education system is indicative of how teachers and administrators respond to bad test scores from their students, will this become an accepted practice as Race to the Top mandates are enforced?

Arne Duncan, President Obama and Bill Gates believe more federal control and money are the answers to the failing public education system. Common core standards and federal mandates strangle and eradicate any semblance of local control. Parents and districts have no input in the education of students in public school even as they are forced to pay for this educational delivery.

Teachers and administrators are held accountable for their students to achieve certain benchmarks thanks to No Child Left Behind, otherwise, their schools may be considered failing and their jobs may be in jeopardy. Most educators and writers believe NCLB was a good idea, but has failed in its mission of raising national test scores, and has become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Duncan, Obama and Gates extol Race to the Top and Common Core standards as the tickets to ensure our students are "globally competitive". More and more mandates and more and more testing will make our kids smarter. Can you foresee ultimate disaster? Many schools can't "make the grade" now, what's going to happen when the controls are turned even tighter?

The administrators and teachers performed illegal activities and should be prosecuted. but here is a questions: do you think the test results are going to be any different when RTTT and backdoor RTTT mandates are implemented ? Is implementing even more standardized testing based on common core standards and assessments the answer to reduce current poor test scores? Could the problems of education be more involved than not having the same standards nationwide?

Heck, you could have the same standards and still have people clueless on why we celebrate the Fourth of July. If you have kids who don't care about school, no amount of mandates or teachers changing scores will change the knowledge that student possesses.

What's happened in education? We have students who can't/won't learn, teachers and administrators who change tests to save their jobs, and politicians who demand even more mandates and controls. Will other districts fudge results so funding can keep coming in and all students will be deemed "college ready"?

“In sum, a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation permeated the APS system from the highest ranks down,” the investigators wrote. “Cheating was allowed to proliferate until, in the words of one former APS principal, ‘it became intertwined in Atlanta Public Schools ... a part of what the culture is all about.’ ”

From this piece "The George Bush-Ted Kennedy Chickens Come Home to Roost in Atlanta":

Why did this happen? Well it seems it all started out for fame and glory. Then No Child Left Behind came in with its adequate yearly progress goals. Teachers were more and more forced to give up teaching subject matter and start teaching tests. If students did badly, teachers were punished. If whole classes did badly, schools were punished. If whole schools did badly, districts were punished.

George Bush and Ted Kennedy, along with school officials at the state and local level, had decided to give financial incentive to success in public education. For many schools dealing with kids whose fathers are in jail and mothers are addicted to drugs, the kids are coming to school hungry and unable to read or concentrate. The only way to get ahead was to cheat.

And cheat they did. And cheat they do. Atlanta just got caught. But the odds that Atlanta is the only system involved are slim to none.

Perversely, instead of using the standardized tests to measure a student’s progress and place the child with similar performing students in the next year’s grade to help the student, the tests track the teachers’ progress and punishes or rewards the teacher based on how well the student does on the test.

We are no longer teaching a nation of children how to think. We are no longer teaching a nation of children how to read and write and add and subtract and understand American history and balance chemical equations. We are teaching our children how to take a standardized test. And then, when they fail, we use the result to punish the teacher, not help the child.

Can we now have a serious discussion in the state and national legislatures about stopping this educational plan that is nothing short of a disaster?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

So You Think Universal Preschool is Wonderful? Do You Want 4-Year Olds Labelled as "Underachievers"?

Standardized testing may be coming to a preschool near you because of RTTT mandates.

When George Bush pushed for early childhood standardized testing, there was an outcry:

On January 17, 2003, The Washington Post published a Page 1 story (that I wrote) about the Republican Bush administration’s plans to give 908,000 4-year-olds in Head Start programs nationwide a standardized assessment to see how much they were learning.

Critics howled. Early childhood development experts said preschoolers are too young to be evaluated by standardized tests in part because they don’t have sufficient ability to comprehend assessment cues. The plan was shelved.

Now, as the Obama administration is pushing the same agenda, it doesn't garner a peep:

Flash forward eight years. Today it’s the Democratic Obama administration that is pushing standardized assessments for preschoolers. Not only is there no loud shouting, but a gaggle of states are going to battle each other for the right to win federal funds that will help them implement the second wave of Race to the Top, early childhood version.

Remove the hyperpartisanship and you can see what's happening here. It doesn't matter if a Republican or a Democrat pushes for standardized testing for 4 year olds...it's wrong to label young children. Be careful what you wish for and what the DOE wants your state to provide. Universal preschool and kindergarten may place your child in a box he/she won't be able to escape:

There is something disturbing about an early childhood education initiative that doesn’t seem to take into account how young children learn best. Where, for example, is the priority about ensuring that all early childhood programs provide creative opportunities for kids to explore and learn? That’s how they best learn, myriad child development experts have said for years.

The institutionalization of standardized assessments for young kids threatens to turn preschool into an academic environment that is too regimented for youngsters.

I know a girl who, when given an aptitude test at age 4, refused to answer the questions because she just didn’t feel like it that day. That’s the way 4-year-olds act sometimes. She was scored as essentially having the aptitude of a monkey. That’s the way standardized assessments are, and that’s no way to judge a 4-year-old.

The NEA should reconsider its early endorsement of Obama and Duncan's plan for education. Maybe, just maybe, the Republican candidate would say "no" to Race to the Top mandates. Preschoolers would not be subjected to standardized testing, but instead, could indeed have a time in their lives to explore their creativity and be a child instead of being targeted as human capital.

Why is it permissible for Obama to endorse standardized testing for early childhood students but Bush got politically crucified for the same plan? Strauss' article from 2003 is talking about the same issues we are debating today in 2011. The administration has changed but the pertinent issues are identical:

But some local program directors questioned whether it is possible to create a standardized assessment that is valid and reliable for 4-year-olds across the country, including those with special needs and non-English speakers.

Craig Ramey, a co-director of the Center on Health and Education at Georgetown University who is heading the group creating the assessment, acknowledged there are "a limited number of high-quality, usable tools" on the market but that his panel would find what works.

"Will the system be perfect?" he said. "Of course not. Nothing is."

Ramey's panel is working with Westat, a research company being paid $1.8 million to help develop the assessment.

An outstanding issue is who will administer the assessments. Ramey said teachers would be involved, but suggested some might be tempted to cheat. "The simple way to game the system is to have kids not do well in the fall and do well in the spring," he said, adding that independent verification was key.

Ramey likened the new system to industrial "quality assurance" programs.

"What we are bringing to Head Start is not different from what you encounter when you go to buy a car," he said, noting that car buyers trust that companies maintain quality from plant to plant.

Some local directors, who asked not to be identified, said they feared that federal officials would use data from the new system to eliminate programs that don't do what they want.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If All State Superintendents Stood Up to the Federal Education Bullies....

...maybe, just maybe we could stop this nonsense of the impossible accountability standards via the Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind being crafted by Arne Duncan.

Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Kentucky are instituting the "just say no" method to the Department of Education. These states believe the goals to make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) are unattainable and financially out of reach:

In Montana, Ms. Juneau said she is freezing performance targets in part because her office simply doesn’t have the staff to deal with an increasing number of schools that may face penalties under NCLB.

“Our office resources are better used to continue our work with schools already identified for assistance than to increase the number of schools that cannot be offered the required additional resources,” she wrote in her April 25 letter to the department informing them of her decision to freeze proficiency targets.

The states are saying they don't have the money to fulfill the underfunded mandates dictated to the states. These states are digging their heels in and telling Washington what they will do and what they won't. Imagine that. States are beginning to claim their constitutional authority to make their own educational decisions.

However, there is a problem that states have gotten themselves into. They still need money to operate:

Ms. Juneau indicated that there was one thing that could get her to revert to those higher targets: if federal officials threaten to withhold money from the state. “I am not willing to put our schools’ federal funding in jeopardy,” she said.

Why do the states need the Federal money? Is it to fulfill previous Federal mandates? Is there any way to get away from the Federal stranglehold? If more states would stand up to the Chicago bully tactics at the DOE, maybe we could begin to operate our schools as they were intended...by local control instead of federal decree.

Forward this following comment by an Education Week reader to your superintendent and politicians. Perhaps it would be a good idea for our politicians and superintendents to refresh their knowledge of the Constitution and apply it to this situation. I would only hope Missouri would follow these states who have the best interests of students, parents and taxpayers in mind as they take a stand against the DOE:

"But the Education Department is warning states that flouting the law will not be tolerated, even if Congress fails to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the current version of which is NCLB—before the start of the 2011-12 school year."

Arne: please go back and read the Constitution of the United States. You are treating States as though you are a lawmaker and they are citizens. Neither is the case. You are an unelected bureaucrat, and States are sovereign powers. Since education is not one of the enumerated federal powers, then 10th amendment means that the federal government has no legitimate role in regulating anything.

Let's have more "defiance" by other states. Far too many states are tolerating federal interference in education.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rockwood School District Taxpayers are Concerned about Educational Expenses and Deficits. They are Calling a Meeting.

Parents of Rockwood School District are concerned about decisions made by the school board and superintendent. Two consultants were paid $1800.00 a day and then hired from Minnesota to join the administration at a cost of $250,000, even as the district is facing multi-million dollar deficits:

...the district announced it would have to cut $5.3 million to balance its 2011-12 budget, partly through staff reductions and salary freezes for administrators and support staff.

Six middle school teachers, 10 counselors, four drivers education teachers and three parking attendants at high schools lost their jobs. Rockwood also decided it would increase kindergarten tuition, high school parking fees and admission to sporting events to raise revenue.

The district's financial woes remain far from over. This coming fiscal year, Rockwood expects a deficit of $6 million to $16 million...

I received the following letter authored by Dennis Broadbooks about a taxpayer meeting regarding the hiring of additional administrators in a time of severe staff cuts, and he gave me permission to reprint it in its entirety. If you are in the Rockwood District or another district and concerned about your school board's financial decisions, please attend and determine what you can do as a taxpayer to demand better fiscal management of your tax dollars:

Dear Patron of Rockwood School District,
Please place the date of July 10th on your calendar of events to attend! At 2:00PM on that Sunday afternoon there will be a meeting held to discuss the recent circumstances involving the Rockwood School District and the hiring practices used to bring on two new administrators. A loosely knit organization, tentatively going by the name of Concerned Patrons of Rockwood (CPR), has been formed for the purpose of putting this event together. The primary focus of the meeting will be to have a discourse on whether the status quo should be maintained as it relates to RSD employment practices or answer the question…is there a better method?

Please forward this message to all your friends, neighbors, and other taxpaying citizens of the Rockwood School District, notifying them of this gathering and let’s see if we can have an earnest dialogue on this topic. Here are the particulars:

What?: Concerned Patrons of Rockwood (CPR) Meeting
When?: Sunday, July 10, 2011 @ 2:00PM
Where?: Hidden Valley Ski Resort Lodge 17409 Hidden Valley Dr Eureka, MO 63025
Why?: For the betterment of the Rockwood School District!
We hope to see you then!

Dennis D. Broadbooks
Wildwood, MO
(314) 954-1212

America, We're in Real Trouble.

The Fourth of July: "It's like...our day, you know".

Serious question: should there be a test of basic American historical facts given before citizens are allowed to vote?

This is some incredible footage. If our country continues on its current path toward financial implosion, nationalization, and law through mandates and regulations, let's all move to California and at least enjoy the beach. We can enjoy the surf and sun, drink beer, and celebrate a day off work or school.

That's what is really important anyway, right?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day Quiz. Test Your Knowledge!

Happy 4th of July.

Here's an Independence Day quiz:

The 4th of July is the time when we celebrate our nation-- a time to reflect on the freedoms which we believe are not granted by our government, but are self-evident rights for all humankind. Time for the Independence Day Quiz which asks, "How much do you really know?" Every day thousands leave their homelands to settle here in the land of the free. Before they become citizens they are required to take a citizenship test and score 80%. Could you pass this test if you took it today?

Our quiz is made up of 20 questions which were once used on the actual citizenship test. We've added a few curveballs-- The last ten questions may be a bit harder, but a score of around 24 out of 30 is considered a passing grade.

This quiz can be graded by state and age group. Which state/province scored the highest? Which scored the lowest? The age group results are probably not too surprising...perhaps it is a good indicator civics should be highlighted in schools as students are not solid in their knowledge of American historical/constitutional facts. Good luck! Some of the questions are pretty tough.

As an aside, our church financial officer and his wife became naturalized citizens this past year, and the family was presented in today's church service with a flag previously flown over the US Capitol. They are grateful to be American citizens. What a delightful start to the Fourth of July celebrations!
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