Archives for category: Students

Many charters in Néw Orleans tape a line in their hallways and insist that students must walk on the correct side of the line.

Reporter Danielle Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune writes here about this controversial policy and includes a video created by the charters to explain the value of this practice.

“Critics say it prepares students for prison, not college. A civil rights complaint filed this spring accuses Collegiate of imposing unnecessarily harsh penalties for stepping outside the lines — even, in one case, when a student’s disability made walking difficult.”

Defenders of the policy say it saves time and teaches automatic obedience to small rules, which later translates into unquestioning obedience to rules and authority, preparing students to succeed in life.

Judge Rolf M. Treu, who decided the Vergara case , declared that he was shocked, shocked to learn from Professor Raj Chetty and Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard about the enormous harm that one “grossly ineffective” teacher can do to a child’s lifetime earnings or to their academic gains.

How did he define “grossly ineffective” teacher? He didn’t. How did these dreadful teachers get tenure? Clearly, some grossly incompetent principal must have granted it to them. What was the basis–factual or theoretical–that the students would have had high scores if their teachers did not have the right to due process? He didn’t say.

The theory behind the case–as I see it–is that low test scores are caused by bad teachers. Get rid of the bad teachers, replace them with average teachers, and all students will get high test scores. You might call it the judicial version of No Child Left Behind–that is, pull the right policy levers–say, testing and accountability–and every single child in America will be proficient by 2014. Congress should hang its collective head in shame for having passed that ridiculous law, yet it still sits on the books as the scorned, ineffective, toxic law of the land.

You might also say that Judge Treu was regurgitating the unproven claims behind Race to the Top, specifically that using test scores to evaluate teachers will make it possible to weed out “bad teachers,” recruit and reward top teachers, and test scores will rise to the top. Given this theory, a concept like tenure (due process) slows down the effort to fire those “grossly ineffective” teachers and delays the day when every student is proficient.

Relying on Chetty and Kane, Judge Treu is quite certain that the theory of universal proficiency is correct. Thus, in his thinking, it becomes a matter of urgency to eliminate tenure, seniority, and any other legal protection for teachers, leaving principals free to fire them promptly, without delay or hindrance.

Set aside for the moment that this decision lacks any evidentiary basis. Another judge might have heard the same parade of witnesses and reached a different conclusion.

Bear in mind that the case will be appealed to a higher court, and will continue to be appealed until there is no higher court.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the California Teachers Association might negotiate a different tenure process with the Legislature, perhaps a requirement of three years probationary status instead of two.

The one thing that does seem certain is that, contrary to the victory claims of hedge fund managers and rightwing editorial writers, no student will gain anything as a result of this decision. Millions more dollars will be spent to litigate the issues in California and elsewhere, but what will students gain? Nothing. The poorest, neediest students will still be in schools that lack the resources to meet their needs. They will still be in schools where classes are too large. They will still be in buildings that need repairs. They will still be in schools where the arts program and nurses and counselors were eliminated by budget cuts.

If their principals fire all or most or some of their teachers, who will take their places? There is no long line of superb teachers waiting for a chance to teach in inner-city schools. Chetty and Kane blithely assume that those who are fired will be replaced by better teachers. How do they know that?

Let’s be clear. No “grossly ineffective” teacher should ever get tenure. Only a “grossly ineffective” principal would give tenure to a “grossly ineffective” teacher. Teachers do not give tenure to themselves.

Unfortunately, the Vergara decision is the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education. If they were truly interested in supporting the needs of the children, the backers of this case would be advocating for smaller classes, for arts programs, for well-equipped and up-to-date schools, for after-school programs, for health clinics, for librarians and counselors, and for inducements to attract and retain a stable corps of experienced teachers in the schools attended by Beatriz Vergara and her co-plaintiffs.

Let us hope that a wiser judicial panel speedily overturns this bad decision and seeks a path of school reform that actually helps the plaintiffs without inflicting harm on their teachers.

Two sixth-grade classes in Ipswich, Massachusetts, lost a week of instruction while taking field tests, and they want to be paid for their time.

“But for now the test is still in its trial period and Laroche’s 37 students are among the 81,000 that spent two 75-minute periods in March and two 90-minute periods this past week completing the test.

“This time would have otherwise been spent writing and solving and graphing inequalities from real-life situations.

“During class last Monday, May 19, a teacher jokingly mentioned that the students should get paid for taking the test since their participation helps the PARCC and at the end of class the students pressed Laroche further on the idea.

“The kids proceeded to tell me that PARCC is going to be making money from the test, so they should get paid as guinea pigs for helping them out in creating this test,” said Laroche. “So I said, ‘OK, if that’s the case and you guys feel strongly then there are venues and things you can do to voice your opinion, and one would be to write a letter and have some support behind that letter with petition.”

“At 8 p.m. that night Laroche received a shared Google document with an attached letter from A-period student Brett Beaulieu, who asked that he and his peers be compensated for their assistance.

“I thought it was unfair that we weren’t paid for anything and we didn’t volunteer for anything,” said Beaulieu. “It was as if we said, ‘Oh we can do it for free.’”

“Beaulieu used his math skills in the letter, determining that the two classes would collectively earn $1,628 at minimum wage for their 330 minutes of work. He then went on to figure out how many school supplies that amount could buy: 22 new Big Ideas MATH Common Core Student Edition Green textbooks or 8,689 Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils.

“Even better, this could buy our school 175,000 sheets of 8 ½” by 11″ paper, and 270 TI-108 calculators,” Beaulieu wrote.

“On Tuesday, May 20 he gathered over 50 signatures from students, as well as from assistant principal Kathy McMahon, principal David Fabrizio and Laroche.”

The students wrote to PARCC, Arne Duncan, and Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.

Ira Shor describes our complex sustem, based on race, class, income:

“Teachers count only if their students count. To count in this society, kids have to come from affluent families; the teachers of those affluent kids are paid more and generally treated better. The vast majority of students in k-12 pub schls don’t count b/c they are poor, working-class, or lower middle-class, many not white, many first-generation immigrants. They need small classes and veteran teachers and lots of good food and warm clothes in winter and eye exams; we know what they get instead. The kids that count go to private schls and to pub schls in affluent suburbs. The teachers there are paid more b/c the families of the kids are richer. For the most part, these teachers are also treated with more regard. The private k-12 schls do NOT require their teachers to come out of teacher ed programs or to meet state certification requirements; they can pick and choose among many applicants. Some teacher ed programs are truly excellent despite this class-based hierarchy, despite being under-funded and over-regulated. Other teacher ed programs function as mediocre pipelines to mediocre school systems. The situation is fragmented b/c there are really 6-8 school systems in America–private independents, private religious, private special ed, public affluent, public working class, public poor, privatized charters, etc. Then, there is internal tracking in all schools which further separate elite segments from the general student group. It’s useful to clarify which sector of “American education” we are talking back b/c class and race differences affect schools so much.(Ted Sizer said 30 years ago, “Tell me the income of your students’ parents and I will describe to you your school.”) As long as poverty and inequality rule, schools for the bottom 80% will treat their kids and teachers largely with disregard and disinvestment.”

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig explores how the federal courts have failed to confront the racially disparate impact of high-stakes tests.

When the courts were asked in Florida to recognize the unfairness of denying a diploma to students who could not pass the exit examination, in light of the racial disparities in passing rates, the federal court upheld the exams. Not only that, but the court held that the exam would help eliminate racism, even though black students failed the exam at a far higher rate than whites.

When the decision was appealed to the federal appeals court, it upheld the verdict Nd again treated high-stakes testing as a cure for racism. Here is the peculiar reasoning:

“…the diploma sanction is needed to remedy the present effects of past segregation in Florida’s schools. … the diploma sanction will motivate teachers and administrators, as well as students. Although the sanction is to deny the student the diploma, diploma denial reflects adversely on the teachers and administrators of the school system responsible for the student’s education. We think it is clear that teachers and administrators will work to avoid this stigma, thus tending to remedy any lingering lower expectations on the part of teachers (Debra P. v. Turlington 1984, p. 58.).”

Heilig believes that the same reasoning is found among today’s “reformers,” who think that they are defending the civil rights of minorities by subjecting them to standardized tests that have a racially disparate impact.

Set aside about 17 minutes and watch this wonderful video. Joshua Katz, a high school teacher, connects all the dots.

This is a truly outstanding presentation. Watch it and help it go viral.

He shows how our present “toxic culture of education” is hurting kids, stigmatizing them as early as third grade by high-stakes standardized testing, while the vendors get rich.

He connects the dots: the testing corporations get rich while our children suffer. He names names: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, ALEC, and more.

The high-stakes tests demoralize many children, label them as worthless, demand “rigor,” while ignoring the children before us, their needs and their potential. As he says, we are judging a fish by whether he can climb a tree and labeling him a failure for his inability to do so. We ignore the development of non-cognitive skills, of character and integrity, as we emphasize test scores over all else. By trying to stuff all children into the same standardized mold, we are hurting them, hurting our society, and benefiting only the for-profit corporations that have become what he calls “the super-villains” of education.

Other writers have criticized the concept of “grit” on grounds that it seems to suggest that poor kids are poor because they don’t try hard enough, and that this shifts the responsibility for poverty for the economic system to the individuals. So many privileged kids seem to float through life on a soft pillow that it is hard to credit their success in school or life to grit, since their families smooth their paths for them as much as possible.

Jeffrey Aaron Snyder has other objections to grit. He signed up for an online course on grit education taught by David Levin of KIPP and the more he learned, the less impressed he was.

What is grit? He explains:

“Inspired by the field of positive psychology, character education at KIPP focuses on seven character strengths—grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. These seven strengths are presented as positive predictors of success in “college and life.” Grit, for example—a term Angela Duckworth used to mean “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”—has been shown to correlate with grade point averages and graduation rates. Levin envisions that character education will be woven into “the DNA” of KIPP’s classrooms and schools, especially via “dual purpose” instruction that is intended to explicitly teach both academic and character aims.”

But Snyder found three reasons to doubt what he was taught.

“There are three major problems with the new character education. The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

“There may be an increasingly cogent “science of character,” as Levin says in the introductory video to his online class, but there is no science of teaching character. “Do we even know for sure that you can teach it?” Duckworth asks about grit in the same online video. Her answer: “No, we don’t.” We may discover that the most “desirable” character traits are largely inherited; stubbornly resistant to educational interventions; or both. We already know that grit is strongly correlated with “conscientiousness,” one of the Big Five personality traits that psychologists view as stable and hereditary. A recent report emphasizes that simply “knowing that noncognitive factors matter is not the same as knowing how to develop them in students.” The report concludes that “clear, actionable strategies for classroom practice” are few and far between. Consider the fact that the world’s “grittiest” students, including Chinese students who log some of the longest hours on their homework, have never been exposed to a formal curriculum that teaches perseverance.”

Snyder finds grit detached from any moral values. He writes:

“The second problem with the new character education is that it unwittingly promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point-of-view. Never before has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values, and ethics. From the inception of our public school system in the 1840s and 1850s, character education has revolved around religious and civic virtues. Steeped in Protestantism and republicanism, the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” As an influential 1918 report on “moral values” put it, character education “makes for a better America by helping its pupils to make themselves better persons.” In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas.

“Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives. Why is this distinction important? While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber. When your character education scheme fails to distinguish between doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw. Following the KIPP growth card protocol, Bernie Madoff’s character point average, for instance, would be stellar. He was, by most accounts, an extremely hard working, charming, wildly optimistic man.”

It could be that grit is the same thing as character, in which case it is nothing new.

Funny, when I was in elementary school in the 1940s, we had one long row of grades for academics and another long row for behavior. Today it would be called grit.

I used to be one of those people who complained that the younger generation was not as smart as my generation. I met adolescents who had never heard of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or some other piece of literature that I thought was central to our literary tradition. Or, I noticed that all the cash registers were computerized to compensate for cashiers who didn’t know how to make change. It was so easy to find examples of ignorance, cultural, mathematical, historical. But I didn’t give too much thought to how widespread such illiteracy was in the past. And I had an attitude, which is easy to acquire, that we grown-ups were just better educated because…well, we were.


But now that I am older and I hope, wiser, I am continually impressed with the number of amazingly smart young people I encounter, some in person, some on the Internet. For one thing, almost every young person knows more about technology than I do. If I am trying to figure out how to do something on my computer or iPad or iPhone, I look for someone in the younger generation to solve my problem.


But that’s not all. Young people are generally more creative than older people, at least in my experience. In part because of their early exposure to new technologies, they have learned to think of creative ways to express their ideas. They just naturally gravitate towards graphic representation of their ideas.


Unlike my generation, and the one that followed mine, they don’t protest by writing letters or signing petitions. They take action. My favorite example is the Providence Student Union. They have organized many creative acts of political theater. They are like the Yippies of the 1960s or ACT-UP, whether they know it or not. PSU protested the misuse of a standardized test for high school graduation by a variety of creative tactics. They held a zombie march in front of the State Education Department. They invited 60 successful professionals to take released items from the standardized test that would be used as a graduation requirement, and most of them failed it. They pre-empted state Commissioner Deborah Gist’s annual State of Education address by delivering the first annual State of the Student address. They recently dressed as guinea pigs and ran around the legislative halls. They held a candidate forum in the mayoral race and every candidate agreed with their opposition to the use of the standardized test for graduation. What an amazing group! I have no doubt that they will win their battle because it means so much more to them than to the adults on the other side. And the kids are more creative in expressing their views.


Then there are the kids who have explained what is wrong with Common Core and why they oppose it. They are far better prepared and more eloquent than the people paid to advocate for Common Core because the kids are speaking from their life experience, not with an eye to their paycheck.



The brilliant Ethan Young of Tennessee, neatly dressed in suit and tie, testified to his local school board about the defects of data-driven instruction and Common Core. Tennessee won Race to the Top funding, and Arne Duncan likes to hold it up as a shining example of the success of his data-driven approach to education. I wish Duncan would take five minutes and listen to Ethan Young. Ethan’s testimony went viral, with well more than 2 million viewers. He spoke eloquently about his wonderful, dedicated teachers and how demoralized they are by Race to the Top’s emphasis on value-added-measurement. He said he was there to fight not just for future students, but for his teachers. “If everything I learned in high school is a measurable objective, I haven’t learned anything.” He said it twice to emphasize the point. “We teach to free minds, we teach to inspire.” He added, “Haven’t we gone too far with data.” Ethan is a graduate of public schools. He has been accepted by Yale.


Also last fall, a 15-year-old in Arkansas named Patrick Richardson went through a PowerPoint presentation to explain his views about the Common Core. Agree or disagree, this young man was very impressive in his grasp of the facts and his ability to assemble them into a coherent narrative. He took longer than Ethan Young–35 minutes–but he too showed more understanding of the Common Core than any of the high-paid public relations people who defend it but will never take a test made by Pearson, PARCC, or SBAC.


So, let me say it again, emphatically: I believe in the younger generation. They know different things than we do. They are smart. They are creative. We should stop trying to standardize them and stop reducing them to data points. We should educate them with passion, love, caring, and a belief in them, not knowing whether they are headed for college or careers, but knowing they deserve the best we know how to give. They will surpass us, and that is as it should be.



Today I came across a letter from a Tennessee parent that went viral. The theme, quite simply, is: Parents know best.

In it, this parent explains why she is opting her child out of state testing. Please click on the link so that Alicia Maynard and other Tennessee parents know you support them in their determination to end the testing madness.


“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” – Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline Series

“Dear Gov. Haslam,

“I am writing to let you know that my fourth-grader will not be taking the TCAP test. This is unfortunate for her school because she scores in the advanced range every time.

“Auria is in fourth grade at Northfield elementary in Murfreesboro, TN. This is our fourth year at this school, and between her and her sister, I have fallen in love with numerous teachers there. Murfreesboro has the best school system in the state (according to Google), and I have been highly impressed with the people and their level of care for my children.

“Third grade changed, though. My highly-intelligent, confident kid became a wreck – early in the year – over the pressure associated with the TCAP. I was confused, as I took the TCAP every year as a child and have nothing but fond memories of bubbling in the little circles. I started to notice the growing intensity leading up to the test, and I became a little disgusted. That was last year. This year it was worse. The teachers I have had the pleasure of working with are so wound up that I feel sorry for them. The teachers, the staff, the administration…everybody.

“These are obviously brilliant and creative people, and this test has taken over like a life-sucking monster. Teaching isn’t an exact science, just like parenting. Every child is different, and this terrible system is stifling all the joy and creativity that is required to really make an impact.

“Now, if I love this school and staff so much, and I know her test scores would attribute to an average boost ($$$), why would I pull her from this? She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. These teachers are already being grossly underpaid for such an important role.

“Pearson is America’s largest corporate maker of standardized testing. It has a multiyear contract with our Department of Education: For creating and implementing the TCAP and the end-of-course tests for high schoolers, we pay more than $150 million. (That’s three times what it would have cost to give Tennessee teachers a 2 percent raise.) The deepest cut of all? Teachers aren’t able to preview the test. They are neither editor nor author of the single most influential test of the whole year. It’s the educational equivalent of a slap in the face.”

- David Cook (Times Free Press)

“Auria can already make better decisions than this.

“My child’s job is to learn. The teacher’s job is to teach. But my role as her parent is more complicated. I also have to teach her when standing up for something is necessary. This system is stupid and unfair. She will be accepting a 0 as 15% of her grade for the year. But she will also be standing up for teachers and students all over the state. She will be taking steps toward bettering her future right now, and I think that’s better than just a memory of all those bubbles.

“Thank you for your time reviewing this matter,

Alicia Maynard
Murfreesboro, TN”

The above letter has been shared on Facebook over 1,140 times in the past 48 hours. Here are some of the many comments on it:


“As a teacher in metro, I love you!

“Wow! Seems I’m not alone about my TCAP feelings! Kuddos to this mom!!!

“The pressure for students, teachers, and parents is so unfair. It makes me so sad.

“This is so beautiful. It’s a must read for all parents and students.

“Maybe more parents should jump on this bandwagon!!! I would love to shake her hand and meet her in person!

“Incredible parent and letter! Hope someone listens! Something to think about where we are heading for the future of education for the little ones. Lets put Common Sense back in Education and worry bout the little ones not which pocket is getting thicker!!!!

“How many letters like this will it take to change things?

“Simply the truth. I am forbidden by law from seeing, asking or being told what is on the test my kids take. Ever. We never see the old tests. We cannot challenge bad questions…and trust me, the practice tests have bad questions. Parents can also never see the tests. Just try and ask, even after it is given. I have yet to have a teacher’s edition grammar book that did not have a wrong answer or horribly confusing practices. It happens, but now who is double checking? My kids will do well…they always do me proud in a pinch, but this is beyond ridiculous. Pearson controls education in Tennessee. Get over the outrage over the feds/Common Core (for now) and ask why in the Hell a private company gets to determine kids’ grades and teachers’ fates with ZERO oversight.

“May do this next year. Zac is flipped out about TCAP.

“This sums up my feelings on standardized testing word for word!!!!!!!

“I love how you just stand up for things that are unjust without ANY hesitation and I respect the heck out of that! TCAP tests and the like are the reasons why I did not complete my certification as a secondary educator. It’s an unfair system that pigeon-holes children into measurable data. You, Alicia Maynard, are a beautiful soul and a wonderful mother. Thank you for standing up for teachers and for teaching your children to stand up for their generation of learners.

“I applaud this mother and think it would be awesome to boycott this stupid standardized testing

“There are many, many more comments just like these above. Parents are fed up, waking up, and speaking out.”

The resistance to teach for America continues to grow. Here is another organization bringing together teachers against TFA.

Here is their Facebook page.

The leading group of college students organized to resist TFA and to foght for professional teachers is SUPE: Students United for Public Educatuon.

SUPE has a mission:

“Students United for Public Education (SUPE) evolved out of the work of college students involved in defending public education from its attackers. In particular, SUPE was founded to fill a void in the movement for public education — before SUPE, there was no national student organization devoted solely to this cause. Under the guise of “closing the achievement gap” and “school choice,” for-profit corporations and their political representatives have sought to privatize and sell off public education. SUPE understands that a profit motive cannot guarantee a good education. Instead, only a robust and well-supported public education system — along with the courage and will to directly confront problems of racial and economic inequality — can provide a quality education for all.

“SUPE is a community based organization because we believe that public schools are the heart of every community. We understand that in order for our goals to be reached, we must work with not only K-12 students, but parents, teachers, and community members as a whole. We are not here to tell any community or students what to do. Rather, we want to work with communities to find what their needs are, and have them lead the way in the struggle as we work as equals to organize the change they believe is best.”


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