Archives for category: Students

Arthur L. Caplan and Lee H. Igel of the NYU Sports & Society Program warn that many American schools are reducing or eliminating recess in order to make more time for Common Core testing, and they explain why this is a terrible idea. NCLB testing started the race to narrow the curriculum, then Race to the Top raised the stakes. Now, Common Core testing–which will cause large numbers of children to be labeled “failures”–makes the testing even more decisive for students, teachers, and schools. Thus, recess and physical education fall victim to the pressure to spend more and more time preparing to take the tests, which will decide the fates of everyone, even the school itself.


In an article in Forbes, Caplan and Igel explain that recess is necessary for children’s healthy development.


They write (the links are in the original post in Forbes):


For those committed to keeping kids in the classroom, which keeps them away from the playground, consider the following:
Rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled in children during the past 30 years and about 18% of children in the U.S. are obese, according to both a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association;
Countries that are internationally regarded as having the best education systems, such as Finland, schedule time for students to have unstructured breaks throughout the day;
Activities—physical, emotional, cognitive, and social—that children regularly engage in during recess are essential to development and well-being, in childhood and throughout the lifespan.
Kids eat better and healthier when they get recess.


“Preparing America’s students for success” is one of the slogans often trumpeted by the Common Core initiative. It is a terrific aspiration—and an even better objective. But if you ask most parents, teachers and students, they will tell you that, under current conditions, it is closer to imprisonment than education.


With physical education classes now almost non-existent in our schools, recess needs to be a part of the school day. Students—and teachers—need occasional, repeated breaks from their work. It’s how the human body and mind get repaired and recharged.


What do we mean by success? What are we willing to sacrifice to get it? We should not sacrifice children’s health in pursuit of getting a higher score on a commercial test.

George Joseph is rapidly becoming one of our best education writers. In this article in The Nation, he shows how education “reform” is contributing to the “school to prison pipeline.” At best, he says, “no excuses” charter schools are preparing black students for low wage jobs.

He writes:

“As assistant professor of education Beth Sondel and education researcher Joseph L. Boselovic detailed in a Jacobin Magazine investigation, the “No Excuses” disciplinary approach, promoted by KIPP, the largest charter school chain in America, has transformed schools into totalizing carceral environments. Sondel and Boselovic write:

“There were, for example, specific expectations about where students should put their hands, which direction they should turn their heads, how they should stand, and how they should sit.… Silence seemed to be especially important in the hallways. At the sound of each bell at the middle school, students were expected to line up at “level zero” with their faces forward and hands behind their backs and, when given permission, step into the hallway and onto strips of black duct tape. There they waited for the command of an administrator: ‘Duke, you can move to your next class! Tulane, you can walk when you show me that you are ready!’ Students then marched until they reached the STOP sign on the floor, where their teacher checked them for hallway position before giving them permission to continue around the corner. Throughout this process, students moved counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the hallway (even if they were going to a classroom one door to the left).

“This extreme control over the movements of black students teaches them that they neither have, nor deserve control over their own bodies—a disturbing message to send in a country still shaped by the legacy of slavery. Furthermore, it perpetuates the normalization of surveillance and domination that law enforcement authorities inflict on black communities every day. Indeed, as the education writer Owen Davis points out, this “no excuses” disciplinary approach is a direct adaption by schools of the “broken windows” policing theory.”

Joseph relates that black students are beginning to protest the abuses that are inflicted on them by paternalistic authorities. That is an awakening that could change the narrative.

Watch the videos of children testifying against Common Core PARCC testing.

Here is one.

Here is another.

From the mouths of babes….wisdom.

Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C.


Dear Lamar,


I wish I could be in Washington for the hearings about the reauthorization of NCLB. I can’t make it for two reasons: I wasn’t invited, and I have a date to speak to parents at P.S. 3 in Manhattan who are outraged about all the testing imposed on their children.


I learned a lot about education policy and federalism after you chose me to serve as your Assistant Secretary of Education in charge of research and improvement and as counsel to the Secretary of Education (you). I am imagining that I am still advising you, as I did from 1991 to 1993 (remember that you and every other top administrator in the Department left a day before the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and you told me I was Acting Secretary for the day?).

What I always admired about you was your deliberateness, your thoughtfulness, your ability to listen to discordant voices, and your respect for federalism. You didn’t think you were smarter than everyone else in the country just because you were a member of the President’s Cabinet. You understood federalism. You didn’t think it was your job to impose what you wanted on every school in America. You respected the ability of local communities to govern their schools without your supervision or dictation.


NCLB was not informed by your wisdom. It set impossible goals, then established punishments for schools that could not do the impossible. I remember a panel discussion in early 2002 at the Willard Hotel soon after NCLB was signed. You were on the panel. I was in the audience, and I stood up and asked you whether you truly believed that 100% of all children in grades 3-8 would be “proficient” by 2014. You answered, “No, Diane, but we think it is good to have goals.” Well, based on goals that you knew were out of reach, teachers and principals have been fired, and many schools—beloved in their communities—have been closed.


NCLB has introduced an unprecedented level of turmoil into the nation’s public education system. Wearing my conservative hat, I have to say that it’s wrong to disrupt the lives of communities, schools, families, and children to satisfy an absurd federal mandate, based on a false premise and based too on the non-existent “Texas miracle.” Conservatives are not fire-breathing radicals who seek to destroy community and tradition. Conservatives conserve, conservatives believe in incremental change, not in upheaval and disruption.


I urge you to abandon the annual mandated federal testing in grades 3-8. Little children are sitting for 8-10 hours to take the annual tests in math and reading. As a parent, you surely understand that this is madness. This is why the Opt Out movement is growing across the nation, as parents protest what feels like federally-mandated child abuse.


Do we need to compare the performance of states? NAEP does that already. Anyone who wants to know how Mississippi compares to Massachusetts can look at the NAEP results, which are released every two years. Do we want disaggregated data? NAEP reports scores by race, gender, English language proficiency, and disability status. How will we learn about achievement gaps if we don’t test every child annually? NAEP reports that too. In short, we already have the information that everyone says they want and need.


NCLB has forced teachers to teach to the test; that once was considered unethical and unprofessional, but now it is an accepted practice in schools across the country. NCLB has caused many schools to spend more time and resources on test prep, interim assessments, and testing. That means narrowing the curriculum: when testing matters so much, there is less time for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, civics, and other valuable studies and activities. Over this past dozen years, there have been numerous examples of states gaming the system and educators cheating because the tests determine whether schools will live or die, and whether educators will get a bonus or be fired.


I urge you to enact what you call “option one,” grade span testing, and to abandon annual testing. If you keep annual testing in the law, states and districts will continue to engage in the mis-education that NCLB incentivized. Bad habits die hard, if at all.


Just say no to annual testing. No high-performing nation does it, and neither should we. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and it’s time to encourage children to sing, dance, play instruments, write poetry, imagine stories, create videos, make science projects, write history papers, and discover the joy of learning.


As I learned from you, the U.S. Department of Education should not act as a National School Board. The Secretary of Education is not the National Superintendent of Schools. The past dozen years of centralizing control of education in Washington, D.C., has not been good for education or for democracy.


The law governing the activities of the U.S. Department of Education states clearly that no federal official should attempt to “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration….of any educational institution.” When I was your Assistant Secretary and Counselor, I was very much aware of that prohibition. For the past dozen years, it seems to have been forgotten. Just a few years ago, the current administration funded tests for the Common Core standards, which will most assuredly exert control over the curriculum and program of instruction. The federal tests will determine what is taught.


The nation has seen a startling expansion of federal power over local community public schools since the passage of NCLB. There is certainly an important role for the federal government in assuring equality of educational opportunity and informing the American people about the progress of education. But the federal role today is taking on responsibilities that belong to states and local districts. The key mechanism for that takeover is annual testing, the results of which are used to dictate other policies of dubious legality and validity, like evaluating teachers and even colleges of education by student test scores.


Sir, please revise the federal law so that it authorizes the federal government to do what it does best: protecting the rights of children, gathering data, sponsoring research, encouraging the improvement of teaching, funding special education, and distributing resources to the neediest districts to help the neediest students (which was the original purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).


In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice:

No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.

—Lamar Alexander, Little Plaid Book, page 44

I agree with you.


Yours truly,


Diane Ravitch


High school students in York City, Pennsylvania, have been handing out fliers to warn parents and the community against the state’s plan to hand their district public schools over to a for-profit charter chain.

On Wednesday, school board members, parents, students, and school employees will meet to oppose the charter takeover.

“The 4:30 p.m. rally at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 474 S. Pershing Ave., will proceed a 6:30 p.m. board meeting Wednesday at the district administration building, 31 N. Pershing Ave.

“Margie Orr, president of the school board, and other members of the board will be there “to show that the York community is united against a charter takeover of its neighborhood schools,” according to a news release from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“A state-appointed official has advocated a full conversion of district schools to charter schools operated by a for-profit company.”

The Southern Education Foundation reports, based on the latest federal data, that the majority of students–51%–in American public schools qualify for free/reduced price lunch, which is the federal definition of poverty. There is a large difference between reduced price lunch and free lunch, in terms of income, as you will see if you look at the federal guidelines. Under these guidelines, a family of four qualifies for free lunch if its annual income is $23,850. A family of four qualifies for reduced price lunch with an annual income of $44,123. It is always useful when comparing the demographics of schools to see what percentage of the students are “free lunch,” which means that family income is very low, as compared to “reduced price lunch.” The Southern Education Foundation counts students who qualify for either  free or reduced price lunch as “low income,” which is appropriate.


In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.


Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.


Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low income in 2013.


Here is the full report. Here is the description of the report in the Washington Post. Here is the summary in the New York Times.


“Reformers” think that testing and charter schools are the best way to combat poverty. They often say that we must “fix” schools before we address poverty. They say we must create many charters and voucher programs so that students can overcome poverty on their own. Yet the evidence is clear that charters and vouchers do not, on average, outperform public schools, and often are worse in terms of test scores. “Reformers” also say that if students have low test scores, their teachers must be held “accountable,” i.e., fired, based on the assumption that the teacher is the cause of low test scores or low growth scores.


None of the reformer policies make sense. Scores on standardized tests are highly correlated with family income. The best way to improve test scores is to address the root cause of low scores, which is family income–or lack thereof. Children who live in poverty are less likely to have regular or timely medical care, less likely to have educated parents, less likely to live in a stable neighborhood, more likely to miss school because of illness, more likely to be hungry, more likely to be homeless. Taking tests more frequently, taking tests annually, having intense test prep, does not change the conditions of their lives.


Certainly, schools matter, and teachers make a difference in the lives of children. We must do whatever we can to help children of every background succeed in school. Because test scores are lower in schools where most children are low-income, these children are likely to have an intense regimen of test prep and testing and less likely to have the arts, physical education, field trips, projects, and the kinds of school experiences that make kids want to come to school. All children too need the opportunity to play in a band, dance, draw, sing, make videos, participate in exercise and sports, learn a foreign language, and use their imaginations. Yet test prep eats up the time, making it less likely that children of low-income will have these opportunities.


Some low-income children will succeed no matter what the obstacles in their lives, but they are outliers. Sending more low-income students to college is a wonderful goal, but it does not address the persistence of poverty and deepening income inequality as a structural feature of American society. High expectations are important, but they can’t take the place of jobs and social supports for families in need. Sadly, our policymakers are unwilling to tackle the biggest problem in our society today, which is poverty and inequality. Anyone who truly puts “students first” would insist on reducing poverty; anyone who acts “for the kids” would demand action to improve the conditions of their lives. More testing will not reduce poverty;  it is a dodge and an escape from responsibility.





A regular commentator, Dienne, makes a point that is very important. She asks what is the value of comparing children, comparing teachers, comparing schools, and comparing states by test scores. She is right. The only ones who need to know a student’s test scores are the student, the parent(s), and the teacher, maybe even the principal. A test score is like a medical diagnosis. It is between you and your doctor; if you are a minor, it is between you, your doctor, and your parents. If the states wants to collect data, they do not need to look at your personal records. They use data to determine if there is a pattern that requires a public health response. But how a child scores on a test is no one’s business but those most immediately involved: the student, his/her parent(s), and teacher(s).


Dienne writes:


I think it’s a lose-lose battle so long as we continue to buy into the rephormers oft-repeated lie that we need “accountability” (with the implication that there isn’t any without standardized testing). There are multiple ways for parents to know how their children are doing – report cards, conferences with the teacher, science fairs, open houses, heck, just talking with their kids. How anyone else’s kid is doing is not anyone else’s business.

There are also ways to know how teachers are doing – that’s the principal’s job. Again, it’s not anyone else’s business, just like my performance review at my job is between me and my superiors.

The notion that we need some sort of nationally published stack-ranking system for schools or teachers is ludicrous and we need to say so.

Mike Rose has written a thoughtful critique of “school reform” in The American Scholar. The title of the article is “School Reform Fails the Test.” The subtitle hits a bullseye: “How can our schools get better when we’ve made our teachers the problem and not the solution?”

Think about that question. If “teachers are the problem,” the problem will never be solved. It will not be solved by Teach for America, which accounts for less than 1% of all teachers. It will not be solved by putting former TFA into positions of leadership, as we can see by the disruptive and demoralizing experiences of John White in Louisiana and Kevin Huffman in Tennessee. No one, with the possible exceptions of Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan, would point to these states as models for the nation. For five years now, since the introduction of Race to the Top and the release of “Waiting for Superman,” the “reformers” have been obsessed with the hunt for bad teachers. They have been persuaded by Eric Hanushek’s views that our economy will soar by trillions if we regularly fire the bottom 5-10% of teachers, bottom meaning those whose students don’t increase their test scores.

Here is a taste of Mike Rose’s long and pensive essay:

Organizing schools and creating curricula based on an assumption of wholesale failure make going to school a regimented and punitive experience. If we determine success primarily by a test score, we miss those considerable intellectual achievements that aren’t easily quantifiable. If we think about education largely in relation to economic competitiveness, then we ignore the social, moral, and aesthetic dimensions of teaching and learning. You will be hard pressed to find in federal education policy discussions of achievement that include curiosity, reflection, creativity, aesthetics, pleasure, or a willingness to take a chance, to blunder. Our understanding of teaching and learning, and of the intellectual and social development of children, becomes terribly narrow in the process.

School reform is hardly a new phenomenon, and the harshest criticism of schools tends to coincide with periods of social change or economic transformation. The early decades of the 20th century—a time of rapid industrialization and mass immigration from central and southern Europe—saw a blistering attack, reminiscent of our own time. The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 triggered another assault, with particular concern over math and science education. And during the 1980s, as postwar American global economic preeminence was being challenged, we saw a flurry of reports on the sorry state of education, the most notable of which, A Nation at Risk (1983), warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

Public education, a vast, ambitious, loosely coupled system of schools, is one of our country’s defining institutions. It is also flawed, in some respects deeply so. Unequal funding, fractious school politics, bureaucratic inertia, uneven curricula, uninspired pedagogy, and the social ills that seep into the classroom all limit the potential of our schools. The critics are right to be worried. The problem is that the criticism, fueled as it is by broader cultural anxieties, is often sweeping and indiscriminate. Critics blame the schools for problems that have many causes. And some remedies themselves create difficulties. Policymakers and educators face a challenge: how to target the problems without diminishing the achievements in our schools or undermining their purpose. The current school reform movement fails this challenge.

Leonie Haimson lists here the best and worst education events of 2014.

She cites the demise of inBloom as one of the best and the Vergara decision as one of the worst.

What would you add to her list?

Melissa (Mel) Katz is preparing to become an elementary school teacher at The College of New Jersey. She has her own blog, The Education Activist: From Student to Teacher, and this is how she describes herself: I have been involved in education seriously beginning in my senior year of high school and especially my freshman year in college. I am a student activist, always researching, speaking in Trenton and at local board meetings, and traveling the state of New Jersey to meet different people and attend different education related events. Education is my life, my passion, and I couldn’t imagine spending every day anywhere else but in a classroom.


Mel recently attended a school board meeting in her hometown of South Brunswick and listened to the superintendent defend PARCC testing. In this post, she takes apart his claims and refutes them. If PARCC is so great, she asks, why have the number of states participating in it dropped from 24 (plus D.C.) to half that number? The superintendent defends Pearson and insists that PARCC testing will not drive instruction. She responds with logic and clarity.


Is there something in the water in New Jersey that encourages smart young women who are preparing to be career teachers–like Mel Katz and Stephanie Rivera–to speak up fearlessly about their chosen profession?




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