This is a wonderful video about teaching the Gettysburg Address. Forget close reading. Follow the students at the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, as they learn to deliver this great speech. Two minutes.

David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, examines what he calls “the myth of failing schools.” Schools with low test scores usually reflect a concentration of students who enter the school far behind, who have disabilities that interfere with learning, who are English language learners, or who have other obstacles to overcome. The “failing schools” tend to have more of these students than other schools. Bloomfield writes that it was the policy of Mayor Bloomberg to close schools with low scores, as if this were a solution to the problems of the students. The students from the closed schools were sent to other schools that then became “failing schools.”

Bloomfield says that Mayor de Blasio has fallen for the same myth, but instead of closing schools, he has promised to turn them around with extra services within three years. He faults the Mayor for not recognizing that schools “fail” not because of their teachers or their practices but because of systemic policies. He sums up the myth as the belief that:

failure is the fault of individual schools, not the school system. His proposed solutions — community services, extra instructional time, and increased professional development, timed to a three year deadline prior to closure — treat these schools as isolated problems rather than the natural result of insidious central policies.

He proposes:

Now, the city needs to take ownership of solutions, instead of blaming the students, teachers, and principals triaged to benefit others. If de Blasio only tries to staunch the bleeding by creating a series of temporary fixes for select schools, instead of repairing the system’s inequities, his plan will fail.
One place to start would be to diminish the number of latecomer students, who are known as “over-the-counter” students and who often have more severe academic and social needs, enrolling at struggling schools. The city has already put those limits in place at Boys and Girls and Automotive high schools, but the other struggling schools need that benefit as well so that those students are spread more equally throughout the system.
Another goal should be to develop a system of choice that avoids concentrations of haves and have-nots in city schools. As stated by Baruch College Professor Judith Kafka, “Our school system already concentrates poverty. Does choice interrupt this process? It can when the school system makes integration a priority and enacts what is often called ‘controlled choice’ as described in the work of the Century Fund’s Richard Kahlenberg.” Those policies focus on admissions rules that emphasize choice and also aim to create stable, economically diverse student populations.
Real solutions will require politically difficult changes to budgeting and enrollment policies, as well as a concerted effort to help schools improve their reputations. Such solutions would involve trade-offs, and some schools would likely benefit more than others. But the varied recommendations for solving our struggling schools crisis put forth so far by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the New York City Charter Schools Center, and even Mayor de Blasio, fail to adequately address the systemic causes of school failure.

The Blue And The Gray
Francis Miles Finch (1827-1907)

 

 

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray
These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day
Under the laurel, the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray.

 

 

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

 

 

So with an equal splendor,
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

 

 

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment -day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

 

 

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray

 

 

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

A teacher in Denver heard the Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg claim that there was too much testing, and she delivered this statement to a recent meeting of the district school board:

 

 

Statement at 4/23/15 Public Comment section of the DPS Board meeting:

 

 

I am an 8th grade science teacher.

 
In February our Superintendent, Mr. Boasberg, sent an email with the subject, “Why we need fewer shorter tests.” I was absolutely dumbfounded. Later I saw video of Mr. Boasberg repeating these statements to I believe none other than the United States Senate. At that point my disbelief turned to resolve.

 

 

I have worked for DPS for more than 5 years. Students have never taken more tests and never taken longer tests than they are taking right now. These additional tests are not mandated by the state of Colorado or by the Federal Government, they are added entirely at the discretion of DPS leadership.

 
Federal Law does not require 2nd graders to take 80 minute reading and writing tests 4 times a year. District leaders choose this for them.

 

An elementary colleague asked me this morning, “please also mention the students bursting into tears.” This is over the struggle of testing for well over an hour on content they haven’t even been taught yet. Under mandated testing this (testing students over content they’ve not been taught) happens at every grade level and in every content area.

 

I also recently came upon a Denver Post article from last October in which Mr. Boasberg claims the average 4th grader spends what amounts to one day a year taking standardized tests.

 

No.

 

In our classrooms we lose weeks adding to months of time to testing. New tests this year require 2 hour blocks of time. 2 hour test blocks mean modified schedules that interfere with full weeks of instruction. In a given week some classes may see their teacher on only one day, others may have a 4 hour block in the library with their teacher to accommodate test demands.

 

In preparation for PARCC testing one of my classes lost 2 days of science instruction pretending to take a test. This “infrastructure trial” was to see if our internet would work for the real event. The irony is that we were not testing Pearson’s actual server which failed twice last week.

 

We used to lose two weeks in March to testing. Now March, April, and May are entirely defined by tests. I know special education teachers who have not worked with their students in an instructional capacity in more than 4 weeks and will not again for the foreseeable future. Those teachers spend nearly all of their time providing accommodations for testing students.

 

I myself just conducted 6 days in a row of Science CMAS testing, finishing a make-up session due to server failure this afternoon. In 3 days students will complete the second round of PARCC. The week after that is devoted to district end of year tests.

 

So if I may address parents in the audience. Parents have the power. My hope is that there will be another wave of opt outs. Put an end to this right now.

George N. Schmidt reminds us of the meaning of Memorial Day:

Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day I would give my students the same assignment throughout the final decades of the 20th Century (the bloodiest in history): Make a spreadsheet of all the wars of the 20th Century and all the countries that were involved in those wars and then list all the casualties… As far as they could go.

Or they could visit someone in a VA hospital, preferably a World War II vet who had been there “forever.”

Then they had to discuss what they had learned…

It helped my students understand the need for the poppies and respectful silence on some days. That work ended when Paul Vallas fired and blacklisted me for test resistance in 2000… But I continue remembering all those lessons and what the “kids” would talk about.

Both my mother and my father served in the United States Army during World War II. For Memorial Day, we would wear the poppies (which I think my Dad would distributed from his VFW Post in Clark New Jersey; we lived in Linden) and visit a few graves. I don’t think anyone in our family said “Happy Memorial Day,” because there was nothing to be happy about.

My Dad, Neil Schmidt, served as an infantryman with the 44th Division from the coast of France to the Austrian Alps from 1944 to 1945. After he and his millions of brothers (and some sisters) had “won” against the Nazis in May 1945, my Mom was just beginning the worst of the hell she would experience — Okinawa. Mary Lanigan Schmidt was an Army nurse in a field hospital on the island of Okinawa during those weeks after, for many in the USA, the war was “over.” Both my parents taught me a lot about silence and not discussing what it was all about. Both were proud of their “service,” but silent about the details of what it involved.

My Dad would only say about the Bronze Star he brought home (“for courage in the face on the enemy during the Rhineland Campaign, February 1945″), “I got lost one night and I got lucky.” When he accidentally told me, very late in life, that he had been first into one of the “smaller” concentration camps (Struhof) I was stunned. I asked him why he had never talked about it with the family: “There is some evil for which there are no words.” I asked him what he remembered of driving his colonel into that liberated camp: “The silence and the smell. The smell never goes away…”

Both came home and by 1946 were fulfilling the dream that had kept them going throughout the war (they were already married by the time of Pearl Harbor, and Dad was in the Army). They were going to work hard and have a family, at least two children (they wound up with four), a home, and all that stuff.

But it wasn’t that easy. Because of their commitment to having a family, my Dad didn’t go to college, but returned to the “service” in the Elizabeth Post Office. He never missed a day of work until he retired, having learned during the Depression that a job was precious and not to be trifled with. He taught all of us the same thing.

My Mom slowly sunk into greater and greater depression and nightmares as time went on, and only after her early death (in 1985) did I begin to understand how the very word “Okinawa” made people who know the history shudder — to this day.

Yes, this is a day to mark with silence, perhaps a poppy (if you still live in a community where old men distribute them), and some attempt to clarify what the word “WAR” means.

My friend Larry Lee in Alabama told me to check out Mr. Brandon’s blog. Mr. Brandon drives a school bus, and he reports on his conversations with the children. It is one of those “kids say the darndest things,” but sometimes it goes a little deeper. Mr. Brandon is not your ordinary bus driver, I’ll put it that way.

Since I started circumambulating this morning, several people have wished me a “happy Memorial Day.” Shudder. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died while at war. It is not a happy day. My wish is that the world will stop having wars and no one will die in combat.

From Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.[1] The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May,[2] originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans — established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.[3] By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.[1] It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the ground,” the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the “memorial day” idea.[4]

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.[5]

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley writes about a veteran teacher who refused to bow to the Great Data God.

Lisa Elliott is a champion of public education. She says in the accompanying video, which you must watch, “This is my home. These are the children I teach.” Her refusal to resign after 18 years of exemplary service, her going public with her courageous resistance, is exemplary. I am happy to place her on the blog honor roll.

Lisa Elliott, a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and 18-year veteran teacher who has devoted her 18-year professional career to the Alhambra Elementary School District — a Title I school district (i.e., having at least 40% of the student population from low-income families) located in the Phoenix/Glendale area — expresses in this video how she refuses to be bullied by her district’s misuse of standardized test scores.

Approximately nine months ago she was asked to resign her teaching position by the district’s interim superintendent – Dr. Michael Rivera – due to her students’ low test scores for the 2013-2014 school year, and despite her students exceeding expectations on other indicators of learning and achievement. She “respectfully declined” submitting her resignation letter because, for a number of reasons, including that her “children are more than a test score.”

The post includes a video of Lisa Elliott, standing up to the VAMinsanity.

Given the demonstrated failure of voucher schools and charter schools in Milwaukee to outperform the public schools, you might expect that the Legislature would stop expanding both forms of privatization. But you would be wrong. Here are some recent legislative actions, as reported by blogger Steve Strieker:

 
The WI GOP committee members moved forward with a vote on their education budget package that does the following:

 
Removes the cap on statewide vouchers and prohibits districts from levying to replace the lost state aid

 
Creates a special needs voucher program

 
Allows operators of privately run charters to open new schools under conditions specified by the legislature

 
Allows for the takeover of struggling public schools in Milwaukee under the control of an appointed commissioner to convert them to voucher or charter schools while paving the way for similar takeovers in other school districts

 
Provides for licensure of individuals with minimal qualifications, some with little more than a high school diploma, to teach in our public schools
Requires passing a civics exam to graduate from high school

 

 

 

It turns out that most of the applicants to the voucher program (86%) previously attended a private school, not a public school. This is a subsidy to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools, not an “escape” for “poor children trapped in failing public schools” (reformster talk).

 

 

 

http://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/news-release/dpinr2015_53.pdf

Recently the Néw York Times ran a front-page article about the growth of the Opt Out movement and how it was becoming a powerful political force in Néw York.

 

A mom who was interviewed for the article wrote a letter to the Times to challenge its description of the motives of parents (the letter was circulated among supporters of Opt Out):

 

 

“As one of the parents quoted in this article I was deeply disappointed that the true reasons parents are refusing these particular tests were not clearly identified.

 

“We did not initiate a test refusal movement because we are supporting teachers or because we don’t want our kids to be over tested.

 

“The NYS common core tests in math and ELA are leading to a trend that is ruining public education as we know it. Because they are linked to 50% of teacher evaluations they are forcing teachers to teach to the tests.

 

“Our children are learning that there is only one right answer to a question, they are being taught how to take a test, not to ask questions, and science and social studies are disappearing from our children’s curriculum due to these high stakes tests that emphasize math and ELA.

 

“The children in our district in grades 3- 8 take over 15 other standard tests over the course of the year to track their progress. Those other tests are shorter in duration , age appropriate and educators and administrators have actually found the information in those tests valuable.

 

“If inequities of a school are not being identified, its not because of a lack of testing. The NYS common core tests are non transparent, and therefore useless tools for teachers to see where they need to improve, not to mention they are developed by corporations, not educators, and they take over 3 weeks of time out of our children classroom that could be used for meaningful instruction.

 

“In all fairness, these reasons for test refusal should be more clearly identified to the general public.”

 

Respectfully

 

Heather Roberts

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