"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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Friday, September 30, 2011

Flipping The Classroom

Watch for this term, flipping the classroom, on many education websites. It is a concept that has been around for a while, just waiting for technology and public awareness to catch up. It refers to the practice of students listening to lectures outside the classroom and using classroom time for individual problem solving and tutoring help. The Khan Academy has fully embraced this concept, providing schools with video lectures to be used outside the classroom and software for use in the classroom that lets the students proceed through practice drills and problem solving exercises while showing the teacher exactly where each student is in terms of progress or where they are getting stuck.

This information on the flipped classroom is from The Daily Riff:

The Flipped Classroom is NOT
  • A synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important. 
  • About replacing teachers with videos. 
  • An online course. 
  • Students working without structure. 
  • Students spending the entire class staring at a computer screen. 
  • Students working in isolation. 
 The Flipped Classroom IS
  • A means to INCREASE interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers. 
  • An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning. 
  • A classroom where the teacher is not the "sage on the stage", but the "guide on the side". 
  • A blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning. 
  • A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don't get left behind. 
  • A class where content is permanently archived for review or remediation. 
  • A class where all students are engaged in their learning. 
  • A place where all students can get a personalized education.  
The flipped class may be a good interim step or permanent tool in moving education out of its current top down, one size fits all, high cost, inefficient model to something more locally focused that actually considers each child individually. Some additional things that the flipped classroom does and doesn't do: 

  • It does fairly significantly change the role of the teacher which should then be reflected in teacher education and state certification requirements. 
  • It doesn't address any of the concerns with Common Core Standards, as video lectures and software could only be produced (and mass marketed successfully) if there was an agreed upon set of standards. 
  • It is unclear whether the current school structure would be flexible enough to use it fully, allowing advanced students to proceed at their own pace and attending the level appropriate classroom instead of the age appropriate classroom. It is hard to imagine a school district requiring a particular grade level teacher to have the depth of knowledge necessary to help students at vastly different levels of proficiency. (Hard to imagine because it has been so long since that was the norm, that we no longer expect teachers to have such proficiency themselves.)
The classroom should be a place for the exchange of ideas and the fostering of creativity.  The flipped class provides the TIME for these activities, but common standards, accountability testing, and the inevitable approvals that video lectures will be required to obtain to be used will eat away at the above mentioned benefits and may just make the flipped class the fast track to uniform mediocrity.

See related articles on

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is Saying "God Bless You" After Someone Sneezes Allowable in School? Why Would a Teacher Ban the Saying? A Former KGB Agent Might have an Answer.

What do many Americans say when people sneeze? "God Bless You". It's one of those traditions handed down from generation to generation.

A California teacher doesn't like the practice and deducted points from student scores if they said "God Bless You" or "Bless You" when a classmate sneezed:

When Taylor McGinley sneezed in her health class at Will C. Wood High School a few weeks ago a student replied with "God, bless you," but it's what teacher Steven Cuckovich said after the sneeze that now has students questioning the teacher's agenda.

"(Cuckovich) said, 'Do you think that girl is evil, do you think the evil spirits are coming out of her?' And the guy that said "bless you" was like 'No, I was just doing what I was supposed to do when somebody sneezes, not trying to be rude,'" Taylor said, referring to the incident.

McGinley said Cuckovich never mentioned or referred to the expression again, but in Erica Fagan's class Cuckovich is deducting points from students' grades if someone said "bless you."

Here in the Midwest we might smile, shake our heads and think, "oh those crazy people in California and their crazy ways...thank goodness it's not here!" Well, not so fast. That sort of behavior IS here in Illinois. A reader tipped us off about this same "rule" from a teacher at Fulton Junior middle school in O'Fallon, Illinois. The IL teacher stated the same reason for not being allowed to say "Bless You" because it took too much time away from class and was disruptive.

Now you might be thinking these are just two misguided teachers and they should be laughed at and ignored. Perhaps we ignore such edicts squelching freedom of speech at our own (and our childrens') peril.

Watch this youtube video from a former KGB agent who defected from the USSR as he tells about subversive techniques to wrest individual liberty away from the populace and establish a totalitarian state.

Taking God out of politically correct speech is one of the subversive techniques. This is worth the 9:48 minutes to understand how we are a "target country" and our freedoms are constantly being whittled away and why.

Cuckovich says:

the policy has nothing to do with religion, but says the phrase is just a outdated practice and disrupts class time.

"When you sneezed in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body," Cuckovich said. "So they were saying, 'god bless you' for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, I said what you're doing doesn't really make any sense anymore."

Hmm. It doesn't make any sense to him so he bans the saying. A reader in our previous post wrote:

Quit calling these places schools. They are Comformatories.

The reader may be right. Why are schools becoming "comformatories"? Should we look at the punishment for saying " God bless you" or the even more insidious "bless you" more seriously? Should we pay closer attention to a former KGB agent when he tells us how liberties are snuffed out? This video was from 1983 but eerily parallels to what we have experienced in our country the last several years.

God bless us, indeed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Feeling Good About Your Child After Parent Teacher Conferences? Maybe You Shouldn't Be.

Many parents with children still in the public school system have just completed this year's round of parent teacher conferences. This has become a time when many of us feel that it is not only our child who is being graded, but ourselves as well. An episode of The Simpsons (apologies for such a low brow reference) demonstrated this so well when Marge and Homer used Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who had to go meet with which child's teachers. The winner got to sit in a class and hear how wonderful Lisa was. The loser had to hear how bad Bart was performing at school and face the ridicule of a teacher who blamed the parents for not doing their part in their son's education. But should the winner in this scenario really be feeling so good about himself/herself?

A report in Education Next shows that suburban school districts, which tend to look better academically when compared to their urban neighbors, actually look worse when compared to other developing countries. (To find out where your district stands go to The Global Report Card and plug in your district information.) This is probably not news to our regular readers. Jay Green and Josh McGee developed the Global Report Card to draw attention to this purposeful misdirection.

Some key findings in their report:
  • ...only 820 of the 13,636 public-school districts for which we have 2007 math results had average student achievement that would be among the top third of student performance in other developed countries. That is, 94 percent of all U.S. school districts have average math achievement below the 67th percentile.
  • In four states, there is not a single traditional district with average student achievement above the 50th percentile in math.
  • In 17 states, there is not a single traditional district with average achievement in the upper third relative to our global comparison group.
  • Apart from charter school districts, in over half of the states, there are no more than three traditional districts in which the average achievement would be in the upper third.
If you think you are safe because you are in an affluent district and everything you read about your schools is glowing, consider what the Global report Card found for Beverly Hills, California.
The city has a median family income of $102,611 as of 2000, which places it among the top 100 wealthiest places in the United States with at least 1,000 households. The Beverly Hills population is 85.1 percent white, 7.1 percent Asian, and only 1.8 percent black and 4.6 percent Hispanic. The city is virtually synonymous with luxury...If Beverly Hills is not the refuge from the ills of the education system that elite families are seeking, it’s not clear what would be.
But when we look at the Global Report Card results for the Beverly Hills Unified School District, we don’t see top-notch performance. The math achievement of the average student in Beverly Hills is at the 53rd percentile relative to our international comparison group. That is, one of our most elite districts produces students with math achievement that is no better than that of the typical student in the average developed country. If Beverly Hills were relocated to Canada, it would be at the 46th percentile in math achievement, a below-average district. If the city were in Singapore, the average student in Beverly Hills would only be at the 34th percentile in math performance.
Elite, well educated parents who provide enviable funding to their district and demand top performance only achieve a ranking in the lower third of developed countries. How can this be? Shouldn't they have seen this failure either in their child's report card or their district's public rankings and been pushing the schools to do better? The truth is they probably never saw a problem. Local school districts have an incentive to make their performance look good. The easiest way to do this is to compare their performance to that of large urban districts. Yet all this does is highlight the limited impact of socio-economics on education.

Jay Green reminds us of an old saying in public policy, “programs for the poor are poor programs.” Our dogged determination to bring the bottom X% up academically is being addressed at the expense of our top students. Academic rigor is constantly being eroded as we attempt to "lessen the achievement gap." Other countries do not worry about this achievement gap because they recognize that their poorest academic achievers will not be the ones their economies are counting on to create jobs, or discover life, or time saving, technologies. There is virtually no trophy business in Calcutta because the only trophies awarded are to professionals who actually win. Here in America, our kids are drowning in trophies but not really winning anything.

Everything that has been said on this blog before about such global comparisons still applies. Other countries do not include everyone in their testing or test results, so such comparisons are not an apples-to-apples scenario. Other countries do not teach as broad a curriculum as the U.S. etc. But the Global Report Card only looks at two basic measures of education, math and reading. If we cannot excel in the basics, what makes us think we are excelling in the rest of the curriculum?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaching to the Test Doesn't Stop at Academic Subjects: Students Tested on Personal Beliefs and Sexual Behavior.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

Health Education Assessment Project (HEAP)

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Washington D.C. school students will be the first to take a new health standardized assessment to measure what they know about "human sexuality, contraception and drug use" as well as nutrition and mental health. Students will take this 50 question health and sex education assessment in addition to "reading and math (grades 3 through 8 and 10), composition (4, 7, 10), science (grade 5) and biology (grade 10)" in April 2012.

The test was developed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education based upon sample questions "devised by" the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Remember, the CCSSO is the organization along with the National Governor's Association (NGA) that formulated the Common Core Standards, a move toward nationalization of state standards. And also remember, these two private organizations are formulating standards and assessments for public schools using taxpayer money with no accountability.

So what we have are sex education, nutrition and mental health assessments rolled out by private organizations that public school students are being mandated to complete. What do parents think about this elbowing into students' private lives? The Washington Post reported that parents want to know more about the test and expressed concerns about more testing requirements. D.C. school officials say the test is in response to legislation; however, the bill sponsor said the legislation required only an annual report and not the creation of another standardized assessment. Officials recognize that parents may have differing opinions on this initiative.

In an updated Washington Post report, D.C. officials clarified that assessment results will only serve to report percentage of questions answered correctly and will not provide individual scores, nor affect teacher evaluations. This should certainly make parents feel better that personal questions on personal behavior aren't being graded (or so they say) by teachers, right? For those parents concerned about what and how their children are being taught about sensitive (and non-academic) subjects, maybe not.

From the CCSSO Health Education Assessment Project (HEAP) website, it delineates how Michigan, SC and DC are using this standardized assessment:

  • Michigan has aligned the item bank with their health curriculum. Michigan teachers can search the item bank by grade level and specific unit in the Michigan curriculum and develop their own appropriate classroom assessments. Michigan also is using the item bank to develop an opt-out test. Using the collaborative technology, Michigan's health education team evaluated, designated, and edited when needed, the desired items from the bank.
  • South Carolina utilized the item bank, collaborative editing and online testing capabilities, to develop and field-test several assessment forms at the elementary, middle and high school grade levels in preparation for a statewide health assessment.
  • DC Public Schools have also developed assessments utilizing HEAP items, with online assessments to begin in Spring 2011.

Michigan has an opt out capability for this test, but SC does not. Questions and thoughts for SC parents concerned about this intrusive assessment into their childrens' lives:
  • Are South Carolina parents, community members, and taxpayers in the dark as to the priority, legislative requirements, and costs related to this additional test?

  • Will South Carolina parents be advised and have a right to opt out during field and final implementation in accordance with SECTION 59-32-50. S.C. Code of Laws Title 59 Chapter 32 or will the absence of the word assessment lead to enforcement of taking the assessment?
  • Parents should be demanding an opt-out standardized testing option; in addition, parents should also demand any testing and/or teaching done in sex education and/or moral matters have active consent for such testing, rather than passive consent. Parents must give written consent EACH time such a test is administered.
  • South Carolina parents should also ask the state: how is such a test on sex education going to make students more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) ready? What does this assessment have to do with academic achievement? Why is the CCSSO formulating tests to assess students on "proper" behavior traditionally reserved for religious organizations and parents?
  • Parents need to review a copy of the entire test to determine the breadth of questions and if they are intrusive on personal religious or moral beliefs. Schools were formed to be institutions of academic learning. These tests serve the social service agencies' purposes now under some school roofs (HHS providing medical/social services) but again, how is this helping American students to become 'globally competitive' in academics?
  • Schools have students for 8 hours a day, allegedly teaching them skills to obtain meaningful employment. Schools are not medical clinics or therapist offices. Parents should review the curriculum to determine what their children are learning. Character Education taught in school begs the question, whose idea of character is the school teaching? Example: "If Susie has two mommies" and that's on the reading list for diversity purposes, and your child is tested for beliefs on homosexuality, how would your child be expected to answer? Whether or not you agree with homosexuality is immaterial; parents and children KNOW what the "correct" answer is according to the curriculum. If you as a parent are teaching your child a different answer than what is expected by the school, and he/she answers according to family belief, you might get ready to get a call from the school on discipline being doled out to your child. Your child won't 'fail' if he/she answers 'incorrectly', but as seen in Ft. Worth, Texas recently, a student can be suspended from school stating a politically incorrect opinion of homosexuality in school.
Let's revisit Nancy Reagan's mantra: "Just Say No." Don't allow your child to participate in a social experiment set up by private companies using tax dollars to track children. It's insidious and does not help your child academically. This type of testing has no place in schools and you should refuse to have your child participate in such a test. Shame on South Carolina and DC. Rather than focusing on what children know about sexuality (which used to be sacred rather than primarily a physical act), the tests should focus on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, understanding the difference between a republic and a democracy so this egregious trampling on the civil rights of parents, taxpayers and students never happens again.

Do you want to know more about what children will be assessed on in sex education, drug use, etc? The test bank of questions can be reviewed at the HEAP website. Take a brief pop quiz of questions taken from the test here.

When and why did private industries develop such a keen interest in your child's personal life and behavior? Is this a function of the DOE and the states to allow such intrusiveness by private companies?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Classroom Diaries: Tales from the Classroom, First Entry!

We are pleased to have a guest columnist who will be posting periodically about Classroom Diaries: tales from the classroom. Here is our first installment.

If you have "tales from the classroom", chronicling how increasing federal control impacts your teaching, drop us a line and we'll be more than happy to publish your experiences with the increasingly centralized public education system. You may remain anonymous but we would like to know how these mandates are working out in reality for teachers and students.

Here is our first entry on what's happening in Missouri:

For those of you who absolutely love what President Obama has done for the economy and healthcare, you’ll be happy to know that the same expertise is being applied in education. You will be pleased to know that in addition to adopting the Common Core National Standards in Education, receiving millions of federal tax dollars, and basically giving away Missouri sovereignty in education, our own Director of Education Chris Nicastro was personally invited to the White House by President Obama himself to discuss education reform . What could possibly go wrong? As a result of this important meeting, the state of Missouri will consider a NCLB waiver. It appears that states can apply for a waiver from compliance of the federal NCLB law, but there is a catch. Did anyone really think Arne Duncan and President Obama would just hand out waivers for nothing? States will be granted waivers if and only if they adopt the college and career readiness standards and use certain evaluation tools for teachers and principals in underperforming schools.

With the economy as bad as it is, school districts across the state are busy trying to find money just to stay above water. How are they going to begin to find the funding that will be required to comply and align their curriculum to the new standards and evaluation systems? Where will the money come from to provide professional development to teachers who are on the receiving end of yet another Obama boondoggle mess! I know I will sleep better at night knowing that our education commissioner is cozy with the white House. Again, what could possibly go wrong?

For now, I will go to work and close my classroom door and try not to imagine the out of control train speeding down the tracks towards derailment. I will continue to teach the students in my class, doing the best I can to meet their needs while all the time wondering what the future holds for them.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sunday Education Weekly Reader: 9.25.11

Good day! Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader compiled from last week's education news and tidbits.

Here are some interesting education articles about:
  • possible school board political/business cronyism
  • common core standards
  • a parent objecting to his student's homework assignment based on the religious examples used
  • a question of double standards in freedom of speech
  • a thought to take with you during the week

Just breaking this morning! The headline in the local newspaper features The Rockwood School District in Eureka:

Rockwood has cozy tie with firm:

Rockwood School District finds itself entangled in a legal and ethical dilemma according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Steve Smith, the School Board president of Rockwood School District is also an employee (project coordinator) of Glenn Construction Company that has been responsible for 98% of the construction work in the district the last 14 years. The company also maintains rent-free space in the district.

Could such questionable business practices be occurring in your school district?


Mitt Romney comes out in favor of Race to the Top and Arne Duncan's reform? When did conservatives start supporting more and more centralization of education...and why?


Viewpoints: Why Common Core standards are illegal and will ultimately fail.


The Underground Parent explained in 2010 why Common Core standard arguments and Arne Duncan's contentions its theories are based on research....are just not true. Is this an example in Salesmanship 101 at the expense of states' rights and bankruptcy for these states because of these mandates?


From wsbtv.com in Atlanta:

A father's complaint that his daughter's homework promotes the Muslim faith could lead to a lesson change in Cobb County. Channel 2's Tom Regan talked to the father who showed him where his daughter’s homework which said there's nothing wrong with having multiple wives.

Any word yet from the ACLU on the separation of church and state?

Here's an updated video from Channel 2 news in Atlanta explaining the content of the homework.


Is this an example of a double standard?

A student in Ft. Worth, Texas gets suspended initially for 3 days (now reduced to one day) for telling his friend his personal belief on homosexuality.

A government studies teacher in San Antonio, TX calls a panel member in a public discussion a Nazi for his views on the "Dream Act" and he faces no disciplinary action.

When/where is freedom of expression allowed and when/where is it smothered? And why?

Thought for the week:

This is a poem from a treasured book found in an estate sale entitled "Floridays". It was published in 1941 and written and illustrated by Don Blanding. As a native Floridian, the poems and recollections touched my heart, especially this one about a child. Why we fight not for the system but for children and their ability to choose their own futures can be summed up in the last two lines.

Hug your kids and treasure the days of their youth!


For Binney, July 6, 1941

Binney was six years old today,
Party and presents and pink ice cream!
Thirty children to romp and play.
The hours passed like a shining dream.

Ribbony packages, tinsel stars,
Books and dollies and endless games,
Hose and hankies and candy jars,
Birthday cards with children's names.

A cake with candles all alight,
A deep-drawn breath and a lusty phewwww!
Shivers and prickles of sheer delight!
Each moment crowded with something new.

Tight blonde pig-tails tied with blue
Matching the blue of thoughtful eyes.
Wonder and laughter shining through,
Happy tears and a glad surprise.

Six long years...how very old!
The solemn thought brought a stab of pain.
Whatever the years ahead may hold...
She'll never be six years old again.

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