In 2011, a former graduate student of mine ran an Internet search for the term “failing school.” It was almost never used until the mid-1990s. Then each year, it appeared with greater frequency. After the passage of No Child Left Behind, it become a cliche: Any school with low test scores was “a failing school.” The term “failing school” is especially useful to those who want to close them and turn their building over to charter operators, which may not accept the same students.

 

A reader writes:

 

 

The term “failing schools” is a weapon. I have worked in a public school in the south Bronx for almost 20 years. Our students come from poor, often stressed, families. Many are English Language Learners. Most are socially and academically “behind”. And I love seeing them every day. We LOOK like a failing school when you judge us through the prism of standardized testing, but when my kids win the Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition, or come back to tell me about their college experiences, or stare in wonder at the city in which they live but don’t really know while we take them on field trips, or beg me to continue reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men instead of turning to test prep material, I KNOW we are not a failing school. Eva Moskowitz has chosen our building for her next conquest, and we’ve been told that no matter what we do, “it’s a done deal”. Need a laugh? The vote is scheduled to take place deep in Chinatown! How many of our parents do you think will be able to show up for that? My kids are not failures, no matter how many times they are told so by the VERY PEOPLE WHO RUN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THIS CITY.

 
It’s humiliating and soul crushing to be a teacher in an inner city school. The people who should be getting accolades for working in such places are beaten down instead. I’ll go to work tomorrow and discuss the symbolism of the objects that Boo Radley leaves in the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird. My kids will ask great questions and make wonderful observations. Many of them will score poorly on the ELA exam in 2 weeks. They, and I, will be labeled failures. It’s so very, very sad.

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.

 

This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.

 

I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.

 

Lynch writes:

 

Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.

 

Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.

 

And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.

 

The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.

 

Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

Pittsburgh teacher Mary King said she would not give the state tests to her English language learner students, and she didn’t.

 

She was “the first and only” teacher in Pittsburgh to refuse to give the test. She is a Teacher of Conscience. I wrote about her here.

 

“Under state requirements, ESL students — also known as English language learners — who have been in the U.S. less than a year don’t have to take the PSSA in English language arts, but they do have to take the PSSA in math and science. They can have certain accommodations, such as use of word-to-word translation dictionaries without definitions and pictures on some of the exams.

 

Ms. King, who is in her 26th year and is retiring this school year, said not all students get upset, but she recalled one student who had to take the math test her first week. “All she knew was ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye,’ ‘thank you.’ She cried the whole time.”

 

Mary King wrote a comment the the newspaper in response to the article. She wrote:

 

Teaching in PPS has been wonderful because it has challenged every part of me – mind, heart, and spirit. I appreciate Eleanor Chute writing this story. I hope it illuminates, in a small way, concerns many educators have about corporate-driven state mandates (many!) that conflict with what we know about children and learning. Also positive, the letter from Ms. Spolar states: “The District will explore fully the accommodations available to English language learners and anticipates further review of the regulations in response to advocacy pertaining to these testing issues.” I do believe our district wants what is best for our students and hope that the voices of my colleagues are heard by our administrators and our school board of directors. In my most Pollyannaish view of the world, I would love to see PPS become a leader in the pushback that is gathering steam against corporate reforms that are decimating public education. As always, follow the money!

 

Since she is retiring, she won’t be punished. She should get a medal.

 

She gets a medal. She joins the big honor roll as a champion of public education.

This cartoon summarizes Jeb Bush’s education record. He is best known for championing high-stakes testing, A-F school grades, supporting Common Core, charters, vouchers, third-grade retention, and anything that. Strips away job protections from teachers. He boasts of the “Florida miracle,” but it refers mostly to 4th grade NAEP scores, which are likely boosted by third-grade retention and by the state’s class-size reduction policy, adopted by popular referendum but opposed by Bush. The miracle disappears by high school, as Florida’s high school graduation rate is below that of Alabama, which had no miracle.

 

David Sirota reported in International Business Times that Jeb Bush steered Florida’s pension funds toward campaign contributors. He also pressed for legislation to shield these contributions from public view.

 

Sirota wrote:

 

Jeb Bush received the request from one of his campaign contributors, a man who made his living managing money: Could the then-governor of Florida make an introduction to state pension overseers? The donor was angling to gain some of the state’s investment for his private fund.

 

It was 2003, still a few years before regulators would begin prosecuting public officials for directing pension investment deals to political allies. Bush obliged, putting the donor, Jon Kislak, in touch with the Florida pension agency’s executive director. Then he followed up personally, according to emails reviewed by the International Business Times, ensuring that Kislak’s proposal was considered by state decision makers.

 

Here was a moment that at once underscored Jeb Bush’s personal attention to political allies and his embrace of the financial industry, which has delivered large donations to his campaigns. Email records show it was one of a series of such conversations Bush facilitated between pension staff and private companies at a time when his administration was shifting billions of dollars of state pension money — the retirement savings for teachers, firefighters and cops — into the control of financial firms.

 

Florida officials say Kislak’s firm was not among the beneficiaries of that shift. But verifying that assertion is virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen by dint of another hallmark of Bush’s governorship: At the same time that he entrusted Wall Street with Florida retirement money, he also championed legislation that placed the state’s pension portfolio behind a wall of secrecy.

 

The anti-privatization organization “In the Public Interest” filed a public records request and obtained emails between Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and public officials. Read them here.

This is something I don’t understand about technology. The upgrade–no matter what the program–is usually less satisfactory than the current program. I remember many years ago, I had mastered a writing program called Wordperfect and was very happy with it. It disappeared and was replaced by Word. I thought I should have been able to choose. I wasn’t.

 

Now Apple has upgraded the software, and the upgrade has made my iPad unusable. I used to blog on my iPad, but since I upgrade to the new software, I can’t copy and paste. If I copy an URL, I can’t paste it. I get whatever I copied the last time and I can’t get rid of it. Since the upgrade, nothing seems to work right on the iPad. I get frequent messages asking me to sign in to iCloud, which I don’t want to do. My iPad brain seems to be severely damaged by the upgrade.

 

WordPress.com, which hosts this blog, keeps asking me to upgrade to its new “posting experience.” I won’t do it. I know it will be a step backward. Without my permission, they “upgraded” the statistics page, and I am now overwhelmed with data I don’t want or need but they forgot to include the total number of page views, which I like to see.

 

What can I say? I must be a Luddite. I don’t need to reinvent myself every six months. Some things should stay the same for a whil

A letter to the editor:

“Private School Tax Credits

New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015

Re “Cuomo Promotes Tax Credits for Families of Students at Private Schools”

The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice. It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.

This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/private-school-tax-credits.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0″

The East Ramapo school district is in terrible trouble. The majority of voters are Orthodox Jews, whose children attend religious schools. The public schools are predominantly African-American and Hispanic. The elected school board is dominated by members of the local Orthodox Jewish majority. They have cut spending for the public schools and are accused of diverting money to private yeshivas. which their children attend.

Currently, a bill is in the Legislature to establish a state monitor to protect the rights of the students in the public schools. There is intensive political pressure to kill the bill.

“A bill that would establish a state monitor for the East Ramapo School District, where a school board dominated by Orthodox Jews has drawn criticism for diverting money from public schools to children in local yeshivas, faces an uncertain future after running into resistance in the New York Legislature…..

“Roughly 9,000 students, the vast majority of them black or Latino, attend public schools in the district, while about 24,000 students who live there attend yeshivas. Because they vote in large numbers, Orthodox Jews have held a majority of board seats in East Ramapo since 2005. Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district’s athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.

During the same period, spending on the transportation of students to private schools has increased sharply, and the district has in some cases paid for special education students to attend private schools when similar services were available in public schools. Parents of public school students have grown distrustful of the board, whose meetings have at times devolved into shouting matches between members and the public.”

The Board of Regents should step in to protect the students.

I am generally opposed to state takeovers, as in Newark, where the state has been in control for 20 years. State control is not a way to improve schools. But when the local board is not acting in the best interest of children, as in East Ramapo, action is necessary.

Fred Smith, a veteran testing expert who used to work for the New York City Board of Education, warns parents that Pearson will be administering field tests in the schools in June. He provides a list of schools where the field tests will be given.

He urges parents to opt their children out of the field tests.

The opt out movement is proving to be the most powerful tool that parents have against the whole agenda of test-and-punish “reform” that is being foisted on children and schools, benefiting no one but the testing industry.

Anna Jacopetti recently retired after a career in education of 50 years. She taught every grade from 1-14, she was an administrator, and she taught teachers. In this article, she shows the contrast between today’s emphasis on high-stakes testing and deep learning.

 

She reflects on a different approach to education, one that is definitely discouraged now by federal policy. What is in favor now is data-driven decision-making, scripted lessons, and Common Core-aligned readings.

 

She writes:

 

I found a job teaching reading in a school that still encouraged teacher initiative. I chose to use the Junior Great Books, a series that employs rich and varied language to tell age appropriate stories. Second Grade children are word sponges, full of curiosity and pleasure as they gain understanding of the world around them through expanding vocabularies This is not a rote learning process. These children enjoyed the fairy tales and legends that they could vividly imagine through the rich language, but they were most excited about learning new words that they could use in their own stories and in their conversations. We wrote their favorite new words on the board . Soon the children were bringing in other words that they had heard (but not understood) from their reading or from conversations overheard at home. We added these to our Words of Power and the list grew, with words like soporific, synchronicity, catastrophe, and surreptitious to remember only a few. The whole class was now engaged and there were no discipline problems. Reading fluency improved by leaps and bounds.

 

After Easter break, we had exhausted our Jr. Great Books and I turned to an Open Court textbook series that the school had purchased. I was pleased that it presented classic stories and myths, but after a few days the children balked. They told me that they didn’t like the new book. When I asked them why, they quickly consensed that all the Words of Power had been taken out of the stories. Open Court had carefully limited the language to words that were prescribed for Second Graders and these words were declared “boring” by the class. So I asked them to tell me what made a word “powerful” and they were quiet for a few minutes. Then Esme raised her hand and said ,“When you look up a word of power in the dictionary and you read all the definitions, you still don’t know everything it means.” I have never forgotten this moment. Moments such as these kept me going through decades of teaching. In such moments learning is palpable and children’s eyes light up with understanding and pride. These moments can’t be scripted or measured, but they are exemplary of an emergent, radiant process of learning that education should nurture, respect and protect at all costs.

 

I am highlighting here what it means to nurture capacities rather than “teach to standards”. Had I introduced vocabulary lists, assigned all the children to look up words in the dictionary as homework and then tested them to see if they had “learned” the words, I would have had a very different result. Children have a capacity for language acquisition in early childhood that is quite remarkable. They master complex syntax and the basic grammatical constructions of English before they go to school. They have learned subject verb agreement, verb tenses and proper use of adjectives and adverbs by kindergarten. They learn through conversation and by listening. The richer and more omnipresent language is in their surroundings, the more stories they hear, the stronger their language skills and their imaginative faculties become. Many first and second graders will know the lines to a play or a story “by heart” after hearing them only a few times – faster than older children and much faster than adults. Nurturing and building on this innate capacity is a key for language instruction in the early grades. Reciting and retelling come before writing. Dictating and then finally writing their own stories is a very engaging and empowering process for children that ideally precedes reading.

 

As we move deeper into the era of test-based accountability, teachers like Ms. Jacopetti will retire, and what she knows will disappear. Will teachers still know how to think for themselves? Will it be permitted by the state or the federal government? Will they still exercise their judgment? Or will they act as robots, programmed for compliance?

 

 

A reader posted this comment, in response to the story about Vietnamese students getting higher scores on PISA tests of math and science than U.S. students;

“According to the United Nations Statistics, only 77% of Vietnamese students are enrolled in secondary school, which means that the bottom 23% of test scores are eliminated for the Vietnamese case because those students are not in school to take the tests. (http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/SE.SEC.ENRR)

“I taught in China in the late 1990’s and have since taught hundreds of Chinese nationals in the US. My Chinese students who come here to study have explained to me multiple times that a large percentage of Chinese students don’t make it into an academic high school and therefore never study for these tests. By the way, the students come here to escape their test-driven system.

“When I started teaching high school in the US in the late 1990’s I was struck by how willing my American students were to take risks, experiment, and involve themselves in class discussions. They were intellectual risk-takers compared to the college students I had in China, who I could barely get to speak because of their fear of being wrong and their lack of experience with class discussion. (this is not a cultural observation – it is an institutional one)

“My college students in the US now, all products of the NCLB era, are more similar to my students in China. They are completely grade-focused, fail to see the bigger picture in the issues we are studying, and lack creativity or initiative. Every time I think we have just had a meaningful discussion about something important, one will pipe up and say, “how are you going to grade this?”

“I am tired of data and people’s unfailing belief that it there is a number attached to something, that means it is true. I have a master’s degree in Economics and was basically taught how to “massage the data,” which basically means make it say whatever your grant needs it say.

“I just watched a teacher spend 5 minutes yelling at a third grader about how to spell the word orange. Her face was red with anger and she was shouting, “is that the sound it makes?” No doubt this teacher was thinking of the student’s ability to make the grade on her upcoming exam and how the teacher might lose her job if she was rated ineffective.

“We have gone mad and our children are paying the price.”

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