"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, March 31, 2012

Special Needs Schooling Especially Challenging

The assault on parental responsibility and parental rights just keeps getting notched up. Parents of special needs children may have been in the trenches longer than anyone else, and the battle there is very fierce.  They know they need to be their child's advocate, but finding the line between being an advocate and being a pain in the b*** seems to be very difficult.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day the decisions appear to be made on the basis of money.  With falling school budgets and the tight economy, the battle for money has become intense, and the children are the ones losing.

Take the case of Chuka Chibuogwu and the Alief Independent School District in Houston, TX. Chuka has autism and was in middle school when his parents, immigrants to this country, began asking the district to give him the services they felt he needed and was entitled to. The following details come from MyFoxHouston.

"When I went there I saw things no mother would want to see," says Neka of her visits to Chuka's middle school.

"My wife went to observe, found him squashed in the corner and nobody cared," says Kenneth.

"There was nothing I could do but cry because I was so shocked that such a thing could go on in this country," added Neka of the repeated conferences with Alief administrators ending in stalemate."

The family spent most of their life savings on "due process" which resulted in a stalemate.  The Chibuogwus eventually took their son out of school and began home schooling him.  It would be a sad case if it ended there, but it didn't.  The school district turned around and sued the Chibuogwus for the cost of the due process to the district, at the time $170,000.

The story became even more egregious when it was revealed that none of the school board members of Alief were even aware of this legal effort.  It was all done as a deal between the Superintendent and a lawyer, Erik Nichols, who had promoted a legal seminar entitled “Show Me the Money” – a how-to guide for extracting cash penalties from parents who challenge their public schools.

FOX 26 News obtained invoices which show the district’s taxpayers have compensated Erik Nikols and his law firm Rogers, Morris and Grover as much as $12,000 in a single month for waging the three-and-a-half year courthouse campaign against the Chibuogwus. Ultimately the district spent over $200,000 going after this family who was trying to advocate for their son. Why?  Well once the Federal 5th Circuit court threw out the district's case ruling that the district had no legal right to collect money from the Chibuogwus, the district's next action shed light on the reason why they fought so hard.

In January the district demanded, as a condition of settlement, that Nneka and Kenneth Chibuogwu sign a pre-drafted apology. In it the Chibuogwus would have to admit their actions were “reprehensible” and that they “bullied” and “harassed” teachers and staff. They would also have to confess they were coerced to attack the district by the news media and that Alief provided their son with all the educational support he needed.  In short, they wanted to humiliate these parents as a warning to other parents who might dare to advocate for their children. At the end of the day, the district felt they literally couldn't afford to set the precedent with this family about providing special needs services.  In order to stem the tide of demands from other parents, they had to show that, "you don't go up against the district."

This case is not isolated. A similar case worked its way through the Bethlehem PA school district.  The court once again ruled that the district had no right to receive compensation from the family seeking special ed services.  In this case, the facts begin to show the blurry line that currently exists between advocating and harassing.
"The school district sued Zhou in 2009, alleging she engaged in "vexatious" behavior by refusing to approve special education plans for her sons, identified by the initials M.Z. and J.Z. The suit alleged Zhou demanded a series of due process hearings for her sons between 2001 and 2009, allegedly walking out of one and refusing to participate in another.

Zhou also demanded the district pay for a Mandarin interpreter for her children at the special education meetings, even though the family speaks English, the suit says.

The district demanded damages under a provision of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that allows school districts to sue to recoup legal fees when it can show a parent has abused the system by requesting unnecessary or frivolous hearings." mcall.com
The Bethlehem District claimed the Zhou's purposely drove up the cost of their son's special education so that it would be more in line with the private academy they wanted the district to pay for. That's if you believe, as the district did, that the case was about money.

Such was not the case in Kansas City where a parent with a deaf child was seeking special education services for her child but was meeting with resistance from the district. In that case, having the district pay for tuition to a nearby school that specialized in educating deaf children would have meant a $5,000 savings to the district. Of course public school money is never that clear. Losing the special needs student would have impacted their costs for teachers already hired to provide special education who now had one less student to teach, even though those teachers did not have the special training necessary to deal with a deaf child who wanted to speak instead of use sign language. At the end of the day the district's actions were based more on money than ideology or concern for the student.

Those parents decided to move to a district that had a better school for the deaf that was affordable for the family. This decision reaffirmed the parents as the ultimate decision makers for the child and showed that they were able to make a decision that took into account the needs of the child as well as the realities of available funding.

It would be unfair not to take the school district's position into account as well in this battle. It would not be out of line to claim that every Special Education teacher knows of at least one instance (and maybe more) where parents have pushed for more than their child actually needed or was entitled to. Take the case of the child who came from the elementary school with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for reading and writing. By the time this child reached middle school he was getting all A's in advanced classes, but the parents would not allow the district to drop his IEP and argued for every service they believed he needed. This meant that special ed teachers had to spend X number of minutes a day with a child who clearly did not need their services, at the expense of other children who did. Every district deals with these cases individually and worries about the precedents being set. Do they cave to the wishes of these parents because in the long run it will be easier and less expensive, or do they risk, by doing that, that other parents will seek similar services, stretching the available staff even further?

What motivates the parents?  Primarily it is concern for their children, but in some cases it is to game the system.

There is a misconception among parents with students who receive special services from public schools. A child who can maintain an IEP through high school may  get a special accommodations for the SAT or ACT,  which can include additional time, an alternate testing environment, and alternative ways to provide answers. These factors could improve their score.  For a child with mild cognitive impairment these accommodations could mean the difference between getting in to college or not.  That's quite an incentive for parents to push the system.  The reality, however, is that these accommodations are rarely granted by the ACT and SAT services. A child must be severely impaired to get extended time (e.g. reading at the 4th grade level in 10th grade). Meanwhile, children who have matured and learned to compensate for their disability are being told daily that they cannot do the work on their own.

When they enter college these kids are no longer covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) which means no more IEPs or guarantees to education. Instead they are considered an adult for whom education is an opportunity. They are covered only by accommodations provide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA's impact on those with learning disabilities, ADHD, low spectrum Autism disorder and other things that could be accommodated in K-12 is limited so parents with special needs kids need to do a lot of research about the programs available for their son or daughter at the various institutions of higher learning.

Meanwhile our system struggles to find that line between being the only voice for your children and just being a big loudmouth.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Four Missouri School Districts Indicate Suspicious Test Scores According to Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution has written an in-depth investigation about the Atlanta public school cheating scandal by the superintendent, principals, and teachers.   The scandal stems from cheating of educators as job accountability is now determined from student scores.  The AJC also uncovered some questionable testing results from other states.

The newspaper writes in a follow-up article:

Suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

The newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast. The findings represent an unprecedented examination of the integrity of school testing.

The analysis doesn’t prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.

Here is a link taking you to an interactive map of districts nationwide with scores resembling Atlanta's inconsistent test scores.  The red circle (districts noted as "A") indicates:
Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:25 PM PDT
The the following was also posted on the National School Boards Assocation’s Center for Public Education blog, The Edifier.
Articles this past weekend by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) and the Associated Press  strongly suggest the answer is yes.  AJC attempted to answer this question by analyzing state standardized test scores from all 50 states to identify districts and schools that had statistically unusual fluctuations in their year to year test scores which is an indicator that cheating may be taking place. Although the unusual fluctuations do not prove there was cheating it does point to the strong possibility that cheating is in fact taking place. As a matter of fact, the newspaper used a similar methodology in 2009 which helped uncovered extensive cheating in Atlanta public schools.

But is cheating as prevalent across our public schools as the articles strong imply? The answer is quite simply no. When you actually look at the data from AJC you see that about 200 out of the nearly 15,000 school districts (which includes charter school districts and other special districts) analyzed by AJC had suspicious test scores like those found in Atlanta. This represents just 1.3 percent of all school districts nationwide. Keep in mind, even within these districts most schools showed no signs of cheating.

In fact, when AJC calculated how many individual students were likely to be directly impacted by cheating, just a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of the 13 million students examined were enrolled in the grade level within the schools where cheating likely took place.

Of course any cheating at the school or district level is not acceptable but the data does show that the AJC’s assertion that the results “…suggest a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation” is not only overblown but outright wrong.  In fact their data shows that cheating is limited to a small proportion of districts and even smaller proportion of students nationwide. So parents and the general public should be confident that teachers and administrators in close to 99 percent of districts act in an ethical and professional manner.

Does this mean cheating shouldn’t be a concern? Of course not.  More work needs to be done by state and district leaders to ensure that the integrity of the test results are not compromised and that struggling students are appropriately identified so they receive the support and resources they need to actually improve their performance.  In the case of the districts identified in the article they need to look further into the data to determine if in fact cheating is going on in their schools. Or whether the fluctuations are due to highly effective instruction in high scoring grades and ineffective instruction in following low scoring grades. Either way, districts need to know why there are such fluctuations so they can either eliminate any cheating or focus on improving instruction in grades where test scores drop.

While statistically large fluctuations in scores indicates a strong possibility of cheating, as anyone who has seen the movie Stand and Deliver, great teaching can lead to unpredictable increases in student achievement. And those teachers should not be considered guilty until proven innocent. But it also doesn’t mean that such indicators of cheating should be ignored either.  Either way, the actual data shows that cheating is limited to a small number of schools nationwide contrary to what the AJC and Associated Press articles imply.

If your district (as mine does) appears on the "A" list of questionable scores, your school superintendent and school board should advise the taxpayers of that district the methodology used in its testing results and explain testing procedures in the district.   If cheating is indeed limited to a small number of schools nationwide as School Board News contends, taxpayers still should require an investigation to determine if their district test scores are indeed valid.

 Testing irregularities similar to the Atlanta pattern cause concerns for taxpayers and parents.  If accountability for teacher and administrator jobs depend on student scores, this sort of testing irregularity may occur more frequently in the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Life is Hard and Scary Sometimes. Sorry, Can't Teach this Fact or Talk About Scary/Unpleasant Moments in NYC Public Schools.

Life will be difficult for these NYC public school kids when real life disappoints hit them.  Life is scary and unfair sometimes but adults are attempting to shield them from any thing that would cause them discomfort or unpleasant emotions:

In a bizarre case of political correctness run wild, educrats have banned references to “dinosaurs,” “birthdays,” “Halloween” and dozens of other topics on city-issued tests.

That’s because they fear such topics “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.” 

Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism.

Even “dancing’’ is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet.

The forbidden topics were recently spelled out in a request for proposals provided to companies competing to revamp city English, math, science and social-studies tests given several times a year to measure student progress.

“Some of these topics may be perfectly acceptable in other contexts but do not belong in a city- or state-wide assessment,” the request reads.

Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. Poverty is likewise on the forbidden list.

Also banned are references to divorces and diseases, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

What group of educators is supporting this change?  

“The intent is to avoid giving offense or disadvantage any test takers by privileging prior knowledge,” said Robert Pondiscio, a spokesman for the Core Knowledge Foundation, an education group. 

Here is information from the Core Knowledge Foundation website, a self described "education and advocacy group":

We believe that every person in a diverse democratic society deserves equal access to the common knowledge base that draws together its people, while recognizing our differing traditions and contributions.

Apparently the educators don't believe what words they deem too scary or what could hurt someone's feelings should be taught to students.  How can you recognize different traditions and contributions when such holidays as Halloween and birthdays are banned from classroom teaching or reference?

Read more from The New York Post here.  A professor at Columbia University questions the wisdom of shielding students from issues that these educators believe are upsetting to students:

Columbia University Teachers College professor Deanna Kuhn said, “If the goal is to assess higher-order thinking skills, controversial topics, for example, ones that are the subject of political debate, are exactly what students should be reasoning about.”

Why don't we just feed kids Valium all their lives so they won't recognize life has hurdles, stumbles, people with differing opinions, and sometimes life doesn't work out like you had planned?  This ban reminds me of the UK banning "best friends" in school. The breakup of a close friend relationship can cause too much pain and angst so children must be spared these emotions. 

Are we setting children up to become Stepford Wives?  When did data set assessments replace teaching children skills to navigate through life's emotional waters?  Why should a company like Core Knowledge Foundation be setting assessments on what students should/shouldn't learn because it is too scary or some other arbitrary reason?  How can children become emotionally healthy if they never learn or talk about normal emotional experiences, occurrences and traditions?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Common Core: A 2022 Retrospective

Rick Hess wrote a wonderful piece at Ed Week which we cross post here in its entirety, which takes a look at the future of Common Core.

Funny story. A few weeks back, I was out in DC after one of my AEI working groups. It got late and just a few of us were left, including ed tech gurus Jonathan Harber, Larry Berger, and Mick Hewitt. Anyway, walking out of Panache after too many cocktails, we stumbled upon a DeLorean. One thing led to another. Long story short: they built a time machine and I test-drove it. Where'd I go? I hopped forward a decade to 2022, skipped the chance to meet my future self or check out the iPad 13.0, and instead avidly downloaded the most intriguing edu-titles I could find (sad, but what can you do?).
Anyway, wanted to share one title that's uber-relevant today. It's Great Promise Thwarted: The Humbling History of the Common Core, 2008-2018. It'll be written by my good friend, eminent NYU edu-historian Jonathan Zimmerman, and e-published by Harvard University Press, in 2022.
It's worth quoting a long excerpt from the book's conclusion:
For a brief time, during 2010-2012, the success of the Common Core seemed assured. Proponents had compelling arguments. Existing state standards were generally awful. The No Child Left Behind accountability system designed to accommodate variation in state standards and assessments was problematic. Conservative supporters argued that the Core would make it possible to do away with intrusive federal regulations governing accountability and easier to provide transparency and accountability with a light touch. Moreover, the Core would make it possible to credibly compare student and school performance across the nation, while allowing mobile students or those learning online to move across schools or programs with minimal disruption.
Proponents argued that the Core would reduce the barriers that hindered virtual schools, online instruction, and the emergence of "21st century" assessments and instructional tools. Observers generally characterized the standards as a substantial improvement on those in place in most states. And Core proponents enjoyed enormous political muscle. A push that would have been laughable in 2006 seemed a fait accompli by 2010, with forty-plus states on board. The effort enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the Gates Foundation (what we today would call Gates-ECB; this was before the Foundation absorbed the European Central Bank following the third Greek default), the Obama administration, nearly the whole of the education "reform" community, and Republican leaders including both members of the 2016 GOP presidential ticket. Major publishers and test-developers were quiescent or supportive, while education technology entrepreneurs were enthusiastic.
So, what went wrong? Why is it that today just eleven states use a Common Core assessment, less than a third of the states are judged to have made any effort to adhere to the Core, and the phrase "Common Core" remains polarizing and generally unpopular with Republicans, parents, and teachers? How did such a promising effort run aground?
In hindsight, four factors were responsible. Notably, none turned on technical debates over the merits and rigor of the standards. All were the product, to varying degrees, of the "we're-in-a-hurry" hubris that has so often humbled would-be social reformers. Indeed, as one of the Core's great champions, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation president Chester E. Finn, Jr., prophetically wrote in early 2012, "It will, of course, be ironic as well as unfortunate if the Common Core ends up in the dustbin of history as a result of actions and comments by its supporters."
First, an effort that began as a bipartisan, state-driven enterprise, spearheaded by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, started to look to skeptics like a federally-inspired, politicized project. The Department of Education's decision to link federal funding to the Core in its Race to the Top program, its NCLB waiver effort, and its "ESEA blueprint," and the provision of $350 million in federal funds for Core-related tests, all alienated anti-Washington conservatives who would have remained neutral if the question had merely concerned states collaborating to set standards in math and English language arts. By the time nationally influential conservative pundit George Will questioned in 2012 whether the federal government had exceeded its legal authority, the challenge for proponents was clear. Indeed, "Tea Party" conservatives came to regard the Common Core as part and parcel of Obama administration efforts to extend the federal role in domestic policy, an extension of contemporaneous fights over health care, spending, clean energy, the auto industry, housing, and financial regulation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demonstrated an unfortunate knack for making it appear that the Core was a pet Obama project--initially, when he excoriated South Carolina in 2012 for expressing second thoughts, but most famously when he futilely blasted the dozen states that announced their "implementation hiatus" in 2014. All of this served to make the Core a partisan question viewed with suspicion by conservatives, undermining the bipartisan support needed to sustain implementation in many "red" and "purple" states.
Second, the Common Core advocates were tripped up by their own impatience. After nearly all states adopted the Common Core in an early rush, proponents exhibited little interest in making the case for its merits, responding to critics, or explaining what was in store. Outside of the occasional op-ed, little sustained attention was devoted to explaining the changes or building broad-based support. For instance, hardly anyone other than Core enthusiasts realized that the comfortable, familiar high school math curriculum of math, algebra and geometry was to be eliminated and replaced with the antiseptically titled Integrated Math I, II, and III. When the magnitude of the shift became clear in 2014, confused parents and irate math teachers bombarded legislators and state board members with calls to delay implementation or alter course. Enthusiasts concentrated on designing instructional materials, consulting with states and districts, and training leaders and teachers, seemingly presuming that the public knew what they were up to and supported their effort. In the event, this turned out to be a fatal miscalculation. The early success of the Common Core was remarkable, but proponents failed to recognize that this quick success meant few voters or legislators really understood what was involved or that real success would depend crucially on the breadth and depth of support.
Third, Core advocates never did a good job of explaining how their efforts intersected with other reform priorities. Observers asked about whether the math assessment would strangle the abilities of charter schools or specialty district schools to use nonstandard math curricula. Core proponents never really answered such questions in public, tending instead to favor quiet, technical fixes (in this case abandoning mandatory "through-course" assessment) that didn't address broader concerns. Skeptics wondered whether the testing "windows" needed to assess all children with the new computer-assisted tests would be so wide as to undermine the viability of sophisticated value-added evaluation systems that states were eagerly building. The Washington Post's Jay Mathews pointed out, in 2012, that the new assessments would "delay, if not stop altogether, the national move toward rating teachers by student score improvements" and that radical change would force systems "to wait years to work out the kinks in the tests" before they could resume those efforts. In hindsight, the backlash produced by the chaos over teacher evaluation and school accountability systems during 2014 and 2015 was predictable and preventable.
Finally, insufficient public attention to practical questions of cost, technology, and practice ultimately proved crippling. Despite frenzied efforts to support new assessments, instructional materials, and implementation during 2011-2014, interviews from that era with state legislators, district officials, educators, and parents showed remarkably little awareness of the costs and practical difficulties that lay ahead. When the 2012 technology scan showed that most districts had the requisite technology platform, few realized that the minimum specs had been dumbed-down or that this meant the new tests would sacrifice most of the hoped-for features--turning them into little more than traditional paper-and-pencil tests taken on a computer. At the same time, lousy records and a desire to avoid embarrassment meant that many districts had overstated their capacity in the tech census; they were suddenly faced with millions or even hundreds of millions in unanticipated new expenses, even as they dealt with the practical headaches of inadequate technology. And when the price tag for the full cost of new technology, training, leadership, teacher preparation, and all the rest became clear in 2014 and 2015, just as states emerging from the Great Recession were restoring cuts to state agencies and hoping to trim taxes, it was no surprise that a slew of states decided they'd keep the Core standards but also their old assessments, instructional materials, training, and teacher preparation.
The Core is still with us, of course, but it remains a shadow of what its more optimistic proponents envisioned a decade ago.
As I perused Zimmerman's account, I could only feel for my many friends working so hard to make the Common Core a success. But then I thought, "Wait a minute. The future hasn't happened yet. It's like Marty McFly using his knowledge of the future to change the future. They can still alter course." Will they? I suppose that's up to them.

(Oh, and by the way, my favorite paper from the 2022 AERA conference? "When All Your Hurtful Yesterdays Become All My Gendered Tomorrows": Transgressive Ontologies Disrupting the Heteronormative Praxis Posed by a Post-Foulcauldian, Neo-Ravitchian Autoethnography of the Lived Lives of Three Indigenous Culture-walkers in a Neo-liberal Dystopia.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Waiting for a Miracle in Schools. Is it all about Money?

There is an interesting article about a "miracle school" in Seattle that is working "miracles" with at risk children.  From the Seattle Times:

For two decades the Seattle Urban Academy, in the Rainier Valley, has taken kids who dropped out or were kicked out of other schools and managed to graduate them at among the highest rates of any school for at-risk kids in the nation. The secret? It costs 80 percent more per student. 

A few were featured in the 2010 movie "Waiting for Superman." Those were charter schools, which are controversial because they operate outside the normal school system.

But the stories are told in part to foster hope. It can be done, these schools seem to be saying.

We have such a miracle school here in Seattle. It's tiny, private and unheard-of. But for two decades the Seattle Urban Academy, in Rainier Valley, has taken kids who dropped out or were kicked out of other schools and managed to graduate them at among the highest rates of any school for at-risk kids in the nation.
The school's graduation rate is currently 86 percent — remarkable, considering the kids who go there were on track to count as zeros for flunking out of the public system. About six in 10 go on to college.

I dropped by to see how they do it. It's run out of a converted warehouse in the Othello neighborhood, across from the New Holly development.

It turns out it's no miracle.

Well, it is a Christian school, though you don't have to be Christian to go there. But when I asked, "What makes this school work?" nobody answered that it was the religion.

The No. 1 reason? The small class size.

"Above all else, it's that you can build relationships here," said history teacher Michael Friedland. He was helping a class of only six kids write essays.

"Before they came here, they probably never heard a teacher say, 'Today, I'm going to spend the afternoon with you, one on one.' That's central to what we do."

That's how the school got started in 1989 — as an afternoon mentoring program. It seemed so effective they expanded it into a four-year high school, but one still centered on the tutoring philosophy. Most classes have 10 or fewer students. One-on-one sessions happen daily.

They say it's the only thing that works with kids who have already gotten lost in the crowd.

"We call this a school of second chances, but for most of them it's really their third, sixth, ninth, twelfth chance," says Sharon Okamoto, the principal.

Her school is education's version of an intensive-care unit.

Here's the catch. Even though the school is nonunion, pays its teachers only about three-fourths of what public-school teachers make and gets free rent for its building, the cost to run the school is still more than $18,000 per student (almost all of which comes from private donors).

That's 80 percent more than the public schools spend, including all federal, state and local money. Total per-pupil spending averages $10,000 statewide, $12,000 in Seattle Public Schools, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

One of the least-discussed aspects of the miracle schools is that many of them cost a ton of money. Take Harlem Children's Zone, the charters featured in "Waiting for Superman." They cost about $4,000 more per student than the public schools, not counting nearly $5,000 per student in social services. The extra money mostly buys crucial individualized attention.

"In intensive care, the cost is going to be a lot more," Okamoto says. "There's no way around it. We haven't found another way that works."

We expect this, even demand it, in medicine. Why not with learning?

Seattle Urban Academy has proved itself over so many years that the state ought to copy it. They'd have to strip out the overt religion for the public system. But why not replicate the rest?

Instead, what passes as "educational reform" is a plan to set up 10 charter schools to replace failing, high-poverty public schools. But the reformers in the Legislature aren't providing a dime of extra money to help those charter schools succeed. That means there will be 30 kids in the high-poverty charter classes just like everywhere else.

The hope is that by getting rid of union rules and bureaucratic red tape, somehow that will be the key to solving the most intractable problem in education — how to reach at-risk kids.

Talk about hoping for a miracle.

I think we know very well what works. It isn't flashy or radical. We're just too cheap to do it.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

It's a thought provoking article.  The first paragraph and last three sentences seem as if the writer believes the answer is....more money for smaller class sizes and this increased spending creates a successful school.  I'm wondering if more important is the fact it's a private school that can set its own curriculum, and teach to individual personalities, rather than the "collective good" prevalent in school reform today.   

Think COMMON core standards.  Common, common, common = collective good.  Individual attention and instruction is the antithesis of common.  This school is free of federal mandates that cause more paperwork than benefit to students and perhaps THIS is primary reason it is successful, rather than more money needed to educate students well.

Read the comments from the article.  Most folks in Washington tend to side with the columnist.  One brave soul sums it up fairly well in my opinion (see below).  But what do we know, the two of us?  Readers gave it a massive thumbs down.  But the reader makes valid points.  Here lies the conundrum of the question of what constitutes a good (or as Arne Duncan likes to say, a "great") education.  Everyone has a different opinion on what makes education successful.  

In the meantime, what allegedly makes a "great education" is being decided in Washington or by consortia not held accountable to taxpayers, far away from private schools teaching students in small classes.   And maybe, just maybe, even though you don't have to be Christian to attend this school, it's the belief of the teachers that they see each child as a child of God...who should have a chance to succeed that propels the teachers and students into a realm of faith disallowed in a public school.  Maybe that's the real miracle...faith in action.  Now that's difficult to measure on a data set, isn't it?


The hope is that by getting rid of union rules and bureaucratic red tape, somehow that will be the key to solving the most intractable problem in education — how to reach at-risk kids.
Uh, that is exactly how you do it.

Danny boy describes SUA, then selectively subtracts its key features and basically just says that spending more money is the answer. Mindless. And clueless.

Why not give parents vouchers for the $12k per student that we spend, and allow them to send them to schools where the extra $6k required for tutoring-like education is kicked in by the parents or, on a need basis, by private donations?

Nah, can't do that! Because THAT will not be allowed by the public school teachers union and the state bureaucracy, because it takes away their monopoly.

It's not a matter of taxpayers being too cheap. It's a matter of parents and students being imprisoned by a Soviet style system.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Facebook Privacy = Student Privacy. It's the Same Issue. Where's the Outrage over the Longitudinal Data System? The Argument is the Same. Your Privacy is YOURS. Your Data is Not Your Employer's and not the Government's.

Facebook put out a statement about privacy as employers have started demanding Facebook passwords from prospective employees.  Why are Americans so concerned about this issue while a breathtaking invasive data gathering is occurring in the public schools...for children from birth to death?

We've changed a few words here and there to illustrate the importance of understanding how the Department of Education is eliminating student privacy rights in public programs via the Longitudinal Data System...and providing prospective employers and various governmental agencies information such as your voting status, eye color, religious affiliation and over 300 other data sets.  You can delete a Facebook account.  You can't delete the data sets required by the Federal government to attend public school or to receive public services.

If it's not okay for employers to ask about Facebook information, why is it permissible for the Federal Government to gather data on students JUST BECAUSE they are in public school?

Following is an altered statement from Facebook (changes relating to education vs Facebook concerns noted in all caps) to illustrate the protection needed for public education students against the Federal government...and how the argument is really the same. Private or governmental agencies should not have a right to personal data information for employment and/or educational/governmental services.


Protecting Your Privacy (OR NOT)

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s EDUCATIONAL profiles or private information.  This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS.  It also potentially exposes the EDUCATIONAL FACILITY WHICH seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS asking STUDENTS AND FAMILIES to reveal their PERSONAL DATA.  If you are a PUBLIC EDUCATION STUDENT, PREVIOUSLY you never HAD to share HIGHLY PERSONAL DATA, let anyone access your PERSONAL DATA (THAT'S WHY IT'S CALLED "PERSONAL"), or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your DATA or violate the privacy of your FAMILY.  We have NOT worked really hard at THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION to give STUDENTS/FAMILIES the tools to control who sees PERSONAL DATA information.

As a user, you PREVIOUSLY  HAD NOT BEEN forced to share EXTENSIVE private information and communications just to get a job OR RECEIVE AN EDUCATION.  And as PUBLIC EDUCATION STUDENT, you PREVIOUSLY DID NOT have to worry that your private information or communications WOULD be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that YOU WERE looking for a job OR ATTENDING PUBLIC SCHOOL.  That’s why THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SHOULD make it a violation of LAW AND INSTITUTE A Statement of Rights and Responsibilities  THAT IT IS ILLEGAL to share or solicit PERSONAL STUDENT DATA ON BEHALF OF FEDERAL AGENCIES OR PRIVATE RESEARCH COMPANIES.

We DO think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their PERSONAL DATA because we DO think it’s the right thing to do, AND IN FACT, THAT IS WHY WE INSTITUTED THE P20 PIPELINE TO TRACK YOUR DATA.  But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  For example, if an employer sees on A DATA SET that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc., RACIAL GROUP, DISABILITY GROUP, POLITICAL GROUP, RELIGIOUS GROUP) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.

Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information.  If they don’t—and actually, even if they do--the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information (e.g. if the information suggests the commission of a crime).

THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THIS SCHOOL SHOULD take your privacy seriously.  WE SHOULD take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.

While we SHOULD (BUT PRESENTLY ARE NOT DOING) TO continue to do our part, it is important that everyone IN A PUBLICLY FUNDED SCHOOL understands they SHOULD have a right to keep their PERSONAL DATA to themselves (AS A RIGHT TO PRIVACY), and we PRESENTLY ARE NOT DOING our best to protect that right, IN FACT, WE ARE INTENT ON TRACKING YOU FROM BIRTH TO DEATH AND PROVIDING THIS DATA TO EVERY FEDERAL GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Food Police in Wellesley Stike Back at Kids

Who is supposed to be setting educational policies for schools?  The state or the Federal Government?

This is a classic example of governmental overreach reported by boston.com. The food police strikes again!  Poor kids.  It's supposed to be about them, right? It's to make them fit and healthy according to Michelle Obama.  It's more as if the schools via the Federal Government mandates are starving students with not serving them enough food to satisfy them and providing expired milk. The waste of food is tremendous because it's not tasty or it's spoiled.  It's time for a food fight from parents...and constitutional pushback from these ridiculous nanny state policies:

The School Committee said the portion sizes that the children complained about are regulated by the federal government.

Why are states allowing this bullying policy?  Why are these bureaucrats so spineless they allow spoiled food and meager portions to be served to students?  Who is responsible for the education for students (including lunch food)?  The states or the Federal Government?

Creativity, Common Core, Racial Diversity (or Guilt). The Sunday Education Weekly Reader 03.25.12

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader for 3.25.12.  This week's visual soundbites from Twitter:

  •  I didn't make the connection of "collaboration" this tweeter took away from the article.  I find it fascinating the creative genius in all students could very well be squashed by a common curriculum, common timetable for learning, and shared experiences.  What do you think after reading?...VERY GOOD article...Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration key for 21st Century...How to Be Creative via

  • Will focusing on the increasing non-fiction requirement of Common Core allow indoctrination of a particular viewpoint?  "Their teacher, Sarah Brown Wessling (the 2010 National Teacher of the Year), let them choose books about those real-world topics as part of a unit on truth. Students are dissecting the sources, statistics, and anecdotes the authors use to make their arguments in books like Branded by Alissa Quart and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich....I'm relying on different kinds of strategies and a lot more explicit teaching," she said. "We spend a lot of time talking about attributes of nonfiction, like how to read an interview. Or how to tell the difference between fact and opinion."  Read readers' opinions on Amazon about Nickel and Dimed and the questions raised about Ehrenreich's writing....is it truly factual or imbued with her own biases?  Will teachers teach students how to learn to separate the writer's voice between fact and editorializing?  Will teachers be able to conquer their own biases in this exercise?  ....Because of its emphasis in common-core , millions of teachers faced w/ increasing their use of nonfiction:

  • "We achieve more when we stop grouping people, stop guilting teachers, and start treating students as the unique individual learners that they are.  Stop with the constant focus on our differences."....Quote from the blog "The Activist Next Door"....embedded in the tweeted article....Pacific Educational Group: Radicalism for Kids, on the Taxpayers' Dime  

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