"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, November 30, 2012

Missouri Education Wins In Powerball

The latest Powerball jackpot will mean an extra $10 million for education in Missouri. A quarter of all revenue collected from lottery ticket sales in our state goes directly to education. In fiscal year 2012, that amount totaled over $280 million distributed to various programs. A complete list of programs that the legislature has appropriated lottery funds for can be found at the end of this post.

This is generally good news for Missouri's kids. Consider, by comparison, what Kansas does with its lottery proceeds (excluding prize payout amounts and administrative costs): 58% going to the state’s Economic Development Initiatives Fund, 30% going to the state’s general fund and 9% going into a fund for juvenile detention and correctional institutions. Colorado targets their revenue towards environmental protection and Arizona spends its money on transportation and state parks.

Critics say states substitute lottery revenue for normal state appropriations so there is no net positive to the programs they are meant to benefit, like education. A study by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, found some states like California, Florida, and Michigan substitute lottery revenues for normal appropriations.

Others complain that it is a regressive tax on the poor. As a percentage of total income, low income earners spend more on lottery tickets than do middle and upper income earners. The Tax Foundation argues that "lottery 'profits' constitute an implicit tax. When state governments removed lottery prohibitions from their constitutions, they did so only for themselves. Seeing lotteries as a potential goldmine for state coffers, they maintained the ban on private lotteries and created for themselves a monopoly and, in effect, a source of tax revenue."

The more insidious side of acknowledging the lottery as a tax is recognizing that it is really a hidden tax. "The state creates a monopoly for itself and builds the tax into the price of the tickets, then advertises the lottery as a recreational activity rather than a revenue-raising activity. The government never has to admit that the money it keeps is tax revenue."[TaxFoundation.org]

Lotteries have a long history of falling in and out of favor. They have been increasing in popularity since 1964 with North Carolina being one of the last states to institute a lottery. Does knowing it is a voluntary tax make one any less likely to buy a ticket? Does anyone even care where the proceeds go, i.e. when they buy a ticket are they really thinking about "Playing It Forward?" Probably not, although it may ease the guilt of gambling a bit for some.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis which noted in a 2002 working paper, "sales are significantly influenced the top prize amount and odds of winning it, but that sales are not significantly affected by the expected value of the remaining lower prizes." It's all about the size of the prizenot the care for the cause.

For a deeper understanding of these arguments, I suggest reading this page on the TaxFoundation website. They provide an interesting history of lotteries. For instance, lotteries started with King James I in 1612 as a means to aid Jamestown, the first British colony in America. "Lotteries soon came to be seen as more of a civic responsibility than a form of entertainment or gambling.3 The colonists viewed them as a more palatable revenue raiser than explicit taxation. And, in fact, some people did see the lottery as a type of tax. In 1892, A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress, wrote, '[The lottery was] not regarded at all as a kind of gambling; the most reputable citizens were engaged in these lotteries. . . . It was looked upon as a kind of voluntary tax. . . .' 4 Adding to the lottery’s appeal was the shortage of other sources of public funding. Taxes were unpopular and, prior to 1790, there were only three incorporated banks. Lotteries therefore helped fill a void in both public and private financing."

Thinking of buying a lottery as a "civic responsibility" makes me shudder, but perhaps today's third graders will see it as such once the school system the lottery helps fund is done with them.

Breakout of Education Expenditures from Missouri Lottery Proceeds
(Percentages given as % of total program funding coming from the lottery)

3% Foundation Program
  (43% of lottery education total)
These funds help pay for the Foundation Formula, transportation, early childhood special education services, Career Ladder, vocational education and early childhood development.

67% Special Education Excess Costs (7% of lottery total)
The "High-Need Fund" was established to reimburse school districts for the educational costs of serving children with individualized education programs exceeding three times the current expenditure per average daily attendance. This fund will be both disability- and placement-neutral, creating a safety net for school districts that have no way of projecting the extraordinary cost of certain high-need students.

3% Classroom Trust Fund (4% of lottery total)
The fund consists of all monies transferred to it under section 160.534, RSMo, all monies otherwise appropriated or donated to it and all unclaimed Lottery prize money. The money deposited into the fund is distributed to each school district in the state qualified to receive state aid on an average daily attendance basis. The funds distributed shall be spent at the discretion of the local school districts.
77% Public Placement Excess Cost Program (2% of lottery total)
This program was established to assist school districts in providing education services to students in residential placements through the Missouri Department of Mental Health or the Missouri Division of Family Services. It pays the excess cost incurred by those school districts for educating these students placed outside the school district where their parents reside.

29% Performance-Based Assessment Program (1% of lottery total)
This program provides funding for continued development, administration and scoring of the statewide Missouri Assessment Program (MAP). The Lottery funding covers testing costs for the subjects of math and communication arts.

3% Vocational Rehabilitation Program (.3% of total)
This money will be used by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to assist clients who have disabilities to obtain employment by diagnosis, physical restoration, training, placement and other related services.

55% Virtual Schools (.1% of lottery total)
These proceeds fund the Missouri Virtual School Instruction Program (MoVIP), which offers instruction in a virtual setting using technology, intranet and/or Internet methods of communication. Any student under the age of 21 in grades K-12 who resides in Missouri is eligible to enroll, regardless of the student's physical location.

100% Character Education Initiatives (.003% of lottery total)
These funds will provide teacher training and resources to schools to emphasize the importance of universal values such as responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Additional monies went to things like A+ Schools Program, Minority Teacher Scholarships, vocational rehabilitation, and ACCESS Missouri which provides higher ed scholarships based on financial need.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Common Core 3rd Grade Benchmarks for Citizenship. And You Still Believe the Standards Don't Drive the Curriculum?

The new definition of being a "good citizen"? Common Core 3rd grade standards benchmarks to promote the "common good". 

What is your definition of a good citizen?

Let's travel back in time and revisit the 1954 World Book Encyclopedia's definition of citizenship:

Citizenship carries both rights and duties.  Each citizen owes allegiance, or loyalty, to his country.  It is his duty to obey the law, vote for officers, pay taxes for the support of government, and give military service in the defense of the country.  In turn, the country owes protection and gives privileges to each of its citizens.

Citizenship dealt with relationship between the individual and the government.

Fast forward to 2012.

What is the current definition of a good citizen?  Look at this public school 3rd grade worksheet (below) on citizenship,  the vocabulary words used and the new meaning of being a good citizen.  It has moved from the relationship between the individual and the government to the relationship between individuals and the good of the community. 

(From the teacher providing this information: this is curriculum from a school in Ohio)

  • When did becoming a good citizen (obeying the law, voting, paying taxes, serving in the military) change into being a "good person"?  Do you have to have good character to be a good citizen to follow the law or vote?  
  • Does a "weak" sense of justice make one less of a good citizen?  Whose/what sense of justice should a good citizen follow: a specific group or his/her own sense of what is right and wrong?  Is speaking up for people who have trouble speaking up for themselves a citizenship issue or a moral issue?
  • Who/what agency decides exactly what is the "good of the community"?  What happens if the "good of the community" tramples on individual rights?  Is lack of cooperation then a mark of a bad citizen?
  • Is the boycotting of a company to support another's agenda a good citizenship move if the company is then forced to layoff employees and those employees have to go on public assistance?  Does a boycott really make life better for everyone or select groups?  Is a boycott a citizenship duty or a moral decision in protesting a company's decisions/operating method?  Is learning how to boycott and petition a good benchmark of being a good citizen?   Whose benchmark is boycotting and petitioning, the school's or the consortia's?
  • Are there different levels of heroes?  Is a person more heroic who risks his/her life vs a person who protests a perceived injustice?
  • Do good citizens really make life better for everyone?  Is that the role of a "good" citizen or a "good" person?  Are the lines between political relationships (individual and government responsibilities/duties) and moral responsibilities (traditionally defined by religious institutions) being erased and redefined as a legal responsibility to a collective community?  Who/what is defining these responsibilities to a collective community?

Do you have examples of what students are learning today in public schools about citizenship?  If you ask your administration about CCSS and it insists the standards are not driving curriculum, ask to see worksheets and benchmarks on citizenship.  See how they align with each other or not.  You'll have your answer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reforms No Silver Bullet For Education

Reuters reporter Stephanie Simon reviewed Jeb Bush's education reform efforts in Florida and found no silver bullet among them. These reforms; charter schools, literacy requirements for 3rd graders, intense focus on reading, cyber classes, and vouchers, were instituted during his tenure as governor, and did initially show improvements in student scores and graduation rates. But, as they say, time will tell, and time has told the public that these gains were generally short lived.
"After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low-income students falling further behind. State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading."
It must not be forgotten that all of the things they tried in Florida came with a price tag. While property values were high and the state's economy was doing well, it was easy to push things like reading coaches and teacher bonuses for Advanced Placement scores through the legislature. For other states looking to adopt those measures now, the extreme cost is prohibitive.
"States adopting the policies now, in a time of austerity, tend to leave out the costly support systems. That has stirred protests from school superintendents, school board members, teachers unions and parents who see the policies as punitive, humiliating and too narrowly focused on a single test as a measure of success."
The long term value of their efforts is also falling into question as students who were held back in 3rd grade because they could not pass the reading proficiency requirement, who received a lot of extra attention to help them do so the following year, showed no advantage over other students by the time they got to high school. In addition, according to an annual report required by the state, those students who received vouchers and used them to go to private schools did no better at reading or math than their peers in public schools.

Even with all this intense focus on improving student performance in Florida, Missouri students still receive higher ACT scores than Florida students which is significant since our states fairly closely match in the percentage of students who take the test.

Bush's foundation For Excellence in Education is in high gear drafting legislation, editing bills line by line and sending in experts to testify in various states like Maine, New Mexico and Florida. Reuters points out that "Bush foundation donors include family philanthropies, such as those established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Corporate donors include Connections Education, a division of global publishing giant Pearson; Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp; and K12, a publicly traded company that runs online schools."

His critics say these corporate associations diminish any bragging rights he might have to tout Florida's improvements. Bush says that any individual failings in programs by these companies should be noted and those programs dropped. Goody. But we have decades of teaching experience in this country to tell us what works and what doesn't. We shouldn't have to wait for the free market to catch up on this learning curve, meanwhile wasting money and minds.

Anyone out there looking for or touting a silver bullet for the things that ail our public schools is going to be disappointed. The Bush Foundation has not found it, no matter what they say. The best that can be done is for control of education to be returned to the most local level possible so each school can work out its own formula for success.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Data Driven Pronouncements: "They Were Wrong, it was Possible".

Data is King...or is it?

Watch the video below about a physically challenged Vietnam vet and his quest to remake his life despite doctors' findings based on his medical data.  Frame the video in terms of educational data driven sets determining a student's place in society.  Imagine a student struggling educationally in the place of the vet as you watch what he goes through to improve his situation.  The doctors told him he would never walk again without braces.  Expand the scenario.  A teacher looks at a data set and determines this student is not really doing well in class: 

  • Maybe this student has a different learning style than how the teacher must teach.  
  • Maybe this student needs more time to complete assignments.  
  • Maybe this student needs checking for understanding the facts (not the process) before he/she can master a math problem.  

Haven't we all known students (or been one of these students) who don't "fit the common mold" of educational expectations?  Why will Common Core standards help these students and do you believe amassing voluminous amount of data on children will improve their education?  When will the teachers have time to teach if they are continually sifting through data?

According to the education reformers global plan to create a managed workforce based on data, "data is king" and will predict your student's placement into society.  This vet's future was determined by his physical data.  But something interesting happens to the vet.  He decided his life was not data driven.

Listen to Arthur's statement at 3:12.

From the youtube description:

His story is proof, that we cannot place limits on what we are capable of doing, because we often do not know our own potential. Neither Arthur, nor Dallas knew what he would go on to accomplish, but this video speaks for itself. In less than a year, Arthur completely transformed his life. If only he had known what he was capable of, 15 years earlier.

Do not waste any time thinking you are stuck - you can take control over your life, and change it faster than you might think.

Hopefully this story can inspire you to follow your dreams - whatever they may be.

One last thought: Not only do we often do not know our own potential, neither can data sets designed to track students cradle to grave predict human potential.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Primer on Standards Based Grading

Want to watch a teacher's blood pressure rise right before your eyes? Ask them what they think of Standards Based Grading.

This is one of the zombies of education reform. It never really seems to die and keeps coming back to eat your brain.  Some schools are trying to adopt it now as it is expected to be used in Common Core Assessments. For those who are unfamiliar with SBG, here are the basics.

Numerical ratings are used rather than letter grades/percents. There are four ratings:

2--Acquiring the skills/concepts
3--Meeting standard
4--Exceeding standard

Most of us would immediately make the leap to 4=A, 3=B, 2=C and 1=D (note that there is no F as there is no zero in SBG.) But this would be an incorrect assumption on our part. A teacher using standards based grading would not grade a test on which the student scored 34 correct out of 40 total questions as a 3, or 29/40 a 2. A rubric or chart of goals for the test is developed which gives the teacher far more leeway in assigning a grade. This rubric may contain, for example: did the child show improvement over previous tests; did the student use the full amount of time alloted?The teacher could say that 30/40 correct answers shows sufficient mastery of the standard. In college, we called this grading on a curve. In this way, Meeting The Standard becomes highly subjective.

Another aspect of SBG is the focus on getting the right answer. On this surface this appears to be a very logical, even admirable, goal for schooling. But it opens the door for all kinds of gaming of the system. If the focus is for the child to get the right answer with few or no constraints, then tests can be retaken over and over, help can be offered during testing, homework deadlines can be extended or even done away with. After all, the goal is for the child to demonstrate mastery of the material, not be subjected to some random condition like time limits.

Despite all those who say our students are getting dumber, their response to SBG shows exactly the opposite. Why study for a test when you can retake it numerous times until you get a score you like (or the teacher changes the rubric and pronounces you Meeting The Standard?) Why turn in homework when you cannot get a zero for failing to do so? With no means to assess your level of understanding, no low number can be averaged in with your grades. Students figure this out fairly quickly and adjust their behavior to maximize their benefit.

Take the Zero's Aren't Permitted (ZAP) program being used in the Rockwood School District in at least one middle school. The result has been a precipitous decline in students having homework ready to turn in. Those who don't have it by class time are allowed to complete the homework during lunch, under administrative supervision, which the kids gladly do because it means more time to play at home. It means additional staff responsibility to oversee these kids at lunch, but I guess that's all fine so long as we know they are learning, even if it is just learning to work the system.

Deadlines are just so old school. One high school teacher was called on the carpet for expecting students to turn in assignments by specified deadlines. The teacher was told that, with standards based grading, as with things in the real world, there are no deadlines. It didn't set well with the administrator when the teacher responded by saying that if there are no deadlines in the real world it will be okay if she didn't submit her grades by the established deadline.

This appears to be Outcome Based Education come back for another bite at our brains. The focus is on getting the right answer. How students get their answer is of no concern. Just this fall, a math teacher, was called on the carpet and told he couldn't require students to show their work. He had been very specific in example and direction on showing work when they were working with the order of operations. The administrator told him that with standards based grading we only care what students get as an answer, not how they get the answer. If a student gets something wrong, that teacher is left to guess at where the problem lies. The student concludes they "just don't get it" when perhaps a little tweaking or filling in of a small gap in understanding is all that is needed. The focus on getting the right answer is an all or nothing game.

As a teacher using SBG you have the benefit of being able to use a complex rubric which could allow you to score students higher than their actual percentage on a given test, which makes the student and parents happy. However, you also have students who are retaking any number of tests from any point in your curriculum throughout the semester. Keeping track of that is a nightmare. On the one hand it may seem logical to say that a teacher must continue to work on student mastery before moving on to higher level concepts, but this system does little to help the teacher or student accomplish this. While it is difficult to teach more advanced math concepts until the student has mastery of the basic math facts, applying zero pressure to learn those math facts within a specified time limit makes moving on to the more advanced concepts almost impossible.

Additionally, teachers could have two and three times the number of papers to grade as they have to allow students to redo writing assignments that do not show them meeting the standard. There is little a teacher can do when students, who aren't comprehending the concept she/he is teaching, are not learning to master it by doing work at home. The teacher's job is to make that magic happen in the classroom.

Add to this computerized grading systems that weren't set up to recognize a 2 or a 3 causing uninformed parents to flood the teacher with panicked phone calls and you have the makings of an early retirement incentive for some teachers. Eventually parents will be trained to accept 3's and 4's and will be lulled into thinking this means their child is performing well and learning a lot. They won't see that their child got 20/40 questions right. How many of us see our kids tests come home from school any more? That would just be confusing for us because their score for that 20 correct answers could be a 3.

I was going to write a nice conclusion here, but maybe I'll do that later. It's not like there's a deadline or anything.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Understand this about Education Reform: "The state’s claim to godhood does not make it so"

 Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man that state is obsolete.” 
-Rod Serling 

Daniel Taylor in Old-Thinker News has written a thought provoking article about education and how individuals can fight against governmental control in  The Best Kept Open Secret of Our Time: Individuals Have Power.  Note that Mr. Taylor is only 23 years old and understands the political (and educational) winds at an young age.


“…Preserve what little independence, strength, and originality is left to the individual… raise him up vis-a-vis society: these seem to me the the primary goals of lawmakers in the age upon which we are just now embarking.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” – President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012

The age in which we live is an age of ever increasing tyranny over the mind, body and spirit of humanity. The individual human being is not to be trusted. The schools in which he is raised denies his parents the ability to decide what he eats while conditional self esteem is instilled until satisfaction and fulfillment only come with the praise of authority.

At its very beginning America was filled with individuals who sought to escape this grip of despotism. Hereditary titles and tyranny no longer held individuals in artificial societal cages, and people seeking a new life were bound only by limits to endurance and willpower. Intelligence, self respect and character were qualities that anyone could acquire, rising in the ranks of society.
“When hereditary wealth, class privilege  and prerogatives of birth no longer exist and each person draws his strength only from himself, it becomes clear that… anything that serves to fortify, expand, or adorn the intellect immediately takes on great value.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835
Elites recognized this new reality in America and actively sought to regulate the power and potential of individuals. Tools of control that worked under tyrannical forms of government were rendered useless. New, perhaps more subtle means of control needed to be devised. The state’s war against the individual expanded across all spectrum’s of society as the growing web of governmental rules and regulation made individuals timid and dependent.
“As Americans we are justly proud that we have no hereditary titles, but each man is measured by his own personal worth… yet we would not have you imagine that we underestimate the value of a respectable lineage, but it is better to be the originator of a great family than to be the degenerate descendant of one.” - How to get on in the World, 1895
The schooling system in particular has been formed with the specific purpose of reducing the individual’s willpower and self respect, producing willing servants of the state. Charlotte Iserbyt, former head of policy at the Department of Education, documents this fact in her book ”Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.” The Rockefeller’s General Education Board proudly announced in its 1906 “Occasional letter number 1″ that,
“In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education]… We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply.”
An 1895 book titled “How to Get on in the World” reflects the once common knowledge that excessive intervention and regulation in young people’s development will hinder growth. Self-respect, one of the foundations for intellectual growth, cannot be cultivated in this environment.
“The growth of these qualities may be encouraged by accustoming young people to rely upon their own resources, leaving them to enjoy as much freedom of action in early life as is practicable. Too much guidance and restraint hinder the formation of habits of self-help.”
This type of education is completely alien to a society grown accustom to modern schooling; Especially when mothers are questioned by social services and even jailed for allowing their children to play in their own yard unsupervised.

When psychopathic individuals inject themselves into positions of power, they need to recruit fellow deviants or face the scrutiny of decent human beings. The tipping point of pure corruption happens when good people are forced out of the system due to a crisis of conscience or by brute force.

Here’s the key: Corrupt power is housed on a pile of sand; vulnerable on all sides. When the power centers of our society are rotting out, we can build ourselves and our families on a firm foundation. You may feel powerless when looking at the global scene, but the influence you have on yourself and the people in your immediate circle is without question. You have power and immense untapped ability.

The state’s claim to godhood does not make it so. It will try to make you feel small. If you didn’t have incredible potential, the establishment would not have taken measures to stifle your growth.

Scene from "The Twilight Zone"
The Obsolete Man
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