"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 21, 2012

Teachers Asked to Pay For Marketing Proposition S

For those in St. Louis County, there will be a ballot measure this fall asking for a tax increase for Special School District. Proposition S is seeking a .19 cent/$100K valuation tax increase to pay for SSD services. This would increase the operating levy in St. Louis County to $1.19/$100k and would help SSD continue to provide services to children with autism, maintain competitive salaries and update technology. (See more here)

This week SSD teachers received a letter from Friends of Special Kids asking them to consider donating a day's pay to help promote Proposition S. The letter was signed by SSD Superintendent John Cary although it appeared not to be put out by SSD.  Considering that SSD is the largest employer in St. Louis county with approximately 5,000 employees, a day's pay could really add up.  The salary range of SSD teachers is $40-82K. Depending on how you calculate a day's pay (180 school days, 252 annual work days) that could mean anywhere between $800K to $1.8 million to promote Proposition S.

Teachers are allowed to calculate that amount on their own. If they decide that a day's pay is too much, they can opt to donate $100 over three pay periods. And for their convenience the amount can be directly deducted from their paycheck by SSD.

There's no intimidation having your company's CEO ask you for a "voluntary" contribution through a system that can easily track who has donated and who hasn't. And of course it is somewhat self serving to help your company ask for a raise so such a request puts a lot of pressure on teachers to join in.

But one teacher put it this way, "When I can finally stop collecting data and actually get to teach these kids, that's when I will support a tax increase." The burden of data collection has been heavy on special education for years. One teacher was required to make 6 minute observations on 10 kids during the 45 minutes she had them in the classroom. It was almost impossible to cover the lesson plan and there certainly was no time left for one on one with any of the students. Now general ed teachers are beginning to catch up with the data drive. The result, as this teacher demonstrates, is that there is less and less actual teaching happening in the classroom.

No one wants to deny children a good education. No one especiallywants to limit what is available for kids with special needs. But when such teachers spend all their time collecting data and filling out IEP forms, it kind of makes it hard to vote for more money in that system.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Missing the Twain and No Absolutes. The Future for our Children?

Why do Common Core standards remove a piece of literature teaching absolute truth?

Common Core standards mandate more scientific and non-fiction reading in public schools and less emphasis on literature.  Huckleberry Finn has been removed from classrooms in Massachusetts as a result of these mandates.  From Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, Schoolkids Missing the Twain from Telegram.com:

The Missouri of Clemens’ youth was a slave state. His family owned several slaves, and he was even a Confederate soldier for a few weeks. But Clemens came to be a powerful voice for civil rights. “Lincoln’s proclamation,” he said, “not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.”

Mark Twain’s greatest achievement was “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a tale about the title character, the abused backwoods son of an alcoholic, and Jim, a Negro slave fleeing captivity. The story chronicles their journey together down the Mississippi. Twain not only uses Jim’s humanity and heroism to help Huck unlearn his own racism, but to illustrate the moral and societal failure of slavery and racial discrimination.

According to Twain scholar Jocelyn Chadwick:

“The book’s pivotal moment is when Huck awakens to hear Jim ‘moaning and mourning.’ Jim’s been crying for his family, and Huck says some of the most significant words I’ve ever read in fiction: ‘I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does there’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.’ ”

No less of an authority than Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from … Huckleberry Finn... There has been nothing as good since.”

It's regretful Massachusetts public educated students won't be reading Huckleberry Finn in their classrooms:

Sadly, students in Massachusetts and across most of the country may soon have to seek out Huckleberry Finn on their own, because it isn’t included in national K-12 education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Twain’s masterpiece isn’t the only casualty of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to adopt weaker national standards known as “Common Core.” These new English standards include less than half as much classic literature and poetry than the Massachusetts standards they will replace.

We might be "lucky" in Missouri since Twain wrote in Missouri and students "might" be able to read a local author in the classroom with the 15% rule "allowed" by our consortia.    However, adopting additional material is frowned upon because "common" means just that: common.  All students are to learn the same material in every state. From Achieve:

When 48 states and three territories signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), it was their goal to create a shared set of expectations in English Language Arts and mathematics. Therefore, states who adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are expected to adopt them in their entirety. While states will not be considered to have adopted the common core if any individual standard is left out, states are allowed to augment the standards with an additional 15% of content that a state feels is imperative. For example, some states may include literature from authors born in the
state or about groups or events important to the state. In some cases, these requirements are even written into law. States may also need to add content to courses so that they align with other existing policies. It is important to note, however, that adding to the CCSS is purely optional.

In fact, the 15% guideline should be considered primarily as a common-sense guideline to meet specific state needs. States should be judicious about adding content and keep in mind the possible implications of doing so. Remember, a central driver in the creation of the CCSS was to develop standards that were common across states lines – and clear and focused – the opposite of the “mile wide, inch deep” standards so prevalent in many current state standards. A literal interpretation by states of the 15% guideline (that is 15% added at every grade level and in each subject) would undermine the very reason the states developed the Common Core State Standards in the first place.

What will Massachusetts students lose by not reading Huckleberry Finn?  Read this comment from a reader on the site:
bbbbb wrote:
"All right then, I'll go to hell" is another big moment.

Huck was going to collect the 200 to turn Jim in, but realized he could not.

It underscores the moral truth than all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness."
There is a natural law so powerful about right and wrong; that is not subjective, that is not relative, that Huck was truly willing to allow his soul to be damned for what was truly right.
It's a great book. I think I'll re-read it.


There are moral lessons learned through literature, not through fact driven and scientific text.  Imagine that.  Common Core mandates will diminish literature in favor of factual texts since students need to be better workers.  Too bad students' sense of morality will suffer to further workforce needs.

Now read this article from David McElroy Is this what happens when you teach children there are no absolutes?:

Humans have always robbed each other, killed each other and done other evil things to one another. But as we became civilized, we learned that some things are right and wrong. Many of us believed in ideas rooted in natural law and natural rights. Other people rooted their ideas in different ways, but they still agreed upon most of the basics of what was right and wrong.

Sometime during the 20th century, that long-held shared belief about right and wrong started falling away among the public. It wasn’t just the immoral or lawless who were responsible. Those types had always had the willingness to hurt people and to do things that they knew were wrong.

The new belief to take the place of moral absolutes in the public consciousness was moral relativism, even if people wouldn’t necessarily know what to call it. The idea was that there wasn’t really such a thing as absolute right and wrong. Those were old-fashioned religious concepts, they said. Instead, right and wrong were said to be very relative and situational. I saw and heard this idea influence things I was taught in school, and I’ve seen more recent examples that were far more blatant.

I thought about all of that Thursday when I ran across some video that was uploaded to YouTube four years ago. I can’t verify it, but it appears to be the raw footage of interviews done by a TV news station with two young females about a crime they’ve committed. (Since the face of one of them is obscured, I assume she was still a juvenile.) As I listened to these girls, I found myself thinking that they’re the end result of teaching generations of kids that there aren’t any moral absolutes.

Read more about these girls' crimes here and why they wanted something that didn't belong to them. 

Below is a youtube video in their own words about their crime and reasoning.   Here is an article from wpbf.com in Lake Worth, Florida detailing their crime.  Think about Jim, a fictional character in a novel, and these girls in their non-fictional world.  Who represents the best of being human?  Huck coming to terms with his own racism and discovering absolute truth or these girls who only acknowledge their own desires/wants and have no empathy for others?  

Would you rather your children read Huckleberry Finn or watch reality youtube?   At least Huck is remorseful.  That word apparently was never on the spelling list or in reading material for these girls.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Education Barreling Down The Wrong Path Towards Uselessness

Every once in a while, someone's voice rises up and dares to speak the things that most ed reformers will never say.  Today that voice belongs to Calvin Mackie  author, speaker, former engineering professor and technology entrepreneur. He received a typical education from his New Orleans high school which resulted in his scoring low on the SAT. He ended up having to take special remedial classes to learn all the things his high school wasn't able to teach him before Morehouse College would accept him. Whether through his own personal motivation or through the inspiration of a mentor, he managed to turn his poor school performance around and ended up with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, and has inspired thousands of students and educators across the country through his public speaking engagements.

He wrote for CNN about his thoughts on education:
In America, the education system has moved away from developing citizens to serve their fellow man to the unadulterated pursuit of standardized success at any cost. Mixed in with a sea of social change and celebrity obsession, somehow we’ve all lost sight of the goal of education: creating passionate students who are employable, teachable and adaptable in a dynamic world. Students are turned off for a number of reasons right now.
To get back on track, we must recognize that education is useless if students aren’t thirsty for it!
Finally! Someone who recognized that handing students, who are unmotivated to participate in the process, a "worldclass education" on a silver platter will be a complete waste of time and money. Finding all the right things to teach, developing tight schedules for learning, measuring progress, limiting class size - all these things will be, as Mackie states, "useless" because the children are turned off by the current process we use to educate them.

Why is this happening to our children?  Mackie offers this explanation,
One of the biggest issues is that our children are growing up in a culture where their passions are advertised and sold to them - there’s no room for them to grow on their own terms. They are more motivated to become the next American Idol, contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” or hip-hop mogul than to become leaders of the free world or create the next Internet. 
Our children are motivated by the wrong things: celebrity, a focus on material wealth, desire for limited personal responsibility.

Reformers promise to give kids the skills they will need in the 21st century by packing someone else's conclusions into their brains. They are heading towards a static completed package of skills and claiming that this is what the 21st century economy will need. They advocate this through Common Core as if what is needed is already known, teachable and testable.

Yet technology is changing our world so quickly that it is almost impossible to know what the future will look like. Check out USA Today's Section The Next 30 Years, where they asked experts in various fields to predict what their field will look like in 30 years, and you will see polar opposite viewpoints because each expert is looking only through their own personal lens. One expert says we will have no cars because every town will be planned to mix commercial and residential development rendering the car unnecessary. Another says cars will be not only a mode of transportation but a necessary connection to the world. The first expert was an urban planner and the second a representative from Ford Motor Co. To work in either of these fields will require vastly different skills.  If these top experts in their fields can't agree on the vision of the future, how could we possibly think that schools will know exactly what to teach the kids?

The best thing schools could do for children is teach them to remain flexible, open to new ideas, creative and to view education as a lifelong process of knowledge gathering and skill set adjustment. Mackie proposes that schools shift their focus this way, "Rather than starting with lesson plans that attempt to go right to the brain, teachers need to grab student’s attention and win their hearts first. Show them the amazing lifestyle they can earn by becoming a contributing member of the knowledge economy. Put new role models in front of them - people they should look up to, follow on Twitter and “like” on Facebook."

Will anybody in education reform listen to people like Calvin Mackie?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Do Home Schoolers "Belong to the Government"?

Does being "missional" or "democratic" mean home schooling should be discouraged?  Whose idea of "social contract" should apply in your childrens' education?

A recent article (adapted from a blog Strange Figures) in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about home schooling raised interesting questions about the role of home schoolers in society, both from a religious and secular standpoint.  The author, Sharon Autenrieth, questions the premise of a "societal compact" in public education.  She mentions a Christian blogger, Tony Jones, and his stance and attack on home schooling via his post "Death to Home schooling":

Similarly, formal education was formerly for the societal elite. But in a democracy, education is for all, with the understanding that the more educated we all become, the more humane we will be toward one another (this, of course, is open to debate).

So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect them from polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.

So I can’t think, “I’ll just pull my kids out of the public schools — what difference will one less follower of Jesus make in a school full of hundreds of kids?” I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contract. Instead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.

My question is to Jones is: who is he to decide how one lives his/her life in order to be the "most involved, missional societal participant"?  Does becoming  a "most involved societal participant" mean a child's individual educational needs are secondary to the collective society?  Does such a contract require parents enroll their children in a public school?  Really?  Is he serious?  If your child is not learning in a school or the education is not appropriate for your child, does that mean your child needs to stay because of a "societal and/or missional contract"?

Autenreith writes:

Here is my immediate reaction to that argument:  Jones is saying that my children belong to the state just as much as my taxes do.  I’ll avoid my usual tendency toward florid language and just say that I reject that idea.  I reject it with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I also reject the idea that homeschoolers are opting out of anything except one educational option.  Many homeschoolers (most?) are involved in the world, engaged in extracurricular activities, and serving their communities in a variety of ways.

 (Jones stating) that home schooling is not "missional," that Christian home schoolers are not being 'salt and light" has been around for a long time.

Sometimes it's framed without the religious lingo. In that case, home schooling is seen as undemocratic, elitist, a violation of the 'social contract." To not participate in public education tears at the fabric of our country.

If this is true -  if Tony is right that the public schools have as strong a claim on  my children as the public coffers have on my tax dollars – maybe the DNC video was right: maybe we all “belong” to the government.  The social contract is more than just an agreement between peers, after all.  It’s the exchange of certain rights for services or protections.  Maybe my children’s educational freedom is a price I pay for being an American citizen. Well, you already know I don’t believe that, but Tony Jones seems to be arguing toward that end.  I think he has a narrow and cramped vision of how we serve as salt and light in society, a view that is less Kingdom of God than civic idolatry. 

What do you think?  What is our moral obligation to society when it comes to educating our children?  Must a “compassionate” Christian have their children enrolled in public school?

Or, phrased in a secular manner,  must a "democratic" citizen have his/her children enrolled in public school because of a "societal contract" decided by folks like Tony Jones?

Read Autenreith's entire article here. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Funding Concerns May Be Forcing a Scaled Down Version of the Common Core Assessment

We reported that the State Chief Education Officers were concerned about continued funding for Common Core Assessments at their recent meeting in St. Louis.  We just learned from Ed Week, in a portion of the conference not open to the public, that the consortia was discussing the possibility of having two versions of the Common Core Tests: the planned long version and now a short (and less expensive) version.
The pivot came in response to some states’ resistance to spending more time and money on testing for the common standards.

The plan under discussion here last week among state education chiefs of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium represents the collision of hope and reality, as states confront what is politically and fiscally palatable and figure out how that squares with the more in-depth­—and potentially more valuable—approach to testing promised by the consortium.
 The big picture on testing time is this,
The evolving two-pronged approach would give states the option of using a [shorter] version of the Smarter Balanced test whose multiple sessions and classroom activities span nearly 6½ hours in grades 3-5, close to seven hours in grades 6-8, and eight hours in high school, or the group’s original version, which lasts about four hours longer in grades 3-8 and about five hours longer in high school.
For comparison, the MAP test for language arts and mathematics takes approximately three hours.
Idaho has already brought up the time requirement for the long version of Common Core to its district superintendents. Their response was an audible gasp. Missouri's Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro stated that there is also concern here about the length of the test and the cost. These sentiments are driving the idea of a shorter test, which of course may mean less reliable data.
Experts cautioned that it can be daunting to build shorter and longer versions of a test without sacrificing the ability to compare results from one to those of the other. It’s also difficult to create a shorter version that measures a set of standards as meaningfully and consistently as a longer version, they said. Doing so requires careful attention to a host of psychometric and statistical concerns.
The USDoE, who remember isn't creating a national curriculum, is also concerned about using a shorter test. 
The U.S. Department of Education, which must review and approve changes in either consortium’s assessment plan, is working with Smarter Balanced officials to refine the design of its two versions so the consortium can present them to its governing board for approval in late November, consortium officials said.
Ann Whalen, a top aide to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said the designs must meet key aims the department had in funding the project.
“While there are different ideas and approaches under discussion, at the end of the day, these assessments must measure critical thinking, paint a very clear picture of which students are doing well, and which need more help, indicate whether students are college- or career-ready, and give students and teachers the information they need to improve,” she wrote in an email. “This is an absolute priority for us and will help us better serve the needs of children.”
At the end of the day, the tests must be economically feasible and sustainable. With districts and states already facing budget crunches this becomes less and less likely. If states have to drop out for fiscal reasons, which Missouri quite possibly could because of our Hancock Amendment, the entire consortia could collapse. Federal rules require each consortium to contain at least 15 members to qualify for federal funding.  Just losing 11 states could destroy the consortia's funding.  This is why a combination of SBAC and PARCC is very likely.

It seems hard to believe that, this close to the implementation of CCSS, the consortia are just now beginning to consider and time and money necessary to put these assessments in their states. Reality hits everyone eventually and the shorter, less reliable and meaningful version, may be the only thing most states can afford. Even those states who could afford the longer version may decide not to incur the expense if most of the other states they are working with are getting by on the cheaper version. A Lexus is nice, but a Kia gets you there just as well.

Read the full EdWeek article here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Arne Duncan's Vision of Community Schools Realized? Dinner Now Served at Schools.

Parents don't have to figure out dinner menus. What a deal.

What are food stamps for?....one reader asks in this Ann Althouse blog Who Gets Free School Dinner in Madison Wisconsin:

Eligible schools for the dinner program must have at least 50 percent of students qualify as low-income. In Madison last year, 18 elementary schools, seven middle schools and East and La Follette High schools met that requirement.

To be eligible, students must take part in an academically focused after-school program, not an after-school sport. Memorial is looking into setting up a homework club for athletes between practice and the free meal so that they can participate in the free meal.

So, in this affluent city, we are nevertheless so poor, that the federal government is subsidizing free dinner at 18 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, and 2 of the 4 high schools. And it doesn't matter how much money your parents make, you get free dinner if you go to that school and do an after school activity... as long as your activity is not sports.

Yeah, that makes so much sense. What's with discriminating against the students who, after sitting at desks all day, choose a physically active after-school activity? Aren't they more in need of food? What's the connection between this policy and fighting obesity?
"This progressive city is way behind other cities in that regard," [Mayor Paul] Soglin said. "We should not look at this as a frill, or as an experiment, but something citywide."
This is not a frill. It's an imperative... within the progressive agenda... which seems to have to do with increasing dependency of government and inspiring the young to look to the authorities as their nurturing, nourishing mothers. 

If children are hungry, they need to be fed. It's hard to learn if your stomach is growling. We need to take that on. If students can't see the blackboard, need eyeglasses, we need to do that. If students need a social worker or counselor to work through the challenges they're facing at home in the community, we need to do that.

And so I -- my vision is that schools need to be community centers. Schools need to be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day six, seven days a week, 12 months out of the year, with a whole host of activities, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

And when schools truly become centers of the community, where you have extraordinary teachers, the best teachers, the best principals, great nonprofit partners coming in during the non-school hours to support and do enrichment activities, social services, then those students will beat the odds, will beat poverty, will beat violence in the community, will beat sometimes dysfunctional families, and be productive citizens long term. They will go to college.

The comments from Althouse readers shouldn't be missed.  Here's a comment explaining the issue with the government becoming a nanny and freeing parents from raising their own children (while placing the responsibility on taxpayers):

So let's do this:

for every free meal that a kid gets from school, subtract a proportionate amount from the food stamps.

if a parent is so incapable of parenting that they can't feed their kids at all -- not breakfast, not lunch (what's wrong with a PB & J?), not dinner -- let's assume they can't provide for any of their basic needs, and set up "public boarding schools" (but, again, no more welfare benefits for the kiddies).

What's next: subsidized clothing distribution?

Of course, the biggest issue is that plenty often, this is a money-maker for the schools, when the subsidies from the feds are substantial enough that they cover the full cost, and some. 

Is the role of government now to feed kids one, two, three meals a day?  What ARE parents responsible for today in raising their children?  In some areas of the country, the schools even feed students on the weekend.  This is from Washington state in response to articles on feeding students at school:

You mean food is not being sent home from school with kids for the weekend where you live?  It is where I live. The food isn't coming from the school food services.  It is coming from places that seem to be working with or in coordination with food banks---connected to  social services operation.  Food is packaged out and put in book bag sized backpacks and delivered to the schools for students to pick up on Friday afternoon.  That way the students have some food for the weekend.  I guess the social services operations thought of this before the schools did.  They are using the schools as their distribution point.  It is really quite a sophisticated operation.

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